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Grateful 2021

I’ve got a roof over my head,

I’ve got a warm place to sleep,

Some nights I lie awake counting gifts

Instead of counting sheep

— John Bucchino, “Grateful”

2021 has not been the relief that we all hoped it would be after the debacle that was 2020. For me personally, the year began with a terrible fall that made me feel disfigured for about half the year. There have been some issues with extended family that have caused heartache and estrangement. I gained back more than half of the 25# I lost in 2019 and kept off all through the pandemic, much of it in one month, for no apparent reason. My studio is not at full capacity and I’m not sure if/when it will be again.

But my face has healed, mostly, I can still feel the bump on my chin from the stitches, but it isn’t that obvious to the casual viewer. (It is still somewhat numb, as is part of my lower lip.) The broken kneecap I suffered in the fall was actually the least of my issues and healed quite quickly, and I’ve been doing Zumba since June with little trouble. (The broken kneecap did get me out of the little shoveling last winter required, for which I’m also grateful.)

I’ve got a heart that can hold love
I’ve got a mind that can think
There may be times when I lose the light
And let my spirits sink
But I can’t stay depressed
When I remember how I’m blessed

Ibid

Through the miracles of modern medicine, we were able to get vaccinated and avoid infection. Consequently, I’ve returned to in-person lessons for those who want them, which has been a joy. (For those who haven’t returned in-person, due to distance or convenience, working with them has been a joy as well.)

In a city of strangers
I’ve got a family of friends
No matter what rocks and brambles fill the way
I know that they will stay in the end

Ibid

I am grateful for my husband, my friends, and my students, both those who stayed on through the early days when online lessons were confusing and unrewarding, and to new ones who joined during that time, some of whom I’ve actually gotten to meet in person since things opened up!

It’s not that I don’t want a lot
Or hope for more, or dream of more
But giving thanks for what I’ve got
Makes me so much happier than keeping score

Ibid

I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue studying and learning about my own voice with a variety of folks with whom I wouldn’t be able to work if it were not for this necessary move to online lessons, and also meeting them through the Speakeasy Cooperative and NATS. I’ve worked with Jennifer Cooper, Dr. Shannon Coates, and most recently (and currently) with Dr. Nicholas Perna. While traveling to Southern Maryland to work with Coop one-on-one wouldn’t be such a hardship, traveling to Toronto and Mississippi would be.

I’m also honored to have been included in the recent WNO concert at the Kennedy Center. Singing on that stage again reminded me that I am still an opera singer, and not just in my own mind. (People pay me to do this!) I’m also thankful that theater has reopened and artists have been put back to work – some of whom I will be seeing in December and January when we go to NYC.

I’m thankful that NATS has co-sponsored studies on the efficacy of masks in the face (no pun intended) of bio-aerosol emissions and given us the information we need to keep ourselves and our students safe.

In a world that can bring pain
I will still take each chance
For I believe that whatever the terrain
Our feet can learn to dance
Whatever stone life may sling
We can moan or we can sing

Ibid

And lastly, I am grateful for my dog, Seamus, and my new kittens, Spike & Charlie, for their weirdness and unconditional love. Two traits they share with my husband, Bill (and with me).

Grateful for husband, music, students, Kennedy Center/opera, turkey, Seamus the wonder boy, theater, kitty kats Spike & Charlie, NATS logo and vaccine
Thanksgiving 2021

They don’t share his ability to cook, however, and for that ability, especially on this day, I am particularly:

Grateful, grateful
Truly grateful I am
Grateful, grateful
Truly blessed
And duly grateful

Ibid

For the full song, check out this performance by the great Ann Hampton Callaway at 54 Below, with composer John Bucchino at the piano.

Ann Hampton Calloway & John Bucchino, 54 Below

(I’m also grateful that, because of NATS, I was able to meet John Bucchino at the NYC 2014 Winter Workshop, where I got his business card and we talked about me coming up to coach with him… hmmm, maybe this is something to do in 2022….)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Golden Age Musicals Are NOT Going Away

Golden Age musicals are NOT going away.

