No Autotune Necessary

Going back looking at some old posts. Short but sweet.

Why I sing

Here are ten isolated vocal tracks of pop singers (the link says 11, but the one of Idina Menzel has been disabled – pity).

While we all knew (I’m using the Royal We here) that Ann Wilson and Freddie Mercury were rock gods, it’s nice to know that even contemporary artists like One Direction have chops. And that Beyoncé’s voice can stand on its own. It’s heartbreaking to hear how incredible Whitney Houston had been, knowing how her voice wound up, as well as how incredible Amy Winehouse was, knowing how she wound up – and wondering if she would’ve wound up going down the same vocal path as Whitney Houston if she’d lived as long.

And it’s nice to hear isolated vocal tracks that are good, instead of ones we can poke fun at. And with that in mind, I will not post recordings of Linda McCartney or Britney…

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“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”

The phrase that is the title of this blogpost is attributed to Oscar Wilde. Actually, it was first written by a British writer named Charles Caleb Colton. Wilde’s version of it, written nearly 100 years later, added the phrase:

“that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Well, that’s quite different.

We have heard tons of amateur singers channeling famous singers at auditions. “Wow, she sounds a lot like Idina Menzel/Sutton Foster/Laura Osnes! But not quite.” They haven’t found their own voice. They might not be mediocre, but they’re not great.

I think imitation has its place as a pedagogical tool. As a child, I found my upper register by imitating Julie Andrews. I found my chest voice by imitating Karen Carpenter. I found my mix by imitating Barbra Streisand. But I don’t think I sound like any one of them (except when I go full Julie as a comedic choice).

If you are imitating someone, you are rearranging your vocal tract in the way that they do to produce a particular sound. Perhaps your tongue is forward and the sound is very bright and head-dominant. Perhaps your mouth is open wider or taller. Perhaps your lips are more rounded.  What if you try one of those things when you’re singing something you’re having a problem with (WWJD – what would Julie do?) How can you make that work with your own voice?

It’s not limited to celebrity imitations. What about character voices? If you made a baby sound, or a little girl sound, or a gruff Santa sound? Or a witch? What do you find when you make those sounds?

Or accents! If you’re good at them, which I am (she said, immodestly). How does singing something with an RP British accent feel versus singing something with a Cockney accent? (Did you know there are 30 different accents associated with the UK?) A French accent versus a Russian accent? A midwestern accent or a southern accent? What happens inside your mouth? What is the sound like? What can you learn from making that sound?

Check out the amazing Christine Pedi in this video. She’s made a career out of doing imitations, especially switching between them rapid-fire – but I don’t know what her own voice sounds like.

So imitate away – but examine what you’re doing. What’s healthy about it? What’s not? How can you use imitation as a tool to find your own voice?

Developing a plan: when talent isn’t enough

I follow marketing guru Seth Godin, whose daily blogs go beyond how to sell something and into the practical and functional elements of:

  • What do people need?
  • What do you have to offer?
  • Does their need and what you have to offer coalesce to benefit both of you?

Thursday’s blog was about skill vs. talent.

A lot of people have natural talent. A lot of people were born with a talent for singing, writing, dancing, acting. People who are told from the time they were small children that they should be on Broadway, or on The Voice, or at the Metropolitan Opera, or in Hollywood.

And a few people make a living doing those things.

And more people don’t. A lot of times it’s because that’s not what they want to do, in the long run. And that’s fine. Sometimes because they don’t have the skills to take their talent to the people who need it, and don’t know how to develop those skills, or what they even are.

And some people make a living doing things that they weren’t “born” to do. They were talented, but weren’t the best singer in their choir, or the best dancer in their troupe, or the lead in their school play. But they’re the ones working at their craft. And the word “craft” is essential here. Because craft = skill. Craft = technique.

It’s not enough to have talent. You have to develop your craft. And you have to develop  (or craft, to use the word as a verb) other skills necessary to get that talent out there for the people who need it.

These might be things you’re not comfortable with yet. They might involve reading a book on business, taking a language class, listening to artists you’ve never heard of, or … eek … talking on the phone with someone who might be able to help you out (for someone who spent hours on the phone in high school, I’ve become loath to use the phone for something other than accessing the internet).

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How can you take what you have to offer (your talent) and get it to the people who are in need of it? (You’re going to have to find out who those people are, for one thing. And where they are.)

When you take a trip, you make a plan. A plan that allows for spontaneity and changes in direction, but a plan nevertheless. At least to get on the road and on your way. Your destination may change but you have to take that first step or you aren’t going anywhere.

What’s your plan? What’s the first step?

