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!

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!

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.

 

 

What’s Your Intention?

As I recently wrote in an earlier blogpost, I’ve set up a fall practice challenge. Beginning this Sunday through December 15, my students (hopefully) will submit an online practice record regarding their practice habits for the week. (Please note that I’ve amended the form to correspond to the practice challenge.) The person who submits the most amount of practice time will receive a lovely binder that can be used for lessons or as an audition book. I will set it up and present it to the lucky recipient at the studio recital at Springwell Retirement Community on December 18 (6:30pm).

But what is the point of doing this, other than a valuable prize? Why should you practice regularly? And what do you want to accomplish this semester, in your lessons and in your practicing?

In yoga, in mindfulness, and even in entrepreneurship, it is very trendy to speak of setting an intention rather than a goal. Goals tend to be in the future, general or specific, short-term or long-term. Your goals might be:

  1. A role in the musical
  2. A solo in choir
  3. To be a star!
  4. To connect to my breath more consistently
  5. To open up my upper register at F5, where I tend to pinch
  6. To be more expressive, no matter what language in which I sing
  7. To win that binder at the December recital

But your intention has to do with today. What is your intention? What is it that you’re going to accomplish today, in your practice session?

  • Perhaps your intention for this particular practice session will be openness. Perhaps you’ll choose to manifest this by singing all your exercises and repertoire with a released and quiet inhalation.
  • Perhaps your intention will be freedom. And perhaps you’ll choose to manifest that intention by drawing awareness to your jaw and tongue.
  • Perhaps your intention will be communication. Maybe your manifestation of that will be to analyze the words and poetry, to create an inner monologue, and to take some risks with interpretation.

Intention can help you set goals. Maybe you’re going to set a goal for that day, but first you might want to try an intention.

On or about November 7, I will write another blog to address what to do if you’re practicing regularly and you don’t feel like anything is changing.

“Tools, not Rules”

I follow a fashion blogger whose site is called une femme d’un certain âge and recently, she had her colors and style done and it turned out she was wearing all the wrong colors and styles for her “type.” (I have to admit that the company who did her analysis was right – her clothes are much more flattering than they were before, and I thought she looked good before.) Someone asked her if that means she’s thrown everything out, even some of her favorite things, and she said, in today’s blog: “No. I still believe in ‘tools, not rules.'”

That phrase resonated with me. There are so many rules that we think we have to follow as singers. We have to avoid certain foods, we have to stand a certain way, align ourselves just so, sing only one kind of repertoire or one kind of style, and never do anything that might be considered “wrong.”

Yeah. Right.

What we work in lessons is collecting a series of tools that you can use for learning and performing your music. For example, we work on having a silent inhalation and a balanced onset, and releasing into the breath, rather than gasping for air or sighing at the end of a phrase. And for the most part, those tools are the rules.

Except when they’re not.

What if your character is upset? Would they have a clean onset? Would they have a balanced release? Would they be standing with their head balanced upon their spine and thinking of their feet as tripods with their weight evenly distributed between the big and little toes and the heel?

What if breathy was better, just for a particular phrase? What if a hard release was better, just to convey an emotion? What if the head was thrown back to the sky, just for that one line?

You can’t do it all the time, but sometimes, you have to break the rules.

Stages of Grief (5? 7?) and Interpreting a Sad Song

I find that a lot of my students, both past and present, love to sing sad, heart-breaking songs of woe and loss. It goes with the emo-ness of youth, I think.

Personally, I gravitate toward funny (some might say nigh-ridiculous) songs, especially in programming. People say comedy is hard. I think tragedy is hard. At least, tragedy that isn’t just superficial. 

Which is often the problem with interpreting sad songs. They’re just sad sad sad from beginning to end. Come on! “I dreamed a dream” from Les Miserables starts out with “I dreamed a dream in time gone by – when hope was high and life worth living. I dreamed that love would never die. I dreamed that God would be forgiving…” Nowhere in there is the word, “DAMMIT.” The first time we get the sense that things didn’t pan out the way she wanted is at “But the tigers come at night with their voices soft as thunder – as they tear your hopes apart, as they turn your dreams to shame.” 
And even then, “He slept a summer by my side – he filled my days with endless wonder.” This is a fond memory, at least until: “Then he was gone when autumn came.” That’s where sadness comes to stay for the rest of the piece. Not earlier. But if you see the movie, the song pretty much slams you in the face with a shovel of sadness all the way through. (Which I don’t blame Anne Hathaway for – I blame the director.)

A few years ago, I asked a student to think about applying Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief to a song.  These are

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
Not all of these stages may be present, and not all in equal amounts. I’ve used this device a lot and it seems to be helpful.

The five stages of grief have since been updated to seven in today’s psychological circles (and some say they’re completely invalid in the first place). The current stages are:

  1. Shock and denial
  2. Pain and guilt 
  3. Anger and bargaining
  4. Depression (reflection/loneliness)
  5. Upward turn
  6. Reconstruction/working through (in another site, it was called “testing”)
  7. Acceptance and hope
Clearly, these have been fleshed out a bit more. Depending on what you’re working on, the basic five may be enough for you to apply.  You might want to pick from the seven – does your song involve survivor’s guilt (“Empty chairs at empty tables”)? Shock and denial (“I’m still hurting”)? Making a choice to change your life and move on (“Astonishing”)?

If you’re singing a song of woe, especially one that is really well-known and overdone, how can you apply contrasts using these ideas? And how will you implement those contrasts? With dynamics? With a change in registration? With a change in tempo? A physical change? Where do you wail? Where are you curled up in a vocal fetal position? Where might you sing through clenched teeth (without hurting yourself, of course)?

What can you do to give life and depth to a song that might otherwise be on the “Do not sing” list? 

If you feel stuck, go through the song and see where these steps could apply.

She’s the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – with something to say

I am a huge fan of the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the fourth (and final) season of which I’m watching on Netflix right now. The star and creator and producer and writer of the show is the multi-talented (as well as multi-tasking) Rachel Bloom, who plays the title character, Rebecca Bunch.

Each episode of the show features one to two musical numbers (also co-written by Ms. Bloom). They can be about mistakes Rebecca has made in her relationships (which are legion), about the men in her life and their reactions to her, her friends, her family, etc. They vary greatly in style, from

  • big, showy musical theater numbers, complete with Broadway-level choreography; 
  • intimate cabaret-style solo performances
  • dance music videos
I just happened upon this video of an interview Rachel Bloom did with Seth Meyers about a year and a half ago, and in it, he asks her about using songs to tackle some pretty significant issues, particularly regarding mental health. I loved the way that she describes how a song is structured (this comes in nearly 4 minutes in). She refers to them as musical essays, with the thesis statement the chorus, and the supporting paragraphs the verses and bridges.  She says, “It’s a great way to distill something down,  to be like, ‘this is what we’re trying to say.'”

What are you trying to say in your songs? What is the main point? What is in the supporting material? 

Let’s take the song “Someone like you” from Jekyll & Hyde. It’s very clear what the point is: If I had someone like you in my life, it would be better. That’s the chorus. You sing it three times (and the last time, higher).

The supporting material:
The beginning: I’m an outsider. Nothing has ever worked for me. I’ve never had any hope.
The second verse: I’m feeling things I never felt before and I think there might be a way out. I know what that is now.

Watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix, if you haven’t seen it already (caveat: adult content).