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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“You are here not to laugh; but to learn”

This Friday, I’ll be holding Listening Party #4, which will focus on the musical Bat Boy The Musical by Laurence O’Keefe. You may know Laurence O’Keefe from Legally Blonde The Musical and Heathers The Musical. The latter two of which are based on movies of the same name, and, consequently, are pretty commercial.

(What is up with shows post-1995 having “The Musical” after them? Would we not know they’re musicals as soon as people start singing? And yes, I’m watching the Jerry Seinfeld special on Netflix while I write this.)

Bat Boy, on the other hand, is a 2001 off-Broadway rock musical based on the now-defunct tabloid Weekly World News 1992 cover story about a fictional creature found in a cave who is half-bat, half-boy.

Bat Boy.PNG

Yep. It’s a musical about a mutant. I don’t know Heathers  (yet). From what I’ve heard of it, I think Bat Boy is more like it than Legally Blonde.

I’ve only seen one production of Bat Boy, as part of the 2005 summer theater program at Divine Savior Holy Angels HS in Milwaukee.

DSHA was a curious choice for a show like this. It’s an all-girls, relatively-conservative Catholic school. But they did a pretty good job with it. I enjoyed it immensely (in part because I had two students in the leads). And I love the cast recording

What does it say about me that I like musicals like this? Let’s look at our listening parties so far.

  1. Sweeney – barber kills people, landlady makes them into pies
  2. Ragtime – well, that’s relatively traditional, but still pretty intense
  3. Assassins – presidential assassins
  4. Bat Boy – see above.

This will be at 5pm instead of 3pm. I’m using the same PMI as for my lessons. If you don’t know what that is, message me.

As always, admission is free but donations will be accepted for the American Visionary Arts Museum (my favorite place in Baltimore).

I’m excited to introduce this show to people. It’s really weird. The music and lyrics are just terrific. But you might feel the need to take a shower afterwards.

What the Actual…

What the Actual…

The word fach sounds like a bad word. It is a German word meaning “compartment” and is used in opera to describe particular voice types, often in incredibly specific detail. There’s:

  • soubrette
  • lyric soprano
    • light lyric soprano
    • full lyric soprano
    • lyric coloratura soprano
    • lyrico-spinto soprano
  • dramatic soprano
    • drammatico-spinto soprano
    • helden soprano
  • heldensoubrette (okay, that one was made up by my friend Yvonne DeChance)

And that’s just for the sopranos. It goes on for the other voice types (mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, bass). It’s not nearly as rigid as it used to be – if you were a soubrette, singing a full lyric aria would be considered “punching above your weight class.” Now, it’s a bit more relaxed (a soubrette still shouldn’t sing Wagner though – which would be the definition of the heldensoubrette).

But in English, the word “fach” is funny. And when I use it with students, their eyes widen and they say, “WHAT?” (My teacher used to describe the process of transitioning from mezzo to soprano or baritone to tenor as “faching up.” I had a student once who asked if we could call our next showcase, “Another Faching Recital.” I said no. But I’ll admit I was tempted.)

In musical theater, there are basically two fachs: belter and legit. And you’re expected to learn to do both if you want to work in the business. You might be known more for your legit singing (Kelli O’Hara, Kristin Chenoweth) or your belt (Sutton Foster, Patti Lupone) but you have to be able to do both, at least somewhat.

This still doesn’t mean that you can or even should do everything, especially as a young singer. There may be some roles that you could sing, but you might not be comfortable with them yet based on who you are as a person. Yes, as an actor, you want to stretch yourself and you have plenty of time to do that. But right now, if you’re in high school and you’re looking for the roles that you feel you can inhabit at this moment, perhaps you need to think of a few things. You need to determine your own personal fach, the one beyond the voice (which doesn’t have to be tied to your body type).

