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!

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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What are you singing? Do you know?

One thing that annoys me is mandated recitals where people are assigned music to which they have no affinity. And, consequently, they sing it with no connection to the text, to the music, to the history of the song or the poet, or to the style of the period. They’re singing the right words, and often, according to the diction rules of the language. They’re singing the right notes. They’re singing with technique appropriate to where they are in their vocal development. But it’s not interpreting the song, or expressing anything. It’s just duplicating what they were told to do. And as soon as it’s done, it’s forgotten. It’s like a school uniform that they’re required to wear, and soon as they can take it off, it’s off.

Whose fault is that? Is it the fault of the student? Of the person who assigned the song?

Sometimes, you are assigned songs that fit a requirement and may or may not be songs you really want to sing. If you are an artist, it is your job to find something in the song that speaks to you. If your song is in a foreign language, translate it. Whether it’s in English or not, create a vernacular translation/inner monologue for yourself. Know the history of the poem, of the composer, know what its performance practice (style) is, know how the accompaniment enhances the text, and what you can do to bring that out.

This post was inspired by Seth Godin in a post called memorization and learning. In it, he says, “memorizing anything that you’ll need to build upon, improvise on or improve is foolish. You’ll need to do the work of understanding it instead.”

You need to do the work to understand that which you sing. And you need to make it your own.

Stay tuned for more information about the Curiously Strong Performing series of performance workshops I’ll be presenting in 2020. We’ll be doing the work.