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, 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!

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.