Welcome to 2020-2021 – New Website, New Year!

I am delighted to introduce my new website, www.mezzoidvoicestudio.com! This is basically where you are right now, but I’ve built a whole new website around this blog site and moved it from my previous platform, mezzoid.com.

Mezzoid.com still works. I have too many pencils, bags, and business cards bearing that URL to let it go just yet.

You can also find me at curiouslystrongsinging.com and christinethomasomeally.com, and mezzoidvoicestudio.blog (which is actually the legal name of this site and what everything redirects to).

I am very proud of the blog. I think it reflects me, my feelings about singing, performing, and what I can offer you as my students, as my audience, as my community, as my people. Please take a look at it when you get a chance – I made a little video launch video yesterday, which is also on my FB page and instagram, but I’ll put it here so anyone reading it can have a chance to see what I’ve highlighted.

Enjoy!

Almost Ready….

Almost Ready...

I am almost done with the new studio website, which I have built all by myself using WordPress. It was a learning curve, and it’s not completely done (for some reason, the studio portal is giving me just as many fits as it did with the previous platform, except for this time, at least, I know my webmaster isn’t going to ignore my requests).

There will be things to tweak, and things to improve, but I think it looks pretty great so far. One thing I added was a space for resources: what kind of things I have in the studio to make lessons function at a high level, suggestions for things you should consider getting to do the same on your end (there’s even an Amazon shopping list I curated just for you all), a list of accompaniment options, both live and virtual, and an overview of some of the resources in my music library. At first, I was going to type out a list of things, but then I thought, “I have a camera. Or at least a phone with one.” 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In order to fully encompass what’s in my library, I would probably have to take a thousand pictures. (I have a lot of music.) But here’s just a sampling of what I have to draw upon in my teaching:

And with that in mind, there are going to be studio classes beginning in a few weeks and one of the things I want to have you work on is knowing more about your craft. Who wrote the song you’re singing? Are they still alive? What was their life like? I’d like you all to be more “curious” about everything that we do. 

 

Registration for the 2020-2021 season will continue till September 30, but if you have a lesson scheduled before then and have not registered, please do so. 

Contact me if you have questions

Staycation Projects

I am in the process of completely revamping my website and moving it to this platform. Sneak peek:

Thanks, Sasha Kostakis, for agreeing to be in this photoshoot. (Shealyn Jae, photography)

As a result, I probably won’t be writing much for the next couple of weeks, but I did want you to know that I’m here and what’s coming up.

  • After the success of Richard Carsey’s masterclass last week, I’ve decided to make this a part of the studio going forward. I am looking at doing masterclasses on Thursday evenings, at least until my church job starts back up (which I don’t anticipate happening until at least after Thanksgiving or 2021, depending on what happens with COVID-19 going forward (wear your masks).
  • Right now I have arranged for Amanda Kaiser, a teacher and performer in Las Vegas, to do a 90 minute workshop/masterclass called Self-Tape Success. She will spend 30 minutes doing a presentation on equipment and logistics for a successful self-tape. After that, four singers will sing for 10 minutes each, and she will evaluate their lighting, sound quality, choice of attire (not fashion policing, just determining how it works on camera!), song selection, and other elements of their presentation. Performers will also have the option of receiving an asynchronous evaluation of an actual self-tape if submitted to her within two weeks of the masterclass. The cost is TBD (I’ll figure that out later this week).
  • I have also invited Lissa deGuzman to return, specifically to work on pop music for the musical theater singer’s audition book. Not sure when this would be.
  • A former student of mine, Matt Bender, recently received his MFA in acting and is now available to do monologue coaching. We’re supposed to talk this week about figuring out some kind of project we can do together.
  • I’ve also spoken to my friend Sorab Wadia, with whom I went to Peabody, about doing something. He is currently based in India, so this would probably have to be a weekend day time (I don’t know what our time difference is). Sorab was a pianist when I knew him and was dabbling in opera, but wound up becoming an actor and has performed in national tours (Ali Hakim, Oklahoma), a one-man show of the book The Kite Runner, in regional theater (Bend it like Beckham The Musical), as Hussein al-Mansour in Jihad! The Musical at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in London’s West End (I am not making that up), and off-Broadway as Raj Dhawan in Bunty Berman Presents…., which I saw in NYC and I will never forgot his head popping out of that papier-mâché elephant’s butt.

Other things I’m planning to get going are regular studio classes where we can sing for each other, online for now, in person later.

