Keep Calm and Sing On – But Not This Week

A week ago, my intention for today had been to write that the studio was open every day but Thursday because of the opera. Then the opera was cancelled.

Three days ago, my intention for today had been to write that the studio would be open for in-person lessons for anyone who wanted to come and I’d offer online lessons for anyone who wanted to stay home. Then the national emergency was declared. Schools were closed. My church gig has been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Today, it is my intention to write that the studio is closed this week. But I’m not taking a break – I am going to prepare for a hopefully short-term transition to online lessons. As I’ve mentioned, we will be using Zoom as the platform. I am going to spend this week doing the following:

  • Preparing my equipment so that I can give you the best possible experience with online lessons.
  • Watching a veritable cr*p-ton of videos on giving you the best possible experience with online lessons.
  • Creating support materials to help you practice on your own more efficiently. These will include videos of vocalises to be put on the studio YouTube channel and in the portal on the website. These will be for studio members only.
  • Delving into all the features that Appcompanist has to offer. There’s so much more I can do with it. As I mentioned, Appcompanist is now offering a 30-day free trial for IOS users (they’ll be rolling out a more limited Android version very shortly, with the full one coming out later).
  • Making a list for Appcompanist of things that I want them to add and mistakes I’ve found (I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile).
  • Looking at other accompaniment options that you can use, including ones mentioned by colleagues, including Pocket Pianist and PianoTrax.
  • Creating some scripts for Zoom classes on various elements, including diction/International Phonetic Alphabet.
  • Jumping on Zoom and inviting people to join me to check out how this thing is going to work (later in the week). Stay tuned for an invite.

People who teach online almost exclusively tell me that there are so many advantages to the online lesson format. We’ll have to be creative and open-minded about it.

I will leave your existing lesson times up on Acuity for 3/23-4/10. I’ll let you know later this week what kind of schedule I will have for online lessons. I may start earlier in the day M-Th.

I anticipate having to do this through April 10. It is highly unlikely that I will be going to England from April 12-26, as planned. I might take a week of that as vacation, since it was already planned. The studio cabaret is being postponed and an official announcement of that will come as soon as Cyd from Germano’s confirms that the date we’ve picked is on.

I will miss you all terribly BUT please stay home as much as you can. Even if you are not ill, and even if the symptoms are mild, it can be spread so easily.

There was a great article in WaPo this morning showing how social distancing can curb the spread of this illness. IT WORKS.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

TL:DR No lessons this week 😀

Creating a Cabaret FAQ

Creating a Cabaret FAQ

From last night’s Curiously Stronger Performing workshop (in case you weren’t there):

  • “What is a cabaret? How is it different than a recital? Or a musical?”
    Cabaret is personal musical theater” (Amanda McBroom).

    Cabaret Traditional Recital Musical
    VENUE Place where people are seated at tables, eating or drinking (or both) Performance hall or church; audience is seated in rows or pews. Theater; audience seated in rows.
    PROGRAMS Usually none Yes Yes
    THEME Maybe Maybe A specific script
    PATTER Often scripted, but shouldn’t seem like it. None, unless it’s a lecture/recital Scripted
    REPERTOIRE Anything goes! Classical, usually in specific sets; other styles occasionally thrown in to make you seem edgy 🙂 One composer (unless it’s a jukebox musical)
    MICS Yes No Yes
  • “Isn’t cabaret singing just singing in a nightclub for a bunch of drunk people who aren’t paying attention?”
    Generally not. People who come to a cabaret know that they are coming to hear artists, not just background music while they talk.

  • “How do I pick music for a cabaret?”
    What do you want to sing? Do you want to have a specific theme? Do you just want to sing some songs and find a theme from what you’ve chosen?

  • “How many songs should I sing?” [not addressed last night]
    Generally, a minimum of 16. Maximum 24. Don’t make people feel like they got shorted but also don’t make them feel like “Is this over yet?”
  • “What is patter? Do I have to do it?”
    Patter can be introducing a song. It can be talking about what the song means to you, or why you picked it, or the history of the composer. It could be funny. It could be serious. It’s expected. It makes the experience more intimate and personal.

  • “Should I use a microphone? How do I use a microphone?”
    Short answer: YES
    Depends on what kind of a microphone you have. Omnidirectional? Unidirectional? Corded? Cordless? Body mic?
    Do you want to hold the mic? Do you want to sing into a standing mic? Do you want to sit on a stool and sing?
     
