I learned something today…

The phrase, “I learned something today,” is one that is associated with the incredibly and self-consciously earnest sitcoms of the 1990s where there were always very special episodes. As soon as you heard that there was going to be a very special episode of a TV show, you knew that someone was about to learn a valuable lesson. And that there’d be a lot of hugging.

Two shows responded to that in completely different ways. Larry David, creator of the show Seinfeld, said that the show’s mantra was “no hugging, no learning.”

South Park, on the other hand, embraced the absurdity of finding meaning no matter how ridiculous the premise of the episode, and nearly episode ended with, “You know, I learned something today.”

Have you learned Something from South Park? : southpark

They might still do that. I haven’t watched the show for a number of years (is it still on?).

This week I finished up the NATS Virtual National Conference and attended quite a few live and pre-recorded sessions (and still have a few more pre-recorded sessions I want to attend). Some things I learned included (title of the session in parentheses):

  • The infant’s vocal tract is primarily designed for suckling and attracting attention. An infant’s soft palate overlaps the epiglottis in order to make suckling more efficient. (Children will listen)
  • Maggie Wheeler, who played Janice on Friends (a show which also was an exception to the earnestness of most 90s sitcoms), is now a singer/songwriter and very woke choral director. (NATS Singalong)
  • There are a bunch of new technologies in the hopper to facilitate more immediate playing and singing together (Solutions for teaching: From a distance)
  • Some excellent new vocalises (Teaching musical theater voice: Cis-gendered female)
  • Trans-men seem to have an easier time with vocal transition (Voice masculinization and voice feminization: Vocalises for trans and gender expansive singers)
  • The arts accounts for 2% of the US gross national product (GNP), more than either construction or tourism (Training music majors for a 21st century “mosaic career”)
  • The primary difference between golden age and contemporary belt is not range, but tessitura – which I kinda knew – plus a lot of new repertoire (Teaching contemporary musical theatre)
  • Different mouth shapes and vocalises (Country singing 101)
  • Laryngeal massage can be a very beneficial part of vocal health but avoid massaging the carotid artery or you will black out (Voice and hearing health: Anatomy & physiology of the singing voice)
    and my favorite —
  • My favorite childhood actor, Alan Alda, wrote a book about communication called If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, in which he says, “Unless I’m willing to be changed by you, I’m probably not really listening.” (Lifting the curse of knowledge in vocal pedagogy)

I also learned about a lot of new technology that I’m going to have to get for the studio to facilitate the dual modality of teaching online and in person. And that technology is going to have a learning curve of its own.

My dad once asked me on the phone, when I told him I had just come home from a class, “Class? When ya gone stop learning?”

My answer, then and now: NEVER.

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!

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Listening Party #2: The People Called it “Ragtime!”

My second favorite musical is Lynn Ahrens’ and Stephen Flaherty’s Ragtime, which premiered on Broadway in 1998. On Friday, May 8 at 3pm, we’ll be listening to the original cast recording, which features some of my favorite singers:

  • Judy Kaye – Emma Goldman
  • Lea Michele – Little Girl
  • Marin Mazzie (RIP) – Mother
  • Brian Stokes Mitchell (or as I like to call him, “Stokes”) – Coalhouse Walker, Jr.
  • Audra Audra AUDRA McDonald – Sarah Brown

This musical is set in the early 1900s and is based on the style of music popular during the era, which was known as ragtime. But it addresses so many issues that still exist today:

  • Immigration
  • Racism
  • Anti-Semitism
  • Socialism
  • Sexism
  • White privilege
  • Tabloid journalism

There are three primary groups within the show:

  1. The affluent white family, known only as Father, Mother, Grandfather, Younger Brother, and Edgar, the son of Father and Mother (why he has a name and no one else does, I don’t know). Others affiliated with this group are historical figures such as J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Harry K. Thaw and his wife Evelyn Nesbit, as well as her former lover Stanford White, and Admiral Robert Peary. Less affluent, but also a face of white privilege is the fictional fire chief Willie Conklin.
  2. The African-American musician Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and his girlfriend, Sarah Brown; Booker T. Washington; Sarah & Coalhouse’s friends.
  3. The Jewish immigrant Tateh and his daughter, Little Girl (note that she doesn’t have a name); as well as the anarchist Emma Goldman. A more famous immigrant is magician Harry Houdini, whose life is somewhat tied to Edgar.

