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?

 

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.

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!

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!