Musicals I don’t like that everyone else does

There’s a thing going around Facebook where people are listing the things they don’t like that everyone else does. Some make sense to me – black licorice? EW. The Kardashians? EW EW. And some – well, I’ve lost all respect for some people.

So I thought I’d make a list of the musicals I don’t like that everyone else does (not in any kind of order):

  1. Grease
    The Travolta/ON-J movie was entertaining, but really, it’s a gross musical. I simply won’t teach any of the songs from it because they’re
    trash not my cup of tea.
  2. Bye Bye Birdie
    Really, this should be #1. My personal experience of Hell on earth was sitting through a high school showcase in Milwaukee where five scenes of this
    monstrosity were presented. I only like “Put on a happy face,” and then only sung by Dick Van Dyke. Most of the music is trash not my cup of tea.
  3. Chorus Line
    I like the music out of context. I find the story very self-indulgent (as I do with a lot of 1970s musicals) and it’s uncomfortable to see HS kids doing it. 
  4. Godspell
    Admittedly, seeing this at St. Matthias Catholic Church done by an all-volunteer group may have colored my opinion of it. But again, self-indulgent 1970s pseudo-spiritual claptrap  not my cup of tea.
  5. Pippin
    I like Corner of the Sky. But other than that, self-indulgent etc. etc.
  6. Children of Eden
    This is the third Stephen Schwartz piece in a row. Huh. “Oh Noah – you go-ah – all the way back to the protozoa!” That lyric alone … ugh.
  7. Jekyll & Hyde
    Great music. Just too dark, no humor to liven up the endless death and dismemberment. A show only as good as its three principal actors. And “Confrontation” has to be sung by an acting phenom, otherwise it’s
    hilarious.
  8. Mamma Mia!
    UGH. My husband says, “But you like ABBA.” Yeah, in a club. But not an entire evening of it. Plus I kinda hate jukebox musicals. And when I saw the movie, there were a whole bunch of women from the Red Hat Society, cheering and dancing. ‘Nuff said.
  9. Rent
    Puccini did it better. I have my own personal opinion as to why it was such a success. I won’t share that here. Mimi shouldn’t live at the end. THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES.
  10. Spring Awakening
    I will say that I like the recording better than when people brought me the individual songs because the orchestration is sublime. The piano reductions are boring as hell. I don’t like the music, though. I find it too jarring with the 1800s setting. It seems… dare I say it… self-indulgent – “Look how edgy we are!”

(Dis)Honorable mention:

  • You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown 
    I don’t like shows where adults play children. I could probably handle a production at the high school level, but a 45 year old Charlie Brown is just gross.
  • 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
    I like the story, not the music. Which is weird because I 
    love William Finn’s writing in Falsettos and A New Brain. Again, adults playing children is weird and off-putting to me.
  • City of Angels
    Saw it on its national tour in DC in the 90s. Enjoyed it somewhat, I recall, but I remember nothing about it.  I couldn’t tell you anything about it 15 minutes after I saw it.

There are a lot of musicals I haven’t seen and don’t wanna see. I don’t like jukebox musicals or movicals (movies turned into musicals) as a general rule. There are exceptions.

But there’s one musical for which I cannot – no, will not – make an exception (other than the DvD reference above). Just say no.
FBFE7D38-8778-4048-9D67-99A55D728A80_4_5005_cNot that I’m opinionated or anything. It’s  just trash …. not my cup of tea.

Online Lessons – Choices Abound!

In the last few weeks, as I’ve made the transition to online lessons, about 1/3 of my students have come along with me and scheduled lessons. They’ve either downloaded an accompaniment app or have a prerecorded track on their end. They’ve downloaded Zoom, made sure their audio set up is in place, and made appointments on Acuity.

A few other people have contacted me to tell me that their lives are twice as busy as a result of this pandemic and they’re going to have put lessons on hold for the time being.

But quite a few people have simply… disappeared. They haven’t responded to emails and they haven’t scheduled any lessons. And I get it because this might be the most important thing in my life – it’s what I do for a living and it’s my passion – but it’s just one of many things my students do. What are the fears?

  1. It’s gonna be weird.
    Yep. It will, at first. And maybe at second. It won’t be like an in-person lesson.
  2. I don’t want to sing in front of my siblings/parents.
    Well, you can ask them to go for a walk for an hour. People can still walk outside (and that way no one will be streaming and your connection will be better).
  3. I don’t have a place to do it. 
    You won’t need a piano. You can really go anywhere (although if you go into your bedroom, it’d be best if you leave the door ajar, for propriety’s sake). I have one person singing in the basement, just because she’s right by the router.
  4. I’m freaking out and I’m not in a good place about this. Can we just wait until we can do it in person?
    That is an option. I’ve had a few bad days myself. I’m going to extend my studio calendar for two weeks, and hopefully we’ll be back in person by May. But I think it would be a really good thing to keep on track with lessons.

