I'm sharing my extraordinary experience with the 2018 Tuscany Project to encourage people to support its scholarship fund. Yes, it is a fairly significant investment of money and time for its participants, but what I once thought of as extravagant now feels truly essential.

I’d let my first love, singing, fall by the wayside until I found myself performing at my Grandmother’s bedside while she was in hospice last December. Feeling how healing music was for both of us made me vow to bring it back to the center of my life again. Soon after I re-committed myself, I learned my employer wouldn’t be hiring me back for several months, so I moved into her former home and started working on repertoire. The yearly announcement for the Project came out in the midst of this, while I was time-rich but cash-poor. I was finally in the perfect frame of mind to do something a professional singer I knew had described back in 2012 as changing her whole approach to performance. But how would I pay for it?

Incredibly, scholarships were being offered for the first time, and I was honored to be one of two people selected as the inaugural recipients. I’d been on the mailing list for so long that I thought I knew what to expect, but there’s this intangible thing that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and that can’t really be conveyed on the website. What I found in Italy was an inventive schedule of improv, movement, acting, technique, writing, and collaborative exercises--each of which expanded our sense of what sounds and emotions our bodies could conjure up. I knew the coaches were gifted, but could not have known the lengths they would go to in supporting us. Together, we dove into exploring how lyrics and personal stories can illuminate each other, and my 13 companions on this journey of never ceased to inspire with their fearlessness, creativity, and loving attention.

Less expensive workshops can probably be found, but few could offer the inner transformation of travel, the intensity of nearly round-the-clock interaction with fellow artists, and a stunning natural setting that feeds the Spirit. I am eternally grateful to Shaynee Rainbolt for her work in finding funding. Without it, I would not have been able to participate at this pivotal moment. To all the donors who pooled their resources large and small so that two people you’d never met could have their lives changed: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Know that I am repaying this kindness — as I hope all future recipients will consider doing —  by spreading the word about the wonders of this workshop. It has not “just” changed my approach to performance; it has changed my approach to life.

Vanessa Finney, Santa Monica 

Voice and Heart

Hi Lovely Tuscany friends who understand the power of song,

Very unexpectedly this winter, I got personally involved in organizing a rally in my town because a wonderful man Mo Khalaj from Iran was harassed in his store.

He told my husband and me about it and we ended up organizing a march which had over 100 people and the mayor and the police lieutenant and press. Moe was very moved by the public support and  I ended up, of course, getting everyone to sing! You can read the article – but if you go to the video and you fast-forward about two minutes you hear me speaking and then getting everyone to sing “we are on our way” call and response with some new lyrics!

With love and thanks for all of your support in my path with voice and heart as a public song leader!

This was an incredibly heartwarming event!


Click here for the article

Thoughts from Anja

It is the dark season of the year in the northern hemisphere. The holidays are over, the new year has just begun. I hope that these words find you well, and that you can feel your inner light shine. May the new year bring you health, joy and peace, on the inside and outside. And many moments of singing!

In the research for a book I am writing,  I just came across two very interesting studies. One was done in Sweden. The researchers found that choir singers not only harmonise their voices, they also synchronize their heartbeats while performing choral works. This seems to be because the singers coordinate their breathing. And, singing together also slows the heart rate, which also seems to be due to breathing. So the researchers suggest that singing could be highly beneficial for our health.  I think many of us who love to sing know this already, intuitively or even empirically, because this is something we actually experience. Right? But I think it is still a wonderful thought that singing together unites our hearts literally. We sing together, and our hearts beat together. We calm down together, we inspire together. Magic.

The second study was done last year in England. The researchers found that people watching a live theater performance together were also synchronizing their heart beats. While it was already known that romantic couples or highly effective teammates will synchronize their hearts to beat in time with one another, the study demonstrated that the experience of the live theater performance helped to overcome group differences and produce a common physical experience in audience members. The article closes with these beautiful lines: 

Can there be a higher calling? We don’t think so. We believe theater’s fundamental and most sacred purpose is to bring a diverse variety of individuals to a common place where they share a meaningful human experience together, as one.

So in this dark season, my thoughts go out towards Summer, to Italy, to the Tuscany Project. I am grateful for the opportunity each year to come together with people from all walks of life to sing and perform and share together and literally unite our heartbeats.

I look forward to meeting some of you in this "common place“, the magical Locanda del Gallo, in the summer of 2018 to share song, beauty and humanity and synchronize heartbeats. Can’t wait to be there again.

Wishing you song and dance and breath and uniting.

Happy new year!