Say Yes to Music

A few months ago, I watched a series of videos by Elly Ameling on art song, and jotted down my notes on them. Here they are (and I’ve added a few notes today, in italics):

  1. LEARN YOUR MUSIC “BY HEART” – so much more than just memorizing it. By heart.
    By heart – not only in your head, not only in your voice, but in your heart. The song has to inhabit you emotionally as well as technically.
  2. Connecting with your audience in a song recital
    I’ve talked about this before. I think a song recital should be as personal as a cabaret show. Again, it goes back to learning the music by heart.
  3. Being in the zone
    I think this is the same as being in character – I have had a few times in my life when I was so deeply in character that I responded to something that happened on stage as the character would; and once in a way that was kind of embarrassing when the scene was over. You have to ask me. I won’t write it here.
  4. Fame is ephemeral but music lives on forever. “The importance of you is relative. The importance of your task, however, is absolute.””
    If your goal is to be famous, you have the wrong motivation.
  5. “Breathing is a necessity. Phrasing is an ever-present possibility.”
    You breathe to live — and to sing. But you are singing phrases – how to make them mean something is the artistry.
  6. Loud singing is boring. Like belting, save it for when you need it!! Piano takes artistry, forte comes by itself. Vary from ppp to ff based on what the text and music asks for.
    Motivate your dynamics. But remember that ppp-ff is unique to you. Don’t sing breathy in the service of singing soft and don’t push in the service of singing loud.
  7. Diction vs. pronunciation
    Funny thing, I just talked about this in my new IGTV series, Warmup Wednesdays (also on YouTube):
  8. Using chant to create phrasing – recitative – legato
    When I was still singing in choir at church, the women started doing Communion chants – and I fought it hard at first (maybe because it didn’t use standard notation and maybe because I was being a brat). I’ve grown to love it and find that there is a real artistry to make it sound expressive and not like an endless syllabic drone. Here’s an example. (Note: You don’t need to watch all two hours of this to get the idea.)
  9. I think that music came my way, and fortunately, I said “Yes” to it.
    The best answer I ever gave.
  10. Imagination – Message – Research
    Trying to remember what this means. What I’m thinking is that you start with imagination (inspiration?) and then determine what your message was and research how to best get it across.

If you’d like to check out the series, here’s the first episode. There are 14 of them but none of them are longer than 10 minutes, about half of which are recordings of her singing from her heyday. She’s 87 now, and these videos were made earlier this year. Music keeps you young!!

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If you want to say “Yes” to music,
contact me for a Vocal Discovery Session

Hobby, Job, Career, or Vocation?

I am taking Seth Godin’s The Creative’s Workshop, a 100 day course on focusing my creative energies. Hence all the Seth Godin quotes that have informed my blogs recently.

As part of the course, we listen to thrice-weekly videos from Seth Godin – and sometimes he has special guests talk about specific topics. Early on, it was Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic and Eat, Pray, Love. She spoke about the difference between:

  • Hobbies
  • Jobs
  • Careers
  • Vocations

These are my notes from listening to her:

Hobby: done purely for pleasure; “I’m not a robot producing, consuming, paying bills and waiting to die.” Don’t need to share it with anyone. Not a requirement to live.

Job: necessary to live. It doesn’t have to be fulfilling, it just has to pay you. You can enjoy it, you don’t have to enjoy it, but you do have to put in the effort to get the $. It’s okay to have a job. You can still be an artist.

Career: Something you’re passionate about and you love. You believe in the mission and are willing to make sacrifices. You can’t HATE your career. If you do, go get a job. 

Vocation: Calling. Divine invocation. The universe calls you to do it. Highest and most sacred pursuit. No one can take it from you. No one can give it to you. “If you have the voice, you have no choice.” [that last part is my own interpretation based on a quote from Marianna Busching]

If you are an artist, where on this spectrum does your art fall for you?

My hobbies are, among others, hanging out on Facebook, watching TV, wine and beer tasting.

Jobs I’ve had include customer service, legal secretary, waitress, cashier, opera chorus (yes, that is a job, not a career – it might have been a career when I was younger, but now it’s a job).

Careers I’ve had:

  • Classroom music teaching K-8 (hated it – that’s why I went to work in customer service)
  • Teaching voice

The second one is a vocation, as is singing. How I view performing is evolving right now. Especially since I haven’t been able to do it recently. It’s still very important to me, but in what form?

Stay tuned while I figure it out.

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If you would like to explore curiously strong singing (and performing!), please set up
an appointment to chat with me at a mutually convenient time or drop a message in the comments!

Choosing College

If you are majoring in music or musical theater, there are several things you need to consider:

  1. Who are the teachers with whom I’ll be working?
  2. What are the on-campus performance opportunities available to undergrads?
  3. What off-campus performance opportunities are available and allowed for undergrad participation? (This might not be a factor for you.)
  4. Will I be in major debt when I get out of school that I won’t be able to pay off within 10 years of graduation?

