She’s the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – with something to say

I am a huge fan of the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the fourth (and final) season of which I’m watching on Netflix right now. The star and creator and producer and writer of the show is the multi-talented (as well as multi-tasking) Rachel Bloom, who plays the title character, Rebecca Bunch.

Each episode of the show features one to two musical numbers (also co-written by Ms. Bloom). They can be about mistakes Rebecca has made in her relationships (which are legion), about the men in her life and their reactions to her, her friends, her family, etc. They vary greatly in style, from

  • big, showy musical theater numbers, complete with Broadway-level choreography; 
  • intimate cabaret-style solo performances
  • dance music videos
I just happened upon this video of an interview Rachel Bloom did with Seth Meyers about a year and a half ago, and in it, he asks her about using songs to tackle some pretty significant issues, particularly regarding mental health. I loved the way that she describes how a song is structured (this comes in nearly 4 minutes in). She refers to them as musical essays, with the thesis statement the chorus, and the supporting paragraphs the verses and bridges.  She says, “It’s a great way to distill something down,  to be like, ‘this is what we’re trying to say.'”

What are you trying to say in your songs? What is the main point? What is in the supporting material? 

Let’s take the song “Someone like you” from Jekyll & Hyde. It’s very clear what the point is: If I had someone like you in my life, it would be better. That’s the chorus. You sing it three times (and the last time, higher).

The supporting material:
The beginning: I’m an outsider. Nothing has ever worked for me. I’ve never had any hope.
The second verse: I’m feeling things I never felt before and I think there might be a way out. I know what that is now.

Watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix, if you haven’t seen it already (caveat: adult content). 

If you’re going to make a mistake, make a BIG one

I read a blogpost the other day by a musician and psychologist named Noa Kageyama (aka “The Bulletproof Musician”) about the idea that making deliberate mistakes can teach you a lot. Kageyama’s focus, generally, is on being very deliberate and mindful in your practice. So I was doing some thinking when I posted this on my studio FB page:

What would happen if…

You did that wrong again, but make it really wrong, on purpose?
You gave yourself permission to do it wrong? Would you do it wrong?

While “practice makes perfect” is less true than “practice makes permanent,” being mindful and making deliberate choices is much better than being on autopilot.

****

What would happen if you:

  1. Sang a note deliberately flat?
  2. Sang a note deliberately sharp?
  3. Sang the wrong rhythm – on purpose?
  4. Sang the wrong interval – on purpose?
How would it feel in your body to sing flat/sharp/just plain wrong? And how does it feel when you do it right?
You have to know what WRONG is so you can find RIGHT. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it big and make it deliberate so you can figure out just what wrong is and what is wrong.

Experiment with this – if you have a phrase where you are always flat, sing it REALLY flat on purpose. What’s going on? Is your tongue in a weird place? Is the registration off? Your balance breath pressure less than optimal (or if sharp, more than optimal)? How can you adjust these things in your own body? 

What would happen – if?

"An instrument of discovery"

I just read this in a Facebook ad for former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins’ poetry masterclass:

“I think of a poem as a flashlight, an instrument of discovery. I’m here to light the way for you, to show you what I’ve learned, and not just about rhyme and meter. I’ll also teach you about being open to influence, understanding who you are as a poet, and inventing a persona, that is, a distinctive voice that is yours alone. Join me in my first-ever MasterClass.”

This resonated with me. If you love song, you love poetry, because that’s what we’re doing – we’re singing poetry. And this is exactly how I feel about teaching singing. I’m here to light the way for you, to show you what I’ve learned, and not just about breath and resonance. 

I want you to understand who you are as a singer and as a person, to find the distinctive voice that is yours alone.
Join me. Turn on that flashlight.
 
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Money Notes

Wikipedias definition:

money note is a music industry slang term which refers to a part of a live or recorded singing performance which is subjectively judged to be very dramatic or emotionally stirring.

Mezzoid’s definition:

A note you sing that is so fantastic, that sits in just the right place, that you’ve infused with so much emotion and strength and power, that people will throw money at you to keep doing it (and is hopefully not the opposite, where they’ll throw money at you to make you stop).

Perfection is not attainable. In Power Performance for Singers by Shirlee Emmons and Alma Thomas, the authors liken preparation for singing to the preparation done by athletes. An athlete prepares by practicing, by knowing the field on which they’re going to play, by mentally rehearsing the game, by packing their gear. They do not expect to make every shot, hit every ball, catch every ball, but they are going to create the conditions that will facilitate this so that they’re going to miss every shot or every ball that comes their way.

Let’s look at baseball. Mike Trout plays for the Oakland As and is considered the best player right now. His lifetime batting average is .308 and he has been up to bat 3902 times. This means that he has actually hit the ball almost 1,202 times, or 3 times out of every 10 times he’s been up at bat. (Math is not my strong suit – feel free to recheck my numbers).

This doesn’t seem all that impressive. But of those 1,200+ hits, 245 have been home runs (money notes) and 660 have been runs batted in.

As a performer, I think we’d all like to hit more than 3 out of every 10 notes right in order to consider ourselves successful. And all notes matter, not just the money notes.

Idina Menzel said in an interview, “There are about 
3 million notes in a two-and-a-half-hour musical; being a perfectionist, it took me a long time 
to realize that if I’m hitting 75 percent of them, 
I’m succeeding. “

That is true. And I think if we’re batting .750 as singers, we’re doing great.

BUT.

  • If Mike Trout comes up to the plate at the bottom of the 9th inning and the other team is ahead one run, and the bases are loaded and he strikes out; OR
  • If the note that people are paying you to sing (i.e., the money note and subject of the blog) is not among the 75%;

Both of you might as well have stayed home.

I submit for your consideration: