Why I Audit

F0B94F0B-516E-47BF-B09C-184F9FF2CF6C_1_201_aFor those of you who aren’t Three Stooges fans (which I’m certainly not) or not of a certain age (which I certainly am), you may need to go and research the Three Stooges a bit in order to get this reference. You can start here. Knock yourselves out – nyuk nyuk nyuk (that’s also a bit of Stooges humor).

I’m pleased to announce that the Richard Carsey masterclass on August 14 has ONE MORE SPOT left, which I fully intend to fill by the end of this week. But do not despair! I still have 40 spots open for auditors (which is the point of this blogpost)!

You may ask, “Why should I audit?” [Or, to keep the Three Stooges theme going, “Why oughta I audit?”]

I have audited hundreds of masterclasses over the past 30 years. Auditing is a wonderful way of watching experts in their fields work with aspiring artists and gaining insight and wisdom without having to get up onstage yourself. It may inspire you to do something different in your own performing or teaching. It may give you a new perspective on a piece of repertoire that you have retired because you couldn’t find a way to make it fresh. It might introduce you to brand new-to-you repertoire. It might give you the courage to participate yourself the next time an opportunity becomes available.

This morning I was scanning my old notebooks from the various workshops and conference I’ve attended to see what insights I’ve gained from masterclasses. Here are just a few (see which ones of these you’ve heard me say):

NATS Intern Program, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, June 2000

  •  Snap your fingers against your cheek to listen to the pitch and determine how much space that pitch demands. (George Shirley, Metropolitan Opera tenor, faculty – UM-Ann Arbor)
  • “Resonance cannot make the sound better than it is in the larynx.” (Paul Kiesgen, bass, faculty – Indiana University) (RIP)
  • “People who work too hard to lift their soft palates look like dogs eating peanut butter.” (Paul Kiesgen)
  • Balancing on one foot to find the coaxial balance point, elongate the spine, and put your head in the right place. (Paul Kiesgen)
  • Practice with books in front of your ears when in a small space to perceptually focus your ears. (Paul Kiesgen)
  • “The middle voice is a treasure that, if abused, steals from the top.” (Carol Webber, soprano, faculty – Eastman School of Music)
  • “When your desire to tell [the story] overrides your fear.” (Carol Webber)

NATS National Conference, Minneapolis, MN, July 2006

  • “Don’t try to solve the audience’s problems for them; invite them up on the stage with you to solve it together.“ (Hagan Hagegord, Swedish operatic baritone)

Teaching Men to Sing, Indiana University, June 2007

  • “Breath is the raw material that we turn into voice as it passes through the throat.“(Paul Kiesgen)
  • “All that one does technically is to build an instrument that can eloquently and hopefully elegantly communicate. Because that’s what we have to do in the end.” (Dr. Robert Harrison, tenor, faculty -IU)

Wisconsin NATS Spring Meeting, March 2009?

  • “To sing correctly is to use only the muscles that are contributing and no others.“ (Paul Kiesgen)

NATS National Conference, Louisville, KY, June 2008

  • “Anything that seems honest and true is OK, movement wise.“ (Dawn Upshaw, internationally known operatic soprano, faculty – Bard College)

Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method, Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA, July 2011

  • “A song should be performed as though it’s been created on the spot.“ (Robert Marks, NYC vocal coach)

MDDC NATS Spring Meeting, Washington, DC, April 2014

  • “Walk in and let us know who you are.“ (David Sabella, NYC voice teacher and actor)

Masterclass, Loyola University, Baltimore, MD, November 2014

  • “The second the music starts – the story starts. The story needs to keep being told until the music ends.” (Jeff Blumenkrantz, composer)

(I’ve been to masterclasses since then, but I’ve been taking notes on my iPad so that I don’t have to carry around big notebooks. Which I kind of miss doing. My handwriting has really deteriorated since 2000!)

What notes will you be taking at the Richard Carsey masterclass?

Don’t be a wise guy (more Stooges humor – can’t help it – my dad loved them) – register here,

Soitanly.

Avoiding FOBO

I can hear you know: “FOBO? Christine, don’t you mean FOMO?”

Nope.

Today I was puppy-walking and listening to a new podcast called Money Girl (which I may or may not listen to again because the host has a  wicked case of vocal fry that makes my skin crawl – not to be confused with VocalFri). The guest was Patrick McGinniss, who created the term FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

I’ve heard of FOMO. I’ve heard of JOMO (the joy of missing out). They’ve become part of the contemporary lexicon, especially in podcasts and blogs. People are cautioned to avoid taking on too many projects out of FOMO and focus on the important things, thus embracing JOMO.

But toward the end of the interview, McGinniss mentioned that he had created another term at the same time he created FOMO, which he thought would gain even more traction: FOBO.

Fear of Better Options.

Rather than doing too many things, the victim of FOBO is paralyzed by too many choices and does none of them, out of fear that they’re going to make the wrong choice. What if they pick something now and something better comes down the pike? They’re waiting for a better option. One that may never come.

In other words, I overthink, therefore I am.

Make decisions. Take risks. Take a class in something you need to learn but don’t consider yourself very good at. Audition for a show (when we can do that again). Sing online for, oh, I don’t know, an internationally renowned conductor giving a masterclass – like this one:

Richard Carsey Insta post

And after you’ve sung for Richard (or before), maybe cut your hair. Dye your hair. If you don’t like it, don’t worry, it’ll grow back/out/you can get a wig.

#FOBOBegone #AchievementUnlocked

What are you fighting for?

On Friday, July 17, Mezzoid Voice Studio held its first online masterclass featuring an outside clinician. Our guest was Lissa deGuzman, who was a former student of mine in Milwaukee, and has gone on to perform as Jasmine in the national tour of Aladdin, as Ann Darrow (cover) in the Broadway production of King Kong, and as a princess in the pre-Broadway production of Bliss.

I can’t tell you how pleased I was with her work as a clinician.

Master classes can be iffy.

  • Sometimes, they can be, “Well, when performed this song, this was the way did it.”
  • Sometimes, they can be, “Wow. That’s great. I really have nothing more to say. You’re doing a great job and um. Yeah. Whatever you’re doing is … on the right track. Okay. Who’s next?”
  • Sometimes they can be, “OMG. You really don’t have any business singing this song and you’re doing it all wrong, and unless you do it this way (and I’m not sure you even can), you shouldn’t be singing this at all.” (FYI, those masterclasses suck.)

I didn’t think that this would happen. But hey, you never know. Some time I’ll talk about the time I spent 20 minutes sitting on the steps leading up to the stage at Peabody while a clinician played an audio recording of the phone lesson he gave Michael Jackson when he was on tour in Tokyo.

Lissa had a unifying theme around each person she worked with. She asked them: “What are you fighting for?”

  • In the case of the song “Home,” it was independence/freedom. Not literal, but personal.
  • For “Go the distance,” it was for a place of belonging.
  • For “Burn,” it was for personal dignity.
  • For “Times like this,” it was to find someone in your life with whom you can share things (but the questions was… who?)
  • For “Love will come and find me again,” it was to let go of the past and embrace the possibilities of the future.

I love this. It’s such a wonderful and strong choice to make.

Also, to think of audition cuts as a song in and of itself, rather than just fulfilling the audition requirement. Your cut starts in the middle of the song? Well, it’s the beginning now, and that’s how you have to think of it. You have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it may only be 60-90 seconds, but you have a story to tell. So – what’s your story? What are you trying to achieve? What are you fighting for?

I am in the process of working on a second masterclass and will be announcing that soon. Follow my studio facebook page for more updates!

July 17 Master Class with Lissa deGuzman

Lissa deGuzman InstaPost

I am so excited to announce the first of which I hope will be many masterclasses featuring former students of mine who have gone on to thrive as working artists.

Our first artist/clinician is Lissa deGuzman, who can both belt her face off and soar to the heights of soprano-land. When she studied with me in Milwaukee, she performed not only Lily in The Secret Garden at Divine Savior Holy Angels, but Gertrude in Seussical (also DSHA) as well. A true triple-threat, Lissa has also been dance captain for multiple productions. Since completing her BFA in musical theater at Belmont University in Nashville, she has gone on to work steadily in regional theater, national tours, and on Broadway.

This is the bio she just sent me:

Lissa deGuzman just finished the run of a new Broadway bound musical Bliss at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA. Sadly, COVID-19 interrupted her next new musical’s Off-Broadway debut, Between the Lines, but she can’t wait to get back. Other credits include: Broadway: King Kong. National Tour: Aladdin. Regional: West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and Chasing Rainbows. @lissadeguz

Lissa’s masterclass will begin with a brief talk about her career path, after which she will work with 8 singers on addressing the acting journey and how it informs vocal colors and technique. Each singer will present a song or excerpt of 90 seconds or less. A Q&A will follow. I have room for 5 more performers and up to 42 auditors. You can check here for more information and to register.

Meanwhile, here’s a recording Lissa made while she was still in college, and one I use often to demonstrate to people how to use belt, mix, and head voice interchangeably as tools of expression. Enjoy!

Spectral Audio Visual · Get Out and Stay Out – Lissa DeGuzman

 

NATS 56 – Virtually Fantastic!

NATS 56 – Virtually Fantastic!

Right now, I am the student learning on Zoom, instead of the teacher. I’ve been consumed with the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) 56th National Conference since Thursday. The conference was supposed to be in Knoxville, TN, but Corona….

The conferences are always things I look forward to – I’ve only missed 2 since I started going in 2002. One in 2004 (New Orleans – I didn’t want to go there in July – my mistake) and one in 2014 (Boston – I should’ve gone but I was told that I couldn’t because of a summer program I was teaching, but I could have). Not only do I learn new things, but I get to see old friends and make new ones, and we nerd out together on all the things we’re learning, all the things we’ve done since we saw each other last, inspire each other to do new things (possibly together!), socialize, go to performances, and … did I mention socialize?

This is a little different. I don’t like it. But it is what it is and I’m making the most of it.

So far I have been in classes on:

  • Voice and hearing health
  • Pedagogy and profession
  • Wine with Dr. Wendy (a panel discussion about contemporary musical theater’s demands with Wendy LeBorgne, the co-author of The Vocal Athlete, along with singers/teachers Mary Saunders Barton and Noah J. Ricketts)
  • Country singing (!)
  • Voice masculinization and feminization for transgender singers
  • Children will listen (working with pre-pubescent voices)
  • Teaching contemporary musical theater
  • Eat, sing and be merry
  • Singing for better lung health
  • The opening session, at which the American Spiritual Ensemble (in which I have a couple of friends) gave an amazing performance
  • An amazing cabaret show with David Sabella (who is a friend of mine), who just wrote a new book called So You Want to Sing Cabaret (which I’ve just added to my reading list)

I started in on a session on subharmonics, but I just couldn’t. Acoustic sessions always make my eyes cross, I have to admit it. If I’m going to do voice science, I prefer watching vocal folds vibrate and other nerdy anatomical stuff (the infant vocal tract is fascinating!). And I like very pragmatic solutions to things. Give me some ideas – inspire me!

Speaking of ideas and inspiration, I have finalized arrangements with Lissa deGuzman to do the studio’s first online master class. More info about this will be available tomorrow – but if you can’t wait, check out the information here.

And now I’m off to Training music majors for a 21st Century “Mosaic Career,” which seems to be geared more toward academia, but as a private teacher with budding music students, I think it might be good. After that, I’m off to a session on teacher collaboration called “With a little help from my friends” which is being presented by two of my favorite people.

Then I get to go and sing in church for the first time since March, and then come home and watch a panel discussion called The Ethics of a Profession: Creating Workplace Safety, which will involve a group of teachers, singers, music critics, and conductors.

These are not like medical conferences, where everyone’s done by 2pm. Even in person, NATS conferences are all day and well into the evening.

I LOVE IT!

88DE1DE4-617C-43C2-B869-BE834B491577_4_5005_c

I have so many songs….

In the musical A New Brain, the lead character of Gordon Schwinn is taken to the hospital after a seizure and is near death. His thoughts are of all the things has to do. In this early song in the show, as he is being examined, he sings:

All the songs I never wrote
Fizzle and remain
All the songs I did not start
All the rhymes I never made
All the stories I delayed in telling
Are welling up inside my brain
I should explain
I have so many songs!

I feel like this sometimes. I am full of ideas. I want to do workshops. I want to put on master classes, organize concerts, do so many things. And often, I do them. I’ve accomplished a lot of things. But I have more to do. I have tons of content created that is sitting in the cloud waiting for me to disperse it (what a great choice of words … dispersing from the cloud … like rain on a thirsty field…. ooh).

Seth Godin wrote a recent blogpost called “That’s a good idea.” His first line is “And then what happens?”

You have to take the next step. Does putting on a master class involve sending an email or <gulp> picking up a telephone to contact a person to host the event or to be your featured clinician?

And then what happens? What do you have to do next in order to make this happen? And then what happens after that? What is your next step?

In this particular case, when I say “you” I mean “I” or “me” and when I say “your” I mean “mine.” But this applies to us all when we’re planning a project. How many steps are involved? Do they have to be done in order? Do they have to be done perfectly or just done?

I’ve taken the first step and asked former student and Broadway actress Lissa DeGuzman to be a master clinician for an online master class I’m hosting on July 17. She’s accepted. This was a good idea. Now I need to take all the other steps so it’s not wasted.