Looking at the 2021-2022 season, I see the following musicals either open or opening on Broadway:

  • The Music Man – December 2021
  • Funny Girl – March 2022
  • Pal Joey – TBD
  • 1776 – TBD

You could argue that Company (which started previews last week and officially opens in December) might qualify, simply because it premiered one year after 1776 so it’s old, but it’s Sondheim, and Sondheim is in a category in and of himself. Even his first musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, doesn’t really feel like a Golden Age musical.

There is a big difference in the way revivals are sung from the original. In most cases, contemporary singers will sing with a great degree of chest mix than the artists who created the role. An exception would be Laura Benanti in She Loves Me, who seems to sing “Vanilla Ice Cream” with more head mix than the late great Barbara Cook. Judge for yourself:

Laura Benanti, 2016 (PBS)
Barbara Cook (audio only), 1963

I am very curious to hear Sutton Foster’s take on Marian Paroo in The Music Man (also a role created by Barbara Cook), because I have never hear her do any sustained legit soprano singing. TBH, I’m also a little concerned about the age of both actors in the lead roles because Marian is supposed to be an old maid at 26, and Foster is 46. (As Harriet Harris sang in Millie, “And if the house was big enough, I still could play her yet.”) I’m sure she can pull off the role but the logistics are that Marian has a 10 year old brother, and the math does not work.

That sounds terribly ageist, but I’m being practical. And consistent. If I disapproved of casting that role with an age gap like that in regional theater, how can I approve of it on Broadway?

In any event, Golden Age musicals continue to flourish because their stories continue to resonate. As I discussed in my recent blogpost, Revisiting the Why of Golden Age Musicals, Golden Age musicals handle contemporary topics, and aren’t just “showgirls in gooey gowns.” Some of the handling is problematic – the domestic abuse in Carousel and Oliver, Nellie’s racism in South Pacific, the white savior role of Anna in The King and I (my least favorite R&Ham musical, despite Kelli O’Hara’s brilliant turn in the 2015 revival) – but it could be a great challenge to find a way to recognize these flaws in the interpretation of the show.

In some cases, a show might need to be reworked in order to be viable, if that is allowed by the licensing company/composer’s estate and if it could be done without completely compromising the show’s artistic integrity. I’m not suggesting that we need to apply a “woke” standard to all revivals (and I also don’t consider “woke” to be a bad thing, because awareness is not a bad thing). But it is an acting challenge to recognize that you are a flawed character or that you love a flawed character and include that recognition in your interpretation. Nathan Gunn and Kelli O’Hara accomplished that in the 2013 Lincoln Center production of Carousel, led by the subtle touches of director John Rando.

I have yet to see anyone truly pull off making Bill Sykes in Oliver even vaguely sympathetic or his abused girlfriend Nancy anything other than a apologist, but perhaps I haven’t seen the right production yet. Or perhaps I need to direct it….

If you want to know more about how to audition for a Golden Age musical successfully, I will be presenting a two part series on this holiday weekend.

  • On Friday, 11/25, I will release a video on YouTube presenting 5 Tips for Giving a GREAT Golden Age Musical Audition.
  • On Saturday, 11/26 at 12:30pm EST, join me in a group class in which we’ll work on preparing a specific Golden Age song for an audition. We’ll take it from warming up on audition day to knowing the background of the song, and then learning song.
  • All registrants will have the option of sending me a video of their performance of the song covered in class OR another Golden Age song of their choice within 24 hours of class. I will review it and send a detailed evaluation of the video.

COST? FREE

Not only FREE, but all registrants will receive a discount code for 10% off a Vocal Discovery Session OR a set of lessons with Mezzoid Voice Studio (new students only – lessons must be taken between 1/1/2022 and 6/11/2022).

Black Friday/Small Business Saturday Special Event on Auditioning for Golden Age Musical Theater
Black Friday/Small Business Saturday Special Event!

Registration and more information HERE or message me at christine@mezzoidvoicestudio.com. The group class will be recorded and I will accept videos from people who could not be there in real time up through December 1.

Wholistic or Holistic Voice Lessons?

