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?

 

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.

Vulnerability vs. Oversharing, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about oversharing being the projection your emotions onto someone as opposed to being vulnerable and having those emotions resonate with them. This brings me to the topic of projection.

People often ask me to teach them how to project (i.e., be louder), and I usually counter that what I want them to learn how to do is to resonate more. It’s a common question. For example, in a master class in Milwaukee some years ago, baritone Thomas Hampson was asked how he approached projection, and he said [paraphrasing somewhat]: “I don’t like to think of projection. It seems so one-directional. Bullets project. Missiles project. Small children thrown through plate glass windows project. But voices resonate.” In addition to amusing me greatly, that resonated with me.

Here’s an example of vulnerability that I witnessed within my Milwaukee studio. In the penultimate studio recital there, one of my students sang “Empty chairs at empty tables” from Les Miserables. He sang it beautifully. He was expressive, authentic, emotional, and he made people cry. He said to me a few months later, “Did you notice that I was crying?” and I told him that I didn’t, because it didn’t interfere with his singing and with his story. Often, singers and actors are told, “If you make the audience cry, you’ve done your job. If you cry, you just make the audience uncomfortable.” I generally agree with that – however, in his case, his emotion was so organic and genuine that it did not become uncomfortable. 

Then there’s the quintessential demonstration of oversharing that I came across a few years ago, when I judged lower college musical theater women at NATS. A young woman came in and sang her three pieces:

  1. Someone to watch over me,” Gershwin, Oh Kay! She decided to sing this while maintaining seductive eye contact with each of us judges. It was really uncomfortable.  And weird. She had two straight women and a gay man judging her and none of us were interested. The singing wasn’t particularly interesting – it was not as though she was coloring her voice or shaping the phrases to express a longing or a yearning – she was doing it all through contrived gestures and come-hither looks.

  2. “Honey bun,” Rodgers & Hammerstein, South Pacific. This involved a sailor hat. And interspersing her singing with shouting, “That’s mah little HONEY BUN!” Now, this song isn’t emotional – it’s a funny song. But the humor fell flat because it was inappropriate vocally and physically. And it depended on the use of a hat.

  3. And then the pièce de résistance, “Your daddy’s son,” Ahrens & Flaherty, Ragtime. For this one, she grabbed a blanket and bundled it up to look like a baby. She sang the entire song to the bundle, but as she got more and more agitated – it is a very dramatic song – the bundle started getting out of control and had there been a real baby in the blanket, it would have suffered from shaken baby syndrome. And vocally, she went out of control as well. She began to scream, “Only ANGER AND PAIN, THE BLOOD AND THE PAIN, I BURIED MY HEART IN THE GROUND –  WHEN I BURIED YOU IN THE GROUND.” The response it evoked from us was not, “That poor young woman, she feels so much grief and guilt,” but rather, “Oh my God, she’s going to have a vocal fold hemorrhage right here in front of us. Blood is going to start spurting out of her mouth.” And then it became funny. Unintentionally funny. On the final chorus, she burst into tears and could barely get the words out between sobs and when she got to the line, “You had your daddy’s hands – forgive me,” which is traditionally nearly whispered, she just screamed, “FORGIVE ME!” and I had to put my hands over my mouth so that I wouldn’t openly laugh.

It was the worst performance I’d ever seen at NATS. Or pretty much anywhere, for that matter. Worse than someone standing and doing nothing. It was not an authentic performance. It reeked of, “Look what I can do! I can be sexy, I can be funny, I can break your heart – just watch me!” What she should have been saying was: “I’m lonely and need someone to love me,” “I’m in love with a real peach of a gal – let me tell you about her,” and finally, “I hate myself for what I did, and I have no excuses – except this.”

She did not resonate with her audience. She projected her emotions – more like projectile vomited her emotions all over us. And like projectile vomit, we couldn’t wait to wash it off. (Was that too much? Probably.)

Tell a story. Tell the truth. It’s not about you as a singer/actor, it’s about the story that you have to tell. What is the core truth of it? What can telling this story offer your audience? What can it offer you as the storyteller?

Don’t hold back. Give your audience as much as you can, but make it real. Tell the truth.  Be real. Invest yourself fully and not on a superficial level of “watch ME!” or “listen to ME,” but “hear my story.”

Projectile Vomiting

World Voice Day in a Time of Silence

world_voice_day_2020_poster_s_rgb-294x434Every year, World Voice Day seems to coincide with something that prevents me from celebrating it. Last year, it was during Holy Week. The year before, I was teaching all day at Howard Community College. And the year before that it was Easter Sunday.