If you really, really don’t think you can do online lessons for whatever reason, here are some options:

  1. Make a video of yourself. Send it to me, either via email or the new Marco Polo app, which I have just downloaded onto my iPad. This allows you to record a video and send it to me. If I’m around, I can watch it right away. If I’m not, I can watch it when I get to it, and record my thoughts and comments and send it back to you.
  2. Active Listening: According to Full Voice Music educator Nikki Loney, “Active listening is when you listen to music carefully and give it your full attention.” I can assign some videos of various singers for you to watch and you can watch them and analyze the entire piece, from accompaniment, to rhythm, to harmonies, to vocal choices, to lyrics. We can focus on one or we can focus on more. We can focus on lyrics. What do the words mean? Are there any words that are new for you?
  3.  Take a break, and hopefully we’ll get back into the studio again in May and get the rest of your lessons in before the end of the semester.

This was written specifically for my students so that my email about the subject won’t be ridiculously long, but if you’re a voice teacher or a voice student, you’re probably dealing with the same things.

TL:DR – There are so many choices – what will be yours?

Appcompanist for Android is AVAILABLE!

From my friend, fellow voice teacher and music director/studio pianist Michael Tan, on the studio FB page this morning:

FYI: The free prerelease version of Appcompanist for Android is now live on the Google Play Store! (Just search Appcompanist) [The rest is Appcompanist’s blurb]

The free prerelease version includes access to all 550+ Vocal Exercises and 50 Sample Songs chosen by NATS from their list of most auditioned repertoire (all found in Playlists). The purpose of this prerelease version is to at least rush something into the hands of teachers and singers who have been forced to transition to online lessons, distance learning, and practice in isolation. As a prerelease version, you may experience some instability and technical issues, but our testing has found it to work well enough to be a help at this time. We would appreciate it if you would report any bugs or problems you encounter to info@appcompanist.com so we can work those fixes it into our ongoing development. We are working hard to make the subscription version with the full library of 5,000+ titles available by May.

Please feel free to visit our website www.appcompanist.com for information and helpful tutorial videos to make the most of this great learning and rehearsal tool. Keep in mind, however, that not all of the features highlighted in the videos from the Apple version will be immediately available in Android. We will keep working to get every great feature into the hands of our Android users as soon as possible.

If you choose not to keep Appcompanist, you will still have access to the vocalises. I took the liberty of going through the vocalises curated by them and writing them out, so that you’ll know what to do with them, and am attaching them here: Accompanist_Vocalises.

Some of these are vocalises we do in the studio. Others are new and I might be adding them to the rotation and will introduce them in online lessons in the coming weeks (hopefully not months). I have included suggested vowels/syllables and have written out based on where I probably would start them in your lesson and have included a couple of them going down (mostly).

The vocalises on the app default to C major and go up. You can change that. I prefer to start in E or Eb (for the most part) and go down, and then return to the original note and go up. I’ll make a video of myself doing that, as well as other fancy things you can do in Appcompanist, and post it later.

At the very least, this will allow you to have some vocalises that you can use, in addition to the ones I have posted for my private students on the website (the portal access is being worked on by my webmaster as we speak).

Musical Theater Mnemonics – Sightsinging Intervals

When you learn to read music, one of the most important elements is learning to read intervals on the staff.  This is in reference to how close notes are to each other on the staff.  The distance of a 2nd, 3rd, etc., refers to the proximity of the bottom note to the top, counting the bottom note as 1. (I don’t know why the 4th and 5th steps and the octave of the scale are referred to as perfect.)

8C349C34-DD7A-41A4-9589-1BEC80AC8B31_4_5005_c

Learning memory tricks, or mnemonics, is very helpful in helping you learn to sightread. When I was in undergrad sightsinging, I was given a list of songs that corresponded to the different melodic intervals of a 12-note chromatic scale. The ones I remember the best were:

P4⬆️ “Here comes the bride”
P4⬇️: “Born free”
M6⬆️: “My Bonnie lies over the ocean”

(For a minor 6th, I always thought of it as “sad my Bonnie.”)

Nowadays, people don’t know the traditional folk songs the way they used to (never mind oldies like “Born Free”), so when I offer one of them as a mnemonic device, I’m met with blank stares.

But what y’all DO know is musical theater. So I sat down today and created this (which I edited because someone caught a mistake PLUS it gave me the chance to close a parentheses I’d missed):
Sightreading with Musical Theater Intervals PNG
(Tritone = augmented 4th or diminished 5th. Also known as the Devil’s Interval.)

Click here to access the file along with YouTube links to each song: Sightreading with Musical Theater Intervals

Take the opportunity of this unplanned social isolation to work on your sightreading. Or on your improvisation skills. Or a monologue.

Online lessons – can this work?

YES.