A consideration should not be “is this school famous?” It should be, “is this school good?”

Going to a school for its name alone is not a good idea.

Yes, I went to Peabody, which is famous. But it was also good for me. I went to Peabody because the teacher I was already working with had joined the faculty, and I wanted to continue working with her, and her time for private students was limited. Plus I needed to make a move for personal reasons. I was able to perform both on- and off-campus.

  • Was I in major debt? YES, but not as much as if I’d gone there 10 years later.
  • Was I able to pay it off within 10 years of graduation? Not quite. It took a little longer because of health/employment issues, resulting in my getting a forbearance. I was fortunate that the forbearance wasn’t too lengthy – I know people who have put their loans from the early 90s into forbearance and are still paying them off, with their balances considerably higher than what they took out in the first place.

Pick a school that will nurture your talent and fulfill your soul. And if you need a gap year to prepare yourself for it, there’s nothing wrong with that. Check out Seth Godin’s post about good colleges vs. famous ones – especially if you have a little time before you have to apply.

And by the way, this advice isn’t limited to just the arts.

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If you would like to explore curiously strong singing (and performing!), please set up
an appointment to chat with me at a mutually convenient time or drop a message in the comments!

Being a Good Colleague (Redux)

I recently read The Ultimate Musical Theater College Guide: Advice from the People Who Make the Decisions and one of the things I highlighted was this:

This should apply to all your interpersonal interactions — in school, online, at work — because:

  • You want to be a good person
  • You want to be someone people want to work with
  • You don’t know who they’re going to be someday!

About 9 years ago, I republished this from about 10 years before (hence, the formatting is all wonky). Things have gotten worse since December 2001, especially with the election coming up. And I’m guilty of it myself. I’m posting this again as a reminder to all of us (including myself). Note the part in color below. That was added today.


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[From the Winter 2001 newsletter]


As I write this, the holiday season is in full force, and the overwhelming sentiment is “good will toward men.” Unfortunately, as I write this, I’m also surfing the Net and reading discussion boards regarding my various interests. I’m finding a lot of people who are hostile and insulting, criticizing not just the content of people’s posts, but the people themselves. It’s very disturbing, because the boards I frequent are usually populated by polite people – these are “trolls” that come to stir things up and then leave (usually when they go back to college at the end of break!).

The problem is not limited to online newsgroups. Singers are notorious for gossiping about each other – when I was in grad school, the “Peabody Curse” referred to the phenomenon of someone walking into the room just when you were talking about him/her. (I witnessed this many, many times.)

Gossip is poison. It makes you look jealous, and petty, and will affect your being hired again. Even if the person you’re gossiping with seems “safe,” later on he or she may become friends with the person you’re talking about and he/she will tell that person what you said. And somehow, you will be solely to blame for the gossip, even if you weren’t.

Everyone remembers that grade school report card category, “Plays well with others.” Some of us did well in that area, others needed more work. (My problem was always “talks too much.”) The 1970s era was called the “Me Decade” by writer Tom Wolfe because of pop psychology’s encouragement to individuals to develop their own individuality and take care of their own needs, often at the expense of those around them.

Coach Phil Jackson, formerly of the six-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls and five-time champion L.A. Lakers, writes of the strategy he used in building a winning team in his book, Sacred Hoops. Players used to hot-dogging and grandstanding had to “surrender the ME for WE.” It was a hard transition for many of his players, but the results were obvious. This is an excellent book for singers and sports enthusiasts alike.

Baritone Mark Delavan, in an interview with Classical Singer magazine, talked about his attitude adjustment and the subsequent change in his fortunes as a performer. The turning point was someone telling him, “I’m not gonna work with you anymore because you’re an idiot.” Although he was well respected for his vocal abilities, his life habits, which included gossip and a harsh competitive edge, lost him work. Now that he’s cleaned up his act and focused on the process rather than the outcome (which is the focus of Shirlee Emmons’ & Alma Thomas’ book, Power Performance for Singers), he is internationally recognized and sought after.

In Joan Dornemann’s book, Complete Preparation, she says, “Pay attention to basic human behavior and courtesy. Act with consideration for all the people who help you along the way.” Do not “dis” someone just because they’re “only” office staff or backstage crew. They have a voice as to whether or not you will be used again. Today’s secretary may someday be an administrator, today’s pianist is tomorrow’s conductor, today’s stage manager is tomorrow’s director.

These life lessons aren’t just for singers and actors. Substitute the words “accountant” and “programmer” for “pianist” and “stage manager” and “Chief Financial Officer” and “Chief Information Officer” for conductor/director, and you can see how this goes beyond the realm of opera/musical theater.

So don’t be a troll. Practice goodwill toward all. No matter what the season.