And this year, we have a pandemic. And all performances are on hold. Lessons, master classes, conferences, and workshops have moved online. So sometimes we have to ask ourselves:

  • If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?
  • If a singer sings a song and no one is there to hear it, is s/he really a singer? What does it matter?

The latter is a question I’ve asked myself in the last few weeks, since this all began. What’s the point of singing, if there’s no one to hear it? What is the point of teaching singing, if there’s nowhere for them to perform?

I love working with performers and helping them prepare for performing. Our studio cabaret was coming up on Mother’s Day (moved to September 13). Our studio recital was scheduled for June 7 (I’m going to be cancelling it or moving it online – still TBD).

What is the point? Why should we go on?

Our voices are with us all the time. Sometimes out loud, sometimes just in our heads. Sometimes we get to use them where others can hear them. Sometimes we just talk to ourselves and make plans for the future.

We still have our voices, even if performing is on hold right now. We might not be using them the way we want, but we should still continue to focus on our voices during this time so that we can use them when they can be heard again.

Because we will all have something to say once this is over. Next year, we’re going to do something big for World Voice Day. And we need to be ready.

Focus on your voice. You’re going to need it like never before.

*******

That was supposed to be the end of this blogpost, but while I was writing, I was watching The Good Fight on TV, and the cast and crew of the show was talking about how we are all still connected and it touched me so much that I had to put it here. Not all the singing is beautiful (not everyone in the cast is Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald) but all of it is heartfelt. And all of it matters.

 

Making a list … and checking it …

No, I’m not writing a blog to the tune of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” (But don’t tempt me.)

Last weekend I judged the MDDC NATS auditions and saw some people sing with little or no expression in their eyes. Their eyes were fixed on a spot slightly above the judges’ heads, and it never varied. Sometimes, they smiled or gestured, but it never reached their eyes. It wasn’t natural – it wasn’t comforting as an audience member (judging or just watching) because I didn’t believe the song meant anything to the singer. I didn’t believe the singer. No matter how good the voice was, I didn’t believe him or her.

When you’re singing a solo that’s not intended to be sung to another person on stage or when you’re singing an art song, you are doing a soliloquy. You’re talking to yourself (a monologue, on the other hand, is usually a speech intended for someone else to hear).

When are times that you talk to yourself? The main time that I can think of is when you’re making a list of things you have to do.

Think about it: you’re making a to-do list. The majority of the time, you don’t just write without stopping and looking up. You think of what you have to do. You look up. You look around. You see something that reminds you of the next item you have to do. And then that reminds you of something else that you have to do. Try writing a list and be aware of what you’re doing. What’s the process?

Another example of “talking to yourself” is when you’re reflecting on something. Say you’re writing in your journal and thinking of your hopes and your dreams. You stop and reflect as you’re writing. You might write a bunch of stuff in a burst of creativity. You might feel stuck and pace around. What do you do when you’re reflecting?

Maybe your song is a list of things, like “You gotta die sometime” from Falsettos. A list of all the things you’ve done up to this time. Of what death will be like. How to handle it.

Maybe it’s a realization and awareness, like “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home (although the chorus is a list – “your swagger, your bearing… short hair and your dungarees”). It’s a realization of who Small Allison is.

Another time I talk to myself is in the shower. Or when I’m driving a long distance. I try out all sorts of scenarios, usually regarding how I should’ve handled something differently.

So take a song you’re working on and write it out as a list. Or as if you were journaling. What do you do? Where do your eyes go? Are you looking out? Are you looking in? (Just don’t look down too much, because you’ll lose your audience.)

We’ll work on things like this in the Curiously Stronger Performing Series, Our next workshop is at 7pm on Tuesday, March 10. Come. Bring a song. Make a list and check it twice. Or three times.

Rules of the Studio

Okay, full disclosure – I stole this graphic from a political candidate who I admire. I’ve removed any of their identifying information to keep this blog non-partisan, but the text transcends politics and pretty much summarizes how I feel about my obligation to my students (and there’s to me and to themselves) and the role of Mezzoid Voice Studio in the community. 11989F3A-1371-4441-809E-B3898F115AA3_1_201_a.jpeg

  • All my students are expected to treat me and everyone else within the studio with respect. Including, and especially, themselves. And they should expect me to do the same.
  • The studio is a place where you should feel like you belong.
  • All my students should expect the truth from me, and I expect the truth from them. Both in our interpersonal dealings and in the stories we tell in our songs.
  • We are members of each other’s teams. We have each other’s backs.
  • We are bold! (see what I did there)
  • We are responsible.
  • Our work has substance. We have substance. We matter.
  • We practice. We study. We work. All that takes discipline. And discipline is hard.
  • We strive for excellence in everything we do.
  • We take joy in all these things. Without joy, why do it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buttigieg2020