Appcompanist – This is HUGE

When I go to exhibits at conferences (vocal or otherwise), I stop at booths (especially if they are offering something free, preferably of the food nature) and I have several standard responses to the things they’re selling:

  • That’s really interesting! I’m about to go to [insert title of session here] now. But I’ll be back later to look at this a little further. Thank you!
  • This looks terrific. But I’ve made a pact not to buy any more books until I’ve read the ones I have. Thank you for this, though!
  • Looks like you’ve put a lot of work into this. Wow.
  • Huh. Interesting. 
  • These cookies are really good!
  • [Smile through a mouthful of cookies and run when the exhibitor’s back is turned]
I went to the Appcompanist booth and saw a friend of mine standing there slack-jawed, watching the pitch of founder Darin Adams. That’s not his usual look. I came in on the end of it and my friend asked a few more questions and then he left. Darin started his pitch from the beginning and I became slack-jawed. And then I responded with a phrase I’ve never used at a exhibit before:

And then the next day, I went to Darin’s presentation on the final day of the conference. And my mind was blown again.
Appcompanist is not intended to replace a pianist. Despite Will Zellhofer’s dejected response to my FB post of, “I saw Terminator. I know how this ends,” it is intended as a tool. 
Appcompanist has done pretty much what I’ve been doing in the studio when people need accompaniments for practice or auditions when there’s no pianist – recording on my Clavinova onto a flash drive inserted into the USB, usually while the singer is singing, so the accompaniment is timed perfectly to their desired tempo, their breaths, and whatever rubato (or lack thereof) they plan to take. The difference is that the accompaniment recording can be manipulated to your future needs.

Want it faster? Slower? Do you need it in a different key? Do you want to take a fermata somewhere? Bring out the melody while you’re practicing? Create a cut for an audition? Open that cut up? Do you want to create playlists for different purposes (mine are “student repertoire” and “songs for MEEEEE”)? You can do all that.

There are thousands and thousands of songs available in both classical and musical theater (not sure about pop yet). You can subscribe on a monthly basis to either library at $11.99 or to both for $14.99 or do what I did and spring for a yearly membership ($149). Yeah, it sounds pricey, but it’s working for me. I’ve got an audition in a few weeks and I’m rehearsing with a couple of pieces and it’s really making practicing easy. (I am going to write to them about the end of “O rest in the Lord.” There’s a mistake that I can work around, but they should fix it.)

At the very least, I’m going to be using it in lessons from time to time. Especially when we’re working on pieces that are ready to go out so you can hear all of the notes, and not only the ones I can play.

Check it out. The technology is amazing! (And no, I’m not getting any kind of kickback from them. Dammit.)

No one even breathed…

Last week at NATS, I saw a recital by the great opera singers Christine Brewer and Stephanie Blythe, accompanied by the amazing Craig Terry. Christine Brewer is a Wagnerian soprano, Stephanie Blythe a dramatic mezzo-soprano, and combined, their voices could knock you out of your seat (I can vouch for this because I was in the 3rd row). Craig Terry is a joybomb. Everything he did, both as a collaborative pianist and as a clinician, was full of joy and support for whoever he was working with. I shared with him as he was passing me, “Mr. Terry, I just wanted to tell you that you absolutely exude joy in everything you do.” He stopped and said “Thank you!” and then held his hand out and said, “I’m Craig.” (Yeah, I kinda knew that.) I shook his hand and said, “I’m Christine.”

But there was a moment in the second half where Stephanie Blythe sang a song from her Kate Smith tribute show that was particularly special. The song, “The White Cliffs of Dover,” was written at the height of WWII. She brought that enormous voice down to a silvery thread – so controlled, so perfect – and no one… even… breathed. No one moved. (Of course, that was when my right calf began to itch like crazy – I very carefully used my right foot to scratch it, feeling like a complete Philistine.)

It’s hard for a YouTube video to capture the perfection of this moment, but I found one from a few years ago, with Stephanie Blythe and Craig Terry in concert. Enjoy.

Singer’s Practice Plan, Log, and Journal – A New Tool for the Studio! (One of many!)

While I was in Las Vegas last week for the NATS Conference, I got a chance to review a planner that a friend of mine, Nancy Bos, has put together. Nancy is a prolific writer and an excellent teacher, and I’ve been looking for something that would help me us focus on our energies more efficiently in the studio. So I bought myself a copy to review it. If I thought it’d be valuable, I’d ask my students to buy it.

And then I went to the national meeting on the last morning of the conference and entered a raffle. Would I win CDs? A t-shirt? Would I win a new iPad? Would I win free registration to the 2020 conference in Knoxville? (That’s what i was hoping for!)

I won 5 copies of the practice planner. In red. And I’m thrilled with the planner I bought (in blue), so I’m giving them out to people. You can do with it what you wish. There’s a section on writing down when and how long you practiced, a section on setting goals, a place to take notes, staff paper to write out exercises (or have me write them in your book), a place to keep track of your repertoire (both things we’re working on and dream pieces), and a journal section that you can fill out as you’d like. I’ve given out 2 copies so far, and I’m planning to give out the rest this week.

If you’re interested in the book and you didn’t get a copy (for example, you didn’t have a lesson last week and aren’t having one this week), then you can purchase a copy on Amazon. More info is here. If enough people are interested, I can contact Nancy and buy in bulk (10 copies or more).

I am using the book for my own goal setting, journaling, and record-keeping.

I also purchased iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to take notes at the conference and have started keeping lesson records on it, which is life-changing. Plus I’m moving a lot of my sheet music to it, and that is also life-changing.

Other things that I came across at the workshop and recommend:

Appcompanist: This is MINDBLOWING. We’ll be using it in the studio, but if you want to use it at home, you’ll have to get your own. IOS only for now. Android coming later. Free download and demo. Not cheap but incredible.

Voxercise: Free download (both IOS and Android) will give you 3 free vocalises (glides on a hum, on a vowel, and on a trill) and 3 breathing exercises. Additional exercises are $4.99 for a pack or $13.99 for all 5 packs. I just accidentally bought one pack while I was writing this (oops). They’re pretty basic. But if you need to warm up somewhere, they’ll do the trick. It also tells you if you’re sharp or flat!

Things I hope to accomplish this summer:

  1. Updating my own vocalises to be given out (this was last summer’s goal, but I ran into a glitch with the software)
  2. Possibly putting vocalises onto a YouTube channel that would be available to my own students
  3. Actually creating official studio policies. I had very specific policies when I had my Milwaukee studio. I haven’t done the same thing here yet because I haven’t has any many students, my needs are different (I’m performing more, so I need to adapt some things to allow for that), and my client base is somewhat different. In Milwaukee, all my students were ages 11-18, with the occasional college kid coming back in the summer for a touch-up. Now, I range from 11-70, and I have to take some things into account. But I definitely need to set some policies in place – I can’t expect people to read my mind. I’m pretty reasonable, though.
It’s going to be a great summer!