Beyond a shadow of a doubt

The other day I was out for an early morning walk and I was listening to a podcast on VocalFri. This particular one, from April, featured voice scientist Christian Herbst, who was talking about the role of voice science in vocal pedagogy, and of all the tech-y, geeky, science-y things that that entails.

But although all that science is invaluable for figuring out how to measure the data involved with singing – the acoustics, registration, anatomical – Mr. Herbst said one thing that made me stop walking and jot it down in my little “blog notes” file in my phone:

As a singer, as a performer, I am more like a politician than a scientist. There is no room for doubt. I have to convey the message.  (Christian Herbst, VocalFri4/25/2020)

This reminded me of an interview from tenor Ricky Leech from a Classical Singer article from 2003 (!!), where he likened singing to golf. When you learn to play golf, you learn all the techniques. And then once you start to play, you can’t think of them or you’ll tie yourself up in knots. You can think about it when you start (the swing thought), but once you’re on your way, you just have to trust. The same thing with singing:

“If you’ve done your homework, when you stand up and start an aria, your swing thought will be the meaning of what you’re singing, and an occasional technical issue. You never get far away from the meaning of the piece, because you’ve done your homework, and you’re out of the way.” (The Student Becomes A Master, July 2003)

You can’t have any doubt. Like a politician, you have a message to share. Hopefully, your message is more sincere than some politicians, especially this one…

Politician
And like a golfer, you have a game to play, and you have to play through.

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You must be convinced that your technique will carry you forward and that you believe in your message – beyond the shadow of a doubt.

  • Is your technique solid enough so that you can erase all doubt after you’ve taken that initial swing/breath?
  • Have you learned your piece backward and forward so that you can erase all doubt that the words and notes are going to come out in a way that serves the composer, that serves the audience, and that serves you in the way that you all deserve?
  •  If your piece is in another language (or in a style that is foreign to you), do you have it translated word for word not only into the vernacular but into your internal monologue so that you have no doubt what you are saying, not only from word to word, but from phrase to phrase?
  • Do you like your song? And if you don’t (and that happens, because sometimes you are assigned things that just don’t speak to you), can you find something you like about it? Can you fake it so that we can’t see that you don’t like it? Because if the audience doubts you, it doesn’t matter that you don’t doubt yourself.

Take that swing thought and let it go.

Avoiding FOBO

I can hear you know: “FOBO? Christine, don’t you mean FOMO?”

Nope.

Today I was puppy-walking and listening to a new podcast called Money Girl (which I may or may not listen to again because the host has a  wicked case of vocal fry that makes my skin crawl – not to be confused with VocalFri). The guest was Patrick McGinniss, who created the term FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

I’ve heard of FOMO. I’ve heard of JOMO (the joy of missing out). They’ve become part of the contemporary lexicon, especially in podcasts and blogs. People are cautioned to avoid taking on too many projects out of FOMO and focus on the important things, thus embracing JOMO.

But toward the end of the interview, McGinniss mentioned that he had created another term at the same time he created FOMO, which he thought would gain even more traction: FOBO.

Fear of Better Options.

Rather than doing too many things, the victim of FOBO is paralyzed by too many choices and does none of them, out of fear that they’re going to make the wrong choice. What if they pick something now and something better comes down the pike? They’re waiting for a better option. One that may never come.

In other words, I overthink, therefore I am.

Make decisions. Take risks. Take a class in something you need to learn but don’t consider yourself very good at. Audition for a show (when we can do that again). Sing online for, oh, I don’t know, an internationally renowned conductor giving a masterclass – like this one:

Richard Carsey Insta post

And after you’ve sung for Richard (or before), maybe cut your hair. Dye your hair. If you don’t like it, don’t worry, it’ll grow back/out/you can get a wig.

#FOBOBegone #AchievementUnlocked

What is curiously strong singing?

For the last two years, I’ve used “Curiously Strong Singing” as my tagline. In the past year, I’ve established a performance coaching series called “Curiously Strong Performing.” The content on my website and in other places reflects the use of that phrase.

