World Voice Brunch!

Years ago, I was a big listener to NPR’s World Cafe with David Dye. It was on in the evenings, and I really enjoyed listening to the variety of music that was played. There was a lot of world music, folk, singer-songwriter, indie rock, lots of cross-genre kind of programming. Eclectic programming is my jam. I fell out of the routine of listening to it as my teaching day grew longer. But I always think of it fondly.

I like a lot of different kinds of music. I sing a lot of different kinds of music. So when I was putting together the program for World Voice Weekend, I wanted clinicians and artists who reflected my interest in all kinds of music. So I decided to have a World Voice Brunch at 12:15pm each day, with the idea that you could sit back after the first session, grab a bite and enjoy a mini-concert and Q&A with performers that reflected the different kinds of music that the human voice is capable of. After all, the theme of World Voice Day is, “One World, Many Voices.

I only have two days, so I only have room for two singers. On Saturday,  our featured artist will be jazz singer, pianist, and educator Brenda Earle Stokes (for whom I keep accidentally typing “Brenda Stokes Mitchell” – clearly I am fantasizing about Brian Stokes Mitchell again). Brenda will give a 45 minute program, during which she will share a wide variety of vocal jazz styles from Swing to Bossa and Blues to Modern. This will be a fun and engaging program filmed live from her studio in the heart of Jazz Mecca: NYC. There will be a Q&A Session at the end of the concert where you can learn more about this work from an internationally-recognized jazz artist. A handout of a listening list and outline of what she will cover will be provided to all attendees. You can find out more about Brenda at her website, and hear more of her on her YouTube channel (to which you should subscribe). Her performance will be called “The World of Jazz Singing.”

Our Sunday performer is Emma Langford, about whom I’ve written before. Emma lives in Limerick, Ireland, and performs throughout Ireland, Germany, and made her U.S. debut at Milwaukee Irish Fest in 2019, which is where I met her. Her style has been referred to as “nu-folk.” Her voice is glorious. Her original song, “Goodbye, Hawaii” is an argument for why you should do semi-occluded vocal tract exercises (watch the video and find out what I mean). Emma has written about topics from losing her voice to finding her voice (in more ways than one), about relationships, about anxiety and mental health issues, and is a strong advocate for equity in gender, art, and representation. You can find out more about Emma at her website and check out her music on her YouTube channel (to which you should subscribe). Her concert will be called “Her voice was broken, so I sing aloud” (spoiler – that’s part of the chorus for one of her songs).

To attend these concerts, register for World Voice Weekend. You’ll get those concerts, plus a whole host of other offerings. Early bird pricing through 3/31/2021.

Curating and Cultivating Community

And curiosity.

And creativity.

And cleverness.

I really like words that begin with the /k/ sound (I figured that sounds better than saying “I like C words, ” which was what I started to type and then said, “Oh wait…”)

That’s what World Voice Weekend is about. I strive to have my studio be about community. I’ve talked about this before, recently in a blogpost called “Learning is something we get to do.” Specifically, I said:

Creating community is one of the most important parts of having a studio. Supporting each other, working together, and being part of something – it should be an immersive experience, not a passive one. This is my goal as a teacher – as I once wrote, “I am here to inspire and facilitate.” And turn on some lights for you.

That is the goal behind World Voice Weekend. To make it an immersive experience, an organic experience, one that we all share. People who attend it may choose to participate in the mind/body, acting, and vocalise classes. They may choose to just watch and take notes. People may choose to perform for the master clinicians. Or they may audit the class instead. Either is fine.

Someone asked me if they could just sign up for the masterclasses and nothing else. I said no. That’s not what my vision is for this. My vision is that we are one world, many voices (which is the World Voice Day theme for the year) and that we need to come together and take this journey together. If you have to step out during a session, that’s fine. Just turn off your camera and we’ll see you when you come back.

I have been fortunate enough to have worked with many fine colleagues, both as teachers and as performers. This weekend is meant to showcase their talents in order to serve you as voice users in a variety of ways, to celebrate the voice in a variety of modalities and to explore its function with mind/body, vocal health & movement workshops (if that sounds familiar, it’s on the website). I have curated these sessions, I have cultivated these relationships, and now it’s time for us to come together as a community.