  • “Who needs to be on my team? Do I need to have someone write a script for me? Do I need to hire a director?”
    You need to have a pianist or a guitarist (unless you play piano or guitar yourself). If you want to put together a small ensemble, you or your pianist can serve as music director. As far as hiring someone write a script or direct, well, I never have, but there are a lot of people who do. It depends on what your specific skills are.

    There was a lot more discussed, but you would’ve had to be there! Come to the next one on April 29 (rescheduled from February) on Singing Expressively in “Foreign” languages.

In the meantime, you can see us implement these elements in our upcoming cabaret show at Germano’s Piattini in Little Italy, “Dames in C – and D – and Other Keys,” which will feature music by female composers. We have a great program put together, and the cost is only $5!

Dames in C

Mid-Atlantic NATS: And on to South Carolina!

Mid-Atlantic NATS: And on to South Carolina!

Mid-Atlantic NATS Regional Auditions blogpostPlease join me in wishing the best to Mezzoid Voice Studio members Nicholas Johnson and Andrea Rudai as they prepare for the Mid-Atlantic regional auditions for the National Association of Teachers of Singers in Columbia, SC next weekend!

On Saturday, February 22, at the MDDC District NATS auditions at Morgan State University, Nick won his category, Lower HS Musical Theater TTBB, singing “You gotta die sometime” (Falsettos), “Not while I’m around” (Sweeney Todd), and “What do I need with love?” (Thoroughly Modern Millie). Andi took honors in the Upper HS Musical Theater Treble category, singing, “Ring of keys” (Fun Home), “No one else” (Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812), and “Till there was you” (Music Man).

They were accompanied by Michael Tan at the district auditions, but Michael won’t be able to go down to SC with them, since he’s music directing Dogfight at Spotlighters. So they’ll be accompanied by NC pianist Susan Young, who was recommended by a colleague of mine down there.

So, toi toi toi, Nick and Andi!

Making a list … and checking it …

No, I’m not writing a blog to the tune of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” (But don’t tempt me.)

Last weekend I judged the MDDC NATS auditions and saw some people sing with little or no expression in their eyes. Their eyes were fixed on a spot slightly above the judges’ heads, and it never varied. Sometimes, they smiled or gestured, but it never reached their eyes. It wasn’t natural – it wasn’t comforting as an audience member (judging or just watching) because I didn’t believe the song meant anything to the singer. I didn’t believe the singer. No matter how good the voice was, I didn’t believe him or her.

When you’re singing a solo that’s not intended to be sung to another person on stage or when you’re singing an art song, you are doing a soliloquy. You’re talking to yourself (a monologue, on the other hand, is usually a speech intended for someone else to hear).

When are times that you talk to yourself? The main time that I can think of is when you’re making a list of things you have to do.

Think about it: you’re making a to-do list. The majority of the time, you don’t just write without stopping and looking up. You think of what you have to do. You look up. You look around. You see something that reminds you of the next item you have to do. And then that reminds you of something else that you have to do. Try writing a list and be aware of what you’re doing. What’s the process?

Another example of “talking to yourself” is when you’re reflecting on something. Say you’re writing in your journal and thinking of your hopes and your dreams. You stop and reflect as you’re writing. You might write a bunch of stuff in a burst of creativity. You might feel stuck and pace around. What do you do when you’re reflecting?

Maybe your song is a list of things, like “You gotta die sometime” from Falsettos. A list of all the things you’ve done up to this time. Of what death will be like. How to handle it.

Maybe it’s a realization and awareness, like “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home (although the chorus is a list – “your swagger, your bearing… short hair and your dungarees”). It’s a realization of who Small Allison is.

Another time I talk to myself is in the shower. Or when I’m driving a long distance. I try out all sorts of scenarios, usually regarding how I should’ve handled something differently.

So take a song you’re working on and write it out as a list. Or as if you were journaling. What do you do? Where do your eyes go? Are you looking out? Are you looking in? (Just don’t look down too much, because you’ll lose your audience.)

We’ll work on things like this in the Curiously Stronger Performing Series, Our next workshop is at 7pm on Tuesday, March 10. Come. Bring a song. Make a list and check it twice. Or three times.

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?