Curiously Stronger Performing – Feb 12 Workshop – RESCHEDULED

Due to multiple commitments and scheduling issues, I’ve decided to reschedule the “Singing in ‘Foreign’ Languages” workshop to another date. I’m thinking April 29 – hopefully, this will be enough time for everyone to have gotten and gotten over the flu and whatever other respiratory viruses are making the rounds. (See Vocal Health post from the other day.)

Hopefully we will be able to do this at Roland Park Community Center on that day. If not, I have a couple of other ideas as well.

Stay tuned.

Curiously Stronger Performing

It is my passion to help people perform to their highest level.

To interpret music in a way that realizes the intent of the composer and lyricist while still maintaining a connection to the artist performing it.

To re-create old material to have a fresher feeling and to be able to play with it.

If you want to know more about how do this, please contact me about performing in or auditing an upcoming session of my Curiously Stronger Performing series (next session: 2/12/2020). I’d also be happy to discuss any questions you might have about private lessons, either in person or online.

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What if I had just stayed “comfortable”?

If I never did anything new, I’d still be:

  1. Working at Fleet Mortgage Corp. as a customer service rep
  2. Living in Waukesha in a townhouse I didn’t really want to buy in the first place with my first husband
  3. Singing in the Florentine Opera chorus
  4. Dreaming of doing more with my life

I wouldn’t have:

  1. Moved to DC in the first place
  2. Sung with Washington Opera
  3. Moved to Baltimore to go to Peabody (which involved leaving my first husband)
  4. Met and married my second husband
  5. Moved back to Milwaukee (there are some quibbles about that but…)
  6. Sung in Chicago with Lyric and other groups
  7. Become a voice teacher
  8. Started my blog
  9. Run a 5K (twice)
  10. Started singing cabaret
  11. Moved back to Baltimore
  12. Sung in New York
  13. Opened Mezzoid Voice Studio
  14. Started the Curiously Stronger Performing series of workshops
  15. Met an incredible number of phenomenal friends, colleagues, and students (and students who became colleagues, colleagues who became friends, etc.)

I would have been:

  1. Unhappy
  2. Unfulfilled
  3. Incurious

I am now:

  1. Happy
  2. Fulfilled but looking for more ways to branch out
  3. Still curious

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    What are you afraid to try?

The first rule about vocal health is…

… don’t talk about vocal health.

In a way, I see that to be true. It’s the fear that as soon as you say, “I have been freakishly healthy this year!” BAM, you’re going to be hit with the Mother of All Bronchitis.

Well, I’m going to take my chances right now <peering up at the sky anxiously for the thunderclap>:

I have been freakishly healthy this year. 

As someone who has succumbed to several bouts of the Mother of All Bronchitis over the past few years, this is huge for me. I lost thousands of dollars in teaching and performing income in 2017-18 because of upper respiratory illnesses that left me voiceless for weeks on end. For me to not have had so much as a cold (for more than a day or so) – well, it’s huge.

I think there are several reasons for this.

  1. I’m eating right (thank you, WW!)
  2. I’m working out several times a week (thank you, Brick Bodies!)
  3. I’m pretty happy right now (thank you, world!)
    and the most important reason, IMO

  4. I have been rinsing out my sinuses 2x/daily ever since the school year started (thank you, Arm & Hammer Saline Rinse). More often if I feel anything coming on.

You can do this with a neti pot, or with saline squeeze bottles/irrigators – this one vibrates, which I find somewhat disconcerting – although I have used a vibrator on my sinuses to relieve pressure in the past, which I’ve also found helpful. (This is also a technique used in vocal training, although I haven’t quite had the guts to introduce it in my studio.)

I personally like the convenience of the Arm & Hammer Saline Spray, which I purchase in a three-pack from Costco (and no, I haven’t monetlzed this blog – yet – so I’m getting no kickbacks from either A&H or Costco, dammit). The spray sits on my counter, I put a cap on it after I use it, and I don’t have to heat up water, wait for the water to cool down so I don’t scald my nose, forget the water in the microwave, and have to start all over. I do it in the morning after I shower, when everything’s loosened up a bit from the steam anyway, and at night after i take off my makeup.

Here’s a video. I look like Bill the Cat when I do it, but oh well. I usually don’t put on makeup before i do this but I am a child of vanity.


[I wrote this on Sunday, and then went off to my church job, where I found out that February 3 is the feast of Saint Blaise, who is the patron saint of throat maladies (and wool combers, for what that is worth). Since I’ve scheduled this to publish on February 3, I had to come back and edit this to say that if all else fails…..]