What role do you gravitate towards in the following musicals (and right now I’m focusing on female roles – sorry, boys):

  • Thoroughly Modern Millie: Millie – Miss Dorothy – Mrs. Mears
  • Little Women: Jo – Amy – Meg – Beth
  • Seussical: Gertrude – Maisie – Sour Kangaroo
  • Mary Poppins: Mary – Mrs. Banks – Miss Anderson
  • Carousel: Julie – Carrie – Nettie
  • Ragtime: Mother – Evelyn Nesbit – Emma Goldman – Sarah Brown
  • Mean Girls: Cady – Regina – Janis – Gretchen – Karen

If you see a pattern of the kind of character you feel you could play at this point in time, perhaps these are the roles you should focus on in preparing your audition book. You will – and should – evolve over time. You should work on at least one thing that is not “you,” in order to grow as an artist. But you have plenty of time for that.

So – what the actual “fach” are you?

WTAF?

 

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.

Vulnerability vs. Oversharing, Part 3: Songs That Overshare (on purpose)

This is the last (for now) in this series of three blogposts about the difference between vulnerability and oversharing.

Sometimes there are songs that do give a little more information than might seem necessary. Some of the ones that come to mind are:

  1. I’m not wearing underwear todayAvenue Q (well, probably 2/3 of the show qualifies as oversharing)
  2. I touch myselfThe Divinyls (1990 pop song – a cute tune but did we really need to know this?)
  3. I can’t say noOklahoma! (Ado Annie’s confession about how easily her head is turned)
  4. The love of my lifeBrigadoon (pretty much the same song as “I can’t say no”)
  5. Does this look infected? (Okay, I made that one up. And you’re welcome.)

There are pop songs that go even further, and I’m not even going to list them because they were ridiculous. And kind of gross.

In general, if a song is oversharing, at least in musical theater, it’s because it’s supposed to be funny. The character is going too far. And that’s the joke. But when we’re interpreting a song that is intended to be serious, even if the content is very personal, we aren’t oversharing.

In planning this post, I did find a really good song called Oversharing by country singer Kelsea Ballerini. And even though she’s singing about how she overshares, the song is showing her vulnerability. Part of the chorus is:

Yeah, I know, there’s moments that I’m missin’
If I’d just shut up and listen
But silence makes me scared
So then I overshare

If you are working on a song that is intended to show your vulnerable side – a song like “Your daddy’s son” or “Someone else’s story” or “Stranger” – you need to take a moment to “shut up and listen.” Listen to the spaces between the notes. Between the words. Between the verses. Listen to the harmonies, the instrumentation (even if you’re doing it with piano) – what did the composer intend to convey when s/he chose the instruments accompanying the song? How do the harmonies enhance the text? How does this help you express the message of the song?

Think but don’t overthink. Share but don’t overshare. Care but don’t overcare. Don’t miss the point. Don’t be scared of the silences.

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.

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!

 

Mid-Atlantic NATS: And on to South Carolina!

Mid-Atlantic NATS: And on to South Carolina!

Mid-Atlantic NATS Regional Auditions blogpostPlease join me in wishing the best to Mezzoid Voice Studio members Nicholas Johnson and Andrea Rudai as they prepare for the Mid-Atlantic regional auditions for the National Association of Teachers of Singers in Columbia, SC next weekend!

On Saturday, February 22, at the MDDC District NATS auditions at Morgan State University, Nick won his category, Lower HS Musical Theater TTBB, singing “You gotta die sometime” (Falsettos), “Not while I’m around” (Sweeney Todd), and “What do I need with love?” (Thoroughly Modern Millie). Andi took honors in the Upper HS Musical Theater Treble category, singing, “Ring of keys” (Fun Home), “No one else” (Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812), and “Till there was you” (Music Man).

They were accompanied by Michael Tan at the district auditions, but Michael won’t be able to go down to SC with them, since he’s music directing Dogfight at Spotlighters. So they’ll be accompanied by NC pianist Susan Young, who was recommended by a colleague of mine down there.

So, toi toi toi, Nick and Andi!