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.

 

Developing a plan: when talent isn’t enough

I follow marketing guru Seth Godin, whose daily blogs go beyond how to sell something and into the practical and functional elements of:

  • What do people need?
  • What do you have to offer?
  • Does their need and what you have to offer coalesce to benefit both of you?

Thursday’s blog was about skill vs. talent.

A lot of people have natural talent. A lot of people were born with a talent for singing, writing, dancing, acting. People who are told from the time they were small children that they should be on Broadway, or on The Voice, or at the Metropolitan Opera, or in Hollywood.

And a few people make a living doing those things.

And more people don’t. A lot of times it’s because that’s not what they want to do, in the long run. And that’s fine. Sometimes because they don’t have the skills to take their talent to the people who need it, and don’t know how to develop those skills, or what they even are.

And some people make a living doing things that they weren’t “born” to do. They were talented, but weren’t the best singer in their choir, or the best dancer in their troupe, or the lead in their school play. But they’re the ones working at their craft. And the word “craft” is essential here. Because craft = skill. Craft = technique.

It’s not enough to have talent. You have to develop your craft. And you have to develop  (or craft, to use the word as a verb) other skills necessary to get that talent out there for the people who need it.

These might be things you’re not comfortable with yet. They might involve reading a book on business, taking a language class, listening to artists you’ve never heard of, or … eek … talking on the phone with someone who might be able to help you out (for someone who spent hours on the phone in high school, I’ve become loath to use the phone for something other than accessing the internet).

9DE20DBB-2408-48FB-8AD2-5E1D8682089B

How can you take what you have to offer (your talent) and get it to the people who are in need of it? (You’re going to have to find out who those people are, for one thing. And where they are.)

When you take a trip, you make a plan. A plan that allows for spontaneity and changes in direction, but a plan nevertheless. At least to get on the road and on your way. Your destination may change but you have to take that first step or you aren’t going anywhere.

What’s your plan? What’s the first step?

Making Your Case in Auditions

Seth Godin wrote a blog a few weeks ago about the conventional wisdom of making your case vs. how it actually works. This was from a business/marketing perspective, but when I read this, I thought, “Wow, this could apply to auditioning!” My notes are in brackets.

Conventional wisdom:

Find a large group of people [audition for as many people as possible]

Explain why you’re better. [show off your technique]

Prove that you are the right answer. [sing better than anyone else]

Done. [get cast]

How it actually works:

Earn attention from precisely the right people. [audition for groups for which you’re the ideal candidate]

Gain trust. [be reliable – show up on time, be prepared]

Tell a story. [tell the truth – get into more than just the notes]

Create tension. [find a point of view that no one else has found before]

Relieve the tension by gaining commitment. [again, tell the truth]

Deliver work that’s remarkable. [go the extra mile in your interpretation]

They spread the word. [word of mouth – even if you don’t get the role this time, they might tell someone about you]

***

What would happen if you approach auditions this way, instead of just focusing on getting the part? Try it!

What are you singing? Do you know?

One thing that annoys me is mandated recitals where people are assigned music to which they have no affinity. And, consequently, they sing it with no connection to the text, to the music, to the history of the song or the poet, or to the style of the period. They’re singing the right words, and often, according to the diction rules of the language. They’re singing the right notes. They’re singing with technique appropriate to where they are in their vocal development. But it’s not interpreting the song, or expressing anything. It’s just duplicating what they were told to do. And as soon as it’s done, it’s forgotten. It’s like a school uniform that they’re required to wear, and soon as they can take it off, it’s off.

Whose fault is that? Is it the fault of the student? Of the person who assigned the song?

Sometimes, you are assigned songs that fit a requirement and may or may not be songs you really want to sing. If you are an artist, it is your job to find something in the song that speaks to you. If your song is in a foreign language, translate it. Whether it’s in English or not, create a vernacular translation/inner monologue for yourself. Know the history of the poem, of the composer, know what its performance practice (style) is, know how the accompaniment enhances the text, and what you can do to bring that out.

