Beyond a shadow of a doubt

The other day I was out for an early morning walk and I was listening to a podcast on VocalFri. This particular one, from April, featured voice scientist Christian Herbst, who was talking about the role of voice science in vocal pedagogy, and of all the tech-y, geeky, science-y things that that entails.

But although all that science is invaluable for figuring out how to measure the data involved with singing – the acoustics, registration, anatomical – Mr. Herbst said one thing that made me stop walking and jot it down in my little “blog notes” file in my phone:

As a singer, as a performer, I am more like a politician than a scientist. There is no room for doubt. I have to convey the message.  (Christian Herbst, VocalFri4/25/2020)

This reminded me of an interview from tenor Ricky Leech from a Classical Singer article from 2003 (!!), where he likened singing to golf. When you learn to play golf, you learn all the techniques. And then once you start to play, you can’t think of them or you’ll tie yourself up in knots. You can think about it when you start (the swing thought), but once you’re on your way, you just have to trust. The same thing with singing:

“If you’ve done your homework, when you stand up and start an aria, your swing thought will be the meaning of what you’re singing, and an occasional technical issue. You never get far away from the meaning of the piece, because you’ve done your homework, and you’re out of the way.” (The Student Becomes A Master, July 2003)

You can’t have any doubt. Like a politician, you have a message to share. Hopefully, your message is more sincere than some politicians, especially this one…

Politician
And like a golfer, you have a game to play, and you have to play through.

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You must be convinced that your technique will carry you forward and that you believe in your message – beyond the shadow of a doubt.

  • Is your technique solid enough so that you can erase all doubt after you’ve taken that initial swing/breath?
  • Have you learned your piece backward and forward so that you can erase all doubt that the words and notes are going to come out in a way that serves the composer, that serves the audience, and that serves you in the way that you all deserve?
  •  If your piece is in another language (or in a style that is foreign to you), do you have it translated word for word not only into the vernacular but into your internal monologue so that you have no doubt what you are saying, not only from word to word, but from phrase to phrase?
  • Do you like your song? And if you don’t (and that happens, because sometimes you are assigned things that just don’t speak to you), can you find something you like about it? Can you fake it so that we can’t see that you don’t like it? Because if the audience doubts you, it doesn’t matter that you don’t doubt yourself.

Take that swing thought and let it go.

What is curiously strong singing?

For the last two years, I’ve used “Curiously Strong Singing” as my tagline. In the past year, I’ve established a performance coaching series called “Curiously Strong Performing.” The content on my website and in other places reflects the use of that phrase.

But other than the relationship between mezzoid and altoids, which is what triggered the whole tagline in the first place, what do I mean by this? What is “curiously strong” singing? What is “curiously strong” performing? Why am I using these phrases other than they’re catchy?

I decided that I needed to define what this means to me in order to make it more than just a phrase that looks good on my business card and website.

So what is curiously strong singing/performing? It is:

  1. Singing that is grounded in a strong sense of technique, whether that pertains to classical, pop, or musical theater (because it’s not all one size fits all);
  2. Singing and/or performing that takes risks and digs deep into the song’s text, its history, and its style.
  3. Performing that tells the truth, is authentic and embraces both standard performance practice as well as new interpretations.
  4. Singing and performing that is confident, consistent, and constantly developing.
  5. Performing that welcomes in others as collaborators, as creators, as colleagues, and as an audience.

This is what I mean by being curiously strong as a singer and as a performer, and what I want for my students, my colleagues – really anyone who is in my life.

If you want to be curiously strong as well, contact me at mezzoid@gmail.com.

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Normalcy, Quirkiness and Authenticity

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As an artist, I have long considered myself as not being “normal.” Not being satisfied with the status quo, not being a person who has a “normal” job or a “normal” life. I’ve thought of myself as eccentric, quirky, and maybe a little weird. And I’ve been okay with that. Mostly.

But I was giving this some thought this morning as I was waking up and I was thinking that being weird for weird’s sake is just as gross as Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls:

Cool Mom meme

Hint: If you have to tell people you’re cool, you’re not. If you have to tell people you’re weird, don’t worry – they already know, and probably not in the way you mean. Both are examples of trying too hard.

If you are making music and your interpretation is different from the standard interpretation and it feels organic to you, then it is authentic and it’s okay.

If you are making music and you decide you’re going to be cutting edge for the sake of being cutting edge so you can get a rise out of someone, it might not be.

Rebellion to prompt an emotional response in order to effect change is good.

Rebellion to prompt an emotional response or provoke outrage without any kind of lasting effect or change is a tantrum. You’re just puking out your emotions and leaving them there for someone else to clean up. (How’s that for an image?)

Going back to my previous blogpost and Alan Alda’s wonderful line, “Unless I’m willing to be changed by you, I’m probably not listening” — if you are taking action without regard for what the outcome will be, then it’s not a process, it’s just a drive-by.

You don’t have to be “quirky” to get things done and feel things deeply. You have what people consider to be a normal life and still be an artist. You can be eccentric and still have your shallow, superficial moments (I do, more often than I want to admit).

As an artist, as a person, as a teacher, the most important thing I can be, for myself, for my family, for my students, is authentic.

[I wrote this on Tuesday and saw this post by Seth Godin one day later.]

Don’t Memorize The Words – Tell The Story

I follow Marketer Extraordinaire Seth Godin’s daily blog. The biggest thing about Seth Godin is that he doesn’t talk about selling your product, he talks about telling your story. Consequently, a lot of his blogs, even though most people would think they were intended for someone in a traditional (non-artsy) business, relate to us as performers. A recent one was called “Awkward Memorization,” and I’ve attached it here.

A few lines that stood out for me:

Watch a great performance and you’ll see no artifacts of memorization. Instead, you will see someone speaking from the heart.

This is what it means to know something by heart.

And:

Don’t memorize your talk. Memorize your stories.

Are you working on a song for an audition? What’s the story? Is there more than one story? Identify your story or stories. Where does one finish and the other one start? Tell us the stories.

Singing a string of words is rote memorization and it’s boring. Sing from the heart. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. Tell your stories.