There are tons of stand-alone masterclasses, and I’m sure I’ll host them again. But not this time. And if that’s what you’re looking for, we’ll see you when that kind of program comes up.

There is a limit of 50 people for this event. Are you going to be one of them?

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To register for World Voice Weekend, please click HERE. If you’re curious (creative or clever works too)
about becoming part of Mezzoid Voice Studio, contact MVS for more information.

World Voice Weekend Lineup finalized!!

I am so excited about the lineup for World Voice Weekend. I am waiting for one letter of agreement to come back (which I sent out yesterday and asked for by Friday, so I’m not worried about it), and this is what it looks like (working titles in some cases). I’ve attached links to each artist until I get their official headshots and bios (which are probably on their websites anyway).

Saturday, 4/17
10:30am – The 3 Rs of Respiration: Vocal warm-ups with Christine Thomas-O’Meally (why, that’s me!)
11:00am – The Voice in Storytelling: Izzie Baumann, acting coach (Germany)
12:15pm – World Voice Brunch: Jazz Around the World – Miniconcert & Q&A with jazz singer/pianist/educator Brenda Earle Stokes (NYC)
1:30pm – Alexander Technique – Alignment & Balance: Amy Mushall (Denver)
3:00pm – Masterclass with Broadway actor Christian Borle 
4:45pm – Vocal Health for the Performer with Dr. Heather Nelson (Springfield, MO)
Sunday, 4/18
10:30am – Where do these sounds “live” in your mouth? Articulation vocalises with Christine Thomas-O’Meally
11:00am – Yoga & the Voice with Kassy Coleman (Madison, WI)
12:15pm – World Voice Brunch: Her Voice Was Broken, So I Sing Aloud – Miniconcert & Q&A with singer-songwriter Emma Langford (Ireland)
1:30pm – Laban Method: Movement & voice workshop with acting coach and MVS (my studio) alum Matt Bender (St. Louis)
3:00pm – Masterclass with Broadway actor Adrianna Hicks
4:45pm – Release & Restore with Jennifer Cooper  (St. Mary’s, MD)
Although I didn’t necessarily intend for this to be the case, this is winding up to be a heavily musical theater/CCM-oriented program. I would’ve liked a little more classical/crossover, since those are my roots, and I did expect a lot of MT, but as it turns out – that’s not where we went. And that’s fine. Perhaps next year. Because I’m hoping that this is going to be a thing, at least for the years when World Voice Day falls on a weekend, which it does in 2021, and will again in 2022 and 2023.
I’m honing the price structure this weekend, and will advise you all of that via the socials before the March 1 Early Bird Registration begins. #StayTuned!
OH, AND I’M GOING TO BE ON A PODCAST TALKING ABOUT THIS!  I’ll be recording on March 8 and I’ll let you know when the podcast “drops.” (I think that’s the term.)
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If you’re interested in attending WVW and/or performing in the masterclasses
(or you teach someone who is), please click HERE to join my WVW mailing list!

The middle ground between Caro mio ben and Caro nome

 

My friend Cynthia Vaughn posted this picture on Facebook or Instagram or both yesterday and it rang really true to me in the moment. I had just listened to a singer in a competition who was singing something that would be great for him in the future. At this point in his life, it was a little beyond him, and it did not show him in his best light. (And his other two songs were fantastic.) There are so many songs out there that people can sing, but too many times, they opt for the one that is just a little beyond their capabilities.

(Also, doesn’t this dog look like my Seamus?)

The title of this blog is based on something that was said to me a few years ago by a relatively new-to-me student. She had been working with a teacher who was more familiar with classical repertoire, and wanted to audition for musical theatre programs. So we started working together, and I was helping her pick out repertoire that would suit her. She told me that one of the colleges also wanted a classical piece. I said, “Oh, okay. We can pick that out too.” She said, “Oh, I know what I want to sing. I’m going to sing, ‘Caro nome.'”

I paused. I said, “Do you mean ‘Caro mio ben?'” (which is a common song given to beginning voice students) and she said, “No, I mean the song from Rigoletto. I really love it and I think I can do it.”

This is Caro mio ben.