I saw this show on a national tour in Chicago in the early 2000s and fell in love with it. I’d already listened to the original cast recording, where I first fell in love with the amazing voices, especially those of Stokes and Audra.

Join me on Friday to hear more about this wonderful show (message me for the link or use the one from last week if you were there). Meanwhile, enjoy this performance of Audra and Stokes at the Kennedy Center in January 2019, a little over 20 years after their first performance in the Broadway production.

May Musical Challenge!

Awhile back there was a Facebook group called, “There’s more to musical theater than just Wicked, Phantom, and Les Mis.” That was about ten years ago. I think nowadays it’d be “… Hamilton, Dear Evan Hanson, and … still Phantom.” There’s a lot more out there. A lot.

So – since we’re all sitting at home, let’s listen to musicals!

  • 31 days, 31 shows – ones that are “new to you”
  • 1940-2020
  • Rate them from 1-5
  • No year repeats!

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If you’re a student of mine (or you just want to participate, feel free, but you won’t get a prize if you’re not), feel free to complete this form, either on this website or use this fillable PDF:  May Musical Challenge_ 31 Musicals in 31 Days! and discover what’s out there.

NB: This was going to be the Tony-award winning Best Musicals from 1988-2020, but there were a lot of lame musicals in the early 1990s. So – you have 80 years. I’m going to do it, too. I know a lot of musicals, but not all of them.

If you’re in my studio, there’s a prize for the person who listens to the most musicals – which my students know about.

If you’re not – well, why not?

We start May 1.

And go.

Musicals I don’t like that everyone else does

There’s a thing going around Facebook where people are listing the things they don’t like that everyone else does. Some make sense to me – black licorice? EW. The Kardashians? EW EW. And some – well, I’ve lost all respect for some people.

So I thought I’d make a list of the musicals I don’t like that everyone else does (not in any kind of order):

  1. Grease
    The Travolta/ON-J movie was entertaining, but really, it’s a gross musical. I simply won’t teach any of the songs from it because they’re
    trash not my cup of tea.
  2. Bye Bye Birdie
    Really, this should be #1. My personal experience of Hell on earth was sitting through a high school showcase in Milwaukee where five scenes of this
    monstrosity were presented. I only like “Put on a happy face,” and then only sung by Dick Van Dyke. Most of the music is trash not my cup of tea.
  3. Chorus Line
    I like the music out of context. I find the story very self-indulgent (as I do with a lot of 1970s musicals) and it’s uncomfortable to see HS kids doing it. 
  4. Godspell
    Admittedly, seeing this at St. Matthias Catholic Church done by an all-volunteer group may have colored my opinion of it. But again, self-indulgent 1970s pseudo-spiritual claptrap  not my cup of tea.
  5. Pippin
    I like Corner of the Sky. But other than that, self-indulgent etc. etc.
  6. Children of Eden
    This is the third Stephen Schwartz piece in a row. Huh. “Oh Noah – you go-ah – all the way back to the protozoa!” That lyric alone … ugh.
  7. Jekyll & Hyde
    Great music. Just too dark, no humor to liven up the endless death and dismemberment. A show only as good as its three principal actors. And “Confrontation” has to be sung by an acting phenom, otherwise it’s
    hilarious.
  8. Mamma Mia!
    UGH. My husband says, “But you like ABBA.” Yeah, in a club. But not an entire evening of it. Plus I kinda hate jukebox musicals. And when I saw the movie, there were a whole bunch of women from the Red Hat Society, cheering and dancing. ‘Nuff said.
  9. Rent
    Puccini did it better. I have my own personal opinion as to why it was such a success. I won’t share that here. Mimi shouldn’t live at the end. THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES.
  10. Spring Awakening
    I will say that I like the recording better than when people brought me the individual songs because the orchestration is sublime. The piano reductions are boring as hell. I don’t like the music, though. I find it too jarring with the 1800s setting. It seems… dare I say it… self-indulgent – “Look how edgy we are!”