What is your great idea?

And then what happens?

Tell us your stories. Tell us your songs. Don’t let them “fizzle and remain.” Get them out there. Take the steps.

 

Vulnerability vs. Oversharing, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about oversharing being the projection your emotions onto someone as opposed to being vulnerable and having those emotions resonate with them. This brings me to the topic of projection.

People often ask me to teach them how to project (i.e., be louder), and I usually counter that what I want them to learn how to do is to resonate more. It’s a common question. For example, in a master class in Milwaukee some years ago, baritone Thomas Hampson was asked how he approached projection, and he said [paraphrasing somewhat]: “I don’t like to think of projection. It seems so one-directional. Bullets project. Missiles project. Small children thrown through plate glass windows project. But voices resonate.” In addition to amusing me greatly, that resonated with me.

Here’s an example of vulnerability that I witnessed within my Milwaukee studio. In the penultimate studio recital there, one of my students sang “Empty chairs at empty tables” from Les Miserables. He sang it beautifully. He was expressive, authentic, emotional, and he made people cry. He said to me a few months later, “Did you notice that I was crying?” and I told him that I didn’t, because it didn’t interfere with his singing and with his story. Often, singers and actors are told, “If you make the audience cry, you’ve done your job. If you cry, you just make the audience uncomfortable.” I generally agree with that – however, in his case, his emotion was so organic and genuine that it did not become uncomfortable. 

Then there’s the quintessential demonstration of oversharing that I came across a few years ago, when I judged lower college musical theater women at NATS. A young woman came in and sang her three pieces:

  1. Someone to watch over me,” Gershwin, Oh Kay! She decided to sing this while maintaining seductive eye contact with each of us judges. It was really uncomfortable.  And weird. She had two straight women and a gay man judging her and none of us were interested. The singing wasn’t particularly interesting – it was not as though she was coloring her voice or shaping the phrases to express a longing or a yearning – she was doing it all through contrived gestures and come-hither looks.

  2. “Honey bun,” Rodgers & Hammerstein, South Pacific. This involved a sailor hat. And interspersing her singing with shouting, “That’s mah little HONEY BUN!” Now, this song isn’t emotional – it’s a funny song. But the humor fell flat because it was inappropriate vocally and physically. And it depended on the use of a hat.

  3. And then the pièce de résistance, “Your daddy’s son,” Ahrens & Flaherty, Ragtime. For this one, she grabbed a blanket and bundled it up to look like a baby. She sang the entire song to the bundle, but as she got more and more agitated – it is a very dramatic song – the bundle started getting out of control and had there been a real baby in the blanket, it would have suffered from shaken baby syndrome. And vocally, she went out of control as well. She began to scream, “Only ANGER AND PAIN, THE BLOOD AND THE PAIN, I BURIED MY HEART IN THE GROUND –  WHEN I BURIED YOU IN THE GROUND.” The response it evoked from us was not, “That poor young woman, she feels so much grief and guilt,” but rather, “Oh my God, she’s going to have a vocal fold hemorrhage right here in front of us. Blood is going to start spurting out of her mouth.” And then it became funny. Unintentionally funny. On the final chorus, she burst into tears and could barely get the words out between sobs and when she got to the line, “You had your daddy’s hands – forgive me,” which is traditionally nearly whispered, she just screamed, “FORGIVE ME!” and I had to put my hands over my mouth so that I wouldn’t openly laugh.

It was the worst performance I’d ever seen at NATS. Or pretty much anywhere, for that matter. Worse than someone standing and doing nothing. It was not an authentic performance. It reeked of, “Look what I can do! I can be sexy, I can be funny, I can break your heart – just watch me!” What she should have been saying was: “I’m lonely and need someone to love me,” “I’m in love with a real peach of a gal – let me tell you about her,” and finally, “I hate myself for what I did, and I have no excuses – except this.”

She did not resonate with her audience. She projected her emotions – more like projectile vomited her emotions all over us. And like projectile vomit, we couldn’t wait to wash it off. (Was that too much? Probably.)

Tell a story. Tell the truth. It’s not about you as a singer/actor, it’s about the story that you have to tell. What is the core truth of it? What can telling this story offer your audience? What can it offer you as the storyteller?

Don’t hold back. Give your audience as much as you can, but make it real. Tell the truth.  Be real. Invest yourself fully and not on a superficial level of “watch ME!” or “listen to ME,” but “hear my story.”

Projectile Vomiting