Should you be taking voice with a holistic voice teacher or a wholistic one? Is there a difference? Is the latter an egregious and somewhat pretentious misspelling of the former (some would think so)? And what the heck is “wholistic/holistic” voice training, anyway?

Definitions differ depending on where you look. According to Merriam-Webster, “wholism” is not wrong. “Holism” is from the Greek “holos,” meaning “whole” (it has nothing to do with “holes.”) “Wholism,” then, is based on the English word, “whole.” It gets very confusing when you consider that the English word originates from another older English word, “hāl,” meaning whole or uninjured.

In both cases, the word is used to describe a course of treatment or philosophy that considers the whole as being greater than the sum of its parts. In the case of medicine, rather than focusing on a person’s symptoms, a holistic practitioner focuses on the cause of the ailment, on the person’s lifestyle, values, and on complementary treatments in addition to medications.

A [w[holistic voice teacher is one who considers the student as an individual and creates a program for them that recognizes who they are now as well as their singing goals, not only those goals at the start of their vocal study, but as they evolve over the course of their study.

A non-wholistic course of study would be an old-fashioned master/apprentice model, where the teacher (master) dictates the student’s (apprentice’s) course of study, including assigning vocal exercises without any explanation of what purpose they serve (lip trills for everyone! Why? Because – lip trills for everyone!), and follows a prescribed format of repertoire (Caro mio ben for everyone!) with no input from the student. There is no room for consultation from any other source – unless the teacher makes that decision.

A [w]holistic course of study would begin with vocal exercises based on sound pedagogy and build upon what the student does well. And use those skills that they do have to strengthen the skills that need strengthening. If the student has already sung that day, they might not need to warm up except to make sure they’re in the right place for whatever they’re going to work on. Maybe they’ll return to a vocalise if something seems off in what they’re working on.

Repertoire needs to be age-appropriate and skill-appropriate. I’m not saying that the teacher shouldn’t choose repertoire. But if we limit ourselves to the standard repertoire, regardless of whether or not that repertoire suits the student, we are giving people the equivalent of vocal brussels sprouts – “I know you don’t really like it, but it’s good for you, and if you finish it all, I’ll let you have some musical theater for dessert. As long as it’s not too belt-y.” (Insert whatever vegetable you find repugnant, if you like brussels sprouts.)

It’s become very trendy these days to emphasize the “Why,” especially in marketing. I guess what I’m saying that what you should be looking for is a teacher who focus on the WHO.

What - How - Why - and WHO
Focus on the WHO

Your teacher should know

  • WHAT you need to accomplish (short- and long-term goals)
  • HOW you’re going to get there (technique)
  • WHY you want to do it (you’re going to have to know that as well – communication)

    AND MOST IMPORTANTLY
  • WHO you are

So yes, you need a holistic teacher who will recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and tailor your vocal study accordingly. And a big part of that is knowing just WHO you are. (Plus I’m also really digging the idea that “whole,” as it applies to Old English, refers to being uninjured.)

Is Wholistic a misspelling of Holistic? Maybe. Or maybe it’s exactly what you’re looking for. Someone who knows who you are now and wants to see just who you turn out to be.

Voice Lessons: Wholistic or Holistic?
A pretentious misspelling or something more?

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Are you looking for someone to help you achieve your goals? Check out a Vocal Discovery Session with
Mezzoid Voice Studio to see if we’re a good fit.

Fighting the post-show blues

As much as I complained about the effort involved in getting to rehearsals for the recent Come Home concert at WNO, closing the performance this past weekend has made me feel kind of … empty. Basically, I’ve got the post-show blues, or post-show depression.

I don’t feel like I’m really depressed, but I definitely feel a sense of:

  • malaise
  • ennui
  • being in the doldrums
  • and my personal favorite, agita [yes, I was scoping out the thesauraus)

In her blogpost, Post-Show Depression: What It Is and How To Deal With It, Irish writer Rebecca Spelman identifies three reasons why it happens:

  1. You’re not used to having free time
  2. Your creative outlet is gone
  3. You miss your friendsc

I feel as though this pretty much describes the feeling I had at the very beginning of the pandemic, when all my performing dried up and I could no longer see people in person, including my students. Before we all had to quarantine, I was rushing from one thing into another, and maybe that wasn’t a good thing…

https://q2qcomics.com/comic/q2q489/

Perhaps doing this show, as much as I complained about it, reminded me of what it was like to be active and vibrant and engaged. And artistic.