I want to do more with asynchronous lessons as well, utilizing the Marco Polo app.

I also want to teach a musical theater history/repertoire class, where we focus on a specific period of time, the style requirements for that period, and everyone gets to sing something from that era. I’d like to start with the 1920s-1930s (Tin Pan Alley), move into Golden Age (1940s-1960s), early contemporary (1970s-1990s), and then current contemporary (2000s-present), so basically 100 years of American Musical Theater (although we will include pieces by other composers that are traditionally done in the US). I’d like to do that once a month, probably on Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons. These would be open to studio members and non-studio members.

But first, I need to go work on the website. Talk to you next week!

Takeaways from Friday’s masterclass

On Friday, I hosted a masterclass featuring conductor Richard Carsey, who worked with 7 singers on musical theater repertoire. Some students were pre-professionals who want to pursue musical theater. One was an avocational performer in her local community theater companies. Two more were professionals, one experienced in musical theater, the other making a decision to crossover from the opera world.

I took notes for the participants because I remember doing masterclasses and having people ask me, “So – what did the clinician tell you?” and I was able to say a few things, but I often couldn’t remember all the specifics because I was singing at the time! So I decided that I would take the notes that they would take if they were able to do so – and sent them out at 4am the next morning because I couldn’t sleep.

As I was going through the notes (somewhat groggily) before I sent them, there were a few common things that Richard said to multiple people, and they were:

  1. Simplify
  2. Every detail is a clue

The admonition to simplify wasn’t limited to one particular thing. It referred to:

  • gestures
  • technical approach
  • intention

“Every detail is a clue” was in reference to multiple elements as well.

  • The pitches chosen at the beginning of “You gotta die sometime”
  • The images Anya sees in her mind’s eye in “In my dreams”
  • The switching between major and minor tonality in “From the home I love”

The singers were all very receptive to Richard’s very insightful and supportive comments, and implemented them to the best of their ability in the time allotted. Watching people’s faces as they absorbed what he was saying and then trying again with those intentions in mind was extremely rewarding for me as a teacher and an artist.

See how happy everyone looked at the end of it? (I look a little crazed, but that’s how I manage to keep from blinking.)

I am hoping to continue this series of workshops/masterclasses under the Curiously Strong Performing umbrella. I am currently considering the following:

  1. Self-taping workshop with a Las Vegas colleague (who rocks at this)
  2. A masterclass on the dramatic aspects of songs with the Executive Stage Director at the Metropolitan Opera
  3. Some kind of improvisatory workshop with an internationally renowned L.A. based opera/music theater educator
  4. Adding pop music to the musical theater audition book with Lissa deGuzman

The last one just popped into my mind while I was writing this and I haven’t actually talked to her about it yet, so I need to send an email. The other three people I will speaking to in the next few weeks and plans will be made!

If you took this masterclass, what takeaways did you have? For that matter, if you took any masterclasses/workshops anywhere this summer, what takeaways did you have?

Why I do this

I was asked by NextDoor, the national neighborhood group, to write a post for my business page on why I do what I do, using the hashtag #WhyIDoThis.

I was limited to 1000 characters, so I recycled part of a post from last summer and part of the opening of my studio policies, which I just put out for the 2020-21 school year. This is what I wrote:

Mezzoid Voice Studio: Why I Do This. I firmly believe that good singing coordinates natural functions in a way to ensure a sound that is natural, free, attractive, and feels really terrific. My studio name, Mezzoid, comes from being in a choir where I sang in the alto section. My choir director said, “Okay, altoids, let’s go over your part.” I said, “Excuse me, but I happen to be a mezzoid!” He said, “What’s the difference?” I said, “I’m still curiously strong, but I sing a minor third higher.” So what is curiously strong singing/performing? It is:

1. Singing and/or performing that takes risks and digs deep into the song’s text, its history, and its style;
2. Singing and performing that is confident, consistent, and constantly developing;
3. Performing that welcomes in others as collaborators, as creators, as colleagues, and as an audience.

This is what I mean by being curiously strong as a singer and as a performer, and what I want for my students, my colleagues – really anyone who is in my life. And this is #WhyIDoThis.

If you want to know more about joining the Mezzoid Voice Studio and learning more about Curiously Strong Singing, please feel free to message me here or email me. There are a few openings that have come up and I’d love to have you join us.

What ISN’T a masterclass?

