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.)

8C349C34-DD7A-41A4-9589-1BEC80AC8B31_4_5005_c

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.

The Performing Teacher/Teaching Artist

The biggest reason I moved back to the east coast from Milwaukee was because I was not performing at all. Or hardly at all.

On the up side, this allowed/forced me to focus on developing my teaching/business skills, and I discovered that I’m really good at this. But performing was important to me, both because I am a performer, and I’m really happy on stage, and also because I think it makes me a better teacher.

This was reinforced in an article by Brian Manternach, a tenor on the voice faculty of the University of Utah’s Theater Department, and also a former resident of Milwaukee. (I think I might have judged him at NATS at one time….) This article appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of the Journal of Singing, and is titled “The Value of Performing.”

I’d like to summarize his points (in bold and italics) about why performing informs and benefits our teaching, and draw some conclusions of my own.

  • Teachers who perform may be better able to demonstrate the techniques they are encouraging their students to build. I know a lot of teachers who don’t demonstrate, just because they don’t want to encourage imitation. And I get that. If you are 14, you shouldn’t sound like someone who is… older. But if I can show you just what chiaroscuro is supposed to sound like, I will! I will also show you what it shouldn’t sound like. (There will be another blog in a few days about imitations/accents/funny voices and how this can help you find things out about your voice.)
  • Teachers who perform must maintain a regimen of vocalization that keeps their own instruments flexible, pliable, and healthyI “joke” that during the last  or so years I was in Milwaukee, I became really good at singing in E major. Because that’s where I started a lot of exercises. Whether it was a descending 5 note scale starting on B4 or an arpeggio coming down from E5, I’d demonstrate that, my students would sing it going down, and then I’d go to the same spot and go up. (It wasn’t a very funny joke.) I had no reason to practice. I intended to, but I had so many students (30 at home, 10 at colleges, plus teaching classes at Carroll) that I just didn’t have time. And it showed when I gave a recital in September 2011 at Carroll and realized that I did not sound – or feel – like myself. I had to work with Connie Haas to find the singer I had been and would be again.
  • Teachers who perform have the ability to thoroughly learn new repertoire. Again, I had no reason to learn anything. I had worked with a pianist in the early 2000s who introduced me to a lot of pieces that were wildly out of my comfort zone. Sometimes, they were exhilarating. But he took ill, and retired from performing. And my cabaret pianist was in high demand and became too busy to work on shows with me. I had a few opportunities through the MacDowell Club, a performing group, but they were few and far between.
  • Teachers who perform can empathize with their students who experience music performance anxiety (MPA). Boy, can I relate to this. I had terrible MPA (a new term for me). And because I didn’t have performance opportunities, I didn’t have the opportunity to conquer it. Each performance I did had so much riding on it. There wasn’t necessarily a “next time.”
  • Teachers who perform can bring first hand knowledge of age related voice changes to their studios. wish I didn’t have this … but I do. I’ve done pretty well so far, except for one 3 month period that coincided with a particularly bad bout of bronchitis.
  • Teachers who perform have additional opportunities to network and build relationships with other musicians. To a certain extent, I’ve gotten this from a lot of other sources:
    • NATS
    • Social media (performance/teacher FB pages)
    • Speakeasy Cooperative

But there’s a special bond between people who make music together. They inspire each other to do better, to take it to the next level.

Teachers who don’t perform aren’t lesser teachers than teachers who do. But, for me, I need to have both. Right now, I feel like I have a good balance of teaching and performing. Perhaps later, I’ll change the ratio (or have it changed for me).

I consider myself a teaching artist, and even when the day comes that I perform less, I will still consider myself that.

New Music to Hear and to Teach!

New Music to Hear and to Teach!

I’m in the process of cramming new music into my brain so that I can spit out new music for you to work on in the fall. (Spit out was my edited way of saying that.)

When I was in Milwaukee, I had a lot of students bring me things from new shows – one of my boys (who is now a working actor in Chicago) had a connection in New York via his dad with all the new composers on and off Broadway, so he was constantly bringing new things.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been focused on finding balance between singing and teaching, so I haven’t been exposed to as much that’s new and exciting. So there’s a gap in what I’ve been listening to. Some of that has been filled in by On Broadway on SiriusXM, but even that’s just a song at a time. So – I’m going to spend some time and listen to:

  1. Hadestown
  2. The Prom
  3. Be More Chill
  4. Come From Away (I know a lot of it but I need to listen to the whole thing)
  5. The  Band’s Visit (because I love Tony Shalhoub)

Any suggestions? Feel free to comment!

***

Meanwhile, enjoy New Music – “Haunting me, and somehow taunting me” (the staging in the first is REALLY static, but the singing is lovely, especially the young woman playing Mother) in two completely different ways!