“Learning is something we get to do”

Seth Godin does not like the term “taking” lessons. He feels that it sounds like something you have to do, like take medicine, or take your punishment, or take your lumps (that last one is mine). It’s not something that he associates with something you do voluntarily or eagerly.

Learning is different. Learning is something we get to do, it’s a dance, an embrace, a chance to turn on some lights.

I love this quote! A chance to turn on some lights. Working together to illuminate, to shine, to shed some light upon something that might have been in the shadows or in complete darkness. Or maybe something you thought you could see but when you looked closer, you realized it was something completely different.

You don’t take a workshop. You are part of one.

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.

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If you would like to be part of something, you can contact me to set up a Vocal Discovery Session OR you can register for my musical theater history & performance course, From Tin Pan Alley to Today, which starts next Sunday, October 18. There are only four more spots left – come and learn about the history of American musical theater and how the past has influenced what’s happening now (what, did you think Hamilton came out of nowhere?)

An Artist’s Impression of Art

An artist’s impression is defined  as the representation of an object or a scene created by an artist when no other accurate representation is available (Wikipedia). The above graphic has quotes by 17 different artists about what art means/meant to them.

My favorite artist is Gustav Klimt. I have several prints of his in my home. His quote here – “Truth is like fire; to tell the truth means to glow and burn” – is something I find apparent in his work, particularly the glowing aspect.

But there are several quotes above that also resonate with me, specifically:

  • Banksy
  • Modigliani
  • Matisse
    and especially
  • Rodin

(Rivera’s just makes me hungry.)

Steamed Hams, but Everyone Is Homer - YouTube

What about you? What speaks to you? Tell me in the comments – and why.

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If you would like to explore curiously strong singing (and performing!), please set up
an appointment to chat with me at a mutually convenient time
or drop a message in the comments!

Or if you’re interested in being a part of From Tin Pan Alley To Today: A Musical Theater History & Performance Course, I still have room for 6 more participants. Click HERE for more info or contact me.

We’ve Got Magic To Do!

I don’t really like the musical Pippin. I’ve seen awful high school versions of it, including one where they decided to do it in hip-hop style, but the director clearly had no idea of just what that was except for posturing. Plus the only person who had a really good voice was my student, Elyse Wojciechowski, in the role of Leading Player. (That performance is remembered in my household as the one my husband left at intermission.)

I do like a lot of the music, particularly the opening song, Magic To Do. That came to me a few weeks ago when I was reading Seth Godin’s daily blogpost, which I decided would make a great meme – so I made one.

Think of your to-do list as full of possibilities instead of tasks, to think of your practice time as time to create, to think of your work or school assignments as opportunities to do something innovative. Imagine that you have magic to do – but maybe it’s not just for you. For your audience, for your teachers, for your family. And for yourself.

People have told me that  I would love Pippin if I’d seen the 2013 Broadway production – and based on this video from the Tonys that year, I think they’re right. 


Have you got magic to do? Go do it.
Doodle-i-doo.

 


If you would like to explore curiously strong singing (and performing!), please set up
an appointment to chat with me at a mutually convenient time
or drop a message in the comments!

Reviewing the Situation: 6 Months of Online Lessons

I’m reviewing…. the situation … 

It’s been a little over 6 months since we switched over to online lessons. A couple of people didn’t like the format and took a break, but most people are handling it quite well and, as I’ve mentioned before, there have been some advantages and people have had some breakthroughs (or grapefruits).

As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I was recently published in the NATS independent voice teachers magazine, Inter-Nos. Also featured in that issue was an interview with my Speakeasy Cooperative colleague, Deanna Maio, founder of Confident Voice Studio and Portland Musical Theatre Company in Oregon. She has been teaching online since well before the pandemic and is doing wonderfully creative things with online musicals and other programs. She is a tremendous inspiration to me. This outline of the benefits of online/live-streaming lessons really spoke to me yesterday, and I wanted to share it with my readers.

In the past 6 months, Mezzoid Voice Studio has brought in people like Richard Carsey, Lissa deGuzman, and, most recently, Amanda Kaiser, in wonderfully successful masterclasses that allowed us to expand our knowledge base beyond Baltimore. We began studio classes that are going beyond standing and singing in place and that include singers from the area and ones that have rejoined me from Wisconsin.

Even though we might consider ourselves “trapped” or at least limited in these circumstances, we are creating, we are connecting, and we are doing so confidently, consistently, and conveniently, and will continue to do so. And of course, we’re doing so as curiously strong singers and performers.


If you would like to explore curiously strong singing (and performing!), please set up an appointment to chat with me at a mutually convenient time or drop a message in the comments!

