I learned something today…

The phrase, “I learned something today,” is one that is associated with the incredibly and self-consciously earnest sitcoms of the 1990s where there were always very special episodes. As soon as you heard that there was going to be a very special episode of a TV show, you knew that someone was about to learn a valuable lesson. And that there’d be a lot of hugging.

Two shows responded to that in completely different ways. Larry David, creator of the show Seinfeld, said that the show’s mantra was “no hugging, no learning.”

South Park, on the other hand, embraced the absurdity of finding meaning no matter how ridiculous the premise of the episode, and nearly episode ended with, “You know, I learned something today.”

Have you learned Something from South Park? : southpark

They might still do that. I haven’t watched the show for a number of years (is it still on?).

This week I finished up the NATS Virtual National Conference and attended quite a few live and pre-recorded sessions (and still have a few more pre-recorded sessions I want to attend). Some things I learned included (title of the session in parentheses):

  • The infant’s vocal tract is primarily designed for suckling and attracting attention. An infant’s soft palate overlaps the epiglottis in order to make suckling more efficient. (Children will listen)
  • Maggie Wheeler, who played Janice on Friends (a show which also was an exception to the earnestness of most 90s sitcoms), is now a singer/songwriter and very woke choral director. (NATS Singalong)
  • There are a bunch of new technologies in the hopper to facilitate more immediate playing and singing together (Solutions for teaching: From a distance)
  • Some excellent new vocalises (Teaching musical theater voice: Cis-gendered female)
  • Trans-men seem to have an easier time with vocal transition (Voice masculinization and voice feminization: Vocalises for trans and gender expansive singers)
  • The arts accounts for 2% of the US gross national product (GNP), more than either construction or tourism (Training music majors for a 21st century “mosaic career”)
  • The primary difference between golden age and contemporary belt is not range, but tessitura – which I kinda knew – plus a lot of new repertoire (Teaching contemporary musical theatre)
  • Different mouth shapes and vocalises (Country singing 101)
  • Laryngeal massage can be a very beneficial part of vocal health but avoid massaging the carotid artery or you will black out (Voice and hearing health: Anatomy & physiology of the singing voice)
    and my favorite —
  • My favorite childhood actor, Alan Alda, wrote a book about communication called If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, in which he says, “Unless I’m willing to be changed by you, I’m probably not really listening.” (Lifting the curse of knowledge in vocal pedagogy)

I also learned about a lot of new technology that I’m going to have to get for the studio to facilitate the dual modality of teaching online and in person. And that technology is going to have a learning curve of its own.

My dad once asked me on the phone, when I told him I had just come home from a class, “Class? When ya gone stop learning?”

My answer, then and now: NEVER.

July 17 Master Class with Lissa deGuzman

Lissa deGuzman InstaPost

I am so excited to announce the first of which I hope will be many masterclasses featuring former students of mine who have gone on to thrive as working artists.

Our first artist/clinician is Lissa deGuzman, who can both belt her face off and soar to the heights of soprano-land. When she studied with me in Milwaukee, she performed not only Lily in The Secret Garden at Divine Savior Holy Angels, but Gertrude in Seussical (also DSHA) as well. A true triple-threat, Lissa has also been dance captain for multiple productions. Since completing her BFA in musical theater at Belmont University in Nashville, she has gone on to work steadily in regional theater, national tours, and on Broadway.

This is the bio she just sent me:

Lissa deGuzman just finished the run of a new Broadway bound musical Bliss at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA. Sadly, COVID-19 interrupted her next new musical’s Off-Broadway debut, Between the Lines, but she can’t wait to get back. Other credits include: Broadway: King Kong. National Tour: Aladdin. Regional: West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and Chasing Rainbows. @lissadeguz

Lissa’s masterclass will begin with a brief talk about her career path, after which she will work with 8 singers on addressing the acting journey and how it informs vocal colors and technique. Each singer will present a song or excerpt of 90 seconds or less. A Q&A will follow. I have room for 5 more performers and up to 42 auditors. You can check here for more information and to register.

Meanwhile, here’s a recording Lissa made while she was still in college, and one I use often to demonstrate to people how to use belt, mix, and head voice interchangeably as tools of expression. Enjoy!