(Dis)Honorable mention:

  • You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown 
    I don’t like shows where adults play children. I could probably handle a production at the high school level, but a 45 year old Charlie Brown is just gross.
  • 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
    I like the story, not the music. Which is weird because I 
    love William Finn’s writing in Falsettos and A New Brain. Again, adults playing children is weird and off-putting to me.
  • City of Angels
    Saw it on its national tour in DC in the 90s. Enjoyed it somewhat, I recall, but I remember nothing about it.  I couldn’t tell you anything about it 15 minutes after I saw it.

There are a lot of musicals I haven’t seen and don’t wanna see. I don’t like jukebox musicals or movicals (movies turned into musicals) as a general rule. There are exceptions.

But there’s one musical for which I cannot – no, will not – make an exception (other than the DvD reference above). Just say no.
FBFE7D38-8778-4048-9D67-99A55D728A80_4_5005_cNot that I’m opinionated or anything. It’s  just trash …. not my cup of tea.

Musical Theater Mnemonics – Sightsinging Intervals

When you learn to read music, one of the most important elements is learning to read intervals on the staff.  This is in reference to how close notes are to each other on the staff.  The distance of a 2nd, 3rd, etc., refers to the proximity of the bottom note to the top, counting the bottom note as 1. (I don’t know why the 4th and 5th steps and the octave of the scale are referred to as perfect.)

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Learning memory tricks, or mnemonics, is very helpful in helping you learn to sightread. When I was in undergrad sightsinging, I was given a list of songs that corresponded to the different melodic intervals of a 12-note chromatic scale. The ones I remember the best were:

P4⬆️ “Here comes the bride”
P4⬇️: “Born free”
M6⬆️: “My Bonnie lies over the ocean”

(For a minor 6th, I always thought of it as “sad my Bonnie.”)

Nowadays, people don’t know the traditional folk songs the way they used to (never mind oldies like “Born Free”), so when I offer one of them as a mnemonic device, I’m met with blank stares.

But what y’all DO know is musical theater. So I sat down today and created this (which I edited because someone caught a mistake PLUS it gave me the chance to close a parentheses I’d missed):
Sightreading with Musical Theater Intervals PNG
(Tritone = augmented 4th or diminished 5th. Also known as the Devil’s Interval.)

Click here to access the file along with YouTube links to each song: Sightreading with Musical Theater Intervals

Take the opportunity of this unplanned social isolation to work on your sightreading. Or on your improvisation skills. Or a monologue.

Pieces I heard at NATS that you should sing (“you” being MT girls)

I found this list of songs for musical theater females that I jotted down when I was judging at the MDDC NATS auditions. It’s short because a lot of people sang the same things. But these stuck out. All are available on Musicnotes.com unless notated otherwise.

Take a listen to them. If there’s anything you want to learn (maybe in the summer, since the school year is winding down), let me know.

Maybe we can have a Zoom get together later this week to talk about repertoire you want to learn…. keep an eye on the studio FB page or on Insta for any upcoming Zoom chats!

 

Who takes voice lessons?

My mother never understood how I had so many students. She would say, “So many people want to be professional singers?” and I’d say, “No, mom, some want to be professional performers, but some just want to get into the musical at school, or into a special ensemble in choir, or some just want to be better.” That blew her mind. She couldn’t understand why anyone would spend money on something if they weren’t planning to make money at it. (And why they’d give it to ME, of all people.)

But my mother issues are a whole ‘nother story. And ones only hinted at in this blog.

This summer, I read Seth Godin’s This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.  In the chapter, “In search of ‘better,'” he creates an X-Y graph showing elements that people care about. From a business perspective, one element might be convenience, and another one price. What kind of clients fall within these parameters? Who is willing to pay for both? Who wants one but doesn’t care so much about the other?