But other than the relationship between mezzoid and altoids, which is what triggered the whole tagline in the first place, what do I mean by this? What is “curiously strong” singing? What is “curiously strong” performing? Why am I using these phrases other than they’re catchy?

I decided that I needed to define what this means to me in order to make it more than just a phrase that looks good on my business card and website.

So what is curiously strong singing/performing? It is:

  1. Singing that is grounded in a strong sense of technique, whether that pertains to classical, pop, or musical theater (because it’s not all one size fits all);
  2. Singing and/or performing that takes risks and digs deep into the song’s text, its history, and its style.
  3. Performing that tells the truth, is authentic and embraces both standard performance practice as well as new interpretations.
  4. Singing and performing that is confident, consistent, and constantly developing.
  5. 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.

If you want to be curiously strong as well, contact me at mezzoid@gmail.com.

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What are you fighting for?

On Friday, July 17, Mezzoid Voice Studio held its first online masterclass featuring an outside clinician. Our guest was Lissa deGuzman, who was a former student of mine in Milwaukee, and has gone on to perform as Jasmine in the national tour of Aladdin, as Ann Darrow (cover) in the Broadway production of King Kong, and as a princess in the pre-Broadway production of Bliss.

I can’t tell you how pleased I was with her work as a clinician.

Master classes can be iffy.

  • Sometimes, they can be, “Well, when performed this song, this was the way did it.”
  • Sometimes, they can be, “Wow. That’s great. I really have nothing more to say. You’re doing a great job and um. Yeah. Whatever you’re doing is … on the right track. Okay. Who’s next?”
  • Sometimes they can be, “OMG. You really don’t have any business singing this song and you’re doing it all wrong, and unless you do it this way (and I’m not sure you even can), you shouldn’t be singing this at all.” (FYI, those masterclasses suck.)

I didn’t think that this would happen. But hey, you never know. Some time I’ll talk about the time I spent 20 minutes sitting on the steps leading up to the stage at Peabody while a clinician played an audio recording of the phone lesson he gave Michael Jackson when he was on tour in Tokyo.

Lissa had a unifying theme around each person she worked with. She asked them: “What are you fighting for?”

  • In the case of the song “Home,” it was independence/freedom. Not literal, but personal.
  • For “Go the distance,” it was for a place of belonging.
  • For “Burn,” it was for personal dignity.
  • For “Times like this,” it was to find someone in your life with whom you can share things (but the questions was… who?)
  • For “Love will come and find me again,” it was to let go of the past and embrace the possibilities of the future.

I love this. It’s such a wonderful and strong choice to make.

Also, to think of audition cuts as a song in and of itself, rather than just fulfilling the audition requirement. Your cut starts in the middle of the song? Well, it’s the beginning now, and that’s how you have to think of it. You have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it may only be 60-90 seconds, but you have a story to tell. So – what’s your story? What are you trying to achieve? What are you fighting for?

I am in the process of working on a second masterclass and will be announcing that soon. Follow my studio facebook page for more updates!

Normalcy, Quirkiness and Authenticity

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As an artist, I have long considered myself as not being “normal.” Not being satisfied with the status quo, not being a person who has a “normal” job or a “normal” life. I’ve thought of myself as eccentric, quirky, and maybe a little weird. And I’ve been okay with that. Mostly.

But I was giving this some thought this morning as I was waking up and I was thinking that being weird for weird’s sake is just as gross as Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls:

Cool Mom meme

Hint: If you have to tell people you’re cool, you’re not. If you have to tell people you’re weird, don’t worry – they already know, and probably not in the way you mean. Both are examples of trying too hard.

If you are making music and your interpretation is different from the standard interpretation and it feels organic to you, then it is authentic and it’s okay.

If you are making music and you decide you’re going to be cutting edge for the sake of being cutting edge so you can get a rise out of someone, it might not be.

Rebellion to prompt an emotional response in order to effect change is good.

Rebellion to prompt an emotional response or provoke outrage without any kind of lasting effect or change is a tantrum. You’re just puking out your emotions and leaving them there for someone else to clean up. (How’s that for an image?)

Going back to my previous blogpost and Alan Alda’s wonderful line, “Unless I’m willing to be changed by you, I’m probably not listening” — if you are taking action without regard for what the outcome will be, then it’s not a process, it’s just a drive-by.