And this is Caro nome.

 

I tried to tell her that this is an aria that is considered very advanced and would draw raised eyebrows even if someone were to sing it for a graduate school audition. I even checked with colleagues of mine at a variety of prestigious conservatories and they all agreed that it was a poor choice for an undergraduate audition and would not be received well, even if the singer was able to get through it. (In addition, while this song is rather light, the rest of the role is not, and it’s not representative of what Gilda actually has to sing for the opera.) She didn’t believe me.

I don’t know if she got into that school, because she took such umbrage at my telling her that she shouldn’t sing it that she left the studio and I never heard from her again. And the thing is that “Caro mio ben,” although it is often sung by high school kids, it’s also sung by opera singers at the top of their game because it’s a well-written song. And no one would look down upon you for singing one of the 24-26-28 Italian songs well. But they certainly will judge you if you sing an advanced aria badly(Caveat: I don’t know if she would have sung it badly because I never got to hear her sing it, or anything classical, for that matter.)

There is a middle ground between Caro mio ben and Caro nome. Look through Donaudy, Haydn, lighter Mozart, Gluck, things that won’t shine a glaring light on what you haven’t mastered yet.

In musical theater, if you are a beginning belter, you don’t start out with Defying Gravity. You might start with something like Johnny One Note from Babes in Arms. You might work up to One Perfect Moment from Bring It On. You work your way up to Defying Gravity, you don’t start with it.

If you’re a tenor, you don’t start with Bring Him Home from Les MIserables (in fact, unless you’re a 40 year old tenor, you shouldn’t even consider singing this for a college audition because you’re just too young). Start with On the Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady. Build your way up from there as your voice develops and you can handle more.

This doesn’t mean don’t stretch. It means don’t BREAK. Or make people think you just might break.

Training wheels aren’t just for tricycles.

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If you want to know more about World Voice Weekend and hear singers who are at the top of their game,

please click here to get on the mailing list for more information.

 

World Voice Weekend Master Clinician Announcement!

I am thrilled beyond belief to announce officially that the master clinicians for World Voice Weekend will be Broadway actors Christian Borle (4/17) and Adrianna Hicks (4/18). Both masterclasses will take place at 3pm on their respective days.

I had the good fortune to attend a masterclass hosted by voice teacher Susan Hanlon and acting coach Izzie Baumann (more about Izzie to come in future blogposts) featuring Christian Borle a couple of months ago. I have been reluctant to get people for masterclasses who I don’t know personally. I feel like anyone can go to an agency and say, “GET ME SOMEONE FAMOUS, I DON’T CARE WHO!” but does that person have something to offer besides their name? I’ve heard mixed things about masterclasses featuring artists that know little about actually teaching. I’ve been fortunate with the people I’ve brought in – Lissa deGuzman, Richard Carsey, Amanda Kaiser – people who are well-known and respected among the people in their fields but might not (yet) be household names.  I was impressed by and wrote about Christian Borle’s masterclass after I attended, and when I began planning World Voice Weekend, I reached out to Susan and Izzie to find out how I could bring him on board. And I got him!