I decided that, from a voice teacher’s perspective, my parameters would be technique and performance. What kind of client/student wants to be a better singer, but doesn’t really want to perform? What kind doesn’t really care about developing strong technique, but just wants to be able to perform with a band or at open mic? Who wants to understand technique better so they can help their classroom students, but doesn’t really want to perform themselves? Who wants to perform at the highest possible level of ability? This is what I came up with, based on the students I’ve worked with over 20 years:

Types of Voice Students (click here for bigger version)Image 9-19-19 at 9.44 AM

By “professional performer,” I mean opera/musical theater, because that’s what I do. CCM performer means contemporary commercial music such as rock, pop, jazz. And please don’t feel that I’m judging any kind of singing here – except maybe “shower.”

This doesn’t mean that students are forever relegated to these arbitrary quadrants. The “always wanted to sing” dabbler might start out not wanting to perform (and, in fact, be terrified of doing so), but then dip their toe into karaoke, and maybe later, community theater. Or start out in the church choir, and then decide to try auditioning for a symphonic chorus. A community theater ensemble singer might go for a lead role – and get it!

As a teacher, who do you want to work with? I have to be honest – I prefer working with people who want to perform and who want to develop their technique to the highest extent possible. That’s my “ideal client.” I have friends who enjoy working with adults who have no intention of performing and who do not want to work with high-strung high school students with tons of rehearsal conflicts (in other words, my people). Knowing who you click with might mean that you don’t market yourself as “all ages, all styles,” because that might not be the best way you can serve yourself and your client. It’s not for me. But some people are happy to serve all markets, and good for them!

As a student, where do you fall? Does your teacher recognize what’s important to you? Are they helping you get to where you want to be? Are they pushing you hard enough or too hard? Are you their ideal client? Are they your ideal teacher?

Why I don’t teach pop – usually

I was reading a FB post on a teacher group where someone had mentioned that their student was recording some repertoire that was wildly age-inappropriate, both lyrically and vocally. This was repertoire that the parent had chosen but that they wanted help on from the teacher.

I don’t teach pop. It’s not that I feel that classical music or Golden Age musical theater is the “one true way” to develop vocal technique. It’s not that I don’t like pop music. I love Lady Gaga, John Legend, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Lizzo…. But I feel like contemporary pop music is so artist-driven, and written for the particular range and style of an individual singer, rather than for the masses. And often, the lyrics are more adult-themed than I think a middle school student should be singing (this also happens with musical theater for that matter – I had an 11 year old whose mom wanted her to sing “Mama, who bore me” from Spring Awakening because Lea Michele sang it and she liked her on Glee; I had to explain what the show was about and then she agreed with me that no, it was not a good audition piece for show choir).

I like finding what’s right for a student based on who they are at this point in their vocal journey, and what’s going to take them to the next level. And my comfort zone is musical theater (both contemporary and Golden Age) and classical. I’ll also use Great American Songbook rep and folk songs, but rarely will I use contemporary (post-2000) pop unless I find something that I think will suit someone. I can’t remember the last time that happened. And especially not with a new student.

A few exceptions:

  • Contemporary musical theater – it’s pretty pop-y, but I still feel like it’s not as limited as far as singability as commercial pop music.
  • Jukebox musicals – if you’re auditioning for Rock of Ages, you’re not going to sing “Oh what a beautiful morning” for the audition, so we’ll need to find something with a harder edge.
  • You’ve been with me awhile and you have something to sing for a school event and you’re having trouble with it. In which case, I need:
    • Sheet music or at least a lead sheet with guitar chords. This should be in the right key for you, not necessarily the key in which it’s written.
    • An accompaniment track so I can hear what it’s supposed to sound like.
    • A recording of it in advance so I know what I’m getting into.

Again, not teaching pop is not about me not liking pop music or wanting to impose my musical tastes on you. It’s the best way I know for the studio to serve you, based on my skill set and my experience. Pop music, even though I’m certified in contemporary commercial music pedagogy, is not in my superpower wheelhouse (that’s an upcoming blog, BTW). So if you really, really want to sing pop music and only pop music – then I’m not the right teacher for you. In which case, Godspeed, and I’ll help you find the right teacher if I can.