You don’t have to be “quirky” to get things done and feel things deeply. You have what people consider to be a normal life and still be an artist. You can be eccentric and still have your shallow, superficial moments (I do, more often than I want to admit).

As an artist, as a person, as a teacher, the most important thing I can be, for myself, for my family, for my students, is authentic.

[I wrote this on Tuesday and saw this post by Seth Godin one day later.]

Dream big and work backwards

At the NATS conference last month, I attended a session on “Training Music Majors for a 21st Century ‘Mosaic Career.'” The point of it was to prepare young singers for a career that is not either elite performer or academic, but being involved in a little bit of everything. It was geared toward the college teacher, but there was a lot of information in it that I thought was really helpful for anyone who is looking to identify what it is they do and how to get the word out there that you’re doing it.

It had a lot to do with branding and marketing, and one of the things that they talked about was the title of this blog:

Dream Big and Work Backwards

So what’s your big dream? Why do you want it? What are the steps to get there?

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To find out about Lissa deGuzman’s dream and how she manifested it in her career, don’t forget to register for Friday’s masterclass – there are still some spots available!

World Listening Day – July 18

“Unless I’m willing to be changed by you,
I’m probably not really listening.” — Alan Alda

I went to a singing teachers conference last week and learned more about listening than singing.

One session I attended was called “Children Will Listen” and covered the topic of teaching children between the ages of 5-12, a demographic I don’t usually work with, at least not before the age of 11. That title comes from the song of the same name from Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Into the Woods.

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see
And learn

The point of this session was that children are going to sing anyway, so we might as well know their anatomy and development so that we can help them do it as healthfully and appropriately as we can.

Another session that dealt with listening was “The Curse of Knowledge,” which was about how we forget what it’s like to be a beginner, and sometimes talk over our students’ heads in language and with concepts that they aren’t ready to grasp. I was guilty of that very early in my teaching. Everyone would get all the information I had to give them in the very first lesson. And their heads would explode.

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I think I’m better at it now, but there’s always more information I can take in.

I talked a little about these both in my previous blogpost, I Learned Something Today.

And then, I happened upon a site that told me that next Saturday, July 18, is World Listening Day. I’d heard about World Voice Day before (and I intend for us to celebrate it next year as a studio), but this was new to me. This is a day that was created to honor the birthday of Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who founded a movement called acoustic ecology.

Next Saturday, spend some time doing some active listening.

  • Listen to the sounds of nature when you go on a walk. What do you hear?
  • Listen to music. Not while you’re doing housework, or talking to someone in the house, but just on your own. What do you hear? What instruments? What rhythms? Especially if it’s a live performance, what do you hear besides the music being played? Do you hear people breathing? Coughing? Feet tapping? Chairs creaking?
  • Listen to others. What are they saying? What are you learning from them? Are they listening to you?

Are you really listening or are you just waiting for your turn to speak?

Are you willing to be changed by what you are hearing?

An American Anthem

On September 11, 2002, I participated in a commemoration of 9/11 at my undergraduate alma mater, Alverno College. I brought a piece to sing at the ceremony that I had heard a few years earlier as the title track on an album by baritone Nathan Gunn. It was also sung by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves at the September 14, 2001 memorial held at National Cathedral (for whom it was written by Gene Scheer in 1998 for an event at the Smithsonian Institute).

Alverno didn’t like it. They thought it was “too patriotic” and wanted me to sing “Let there be peace on earth” instead.

I told them that I felt very strongly that this song was the appropriate piece for the event and that if they really didn’t want it, I would withdraw and send one of my high school students instead because pretty much anyone can sing “Let there be peace on earth.”

Yeah, I felt strongly about it. And I got to sing it. 😀

The lyrics of this song speak to me. They speak to me about patriotism from both the perspective of those who wave flags, who fight on battlefields, who protest, who sign petitions, and who vote.

All we’ve been given by those who came before
The dream of a nation where freedom would endure
The work and prayers of centuries have brought us to this day
What shall be our legacy? What will our children say?

