Curiously Stronger Performing, Session #2: Singing Expressively in a Foreign Language

On February 12, we will be holding the second session of the Curiously Stronger Performing series at the Roland Park Community Center. The topic is Singing Expressively in Foreign Languages. The class goes from 7-9pm, and I’ll be working with 6 singers for 15 minutes each.

The inspiration of this workshop was going to recitals where students were assigned to sing in a foreign language and were singing with completely blank faces, no connection to their text whatsoever, and were clearly not aware of what the meaning of their songs were. It was boring for them, and honestly, boring for the audience.

Of course, it’s hard to sing in a language you don’t understand. I find it hard, and I do it for a living. While I’m confident in my knowledge and execution of diction rules in a lot of languages, I really wish I were fluent in languages other than English (I speak a smattering of German and French, but I’m not fluent, by any means).

But if you are going into classical music (or even if you’re not, but you’re in a program or a competition that requires you to sing in multiple languages), it’s something that you have to do. And you owe it to the poet, to the composer, to the audience, and to yourself, to be the best interpreter of your text that you can be.

In this workshop, I will help you find:

  • Strategies to sing as expressively in a language you don’t necessarily understand as you would in a song in which you understand every word
  • Commonalities between the theme of a song in classical music and one in a more popular genre.
  • The important words to emphasize and how the music helps that process.
  • The inner monologue that underlies the word for word translation

And if you’re singing in English, but you don’t understand what the heck the song means (“I remember sky,” amirite?), I can help you with that as well. There are many esoteric English language songs in both classical music and musical theater that flummox people, and I’ll be happy to help you get to the crux of those songs as well.

Sign up here to participate in the class or here to audit the class. And feel free to comment here or message me at mezzoid@gmail.com if you have any questions!

"Exquisite Vividness"

"Exquisite Vividness"

Awhile back, my daily calm meditation focused on “vividness.” This made me think of the line in the Boito version of Faust (Mefistofele) :

“Stay – for you are beautiful”

Faust sells his soul to the devil, but his “safe word” is “Stay – for you are beautiful.” (I’m watching Killing Eve as I write this, so “safe word” is in my lexicon). His deal is, “I’ll go to hell with you unless I find the most perfect and wonderful moment that transcends everything I’ve ever done – and when that moment comes, I’ll go to heaven.” And when the Mefistofele is about to collect on his deal, because nothing has satisfied Faust, really, the heavenly host appears and it’s so incredibly perfect that Faust cries out, “Stay, for you are beautiful!”

It’s a moment of exquisite vividness, which, in this meditation was a quote from the mindfulness guru, Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives.
It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.

When we sing, when we perform, we transcend the moment but we are simultaneously aware of the moment. We are “in the zone” but we know what is happening and we embrace it.

This was the moment where Faust experienced his “exquisite vividness” (as did I, when I sang in the chorus of this production at WNO in 1996). Have you experienced yours? Wake up – it’s there.

Dames in C – and D – and Other Keys

As many of you know, I love singing cabaret with a white-hot passion. And I want to share that love with my students, because I think that the idea of creating personal musical theater should exist in everything you sing, from art song to musical theater songs to opera.

I’ve done some great things at Germano’s Piattini with both Michael Tan and Ryan Cappleman, and they seem to like me. So when I asked Cyd Wolf if I could put together a cabaret show featuring some of my students, she said, “Of course!”

This year is the centenary of women’s suffrage. March is Women’s History Month. So with that in mind, I decided that our program would focus on music by women. Since the studio is mainly comprised of women, that works (there are a few men singing, as well), this works. Tickets will be cheap because I want people to come and eat (because that’s how Germano’s makes their money, and they give us the space and all the proceeds in exchange).

I looked at some art and came across a songbook of the musical Dames at Sea (which was an early starring performance by Bernadette Peters but, unfortunately, written by a man) and thought, “Huh. we could call it … Dames… IN… C… and maybe D… and, oh, other keys.”

So, on March 29, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. Set list still TBD. Personnel still TBD. But here’s the art. And here’s where you can get tickets.

Dames in C

Scattergories/Categories

Scattergories is a creative-thinking category-based party game originally published by Parker Brothers.

Why I Sing is a creative-thinking but currently somewhat unfocused blog currently published by Christine Thomas-O’Meally (why, that’s me!).

Recently, I established the Curiously Stronger Performing series, which focuses on specific elements of performance:

  • The functional (how to present your music, how to walk into the room, how to talk to the pianist);
  • The creative (selecting music, creating themes);
  • The expressive (interpreting text, whether in English or another language; developing an inner monologue; physicalizing a song in the most efficient way).