Spectral Audio Visual · Get Out and Stay Out – Lissa DeGuzman

 

NATS 56 – Virtually Fantastic!

NATS 56 – Virtually Fantastic!

Right now, I am the student learning on Zoom, instead of the teacher. I’ve been consumed with the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) 56th National Conference since Thursday. The conference was supposed to be in Knoxville, TN, but Corona….

The conferences are always things I look forward to – I’ve only missed 2 since I started going in 2002. One in 2004 (New Orleans – I didn’t want to go there in July – my mistake) and one in 2014 (Boston – I should’ve gone but I was told that I couldn’t because of a summer program I was teaching, but I could have). Not only do I learn new things, but I get to see old friends and make new ones, and we nerd out together on all the things we’re learning, all the things we’ve done since we saw each other last, inspire each other to do new things (possibly together!), socialize, go to performances, and … did I mention socialize?

This is a little different. I don’t like it. But it is what it is and I’m making the most of it.

So far I have been in classes on:

  • Voice and hearing health
  • Pedagogy and profession
  • Wine with Dr. Wendy (a panel discussion about contemporary musical theater’s demands with Wendy LeBorgne, the co-author of The Vocal Athlete, along with singers/teachers Mary Saunders Barton and Noah J. Ricketts)
  • Country singing (!)
  • Voice masculinization and feminization for transgender singers
  • Children will listen (working with pre-pubescent voices)
  • Teaching contemporary musical theater
  • Eat, sing and be merry
  • Singing for better lung health
  • The opening session, at which the American Spiritual Ensemble (in which I have a couple of friends) gave an amazing performance
  • An amazing cabaret show with David Sabella (who is a friend of mine), who just wrote a new book called So You Want to Sing Cabaret (which I’ve just added to my reading list)

I started in on a session on subharmonics, but I just couldn’t. Acoustic sessions always make my eyes cross, I have to admit it. If I’m going to do voice science, I prefer watching vocal folds vibrate and other nerdy anatomical stuff (the infant vocal tract is fascinating!). And I like very pragmatic solutions to things. Give me some ideas – inspire me!

Speaking of ideas and inspiration, I have finalized arrangements with Lissa deGuzman to do the studio’s first online master class. More info about this will be available tomorrow – but if you can’t wait, check out the information here.

And now I’m off to Training music majors for a 21st Century “Mosaic Career,” which seems to be geared more toward academia, but as a private teacher with budding music students, I think it might be good. After that, I’m off to a session on teacher collaboration called “With a little help from my friends” which is being presented by two of my favorite people.

Then I get to go and sing in church for the first time since March, and then come home and watch a panel discussion called The Ethics of a Profession: Creating Workplace Safety, which will involve a group of teachers, singers, music critics, and conductors.

These are not like medical conferences, where everyone’s done by 2pm. Even in person, NATS conferences are all day and well into the evening.

I LOVE IT!

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I have so many songs….

In the musical A New Brain, the lead character of Gordon Schwinn is taken to the hospital after a seizure and is near death. His thoughts are of all the things has to do. In this early song in the show, as he is being examined, he sings:

All the songs I never wrote
Fizzle and remain
All the songs I did not start
All the rhymes I never made
All the stories I delayed in telling
Are welling up inside my brain
I should explain
I have so many songs!

I feel like this sometimes. I am full of ideas. I want to do workshops. I want to put on master classes, organize concerts, do so many things. And often, I do them. I’ve accomplished a lot of things. But I have more to do. I have tons of content created that is sitting in the cloud waiting for me to disperse it (what a great choice of words … dispersing from the cloud … like rain on a thirsty field…. ooh).

Seth Godin wrote a recent blogpost called “That’s a good idea.” His first line is “And then what happens?”

You have to take the next step. Does putting on a master class involve sending an email or <gulp> picking up a telephone to contact a person to host the event or to be your featured clinician?

And then what happens? What do you have to do next in order to make this happen? And then what happens after that? What is your next step?

In this particular case, when I say “you” I mean “I” or “me” and when I say “your” I mean “mine.” But this applies to us all when we’re planning a project. How many steps are involved? Do they have to be done in order? Do they have to be done perfectly or just done?