Even before the pandemic, there have been a lot of posts and ads about masterclasses and why you should take them. Famous people have been offering masterclasses on acting, writing, comedy, singing (some with stronger credentials than others) and people have been signing up for them and saying, “TAKE MY MONEY.”

But what isn’t a masterclass? What shouldn’t you expect when you take one?

A masterclass is not a place where:

  1. Someone will teach you the music if you don’t already know it
  2. You’ll show everyone that you’re the best performer there
  3. All your technical problems will be fixed in fifteen minutes
  4. You will be discovered and all your dreams will come true
  5. Your technique (and self-esteem) will be shredded and you’ll be told to rebuild everything from the ground up (and if that happens, that is the sign of a bad clinician)

What you can expect from a masterclass is that:

  1. The clinician will focus on a particular aspect of your piece that could be enhanced or improved
  2. You will hear other performers who are more advanced than you in both technique and career who still have things to learn and are willing to accept direction and change
  3. You will hear other performers who are not at your technical level who are willing to accept direction and change
  4. Even if you’re not the one performing (or you’re not performing at all), you might hear something in another person’s piece that may inspire you to try it in a piece that you’re working on
  5. If the clinician does address a technical issue, it may not be the most obvious one; it might be a lesser one that can be addressed in the allotted time that they have (and one that might, indirectly, contribute to solving a larger technical problem)

All performer slots in the Richard Carsey masterclass this Friday are filled, but there are still auditor opportunities available. Come on and listen to 7 singers, from pre-professional to established artists, sing for Maestro Carsey. You can register here or message me for more information.

Singing in the Mask – Literally

One thing I do not teach is the concept of placement. It’s something I was taught, and it was something that worked for me, because I respond well to imagery. I’d rather draw awareness to individual sensations of resonance instead.

The idea of “singing in the mask” comes from the idea that the classical singer directs their voice forward so that it rings in the front of the face, the part the might be covered by a mask. This is to create maximum resonance, focus, and ring. However, if it’s excessive, the sound might become pressed, nasal, and generally annoying. The voice needs to be resonant and have ring – but forward placement needs to be balanced with pharyngeal space in order to create chiaroscuro – the balance between light and dark. Too much back space, on the other hand, can make the voice woofy and dark, sound old, and generally unpleasant. For more on chiaroscuro, you can read this article from last summer.

Right now, with the coronavirus, “singing in the mask” has taken on a new meaning, especially with the studies showing how singing spreads aerosols. We are all encouraged, and rightfully so, to wear masks and maintain social distance. And sometimes, when we do have the opportunity to perform, we may be asked to wear a mask. And how will that work?

I’m doing a series on Instagram called “Singing in the Mask – Literally” (hey, that’s the title of this blog!) to explore different mask options to see just how something like this could work. And while I’m at it, to see what kind of technical advantages using the mask in practice might have? There’s a thing called manually obstructed vocal tract exercises. We’ve used semi-occluded vocal tract exercises in the studio before – lip trills, tongue trills, straw work – but manually occluded vocal tract exercises involve physically blocking the mouth with something. It could be a hand, it could be a cup, it could be… wait… a MASK!

But which mask? Which mask would allow you be aware of breath resistance and of resonance sensations but still allow you to articulate and be expressive.

The first mask I tried was the Clear Mask, which I purchased from a voice teacher colleague who had purchased a box of 25 and found that they didn’t suit her needs. I took one of her hands, and here was the result (bad hair day):

Way too many gaps, not the right size. I did feel a lot of resonance, but no more than if I held saran wrap over my mouth. Which is another choice. D

The second mask I tried was the duckbill N95, which my husband brought home from the hospital for me. After this video, I wore it to sing a funeral (hence GREAT hair and makeup day) and found it very effective.

This worked very well. The left earpiece was a little wonky so I had to move it under my ear, but the fit was so secure that it wasn’t an issue. I could breathe, I could articulate. It was a little warm, and removing it to drink water was a little awkward. Of course, any facial expressions below the nose were lost (which meant I had to work a little harder with vocal colors and my eyes in order to interpret the text.) But it fit, I could articulate, I felt the vibrations, and it was safe, without air escaping on the top, sides, or bottom. I would love to paint it yellow. A

The last mask I ordered was from a fashion company called Ellebabe and the ad showed up on Facebook. It was a pretty fabric, inexpensive, and had a clear screen so that you could see the wearer’s mouth. Sounds great! I was excited. This could solve my problems (wet hair day).