And that’s what this blog needs to do. So a project I’m setting out to do over the next few months is to go through my blogposts and assign them a category.

Blogposts that are specifically about practical things like vocal technique, audition techniques, translating, and diction will go under the area of function.

Blogposts that are about finding new ways to look at things will be about creativity (and possibly about expressivity as well).

Blogposts about interpretation and physicality will be categorized under expressivity.

Announcements will either go under general or will be uncategorized.

Hopefully, this will help organize things so that they’re more easily found.

This will take awhile. Some might go under multiple things. Some of the older blogs might get reworked and updated.

Stay tuned!

Making Your Case in Auditions

Seth Godin wrote a blog a few weeks ago about the conventional wisdom of making your case vs. how it actually works. This was from a business/marketing perspective, but when I read this, I thought, “Wow, this could apply to auditioning!” My notes are in brackets.

Conventional wisdom:

Find a large group of people [audition for as many people as possible]

Explain why you’re better. [show off your technique]

Prove that you are the right answer. [sing better than anyone else]

Done. [get cast]

How it actually works:

Earn attention from precisely the right people. [audition for groups for which you’re the ideal candidate]

Gain trust. [be reliable – show up on time, be prepared]

Tell a story. [tell the truth – get into more than just the notes]

Create tension. [find a point of view that no one else has found before]

Relieve the tension by gaining commitment. [again, tell the truth]

Deliver work that’s remarkable. [go the extra mile in your interpretation]

They spread the word. [word of mouth – even if you don’t get the role this time, they might tell someone about you]

***

What would happen if you approach auditions this way, instead of just focusing on getting the part? Try it!

2020 – A new vision

Today is the first day of a new decade. The last decade began with me recovering from laser eye surgery – not LASIK, but something much more traumatic. My vision, pre-surgery, had been quite horrible – approximately 20/800. Meaning I couldn’t see my hand clearly if it was in front of my face. It took a few weeks to get to a place where I could function, and even then, my vision wasn’t perfect; probably about 20/35, which is within the range to function without correction. It was a heady experience – to wake up and see the clock across the room and be able to read the numbers instead of it being a red blur. I wish I’d done it sooner.

I feel as though that was the beginning of my eyes being opened in many ways – that year, I decided to run a 5K (up to that point, the only thing I’d ever run for was the bus). I switched from PC to Mac. I bought my dream car, after settling for a practical car in the past.

And in the two years after that, I decided to work on my own voice and wound up singing on the Hal Leonard Publishers Showcase at the NATS 2012 Conference – which changed my life. People told me that I still had something to offer as a singer – and I told my husband that I wanted to move back to the East Coast. And in 2013, I did.

My East Coast performing career has gone from community theater (something I pooh-poohed in Milwaukee) to professional solo gigs (choral and cabaret) to Washington National Opera chorister. My teaching has gone from dabblers to community theater performers to budding young professionals.  All of whom are valuable to me, in different ways.

Today is 2020. It is the beginning of a new decade. 20/20 is the symbol of clarity and seeing things for what they are. And what I’m clear about is that I want to help people perform and communicate.

This year will be the year for people to explore a variety of performances. How to audition effectively. How to communicate in languages they might not understand. How to create personal musical theater through cabaret. How to re-create a piece that you might be tired of or that you might consider old-fashioned. And I have more ideas about future workshops.

Whether you do this through your lessons, through the Curiously Strong Performing Workshops, through NATS auditions, solo-ensemble, or performing in school or community theaters – that’s up to you. Open your eyes, open your mind – see what is ahead for you. Make this decade matter.

2020 Word: Recreate

It’s become very trendy to announce that one word is going to set the intention for the year. My word last year was “Release,” and I did release a few things – my job at HCC, my fear of changing up the way I ran my private studio, and relationships that didn’t suit me.

I decided that this year’s word is Recreate. There are two meanings for this (with this spelling), according to Merriam-Webster:

  1. Transitive verb: to give new life or freshness to: REFRESH
  2. Intransitive verb: to take recreation (i.e., to play)
    or if, you put a hyphen between the re and the create:
  3. Transitive verb: to create again, to form anew in the imagination

I want to give new life to some things, including the idea of performance, as in the upcoming Curiously Stronger Performing workshops, which will start up on January 8. I want to explore new ways to approach things. And I want to play. Both in my work and away from it.

What’s your word? How did you choose it and how will you implement it?

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