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.

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

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.

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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Curiously Stronger Performing, Session #2: Singing Expressively in a Foreign Language

On February 12, we will be holding the second session of the Curiously Stronger Performing series at the Roland Park Community Center. The topic is Singing Expressively in Foreign Languages. The class goes from 7-9pm, and I’ll be working with 6 singers for 15 minutes each.

The inspiration of this workshop was going to recitals where students were assigned to sing in a foreign language and were singing with completely blank faces, no connection to their text whatsoever, and were clearly not aware of what the meaning of their songs were. It was boring for them, and honestly, boring for the audience.

Of course, it’s hard to sing in a language you don’t understand. I find it hard, and I do it for a living. While I’m confident in my knowledge and execution of diction rules in a lot of languages, I really wish I were fluent in languages other than English (I speak a smattering of German and French, but I’m not fluent, by any means).

But if you are going into classical music (or even if you’re not, but you’re in a program or a competition that requires you to sing in multiple languages), it’s something that you have to do. And you owe it to the poet, to the composer, to the audience, and to yourself, to be the best interpreter of your text that you can be.

In this workshop, I will help you find:

  • Strategies to sing as expressively in a language you don’t necessarily understand as you would in a song in which you understand every word
  • Commonalities between the theme of a song in classical music and one in a more popular genre.
  • The important words to emphasize and how the music helps that process.
  • The inner monologue that underlies the word for word translation

And if you’re singing in English, but you don’t understand what the heck the song means (“I remember sky,” amirite?), I can help you with that as well. There are many esoteric English language songs in both classical music and musical theater that flummox people, and I’ll be happy to help you get to the crux of those songs as well.

Sign up here to participate in the class or here to audit the class. And feel free to comment here or message me at mezzoid@gmail.com if you have any questions!

Scattergories/Categories

Scattergories is a creative-thinking category-based party game originally published by Parker Brothers.

Why I Sing is a creative-thinking but currently somewhat unfocused blog currently published by Christine Thomas-O’Meally (why, that’s me!).

Recently, I established the Curiously Stronger Performing series, which focuses on specific elements of performance:

  • The functional (how to present your music, how to walk into the room, how to talk to the pianist);
  • The creative (selecting music, creating themes);
  • The expressive (interpreting text, whether in English or another language; developing an inner monologue; physicalizing a song in the most efficient way).

And that’s what this blog needs to do. So a project I’m setting out to do over the next few months is to go through my blogposts and assign them a category.

Blogposts that are specifically about practical things like vocal technique, audition techniques, translating, and diction will go under the area of function.

Blogposts that are about finding new ways to look at things will be about creativity (and possibly about expressivity as well).

Blogposts about interpretation and physicality will be categorized under expressivity.

Announcements will either go under general or will be uncategorized.

Hopefully, this will help organize things so that they’re more easily found.

This will take awhile. Some might go under multiple things. Some of the older blogs might get reworked and updated.

Stay tuned!