Picture Perfect: Branding Photos for Your Independent Studio

At the beginning of 2020, I drew up a lot of plans for marketing and expanding my studio. One of them was to do a photoshoot of me at work. The plan was to hire a photographer to come to my studio, see me work with individual students, come to the venue where I was doing a performance coaching series and get shots of me working in that capacity, and then finish up at our end of the year showcase at an upscale retirement community to catch my students in performance, the culmination of my semester’s work.

The students were in place, the venues were booked. All I had to do before this could happen was to finish my performing gigs for the season, get new lighting in my studio, have the room painted with the teal and purple brand colors I had chosen (which was going to be done while I was on my April vacation overseas), and hit my goal weight.

Well, I do have new lighting.

And my hair is now teal and purple.

But the gigs were cancelled, the venues closed, the vacation didn’t happen, and we’re not going to talk about my goal weight.

I decided to go forward with the branding photoshoot anyway.

A branding photoshoot is different from ones focused on headshots and performance because it is meant to show you working – it is intentional, not posed, not in character. You aren’t recreating scenes or looking off into the distance mysteriously or flirtatiously into the camera with a semi-smile and your head held just so. Your goal is to establish who you are in your business and to attract your ideal client so that more people will come and work with you. There is an energy and an authenticity that needs to be a part of it. There needs to be action.

My brand name is Mezzoid Voice Studio, and the tagline is “Curiously Strong Singing.” My brand name came from being in a church choir where the director said to my section, “Altoids, let’s try that again.” My response was, “Excuse me, I happen to be a mezzoid.” He said “what’s the difference?” and I said, “I’m still curiously strong, I just happen to sing a minor third higher.” (Cue music nerd laughter here.)

Curiously Strong Singing came about through consultation with my business coach and curator of the Speakeasy Cooperative, Michelle Markwart Deveaux. Over the past year, I have defined exactly what that means to me in my blog. But a big part of it involves embracing risk, telling the truth, and bringing others in to the process.

How did I do a branding photoshoot in the middle of a pandemic without in-person students? Well, when I moved online, I connected a stand-alone monitor to my laptop so that I could see larger views of people than what my MacBook Air’s screen would allow. I decided for the photoshoot, I would turn the monitor around. That way, my photographer could see the student and see me without having to come behind the piano.

There are many articles about how to prepare for a branding photoshoot. I read none of them. I knew I probably should wear a solid color – but I didn’t. I didn’t have anything solid that felt like something I would actually teach in.

I didn’t plan the photoshoot except that I knew who I would be working with. I pulled out a few props that I knew would look good on camera – my Hoberman sphere and my flow-ball pipe that I got at the Voice Foundation last year.  I used them in places where they were appropriate and where I figured they would look good. Basically, I just gave a lesson the way I always do – perhaps slightly higher energy – and pictures were taken.

My photographer was Shealyn Jae of Shealyn Jae Photography in Baltimore. We didn’t discuss a plan for the shoot – I said I’d be teaching a 14 year old girl and I just wanted her to get pictures. I trusted her to get the right pictures. She does a lot of work with theater companies throughout the DC-Baltimore area taking pictures of shows at their dress rehearsals and during their opening weekends. She is excellent at capturing things as they happen and finding the right angle (or in my case, the left, because my right side is not my good one).

I had budgeted $350-$500 for the shoot. My particular shoot came in at somewhat less, to my delight, and included all the shots that she had curated from the shoot, from which I chose about 50. From those, I used about 40. I only had one picture retouched in any way, which was the only one I really posed for. Some are already on my profiles in Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks. Many will be on my new website, www.mezzoidvoicestudio.com.

Perhaps I should have read some of the online articles to prepare for this. But I’m extremely happy with how mine turned out, because I feel as though they’re representative of where I’m at in my teaching and my life.

When we go to in-person lessons, I will probably do another shoot in the scenarios I outlined at the beginning of this article. But these will work for now, and since I intend to continue an online presence even after in-person lessons are possible, I can use these. At least until I change my hair color again.

Originally published in InterNos (Fall 2020), a NATS publication for independent voice teachers. The article (with pictures from my shoot and other teachers’ shoots) may be found here.

 

Self-Tape Success: Shedding Some Light

This Thursday evening at 7pm, Mezzoid Voice Studio is hosting Las Vegas performer and voice teacher Amanda Kaiser in a workshop/masterclass that will cover how to do the perfect self-tape. Whether you need to know how to set up lighting and sound for a prescreen audition, an online performance, or just how to look best on camera (because being online is a thing that will continue post-pandemic), this is the workshop for you.

Following a presentation on the details of setting up a self-tape, Amanda will work with up to 4 singers on their lighting, sound quality, and audition cut (we still have room for one more!). All present will receive handouts on:

1. Suggested Lighting Options
2. Suggested Microphones
3. Awesome Audition Checklist

A Q&A will follow in the remaining time.

This is not to be missed! Amanda is a veritable force of nature.

For more information or to register, please check out the link here.