And respected. I’m not feeling particularly respected in some other parts of my life right now, and doing a show of this caliber with a first-rate opera company was a reminder that I have done some fantastic things in my professional life, and I’m still being hired to do so.

All I'm asking for is a little respect (just a little bit)
Lyric by Otis Redding (not Aretha Franklin)

Ms. Spelman suggests five ways to deal with the post-show blues:

  1. Rest
    Well, I’m still in my jammies, so I guess that counts. And honestly, closing a show is often when I do get sick because I haven’t had enough time to take care of myself.
  2. Keep in touch
    There’s always social media! As awful as it can be, it helped me keep in touch with my opera friends even when I was far away and not singing anywhere.
  3. Catch up on other parts of your life
    I’ve made my to-do list, and there are many things to be done, especially as the year comes to an end! (Which actually may be even more overwhelming)
  4. Have a creative outlet
    I’m about to redecorate my whole house, starting with my studio! I’m currently deciding between two colors for three of the walls, and fourth for an accent wall. (I wonder if you can guess which colors I’m leaning toward – see picture below)
  5. Plan your next project
    I guess this could also be a creative outlet, because now I can put some time into my next performance, a reprise of Ding-a-ling, I feel so Christmas-y for the Three Arts Club of Homeland on December 13. This promises to be a little different than the one I did at Germano’s – they’ve asked for some sacred music plus I suspect that some of the selections I did in a cabaret club might not fly in this venue (i.e., not doing “A lonely Jew” from South Park this time). And I’ll also be doing it with Will Zellhofer, instead of Michael Tan, so that’ll be new. But I’ve picked really great music and thrown in a couple of pieces that I think will be terrific!

    And maybe I will audition for WNO in January. Not sure yet. I’m keeping my options open.
Is this a strong enough hint?

I’m feeling somewhat better already. Now off to look at this new music and plan my patter!

Have you ever had the post-show blues/ennui/malaise/agita? How did you get over it? Any pointers that you’d like to share in the comments? I’d love to hear how others deal with this situation.

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Also – depression is serious. I’m not making light of it by saying, “go do laundry or decorate your room.” If you feel that you need help, talk to someone about it or contact SAMHSA at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) There are resources available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Make It Look Easy

Awhile back, I posed the question about whether you want to be a performer who shows up or shows off. Following up on that, are you someone who wants to draw attention to your process as an artist or do you want to make it easy for them?

I have become smitten with the contralto Nathalie Stutzmann, who is not only a fine singer, but also the newly appointed conductor of the Atlanta Symphony (only the second woman to lead a major orchestra in the United States, the first being the outgoing Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director, Marin Alsop). I’d known of her as a singer, and as the leader of her own chamber ensemble, Orfeo 55, in which she performed as the alto soloist and honed her conducting chops. But to be appointed a conductor of a major symphony – that’s impressive.

It’s rare for singers to become conductors. Marin Alsop is a violinist. Leonard Bernstein was a pianist. Sir Colin Davis was a clarinetist. Interestingly, Birmingham Symphony music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla never studied an instrument of any kind before conducting her first choir at the age of 13.

I decided I needed to know more about Ms. Stutzmann, and I found this wonderful quote of hers, which I’m going to put down here both in her native French and in translation:

Il y a deux types d’artistes : ceux qui s’attachent toute leur vie à montrer à quel point ce qu’ils sont en train de faire est difficile – ils ont leur public –, puis il y a ceux qui passent leur vie à essayer de faire croire que ce n’est pas du tout difficile, catégorie à laquelle j’appartiens. C’est sans doute aussi une forme de folie. C’est moins spectaculaire, peut-être, mais je préfère que le public puisse aller à l’essentiel. Je ne veux pas qu’il s’arrête à la performance, tout en la remarquant, mais qu’il puisse s’abandonner d’abord à la beauté de la musique.

