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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The first rule about vocal health is…

… don’t talk about vocal health.

In a way, I see that to be true. It’s the fear that as soon as you say, “I have been freakishly healthy this year!” BAM, you’re going to be hit with the Mother of All Bronchitis.

Well, I’m going to take my chances right now <peering up at the sky anxiously for the thunderclap>:

I have been freakishly healthy this year. 

As someone who has succumbed to several bouts of the Mother of All Bronchitis over the past few years, this is huge for me. I lost thousands of dollars in teaching and performing income in 2017-18 because of upper respiratory illnesses that left me voiceless for weeks on end. For me to not have had so much as a cold (for more than a day or so) – well, it’s huge.

I think there are several reasons for this.

  1. I’m eating right (thank you, WW!)
  2. I’m working out several times a week (thank you, Brick Bodies!)
  3. I’m pretty happy right now (thank you, world!)
    and the most important reason, IMO

  4. I have been rinsing out my sinuses 2x/daily ever since the school year started (thank you, Arm & Hammer Saline Rinse). More often if I feel anything coming on.

You can do this with a neti pot, or with saline squeeze bottles/irrigators – this one vibrates, which I find somewhat disconcerting – although I have used a vibrator on my sinuses to relieve pressure in the past, which I’ve also found helpful. (This is also a technique used in vocal training, although I haven’t quite had the guts to introduce it in my studio.)

I personally like the convenience of the Arm & Hammer Saline Spray, which I purchase in a three-pack from Costco (and no, I haven’t monetlzed this blog – yet – so I’m getting no kickbacks from either A&H or Costco, dammit). The spray sits on my counter, I put a cap on it after I use it, and I don’t have to heat up water, wait for the water to cool down so I don’t scald my nose, forget the water in the microwave, and have to start all over. I do it in the morning after I shower, when everything’s loosened up a bit from the steam anyway, and at night after i take off my makeup.

Here’s a video. I look like Bill the Cat when I do it, but oh well. I usually don’t put on makeup before i do this but I am a child of vanity.


[I wrote this on Sunday, and then went off to my church job, where I found out that February 3 is the feast of Saint Blaise, who is the patron saint of throat maladies (and wool combers, for what that is worth). Since I’ve scheduled this to publish on February 3, I had to come back and edit this to say that if all else fails…..]

Articulating your text: Could Siri understand you?

8461B1E0-155C-4E01-B562-43667B451AB3_4_5005_c.jpegOne thing I was thinking about yesterday – if I were to use voice dictation for a monologue or the text of a song I was working on, how well would Siri understand me? Would she spit back my text relatively close to how I intended it, or would it be gibberish?

It might be an interesting practice technique to try this the next time you’re working on a monologue (or song text, which you should be working as a monologue anyway) and see what happens. Will Siri (or Alexa, or “Hey Google”) pick up every word you say? If not, why not?

  • Are you dropping the end of your sentences?
  • Are you slurring words that should have more emphasis?
  • Are you talking too fast?
  • Are you hypo- or hypernasal?
  • Are you inserting “ums” and “ahs” where you shouldn’t be?

Virtual assistants are, as we all know, imperfect. Sometimes I say perfectly ordinary things that Siri has managed to interpret in wildly inappropriate renderings (and thank goodness I looked at it before I hit “send” or else I might’ve been in big trouble). But sometimes, maybe I’m talking too fast – a common issue I have – or maybe I’m not articulating clearly enough. I do tend to be a bit hyponasal, and sometimes in voice dictation, the words come out  with Ds where there should’ve been Ns.

(One word Siri always gets right, for some inexplicable reason, is “Kardashian.” Which I think might signal that the end of civilization is nigh.)

Give it a try. The results might be fascinating. Tell me about them in the comments.

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!

Making Your Case in Auditions

Seth Godin wrote a blog a few weeks ago about the conventional wisdom of making your case vs. how it actually works. This was from a business/marketing perspective, but when I read this, I thought, “Wow, this could apply to auditioning!” My notes are in brackets.

Conventional wisdom:

Find a large group of people [audition for as many people as possible]

Explain why you’re better. [show off your technique]

Prove that you are the right answer. [sing better than anyone else]

Done. [get cast]

How it actually works:

Earn attention from precisely the right people. [audition for groups for which you’re the ideal candidate]

Gain trust. [be reliable – show up on time, be prepared]

Tell a story. [tell the truth – get into more than just the notes]

Create tension. [find a point of view that no one else has found before]

Relieve the tension by gaining commitment. [again, tell the truth]

Deliver work that’s remarkable. [go the extra mile in your interpretation]

They spread the word. [word of mouth – even if you don’t get the role this time, they might tell someone about you]

***

What would happen if you approach auditions this way, instead of just focusing on getting the part? Try it!

2020 – A new vision

Today is the first day of a new decade. The last decade began with me recovering from laser eye surgery – not LASIK, but something much more traumatic. My vision, pre-surgery, had been quite horrible – approximately 20/800. Meaning I couldn’t see my hand clearly if it was in front of my face. It took a few weeks to get to a place where I could function, and even then, my vision wasn’t perfect; probably about 20/35, which is within the range to function without correction. It was a heady experience – to wake up and see the clock across the room and be able to read the numbers instead of it being a red blur. I wish I’d done it sooner.

I feel as though that was the beginning of my eyes being opened in many ways – that year, I decided to run a 5K (up to that point, the only thing I’d ever run for was the bus). I switched from PC to Mac. I bought my dream car, after settling for a practical car in the past.

And in the two years after that, I decided to work on my own voice and wound up singing on the Hal Leonard Publishers Showcase at the NATS 2012 Conference – which changed my life. People told me that I still had something to offer as a singer – and I told my husband that I wanted to move back to the East Coast. And in 2013, I did.

My East Coast performing career has gone from community theater (something I pooh-poohed in Milwaukee) to professional solo gigs (choral and cabaret) to Washington National Opera chorister. My teaching has gone from dabblers to community theater performers to budding young professionals.  All of whom are valuable to me, in different ways.

Today is 2020. It is the beginning of a new decade. 20/20 is the symbol of clarity and seeing things for what they are. And what I’m clear about is that I want to help people perform and communicate.

This year will be the year for people to explore a variety of performances. How to audition effectively. How to communicate in languages they might not understand. How to create personal musical theater through cabaret. How to re-create a piece that you might be tired of or that you might consider old-fashioned. And I have more ideas about future workshops.

Whether you do this through your lessons, through the Curiously Strong Performing Workshops, through NATS auditions, solo-ensemble, or performing in school or community theaters – that’s up to you. Open your eyes, open your mind – see what is ahead for you. Make this decade matter.

2020 Word: Recreate

It’s become very trendy to announce that one word is going to set the intention for the year. My word last year was “Release,” and I did release a few things – my job at HCC, my fear of changing up the way I ran my private studio, and relationships that didn’t suit me.

I decided that this year’s word is Recreate. There are two meanings for this (with this spelling), according to Merriam-Webster:

  1. Transitive verb: to give new life or freshness to: REFRESH
  2. Intransitive verb: to take recreation (i.e., to play)
    or if, you put a hyphen between the re and the create:
  3. Transitive verb: to create again, to form anew in the imagination

I want to give new life to some things, including the idea of performance, as in the upcoming Curiously Stronger Performing workshops, which will start up on January 8. I want to explore new ways to approach things. And I want to play. Both in my work and away from it.

What’s your word? How did you choose it and how will you implement it?

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