Photo by: Patrick Randak/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Christian Borle received a 2017 Tony nomination for his performance in the 2016 Broadway production of Falsettos. He won Tony Awards for Something Rotten! and Peter and the Starcatcher and was nominated for his performance in Legally Blonde. Additional Broadway credits include Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryMary PoppinsThoroughly Modern MillieSpamalot and Footloose. He has appeared on screen in NBC’s SmashPeter Pan Live! and The Sound of Music Live!
(NOTE: I saw him as Prince Herbert and the Not-Dead-Yet Guy in the Chicago tryout of Spamalot and remember him from the eBay commercial in the early 2000s)
Mr. Borle’s masterclass will be on Saturday, April 17, at 3pm.
My second clinician, Adrianna Hicks, is someone I haven’t met and don’t know that much about yet, but all my students know who she is. She is very well-regarded as both a performer and as a clinician and I am very excited about what she will bring to the artists with whom she is going to work!
Adrianna Hicks has performed on Broadway in The Color Purple revival, Aladdin. Her regional/tour credits include The Wiz, SIX, The Color Purple revival tour (in which she played Celie), Ragtime, and Buddy Holly.  She has appeared internationally in Sister Act (Germany), Legally Blonde (Austria), Dirty Dancing (Germany) and in concert with Michael Bublé in his Call Me Irresistible tour. After performing on tour as Catherine of Aragon in SIX the musical, she was set to bring the show to Broadway when the pandemic shut the show down on its opening night. (Sounds like something that would happen to me).
Ms. Hicks’ masterclass will be on Sunday, April 18, at 3pm.
Auditing the masterclasses will be included in the fee for the entire weekend. Participation will be an additional fee, still TBD. The focus for Mr. Borle’s masterclass will be on acting and singers will be asked to have two musical theater pieces prepared with audition cuts for each. Ms. Hicks’ focus will be on pop style and singers will be asked to have two pieces prepared, one being from a contemporary Broadway musical (post-2000) and one being a pop song. Singers should be prepared to sing whichever piece chosen the clinician.
Depending on demand, I may ask for videos of singers who wish to be considered for participation.
Full details will be available by March 1, when registration opens.
THIS IS SO EXCITING. Hope you all think so too!
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If you would like more information about World Voice Weekend,
please contact MVS and you will be put on the mailing list! 

One World, Many Voices – World Voice Weekend

I am very excited to announce that I am planning events not only for April 16, World Voice Day (which, hopefully, will be very different from last year’s), but for the entire weekend, which I’m calling World Voice Weekend. The theme of WVD this year is “One World/Many Voices” and that will be reflected in these events.

Depending on the state of the pandemic by then, the WVD recital that I have planned for my studio members may not be fully attended, but at this point, I am planning for it to be live. The performance probably will have a limited audience and we will stream it on Zoom. The idea will be that people will sing songs of different genres but the same theme. So if someone is singing the Rossini song, “Il trovatore,” about how they are broken-hearted despite singing songs of love, they may follow it up with Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown.” If someone is singing, “Now is the month of Maying,” she may then sing, “The lusty month of May” from Camelot. I intend to finalize repertoire choices by March 10.

The events for the weekend will be open to be the public (for a price) and will feature workshops, masterclasses, and mini-concerts. The clinicians will include Broadway actors, European pop singers and acting coaches, vocologists, and well-known teachers of Alexander Technique, Yoga, and acting technique. Contracts are being finalized, and as soon as I have them, I will reveal who they are.

Early bird registration will open March 1 – the cost is still TBD. After April 1, the price will increase. Registration will close on April 12 and the limit will be 85 people. My plan is to make the program accessible to those who will benefit from it – but not lose any money on my part. I strongly believe that this program will have a great deal to offer the up-and-coming singer and actor, whether they sing musical theater, classical, or pop.

Stay tuned for more information about the clinicians and artists – full information will be coming very soon!

 

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Want to be a part of a studio that thinks outside the box
and beyond the “Park & Bark”/assembly line
kind of recital? Contact MVS to find out more!

 

 

Appreciating without Appropriating

It’s February. My plan today was to write a blogpost about Black History Month, but I feel as though there are a lot of those right now and I’m questioning my place in doing this because I’m not Black.

The other day I attended a wonderful presentation by my dear Speakeasy colleagues Amanda Kaiser and Heather Statham regarding selecting pop/rock repertoire, and one thing that really resonated with me was the caution by Heather to “know the songs/shows that are culturally/racially focused and make sure repertoire is appropriate.” The subtitle under that bullet point was “appreciating vs. appropriating.”

I admit that I have appropriated in the past. I sang “Suppertime” in not only an Irving Berlin revue (1999) but also in a 2010 cabaret show that I wrote with Ryan Cappleman (and I will say it was a really great mash-up of that song and “Suppertime,” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and I hope that Ryan will do it with someone appropriate, like maybe Raven Dockery, but not with me). The first time, I was cast in the show to sing it, but the second time, it was my idea. I had my own interpretation of the song – I certainly wasn’t singing it as a wife’s reaction to her husband’s lynching, as was intended in the show As Thousands Cheer as sung by Ethel Waters. It was a song about abandonment, but I had my own spin. So that was fine, right?