There are two types of artists: those that strive their whole life to show how much what they’re doing is difficult – they [do] have their audience -, then there are those who spend their life trying to make people believe it is not at all difficult, which is the category I belong to. That is also probably a form of madness. It is less spectacular, perhaps, but I prefer that the audience be able to go to what is essential [in the music]. I do not want them to stop at [being impressed with] the performance, even though they might notice it, but that they be able to abandon themselves to the beauty of the music.

https://www.forumopera.com/actu/nathalie-stutzmann-je-ne-fouille-pas-les-manuscrits-je-fouille-les-ames

Playing an instrument (and I include singing in that description) is not easy. But the combination of good technique and devotion to what you have to say along with the intention of the composer will help to make the process more fluid and less disruptive to the audience.

There were a series of commercials back in the 1980s for a deodorant that had the slogan “Never let them see you sweat.” In those cases, the reference was to demonstrating that you were nervous. In this case, it’s not letting the process overshadow the music. Because in each case, you aren’t serving your product or the music, and you might make the audience uncomfortable.

Here’s an example of Ms. Stutzmann singing and conducting a Vivaldi aria, “Agitata in fido flatu.” Her performance is energized and engaged, but she makes it seem easy.

Nathalie Stutzmann and Orfeo 55

One of my favorite mezzos to listen to is Cecilia Bartoli. She can move her voice incredibly fast, she is expressive, and passionate. But watching her can be a bit… disconcerting. Here she is singing a Vivaldi piece, “Agitata da due venti.”

Cecilia Bartoli

Both pieces are about being agitated (“agitata”) or moved by winds (treacherous winds in the former case, and by two winds in the latter). Ms. Bartoli is an amazing artist and I do not doubt her sincerity in her expression of the song’s meaning or the composer’s intention. But her mannerisms are distracting, and it draws our attention to how hard she’s working, and how hard the song is. And sometimes, it’s unintentionally comical.

Countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim went viral in 2011 when he performed “Agitata due Venti” as his drag alter ego, Kimchilia Bartoli, on a recital at Northwestern University (where he was a classmate of MVS alum Nate Lewellyn). His performance was both virtuosic and hysterical (and he did it as a homage to her, and not to insult her – and apparently she has seen it and approved).

Kimchilia Bartoli (Kangmin Justin Kim)

If you want to impress the audience by how hard you’re working, you are not serving the music. Ideally, you have put the hard work in well before you actually perform the music so that it can come out of you organically and without distraction so that you serve the music. It’s not there to serve you.

You have to make it look easy – even when it’s not.

Make it look easy (even when it's not)

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If you are ready to put in the hard work so you can make it look easy once you hit the stage, why not find out how you can work with Christine and Mezzoid Voice Studio? Openings available in the new year!

Home is Where the Art Is

This past week was tech week for Come Home, a concert at the Kennedy Center with the Washington National Opera. It’s a greatest hits kind of concert, as you can see from this set list posted backstage.

I have sung with this company since 1989 (!), from then through 1996 when it was Washington Opera, and again since 2018 as Washington National Opera. It has always felt like home to me, much more than any other company with which I’ve sung. I have always felt welcomed by the company, both by my fellow choristers and by administration.

Right before we opened, we were sent this email by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello (who I first met when she took over as co-artistic director at Skylight Opera Theater right before I left Milwaukee the first time):

I want to welcome all of you back HOME. Thank you to the many staff and guests who make this organization run and who are preparing this event—welcome back! I am so grateful that so many folks are working in person and getting this return home event together.

The opera house was dark for nearly two years. It was a period when we needed the arts more than ever. I’m proud that, despite many challenges, the WNO family was able to continue to bring song and story to our community. And now we can be back in person!


In the upcoming event, I am thrilled we come HOME to our magnificent national monument to the performing arts.

Thank you for helping to create this special evening.

And welcome home.

Sometimes, HOME is where the ART is.

[Bolding/Italics mine[

I have often heard the term, “Without art, earth is Eh.” (And seen the bumper sticker as well.)