I’ve taken the first step and asked former student and Broadway actress Lissa DeGuzman to be a master clinician for an online master class I’m hosting on July 17. She’s accepted. This was a good idea. Now I need to take all the other steps so it’s not wasted.

What is your great idea?

And then what happens?

Tell us your stories. Tell us your songs. Don’t let them “fizzle and remain.” Get them out there. Take the steps.

 

The Unwitting Personal Trainer/Emulating vs. Imitating

About 7 years ago, I was at Zumba at the Wisconsin Athletic Club, and I was not feeling all that motivated. I had a move coming up, I was packing, and I was lonely, since both my dogs and my husband were out in Maryland.

I noticed a young woman in the row ahead of me who was really into it – her energy was on fire, her moves were smooth, and she seemed to be having a great time. Her t-shirt said, “Tosa East Senior Powder Puff Football 2007.” I did the math and realized that would make her 23. I decided that I was going to follow her and match my energy to hers. I joked later that she was my “unwitting personal trainer.”

Earlier this year, I started doing Zumba again at Brick Bodies and was really enjoying myself At the end of class, a woman (about my age) came up to me and said, “you’re really good! I was following you!” and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m someone’s unwitting personal trainer!” It felt good.

The reason I bring this up is that I follow a blog called Bulletproof Musician, written by a violinist and performance psychologist named Noa Kageyama. His most recent blog was on the topic of motivating yourself to practice by “copycatting a friend.”

EC089BBC-7BE7-4376-A6AF-60B4FE366309Generally, being a copycat is frowned upon (just ask Billie Eilish) in terms of finding your creative voice. But in this case, Dr. Kageyama is talking about finding someone who inspires you and looking at what they do that makes them successful. Do they get up earlier? Do they set a specific practice time daily and stick to it? What artists do they listen to?

Emulate, not imitate.

What does that mean?

According to Professor Paul Brians of Washington University, “emulate” is a more specialized term, meaning that you are striving to achieve something that someone else did (or surpass, as some definitions say). “Thus[,] if you try to climb the same mountain your big brother did, you’re emulating him; but if you copy his habit of sticking peas up his nose, you’re just imitating him.”

I emulated Miss Powder Puff Football 2007.

I imitate Julie Andrews.

Who is your “unwitting personal trainer?” Are you emulating them or imitating them? Do you know the difference?

(By the way, this song gave me a new appreciation for Billie Eilish.)

“You are here not to laugh; but to learn”

This Friday, I’ll be holding Listening Party #4, which will focus on the musical Bat Boy The Musical by Laurence O’Keefe. You may know Laurence O’Keefe from Legally Blonde The Musical and Heathers The Musical. The latter two of which are based on movies of the same name, and, consequently, are pretty commercial.

(What is up with shows post-1995 having “The Musical” after them? Would we not know they’re musicals as soon as people start singing? And yes, I’m watching the Jerry Seinfeld special on Netflix while I write this.)

Bat Boy, on the other hand, is a 2001 off-Broadway rock musical based on the now-defunct tabloid Weekly World News 1992 cover story about a fictional creature found in a cave who is half-bat, half-boy.

Bat Boy.PNG

Yep. It’s a musical about a mutant. I don’t know Heathers  (yet). From what I’ve heard of it, I think Bat Boy is more like it than Legally Blonde.

I’ve only seen one production of Bat Boy, as part of the 2005 summer theater program at Divine Savior Holy Angels HS in Milwaukee.

DSHA was a curious choice for a show like this. It’s an all-girls, relatively-conservative Catholic school. But they did a pretty good job with it. I enjoyed it immensely (in part because I had two students in the leads). And I love the cast recording

What does it say about me that I like musicals like this? Let’s look at our listening parties so far.

  1. Sweeney – barber kills people, landlady makes them into pies
  2. Ragtime – well, that’s relatively traditional, but still pretty intense
  3. Assassins – presidential assassins
  4. Bat Boy – see above.

This will be at 5pm instead of 3pm. I’m using the same PMI as for my lessons. If you don’t know what that is, message me.

As always, admission is free but donations will be accepted for the American Visionary Arts Museum (my favorite place in Baltimore).

I’m excited to introduce this show to people. It’s really weird. The music and lyrics are just terrific. But you might feel the need to take a shower afterwards.