I’ve sung “Wade in the water” myself and assigned it to singers – it was on the Wisconsin School Music Association (WSMA) Solo-Ensemble list, so it was fair game for anyone to sing. Right?

There were shows I loved and I decided that it was okay for me to assign songs from those shows to my very white students because the songs fit their voices and the theme transcended race. That’s what I thought in 2005. So it was okay for two white kids to sing “Wheels of a dream” in a studio recital and for a young woman to compete at Wisconsin NATS with “Your daddy’s son.” It was okay for a white bass to sing “Ol’ Man River” with a couple of words changed to make it about class rather than race. It was okay for the same young man to sing “I got plenty o’nuttin'” from Porgy & Bess. (Those last three songs were also on the WSMA list.) Right?

Nopeity nope nope.

There are tons of songs to sing.  If a show is racially or culturally focused, like Ragtime, like Hairspray, like Porgy & Bess, it is not for you if you are not a POC. Pick something else. Choosing that music for yourself is not appropriate. It is appropriation.

The ultimate example of appropriation, in my opinion, is this cringe-worthy duet from 1972 on a Julie Andrews special. If you’ve read my blog for a few years, you know that I got in trouble for objecting to this before.

Enjoy. Or, rather, don’t.

Better choice:

All 4 of these singers are among my heroes, particularly Julie Andrews and Audra McDonald, who I consider inspirations for me in so many ways.  I don’t entirely blame Andrews and Goulet for this choice because, hey, 1972. But it was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. Blackface is wrong. Yellowface is wrong. Whether those terms apply to:

  • Makeup, as in Otello with Placido Domingo in the title role, or
  • Makeup and prosthetics, as in the London production of Miss Saigon with Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian Engineer or in multiple versions of Madama Butterfly at various opera companies throughout the world (and another admission: somewhere in my attic, there is a picture of me with my eyelids taped in a Florentine Opera production of that very show – and I was Katisha and Pitti-Sing in The Mikado), or
  • Vocal blackface/yellowface, as in singing repertoire that is not meant for your ethnicity or race, even if someone is paying you to do it. It’s not for you. Seth Godin uses that phrase a lot to talk about your audience as a marketer, but in this case, I’m using it to say, don’t sing it.

Appreciate racially and culturally themed shows sung by actors who are appropriate to the roles. Appreciate, don’t appropriate.

There are so many songs. Find the ones that are right for you. They’re out there.

Oh, and maybe rethink those Halloween costumes you’ve done in the past as well….

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Looking for that perfect song or aria that can help you get into the show or school of your choice? Contact MVS and we’ll figure out
what is appropriate for where you are right now, and what will show you off to your best advantage and let you tell your truth.

Why do we perform when it terrifies us so much?

For most of my 20s, off and on in my 30s and again in my early 40s, I suffered from performance anxiety. Often crippling performance anxiety. Dry mouth, shaking legs, unable to get my breath under me.

In my 20s, it was because my technical ability wasn’t at the level I needed to be at to get out of thinking it was all about me and what people thought about me. (See Your story informs your use informs your function or “self-fulfilling prophecy.”) I’m not a perfectionist in every thing I do – just look at my cooking and housecleaning for examples of that – but singing was another story because it’s perceived as a perfection-based art form.

In my early 30s, the technique was coming along, and when I was on stage in a role, I was confident that I was good at this. I could “hide” behind a character. I could figure out how to sing based on the character’s emotional arc, what was happening on stage,  But when I performed in a concert, especially oratorio, I suddenly started worrying about whether my technique was good enough to do this because this was very traditional, and there were so many people who had come before me who had done this very thing and probably better. (Not that people hadn’t done the roles I was doing before, but staging makes it seem new – standing and singing just put the focus on what was coming out of my mouth.) It got better because I got out of the situation I was in, I went to grad school, and I was performing with high level people who valued me and inspired me to get better. I performed in a variety of venues in lead roles, supporting roles, in a top-tier professional opera chorus, and

In my 40s, I had moved back to Milwaukee and again, I had issues. I was back in my hometown and I was back to thinking that people were saying negative things about me (and in some cases, I wasn’t wrong). And although I felt like I was at the top of my game, technically and artistically, I was dealing with imposter/fraud syndrome, and feeling as thought I was perceived as, somehow, “too big for my britches.” After a few less-than-gratifying performances (again, see “self-fulfilling prophecy”), I wound up not auditioning for things because I felt like I wasn’t going to get it anyway, so why bother. The anxiety wasn’t on stage, because I didn’t let myself get that far.