When I thought about this play on the term home is where the heart is, I realized that

EARTH and HEART have the same letters, only with the H at the end of one and at the beginning of the other.

Chrissie's mind blown
Perhaps this was obvious to other people, but I was today years old when I realized it.

What Earth and Heart have in common besides the same letters in different order is you can’t have either one without Art. (If Earth without Art = Eh, then Heart without Art = He.)

Earth and Heart need Art


In his 10/23/2021 blogpost, Seth Godin says that “Art …. exists to create a change,” and talks about how the intention behind a piece of art or an artform informs its impact.

  • No intent: Can serve to entertain (positive) or reinforce stereotypes and maintain the status quo (not so positive)
  • Selfish intent: Self-serving, manipulative, corrosive (negative)
  • Generous intent: Powerful, inspires thought, inspires change

When we returned to our Kennedy Center home on Saturday night, we sang for an art-starved and enthusiastic audience. We entertained, but we also brought a light to them after twenty months of darkness, not just in terms of the house being dark, but a global darkness during which the prevailing sentiment was, pretty much, “eh.” (Earth without art…) You could say that the greatest hits programming was kind of maintaining the status quo – I would’ve liked some more contemporary repertoire that challenged the audience more – however, even if the music was mostly by old dead white men, the diversity of the performers definitely was a departure from years past.

We took art and live music for granted before the pandemic. (We took a lot of things for granted.) Hopefully, we won’t take it for granted again. At least not too soon.

Our home at the Kennedy Center, as well as our earthly home, is truly where the ART is. And I am grateful to be one of those makers of art – which doesn’t make me particularly special, because, as Seth Godin says:

[A]rt itself seems to want something, to make a change in the world. And the ability to create art like that belongs to each of us.

Seth Godin, Art with Intent, 10/23/2021
Home is where the ART is
Home is where the art is

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The Washington Post’s new critic, Michael Andor Brodeaur, seemed to agree. And we had an equally enthusiastic audience again last night, and probably will for our two remaining performances on Wednesday and Sunday. If you’d like to be part of this return from the darkness, tickets are available here. Please note that you must be fully vaccinated and masked to attend events at the Kennedy Center.

Exploration Plus Exploitation

The other day, I wrote a blogpost about approaching auditions as an opportunity for exploration.

And then yesterday, I read an article about people who have been recognized for having tremendous bursts of creativity in their lives. In that article, the author cited a study that boiled down the origin of these successes to three words.

Explore, then exploit

— Dashun Wang, Northwestern University

I get explore, but exploit – and exploitation – has become such a negative word these days. How can it be something that we can use in a positive way?

The definition of exploitation is to use something or someone for profit. But it’s not the primary definition.

As a noun, an exploit is:

Full Definition of exploit (Entry 1 of 2)

: DEED, ACT

especially : a notable, memorable, or heroic act

Merriam-Webster

I’m kind of digging the whole heroic part of that definition.

The epitome of a heroic exploit!

And as a verb, to exploit means:

to make productive use of UTILIZE

Merriam-Webster

Exploitation occurs when someone else is taken advantage of in order for you to profit. Sweatshop workers, migrant farmers, anyone not being paid what they are worth by people who could afford to do so. (My late mother used to clean and perform what were basically nurse’s aide tasks for a retired judge and his wife for $2.00 hour and was on call day and night in case “Mr. X has to go potty.” Yep, she was exploited.)

Explore the possibilities. Gather all the information you can about what interests you and try different things. Do you want to sing or teach musical theater? Classical? Pop? What can you take from one field of study to apply to another?

The Atlantic article (linked above) cites David Epstein’s book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, as coming to point that “people are better off exploring a variety of fields and approaches and braiding their knowledge to produce new solutions.”

I have spent much of the pandemic studying a variety of topics: Alexander Technique, Breaking down the riffs with Natalie Weiss (still in progress), marketing and branding, working on chest mix (still in progress), and a few other things. I like input and ideation – they’re two of my top five Clifton Strengths.