This post was inspired by Seth Godin in a post called memorization and learning. In it, he says, “memorizing anything that you’ll need to build upon, improvise on or improve is foolish. You’ll need to do the work of understanding it instead.”

You need to do the work to understand that which you sing. And you need to make it your own.

Stay tuned for more information about the Curiously Strong Performing series of performance workshops I’ll be presenting in 2020. We’ll be doing the work.

 

 

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?

Don’t Memorize The Words – Tell The Story

I follow Marketer Extraordinaire Seth Godin’s daily blog. The biggest thing about Seth Godin is that he doesn’t talk about selling your product, he talks about telling your story. Consequently, a lot of his blogs, even though most people would think they were intended for someone in a traditional (non-artsy) business, relate to us as performers. A recent one was called “Awkward Memorization,” and I’ve attached it here.

A few lines that stood out for me:

Watch a great performance and you’ll see no artifacts of memorization. Instead, you will see someone speaking from the heart.

This is what it means to know something by heart.

And:

Don’t memorize your talk. Memorize your stories.

Are you working on a song for an audition? What’s the story? Is there more than one story? Identify your story or stories. Where does one finish and the other one start? Tell us the stories.

Singing a string of words is rote memorization and it’s boring. Sing from the heart. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. Tell your stories.

Competitions – Subjective Wastes of Time or Valuable Learning Tools?

Yesterday was the MacDowell Club of Milwaukee’s first annual (?) music marathon, which was a competition for classical performers ages 14-19. Four of my students entered; two placed. All four sounded and looked fantastic, and sang at a level which I considered their personal bests up till now.
Competitions are hard. Not so much the getting up and doing them part, but the results part. Of course, that part is easier when you win or place, but that doesn’t happen all that often. I have never won a competition. I never went to state for WSMA; they added the starred first my senior year of high school, and of course, that year I got a first. No star. 
I suppose if I counted 2nd runner-up in the Miss West Allis Pageant as a competition, that’s not entirely true. The best thing about that was that my sponsor was Steve’s Glass, so I had a banner across my body that said Miss Steve’s Glass. It could have been worse. A friend of mine in the Miss Cudahy Pageant was sponsored by Advanced Screw Corporation.
Not winning or placing in one competition does not mean that you won’t win or place in another one. By the same token, winning or placing in one competition does not guarantee that you will win or place in the next. There are people who won or placed at NATS who had trouble getting a college to take them for music; there are people who did not make it to the NATS finals who are now at or will be attending prestigious conservatories or universities.
The singing world is full of professional competitors who don’t actually get any work.
Seth Godin, a motivational speaker and marketing entrepreneur, said this in his blog the other day (bolding mine):

Don’t expect applause

Accept applause, sure, please do.
But when you expect applause, when you do your work in order (and because of) applause, you have sold yourself short.That’s because your work is depending on something out of your control. You have given away part of your art. If your work is filled with the hope and longing for applause, it’s no longer your work–the dependence on approval has corrupted it, turned it into a process where you are striving for ever more approval.
Who decides if your work is good? When you are at your best, you do. If the work doesn’t deliver on its purpose, if the pot you made leaks or the hammer you forged breaks, then you should learn to make a better one. But we don’t blame the nail for breaking the hammer or the water for leaking from the pot. They are part of the system, just as the market embracing your product is part of marketing.
“Here, here it is, it’s finished.”
If it’s finished, the applause, the thanks, the gratitude are something else. Something extra and not part of what you created. To play a beautiful song for two people or a thousand is the same song, and the amount of thanks you receive isn’t part of that song.
Substitute “awards” for “applause” and you get the idea. 
If you do not win or place, this does not define you as a singer, as an actor, as a performer. You define yourself. You do the work, you do it well. You cannot control outcome, only process. All of yesterday’s performers should be proud of their process – they did the work, and they did it well. 
Bravo to all four of you!!