The beauty mark was a nice touch. And it is a pretty color. And there’s definitely a lot of resonance and resistance (A). But articulation? (F)

I will be trying some more out. Why don’t you follow me on Instagram and see what I try next?

Radical (In)Authenticity

The other day on FB, there was one of those silly little quizzes to figure out what your solar eclipse identity is (I guess there’s one coming up). This was the quiz:

Based on this I am the Guardian of Radical Ideas.

I embrace this designation wholeheartedly.

I have never been one to play things safe. As I wrote previously, I was encouraged to settle for being comfortable.

My most recent radical idea was to dye my hair teal and purple. My mother would be rolling over in her urn. She never got over my becoming a redhead (I was born blonde – really).

When I first dyed my hair red in 1998, it didn’t go that well. All the years of “enhancing” my blondeness resulted in the red color being absorbed a little too thoroughly and vibrantly. I went to a party that evening and I’ll never forget a colleague looking at me and saying, “Christine, that’s not a color found in nature.”

Boy, what would Russ Kopitzke think now?

But it’s a funny thing – when I went auburn, it was because I’d taken a “get to know your friends” quiz (another quiz, this one pre-Facebook – it was an email chain). One of the questions was, “What color would you dye your hair if you had the guts?” and I thought, “Auburn,” because every time I’d worn a red wig in a show, I felt more like me in a way that I didn’t as a blonde.

And then I thought, “Hey, I have the guts.”

And I had the guts this summer. Maybe it was because of the pandemic. and being cooped up. But I felt a need to do something different. There’s a term called, “having a wild hair,” which means:

“To have a fervent, usually sudden, desire to do something surprising or unexpected.”

–Wiktionary

And while I loved being a redhead, this hair color also makes me feel authentic, even though it’s a color “not found in nature,” and one some people might find inauthentic. Maybe I’ll go back to being a redhead again someday – or maybe I’ll do something even more – dare I say – radical?

If I’m going to be inauthentic, I’m going to be radically inauthentic. And that may make me feel even more authentic.

What radical ideas do you have? Do they feel authentic? Would they make you feel authentic? As a performer? As a person?

Are you ready to take a chance?

The Music is the Star

The performer is not the star. The music is the star. 

The performer is the vessel, the performer is the channel through which the music passes as a prism and comes to the performer. 

                                                                                 — Leon Fleisher 

Leon Fleischer passed away this past week. He was a pianist, conductor, and teacher, who taught some of the greatest pianists of the last few generations (including my friend Michael Sheppard).

He lost the use of his right hand back in the 1960s, which resulted in his having to re-direct himself into new career paths. Although this loss was devastating to him, he said later that he enjoyed a rewarding life in career paths he never would have explored if he had continued as a concert pianist.

I saw Leon Fleischer in concert with the Baltimore Symphony in 1996, shortly before I moved away. It was an interesting concert and featured a new piece by William Bolcom, called “Gaea,” which consisted of three single movement piano concertos. The first performer was Gary Graffman, who had also lost the use of his right hand, and was playing Bolcom’s Piano Concerto #1 for left-handed pianist and half the BSO players. Fleischer then came out to play Bolcom’s Piano Concerto #2 with the other half of the BSO. They were two completely different pieces.

And then the full orchestra came out and both Graffman and Fleischer played what they just played separately, but now together in a double concerto. It just was mind-boggling – like putting together an intricate puzzle. What a wonderful gift William Bolcom gave to these two artists. I’ll never forget it.

My personal experience with Leon Fleischer was as a chorister when he was making his debut as a conductor with Washington Opera for Cosi Fan Tutte. However, he was replaced quite last-minute due to illness. When I was at Peabody, I don’t recall our paths ever crossing, unfortunately.

In the last 20 years of his life, Fleischer regained the use of his right hand and returned to concertizing with standard repertoire. I was supposed to see him play with his wife, Katherine Jacobson, in a Valentine’s Day concert at Howard Community College a couple of years ago, but unfortunately, there was an ice storm and the concert was cancelled. (Of course, we were already there, which meant we got to drive back home in the ice storm. Yay.)

Leon Fleischer was a great artist and teacher, who re-directed his life when his originally intended career path was upended. I hate the term Rest in Power – it seems contrived to me. So I guess I’ll say – Rest in Passion.

What would you do if the thing that you thought you were going to do for the rest of your life went away? How would you re-direct yourself? Many of us, in music and outside of it, are dealing with a similar kind of loss with the advent of COVID-19 – whether it’s through loss of a business, performing opportunities, or teaching opportunities.