That ended for me in 2009, first in March, when I started performing cabaret, and later that year, when my mother died.

I know. That sounds bad, It wasn’t something I wanted or welcomed. It wasn’t even something I personally noticed. A chronic back spasm disappeared the day after we returned from her memorial service. I woke up and turned to my husband and said, “it doesn’t hurt,” and he put two and two together. Some jaw tension I’d had for years disappeared, to the extent that I was having issues articulating clearly because my jaw felt too loose (at one point, I was afraid I’d had a stroke)! My teacher said, “You probably have been holding back so much that now that you don’t have to, your jaw doesn’t know what to do!”

I also did my first 5K in 2010, which was something I’d never even considered doing. (I’ve done two. It turns out I don’t really like running. Plus I had a few knee injuries.)

In 2010 I also decided to start taking regular lessons and work toward getting back to performing. I discovered that I was enjoying my performances more than I ever had, in every circumstance – oratorio, stage, recital, cabaret – and I felt like my audiences were enjoying them much more. Which was then more fun for me as well, and I gave more. I have also done a lot of work on myself to figure out what my triggers were/are, and have a lot of resources that I am more than happy to share with others who are going through the same thing. Now that I’m back on the East Coast, I’m performing at the same level that I was before I left.

Even when I wasn’t performing, when performing wasn’t giving me joy because I couldn’t get out of that negative mindset, and when no one was hiring me, I considered myself a performer. Even now, when I’m not performing because of the pandemic, I still consider myself a performer. That is why I continued performing even during those times when I questioned, “WHY AM I DOING THIS WHEN IT TERRIFIES ME?”

I did it because I had something to say. I didn’t know how to say it when I didn’t have the technical ability, or the emotional ability, and apparently, I forgot how to say it when life reverted back to the way it had been after I’d gained those masteries. But I still have something to say, and I intend to keep saying it for as long as I can.

https://soundgirls.org/performance-anxiety/

If performing terrifies you, why do you keep doing it? Tell me in the chat!

 

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If you have something to say, and want to work with someone who has been through it all, bad and good, contact me, and we can see if we might be a good fit!

 

 

Updating your audition book: The 5 C’s for Choosing an Audition Song

I think I do a pretty good job at choosing audition songs. In fact, it might be one of my superpowers. I like finding pieces that bring things out in people, not only things I knew were there but things I merely suspected were there, and maybe even things I had NO IDEA where there. But I’m always looking for new points of view, and I found one in this article by Catherine Walker, who is on the music faculty at the famous University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (one of the top music and MT programs in the country) and at the Songbook Academy. (This is a program that I wish had existed when I was in high school – but who am I kidding? My parents would never have let me go!)

Ms. Walker breaks down choosing an audition song into 5 steps, all of which begin with the letter “C”:

  1. Connection – how can you relate/connect to this song? Do you want to sing it or do you feel like you have to sing it? Sometimes, we have to sing things because we’re assigned them. And then we have to find a way to connect to them – but if that’s not the case, and you don’t have a grade or a paycheck contingent upon learning the song, examine whether or not you really need to sing this song or if another song would be better for you, especially if you’re using it for an audition. There are a lot of songs in the world, and there is no need to sing something that you can’t relate to.
  2. Correct – if you are 17 years old, you really should not be singing a lyric like, “Then glance in the mirror and who do I see – a middle aged woman inhabiting me” (my apologies to the student to whom I gave that song in 2013, but it was on the solo-ensemble list and it fit her voice, if not her demographic). And by the same token, a 42 year old woman shouldn’t be singing “a girl of 17” in Patience. No matter how good you look for your age. Not that I’m talking about anyone specifically. Of course not.
  3. Creative – If the song you’re choosing is one that is associated with a specific artist, it might not be the best possible choice for you. Although you could be really creative and take it in a completely different direction. I think that’s a great idea, but not necessarily for an audition, because you don’t know how it will be received. Better to choose something that suits you that you can make your own without inviting comparisons. This can also apply to the song that everyone is singing this season.
  4. Challenge – Does this song make you grow? Great! Will you achieve that growth by the time the audition comes around so that you can rely on it and just sing and tell a story without having to place every note just so? Great! Do it. But if it’s not something you can do consistently, don’t use it. Don’t assume the audition panel will see your potential.
  5. Contrast – We can think about ballad/uptempo, belt/legit, contemporary/Golden Age, standard/rock, English/Italian, etc., but how much deeper can you go? Funny/serious, major/minor, what other variety can you show?