Why SHOULD we sing – when there’s nowhere to sing? (Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about the findings of medical professionals regarding singing and the safety about doing it publicly. You can read that here. Apparently, singers and loud talkers are considered “super-spreaders.” Guilty and guilty. And feeling kind of judged about it.

Like I said, I found this terribly depressing. Everything had been going so well. I was singing as much as I wanted to and where I wanted to. My studio was growing and my students were all making tremendous progress, and many of them were finding more and more performing opportunities that were satisfied and motivating.

Why should we sing at all, when there’s nowhere to sing?

The English composer William Byrd published a songbook in 1588 that was considered the first great collection of English songs, Psalms, Sonnets and Songs. Not only have the song settings survived the test of time, his forward to the book has also inspired many singers. I have it hanging on my divider as my students enter my studio – or at least when they did (and will again).
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Feel free to print this out and hang it where you can see it: Reasons to sing – Byrd

This is our time to polish our technique, to learn new things, to take some risks, to sing for fun, to sing some old songs, to sing new songs. And we can do it without having to rush from work/school, rush to rehearsal, come home and stay up late getting homework done, or laundry, or prepping for the next day’s events. We have the luxury of time.

We can practice the right way, mindfully and with intention, instead of just ripping off a few lip trills to get the voice moving and then launching into a song. (Note: Once we’re back in the studio, we probably will never do any more high-spit factor vocalises again.)

Performing will look different for awhile. It may be online. It may be outside (and I just had an idea about that). It may be in the living room with your families, like in the old days. It may be live, it may be pre-recorded. But it will go on because we need to sing. I need to sing, you need to sing, we all need to sing. It’s like ice cream (I scream, you scream….)

And when we can perform for an audience (and we will), that audience will be craving music and theater. They’ll want it so bad and –

WE WILL BE READY!

Who’s with me!

 

We breathe to live – we breathe to sing – but can we do it together? (Part 1 of 2)

This the hardest and probably the most important (at least to me) blogpost I’ve ever written.

About a year ago, when I cleaned up my website, I changed my mission statement a bit and put the original in a blogpost so that I wouldn’t lose it because it was some important information. The part that comes to mind right now is in the penultimate paragraph:

We breathe to live. We breathe to sing. We balance our breath energy in order to create a beautiful tone.

Our bodies need breath to function and we inhale to provide that energy source. We speak and we sing on the exhalation of breath. For singing, we control and balance the exhalation.

We balance that breath energy in order to maximize:

  1. how long we can sing before having to refresh the breath;
  2. how clearly and evenly we can sing on that breath;
  3. how softly or loudly we can sing, and make that choice depending on what the composer asks for and our personal interpretation.

The latter is what a lot of people refer to as projection, although I prefer to use the term resonance.

But right now, studies are showing that breath projection is a factor in the spreading of COVID-19. A few weeks ago, I attended a webinar on the topic sponsored by National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, Barbershop Harmony Society, and Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA), which featured presentations by Dr. Donald Milton, a bio-aerosol specialist at the University of Maryland, and Dr. Lucinda Halstead, an otolaryngologist at the University of South Carolina and the incoming president of PAMA. The webinar is available on YouTube and you can watch it here.

A terrific summary of the findings can be found in a blogpost written by tenor Zach Finkelstein in his blog The Middleclass Artist. Please read this for more detail, but to summarize the summary, I’m just going to come out and say that:

There is no safe place for us to sing together right now. Not in a choir, not in a show, not in the studio. Dr. Halstead has estimated 18-24 months before the combination of an effective vaccine and treatment regimen will make it safe again. Others have said that’s out there and that it should be sooner. I hope the latter view is the correct one.

But in the meanwhile, I intend to continue with online lessons through the summer and consider reopening the studio for in-person lessons on September 1. I will continue to monitor the situation – my husband is an ER doc, so I have a scientific source right at my elbow. If things improve, it might be sooner. If we have another surge, it will be later.

I have to tell you that this information upset me greatly because I love working with my students in person and preparing them for performances. I also love performing, and the thought of not doing it in front of a live audience is anathema to me.

As I mentioned in my last blogpost, I intended this post to be a look at the situation as we know it today and talk about why we should sing, even when there’s nowhere we can sing. I did the first part in this post. I have a lot on my mind about the second part and I will be writing that tomorrow.