But there are some things we have to know first (well, first of all, that’s a screenshot below, so don’t try to click play on it because it won’t play).FFA15FA0-862A-455B-8268-9632BC759C52You need to have a few things on your end:

  1. We’re using Zoom as the platform. Not only is it really trendy in this weird dystopian life we’re all living right now, there was a study that was just released that shows it to be the best in terms of doing music lessons. FaceTime can also work for people on iOS, but it’s not as authentic in capturing sound.
  2. You need a laptop or a tablet. And ideally, you need an external mic. Whether that is a USB plug-in, like the Blue Snowball mic, or a lightning plug-in if you’re using an iPad, or your earbuds (wired or wireless) with a mic on it, that’s up to you. But your sound quality will be better if you have an external mic of some kind.
  3. It would be ideal if no one else is streaming in the house. Your connection will be better.
  4. I can’t accompany you. There’s too much of a lag. You can use a variety of platforms for accompaniments. I have created an overview of the different platforms for you. I like Appcompanist, and it’s offering a 30 day free trial. It offers you the most creative options for personalizing the music to your individual needs. I’ll be creating another blog/video to explain that further. But there are other options, as well. Check them out and see what works for you. Accompaniment overview
  5. Your accompaniment, whatever the format, needs to be on a separate device from Zoom. And honestly, it doesn’t matter if I can hear it. It matters if you can. I just need to hear you.
  6. Your settings on Zoom should be optimized to allow original sound. This is especially important in vocal music to avoid cutting out. This is available only on the desktop/laptop platform, and is under advanced settings on audio. Zoom settings - Audio Advanced

So, if you didn’t see this video on Facebook (from which the screen shot came), take a look here. This is the video that explains how to set up lessons, for those of you who need to set up lessons. Plus you get to see me dance a little.

Feel the Grief and Do it Anyway

Back on March 4, I had a conversation with a friend on how overwhelmed I felt because I had taken on too many projects. In the upcoming weeks, my schedule included:

  1. Six more performances of Don Giovanni at the Kennedy Center in DC;
  2. The world premiere of a concert of music with texts by Irish poets, three songs of which I had commissioned area composer Garth Baxter to write for me, four more songs which he wrote on his own, and five songs by other composers;
  3. Teaching;
  4. Preparing students for their upcoming trip to Columbia, SC for the regional finals at Mid-Atlantic NATS;
  5. A Curiously Stronger Performing workshop on creating a cabaret;
  6. Preparing a studio cabaret at Germano’s featuring music by women composers;
  7. My church job, leading up to Holy Week (Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday), with a wedding along the way;
  8. Preparing to go on vacation to the UK on Easter Sunday night.

My friend said, “Good lord, that’s so much! Such cool stuff, though!”

I got as far as three more performances of DG, the workshop, and a week of teaching before the world shut down. NATS went to an online format for the competition (which I submitted on Tuesday); the recital was postponed to June; the Kennedy Center closed; church closed; Germano’s (and other restaurants) closed; and my vacation is cancelled.

And now I’m home, making the transition to online lessons. And the process of trying to make this a valuable experience for my students is more overwhelming – and right now, less satisfying – than the plethora of things I had to do less than a month ago.

A friend of mine shared an article on the reaction we’re having to this new abnormal. It’s by David Kessler, who collaborated with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on her sequel to her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying. This one is called On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. He’s written his own book on the subject, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of GriefSince I recently wrote a blog on the topic of applying the five stages of grief in interpreting a sad song, this piqued my interest.

Back in the early 1990s, a popular self-help book was Feel the Fear … and Do It Anyway by the late Susan Jeffers. It was a very pragmatic book about taking the next step in life, no matter how it might terrify you. It was really helpful for me when I made the decision to completely up-end my life, leave my first marriage, and move to Baltimore for graduate school. I was terrified. And it’s very easy, when you’re frightened, to simply do nothing. I chose to do something. And I’ve chosen to do something over and over again since then.

I’m not frightened now, despite the pandemic. I am grieving for the loss of my performing life, I am grieving for the loss of my upcoming vacation (and the trips I’d planned to take later this spring and summer, which are now up in the air), I am grieving over not seeing in my students in person, where I feel the most in my element. And I just want to go to brunch. Or out with friends for a drink and a bite. I’m also pretty angry, come to think of it.

I am grieving, but I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to find the meaning of this grief and let it take me to the next level in my virtual teaching and in my planning performances. And maybe I’ll add to that blog about using those stages of grief and finding the meaning.

But not today. Today I think I’m just going to cry.

Pieces I heard at NATS that you should sing (“you” being MT girls)

I found this list of songs for musical theater females that I jotted down when I was judging at the MDDC NATS auditions. It’s short because a lot of people sang the same things. But these stuck out. All are available on Musicnotes.com unless notated otherwise.

Take a listen to them. If there’s anything you want to learn (maybe in the summer, since the school year is winding down), let me know.

Maybe we can have a Zoom get together later this week to talk about repertoire you want to learn…. keep an eye on the studio FB page or on Insta for any upcoming Zoom chats!