Implementation and execution are not in my top five. Or ten. Or twenty. This is what I need to work on – to exploit those skills at the right time in order to implement and execute the projects I want to put out into the world.

What have you been exploring and how will you exploit the skills you have gained in those explorations? Tell me about it in the comments – I’d love to have a discussion!

exploration PLUS exploitation
I get exploration, but how can exploitation be a good thing?

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Are you looking to explore elements of vocal technique and performance and figure out how best to create your own heroic exploits? Contact Mezzoid Voice Studio to set up a Vocal Discovery Session (maybe I should call that Vocal Explorations instead) and become your own hero (instead of holding out for one).

Auditions Al Dente

Honestly, I don’t have time or computer battery to write much today because – it’s tech week!

But this morning I read an article about actor Tessa Thompson and her “audition room trick” to get the job, and thought I would share it. In response to the question, “What’s your No. 1 piece of audition advice,” she said:

Just realizing that as much as they’re auditioning you, you are auditioning it [the part]. You’re seeing if you have something to say. You’ve done all this work in preparation, but when you come into the room, hopefully, it should be an exploratory time where you throw things at the wall, you let someone into your process, and you see if it’s a good fit for everybody. Starting to think about it that way really helped me change my perspective. I didn’t look at auditioning from a place of needing, it was from a place of flight.

Backstage Magazine

Is that how you approach auditions?

What do you have to say? What can you throw against the wall?

Mangia!

What if you looked at auditions as an opportunity for growth, to serve the story and to serve the room? (With a big helping for yourself, of course.)

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I have added more available times for Vocal Discovery Sessions – if you’re interested in pursuing Curiously Strong Singing with Mezzoid Voice Studio, see if there’s a time that works for you!

Learning new music

I subscribe to a blog called The Bulletproof Musician, which deals with the psychological aspects of music making, including, but not limited to, performance anxiety and practicing. The author of the blog, Dr. Noa Kageyama, cites scientific studies in his posts as evidence of the efficacy of different methods of conquering a particular musical chore (which reminds me, I have a blogpost in mind about the difference between efficacy, efficiency, and effectiveness, but that will come another time).

One of the recent topics was learning new music by listening to recordings. The study cited showed that doing so was effective in learning music faster.

To which many of you might say, “DUH.” But should you really depend on recordings to learn your music?

For me, listening to a recording is valuable so that I can hear the piece as intended, along with the accompaniment, piano or orchestral, so that I know how it’s supposed to sound as a whole. Sometimes I’ll listen to multiple pieces to hear different interpretations. But then I put it aside and don’t listen again until I’ve learned it – maybe after I’ve performed it, maybe just before – and often, I find that I like my interpretation better!

But what do you do when you’re learning something for which there is NO recording??

I have been fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to create roles in FIVE staged world premieres:

  • The Woman in Red, Dream of Valentino (Washington Opera)
  • Mary Pickersgill, O’er the Ramparts (Community College of Baltimore County)
  • Beatrice, Inferno, (Windfall Theatre, Milwaukee, WI)
  • Rachel Lynde, Memoirs of Anne (Harford Community College, Bel Air, MD)
  • Bertha/Jean, Do It Now! (Stevenson University, Baltimore)
O’er the Ramparts (2014), Dream of Valentino (1994), Do It Now (2018), Memoirs of Anne (2018),
Inferno! (2004??)

And when I did Pilar in Rosina (Skylight Opera Theatre, Milwaukee), there was no recording available.

In the cases of O’er the Ramparts, Inferno, Memoirs, and Do It Now, the composer was on hand and willing to work with the singers to help us bring their score to the stage. Paula Foley Tillen actually wrote Beatrice specifically for me, so it suited my voice. With Washington Opera (now Washington National Opera) and Skylight, I was fortunate enough to have wonderful music directors (the late Alan Nathan and Richard Carsey) who worked with us as if the music had been their own. (I can’t believe I haven’t written about the death of Alan yet… that’s also coming.) But despite their assistance, there was still a lot of work to be done on my own so that I could live up to the task at hand.

What personal factors do you need to have in order to create a role when you don’t have a recording available to play incessantly in the background?