These are my thoughts on Ms. Walker’s post on Getacceptd.com. What are your thoughts?

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Exciting news coming up regarding World Voice Weekend! If you’d like to be the first to know about it, drop me a note and I’ll put you on the list.

Sing me a story: Creating your backstory

Tonight I will be holding a studio class for my private students about creating a backstory.

 

When I played Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, my back story was that my character’s name was born Johanna Schmidt and was from a relatively prosperous and devout Catholic family in Austria. She was trained in piano and was active in her church’s music program, and after joining the convent, changed her name to Sister Maria Erentrude, and directed the choir. (Erentrude was the founder of Nonnberg Abbey, so I didn’t just pull that out of my hat.) She had been the Mother Abbess for about 7 years, and was well-liked by the other sisters, who had elected her to that position. Was any of that in the script? Not directly. In the stage version, she does lead the choir at the beginning. I did some research about how Abbesses got their positions (election, not appointment), and figured she must have been well-liked.

I like to give my characters names. No matter how small the part. If the character is just “housekeeper” or has some honorific (Marquise, Countess), I want to know what people call them. I’ve had a few castmates who thought that was silly. When I played Marquise de Cathé in Un giorno di Regno, I decided her name was Madeleine. And I asked the actor playing her lover, Comte de Belfiore, what he thought his name was. What did they call each other privately, when no one was around? He rolled his eyes and said, “Bob.” In my mind, I translated that as Robert (pronounced /ro ‘bɛr/), because even if he was not taking this seriously, I was.

Whether you are in a musical, an opera, a straight play, or you’re singing a pop song or an art song, having some kind of context in which to tell your story is extremely valuable and will help inform your interpretation. In fact, if your song is not from a show, you might benefit from this even more, since you don’t have a character described in a script. You need to create your own script and your own backstory in order to develop the character. Because you’re still telling a story. And the more specific you can be, even if it’s only for yourself, the more you can bring to the song.

The acting coach Stanislavski created seven questions for the actor to consider:

          1. Who am I?
          2. Where am I?
          3. When is it?
          4. What do I want?
          5. Why do I want it?
          6. How will I get it?
          7. What do I need to overcome?

While I don’t put myself in the same league as Stanislavski by any stretch of the imagination, here are the questions I want my students to consider in preparing a song:

          1. Are you in a show or is this a stand-alone song?
          2. Do you have a name? What is it? If you have a last name only (i.e., Marquise de Cathé), what’s your first name? What do your friends/family call you? If you only have a first name (i.e., Fantine), what is your last name?
          3. In what time period do you live?
          4. Where do you live now? Is it the same place you grew up?
          5. What’s your socioeconomic status? (i.e., are you rich or poor?)
          6. How much education do you have?
          7. Who are/were your parents? Were you close to them? What do/would they think about the choice you’re making?
          8. Do you have any siblings? If so, where are you in the family? How do you get along with your siblings? Are they all still alive?
          9. What do you like to do?
          10. What happened right before you started to sing this song?

We’ll be talking about these things tonight, as well as crafting an inner monologue for a song – which takes on an added dimension if the song is in another language.

I see this all as part of Curiously Strong Performing – having that innate curiosity about your character to bring an extra element to your interpretation.

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If you’re interested in knowing more about Curiously Strong Singing AND Performing,
contact me and we’ll talk about how to become part of Mezzoid Voice Studio.

FYI: I’ve decided to cut back my blogposts to twice a week. So look for posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If I have something pressing to say in-between, I’ll write then too, but as far as regular posts, expect them then.