In the meantime… 55281FC2-24DB-44C8-9198-317BA071344A

Why I DIDN’T Sing – For Far Too Long

When I lived in Wisconsin, I spent about 8 years in a sort of vocal quarantine. I suddenly found my private studio taking up more of my time and energy, and I chose to stop seeking work in Chicago, where I’d been doing the bulk of my singing, and reduced my performing with professional choral ensembles in Milwaukee and auditioning for local companies.

And my performing work dried up. Some of that was my choice, since I wasn’t actively pursuing gigs the way I had been, and some of it was … not. I was active with the now-defunct MacDowell Club, with which I did some performing of pieces that appealed to me, as well as programming concerts for them (which I discovered I really enjoyed!). I organized recitals for my students and did some singing on them as well. I started writing cabarets, which was fulfilling, albeit poorly attended. As I got busier and busier with the studio, I convinced myself that it was okay that I wasn’t performing that much.

But because I didn’t have regular shows to work towards, I have to admit… I didn’t practice that much. I learned the music I had to do, but I didn’t do the technical work. I didn’t keep up the chops that I had so carefully cultivated during the years before, during, and after my years at Peabody and in my first few years back in Milwaukee. And I became very aware of that when I listened to a recording of a recital I gave, as I described in a blog last year. It was a kick in the pants. I realized that I wasn’t doing any vocal self-care. For the next year that I remained in Milwaukee, I made a concerted effort to get back to where I’d been.

And when I moved back to Baltimore, it paid off! I got work as a singer.  I got work as a teacher. I left the college gigs to focus on my private studio. My studio grew and my performing grew, and I was in a place where I had the perfect balance between singing and teaching. I was practicing regularly. I was even turning down work because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep the balance that I’d come to appreciate. I realized my ideal clients were those who wanted to perform, whether it was at a pre-professional level, professionally, or in community theater, and I was starting to attract those people to the student. I was satisfied. I was content.

And then COVID-19 came. And all the performing was gone. Lessons moved online. Life as I’d come to know it had changed, possibly forever. It’s not comfortable.

What do I do now? What do we all do now?

This blog is called Why I Sing, and the subtitle includes the words “and why you should, too.” In my next post, I’m going to address the immediate future of singing and the path forward, based on the current information from a variety of well-informed sources. I want to talk honestly about why we should sing — even when there’s nowhere to sing.

World Voice Day in a Time of Silence

world_voice_day_2020_poster_s_rgb-294x434Every year, World Voice Day seems to coincide with something that prevents me from celebrating it. Last year, it was during Holy Week. The year before, I was teaching all day at Howard Community College. And the year before that it was Easter Sunday.

And this year, we have a pandemic. And all performances are on hold. Lessons, master classes, conferences, and workshops have moved online. So sometimes we have to ask ourselves:

  • If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?
  • If a singer sings a song and no one is there to hear it, is s/he really a singer? What does it matter?

The latter is a question I’ve asked myself in the last few weeks, since this all began. What’s the point of singing, if there’s no one to hear it? What is the point of teaching singing, if there’s nowhere for them to perform?

I love working with performers and helping them prepare for performing. Our studio cabaret was coming up on Mother’s Day (moved to September 13). Our studio recital was scheduled for June 7 (I’m going to be cancelling it or moving it online – still TBD).

What is the point? Why should we go on?

Our voices are with us all the time. Sometimes out loud, sometimes just in our heads. Sometimes we get to use them where others can hear them. Sometimes we just talk to ourselves and make plans for the future.

We still have our voices, even if performing is on hold right now. We might not be using them the way we want, but we should still continue to focus on our voices during this time so that we can use them when they can be heard again.

Because we will all have something to say once this is over. Next year, we’re going to do something big for World Voice Day. And we need to be ready.

Focus on your voice. You’re going to need it like never before.

*******

That was supposed to be the end of this blogpost, but while I was writing, I was watching The Good Fight on TV, and the cast and crew of the show was talking about how we are all still connected and it touched me so much that I had to put it here. Not all the singing is beautiful (not everyone in the cast is Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald) but all of it is heartfelt. And all of it matters.