  1. Self-confidence
    This is a big responsibility – the fact that you were given it is enough to boost your self-confidence!
  2. A good ear and a sense of relative pitch
    Especially if it’s something that is particularly atonal or weird
  3. A good relationship with your colleagues
    Particularly your conductor and, if available, the composer. Don’t be afraid to explore different ideas with them!
  4. A recording device to use in rehearsals so that you have something to work with on your own
    We all carry these around now – they’re called phones – but who actually talks on one anymore?
  5. A teacher or vocal coach who can work with you before rehearsals start
    Assuming you aren’t given the music at the first rehearsal and are learning on the job, that way you can come in prepared!
  6. Openness to trying something new
    It’s very likely, especially if the composer is on-site, that they might decide to change things (maybe they have a better idea, maybe something is just not working once they see it on stage, maybe it’s a timing thing, or maybe they want to make it better for the singers), and you have to be able to roll with it!
  7. Curiosity
    Ah, a term near and dear to my heart! What better way can you answer the question, “I wonder what would happen if” than by doing something no one has done before?

    Listen to Barbara Cook talk about her process in learning “Glitter and be Gay” from Candide – she didn’t read music and had never sung anything like that before (which boggles the mind). She even asked Bernstein to change something that she thought would make it better, and he did it.

Embrace new works and you will be in demand as a singer/actor, especially if you can learn music quickly and make it your own! Think of all the roles created by Sutton Foster: Millie, Violet, Jo, Inga.. and who knows what else is to come?

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If you are curious about learning new repertoire and breathing new life into older songs as well, why not check out Mezzoid Voice Studio’s approach to Curiously Strong Singing & Performing? And if that appeals to you, try a Vocal Discovery Session and see if it’s a good fit!

Consequences of Change

I’ve written about change a lot. And I’ve implemented a lot of changes in my life when it would’ve been easier to stay put.

  • I left a teaching job without having another job lined up
  • I left a husband (without having another one lined up)
  • I left a job as a legal secretary to open my teaching studio (without my car being paid off, yet, which had been the prerequisite, and to the horror of my parents)
  • I moved from Wisconsin to Washington, DC
  • I moved to Baltimore for graduate school (see “left a husband”)
  • I moved BACK to Wisconsin
  • I moved BACK to Baltimore, despite having a gorgeous house and a full studio of fantastic singers + a college job that I liked well enough

I was thinking of change today because Seth Godin wrote a blogpost the other day called “What will you leave behind?” which, from the title, sounded like it was going to be about legacy. But instead, it was about the consequences of change.

All of this forward motion requires a less celebrated element–all the things you’re not doing any longer.

I am thinking about implementing another change in my life which probably would’ve happened sooner if I had sung more in Milwaukee. And that is to leave the opera chorus. Perhaps it’s because of being at home for the last year and the drive is awful (especially in the rain – I almost missed two off-ramps yesterday because I simply could not see them), perhaps it’s because what fulfilled me 25 years ago isn’t as fulfilling now, perhaps I feel like I could serve my students and myself better without having to end my day early to head down to DC (see “awful drive”). And perhaps I could create more opportunities for myself as a performer if I’m not obligated to go to rehearsal.

What holds me back is that I feel like I will leave behind my identity as an opera singer. Since there is no grand opera company in Baltimore at this point, WNO is my only opportunity to sing in this capacity. And the fact that they’re still hiring me is validating that I can still do it. I didn’t sing while I was teaching in Milwaukee, and my students and peers didn’t recognize me as a singer as a result.

But to stay doesn’t seem practical right now. Or fulfilling.

I’ve already made the choice not to audition for the remaining 2021-2022 shows. Will I audition in January? I don’t know. I will still be a singer either way. Even if the consequence of not singing with WNO means I won’t be functioning an opera chorister, I’m still an opera singer. And I will still be a singer.

All I’m asking for is change. And I’ll accept the consequences.

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Looking to change things up in your vocal study? I will have a few openings after the new year (too busy from now through the holidays). Find out how to start 2022 off with Mezzoid Voice Studio here.