Hopefully, it’ll come back – in one form or another. And when it does, remember that for those of us who are artists and musicians, it is not about us as performers. It is about the music, to which we are in service.

Find out more about how to serve the music in next Friday’s masterclass with Richard Carsey. One performer slot is still available – and there is plenty of room to audit.

More information on the masterclass may be found here.

Why I Audit

F0B94F0B-516E-47BF-B09C-184F9FF2CF6C_1_201_aFor those of you who aren’t Three Stooges fans (which I’m certainly not) or not of a certain age (which I certainly am), you may need to go and research the Three Stooges a bit in order to get this reference. You can start here. Knock yourselves out – nyuk nyuk nyuk (that’s also a bit of Stooges humor).

I’m pleased to announce that the Richard Carsey masterclass on August 14 has ONE MORE SPOT left, which I fully intend to fill by the end of this week. But do not despair! I still have 40 spots open for auditors (which is the point of this blogpost)!

You may ask, “Why should I audit?” [Or, to keep the Three Stooges theme going, “Why oughta I audit?”]

I have audited hundreds of masterclasses over the past 30 years. Auditing is a wonderful way of watching experts in their fields work with aspiring artists and gaining insight and wisdom without having to get up onstage yourself. It may inspire you to do something different in your own performing or teaching. It may give you a new perspective on a piece of repertoire that you have retired because you couldn’t find a way to make it fresh. It might introduce you to brand new-to-you repertoire. It might give you the courage to participate yourself the next time an opportunity becomes available.

This morning I was scanning my old notebooks from the various workshops and conference I’ve attended to see what insights I’ve gained from masterclasses. Here are just a few (see which ones of these you’ve heard me say):

NATS Intern Program, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, June 2000

  •  Snap your fingers against your cheek to listen to the pitch and determine how much space that pitch demands. (George Shirley, Metropolitan Opera tenor, faculty – UM-Ann Arbor)
  • “Resonance cannot make the sound better than it is in the larynx.” (Paul Kiesgen, bass, faculty – Indiana University) (RIP)
  • “People who work too hard to lift their soft palates look like dogs eating peanut butter.” (Paul Kiesgen)
  • Balancing on one foot to find the coaxial balance point, elongate the spine, and put your head in the right place. (Paul Kiesgen)
  • Practice with books in front of your ears when in a small space to perceptually focus your ears. (Paul Kiesgen)
  • “The middle voice is a treasure that, if abused, steals from the top.” (Carol Webber, soprano, faculty – Eastman School of Music)
  • “When your desire to tell [the story] overrides your fear.” (Carol Webber)

NATS National Conference, Minneapolis, MN, July 2006

  • “Don’t try to solve the audience’s problems for them; invite them up on the stage with you to solve it together.“ (Hagan Hagegord, Swedish operatic baritone)

Teaching Men to Sing, Indiana University, June 2007

  • “Breath is the raw material that we turn into voice as it passes through the throat.“(Paul Kiesgen)
  • “All that one does technically is to build an instrument that can eloquently and hopefully elegantly communicate. Because that’s what we have to do in the end.” (Dr. Robert Harrison, tenor, faculty -IU)

Wisconsin NATS Spring Meeting, March 2009?

  • “To sing correctly is to use only the muscles that are contributing and no others.“ (Paul Kiesgen)

NATS National Conference, Louisville, KY, June 2008

  • “Anything that seems honest and true is OK, movement wise.“ (Dawn Upshaw, internationally known operatic soprano, faculty – Bard College)

Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method, Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA, July 2011

  • “A song should be performed as though it’s been created on the spot.“ (Robert Marks, NYC vocal coach)

MDDC NATS Spring Meeting, Washington, DC, April 2014

  • “Walk in and let us know who you are.“ (David Sabella, NYC voice teacher and actor)

Masterclass, Loyola University, Baltimore, MD, November 2014

  • “The second the music starts – the story starts. The story needs to keep being told until the music ends.” (Jeff Blumenkrantz, composer)

(I’ve been to masterclasses since then, but I’ve been taking notes on my iPad so that I don’t have to carry around big notebooks. Which I kind of miss doing. My handwriting has really deteriorated since 2000!)

What notes will you be taking at the Richard Carsey masterclass?

Don’t be a wise guy (more Stooges humor – can’t help it – my dad loved them) – register here,

Soitanly.