CHORUS: Let them say of me I was one who believed
In sharing the blessings I received
Let me know in my heart when my days are through
America, America, I gave my best to you

Each generation from the plains to distant shore
with the gifts they were given were determined to leave more
Valiant battles foughts together – acts of conscience fought alone
These are the seeds from which America has grown. CHORUS

For those who think they have nothing to share
Who fear in their hearts there is no hero there
Know each quiet act of dignity is that which fortifies
The soul of a nation that never dies. CHORUS

(It’s also a heckuva competition winner, for those who are looking for that kind of rep.)

On this 4th of July, I think it’s just the right song for us to hear. Here’s the recording that I first heard (pre-9/11). I hope you like it!

 

I learned something today…

The phrase, “I learned something today,” is one that is associated with the incredibly and self-consciously earnest sitcoms of the 1990s where there were always very special episodes. As soon as you heard that there was going to be a very special episode of a TV show, you knew that someone was about to learn a valuable lesson. And that there’d be a lot of hugging.

Two shows responded to that in completely different ways. Larry David, creator of the show Seinfeld, said that the show’s mantra was “no hugging, no learning.”

South Park, on the other hand, embraced the absurdity of finding meaning no matter how ridiculous the premise of the episode, and nearly episode ended with, “You know, I learned something today.”

Have you learned Something from South Park? : southpark

They might still do that. I haven’t watched the show for a number of years (is it still on?).

This week I finished up the NATS Virtual National Conference and attended quite a few live and pre-recorded sessions (and still have a few more pre-recorded sessions I want to attend). Some things I learned included (title of the session in parentheses):

  • The infant’s vocal tract is primarily designed for suckling and attracting attention. An infant’s soft palate overlaps the epiglottis in order to make suckling more efficient. (Children will listen)
  • Maggie Wheeler, who played Janice on Friends (a show which also was an exception to the earnestness of most 90s sitcoms), is now a singer/songwriter and very woke choral director. (NATS Singalong)
  • There are a bunch of new technologies in the hopper to facilitate more immediate playing and singing together (Solutions for teaching: From a distance)
  • Some excellent new vocalises (Teaching musical theater voice: Cis-gendered female)
  • Trans-men seem to have an easier time with vocal transition (Voice masculinization and voice feminization: Vocalises for trans and gender expansive singers)
  • The arts accounts for 2% of the US gross national product (GNP), more than either construction or tourism (Training music majors for a 21st century “mosaic career”)
  • The primary difference between golden age and contemporary belt is not range, but tessitura – which I kinda knew – plus a lot of new repertoire (Teaching contemporary musical theatre)
  • Different mouth shapes and vocalises (Country singing 101)
  • Laryngeal massage can be a very beneficial part of vocal health but avoid massaging the carotid artery or you will black out (Voice and hearing health: Anatomy & physiology of the singing voice)
    and my favorite —
  • My favorite childhood actor, Alan Alda, wrote a book about communication called If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, in which he says, “Unless I’m willing to be changed by you, I’m probably not really listening.” (Lifting the curse of knowledge in vocal pedagogy)

I also learned about a lot of new technology that I’m going to have to get for the studio to facilitate the dual modality of teaching online and in person. And that technology is going to have a learning curve of its own.

My dad once asked me on the phone, when I told him I had just come home from a class, “Class? When ya gone stop learning?”

My answer, then and now: NEVER.

July 17 Master Class with Lissa deGuzman

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I am so excited to announce the first of which I hope will be many masterclasses featuring former students of mine who have gone on to thrive as working artists.

Our first artist/clinician is Lissa deGuzman, who can both belt her face off and soar to the heights of soprano-land. When she studied with me in Milwaukee, she performed not only Lily in The Secret Garden at Divine Savior Holy Angels, but Gertrude in Seussical (also DSHA) as well. A true triple-threat, Lissa has also been dance captain for multiple productions. Since completing her BFA in musical theater at Belmont University in Nashville, she has gone on to work steadily in regional theater, national tours, and on Broadway.

This is the bio she just sent me:

Lissa deGuzman just finished the run of a new Broadway bound musical Bliss at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA. Sadly, COVID-19 interrupted her next new musical’s Off-Broadway debut, Between the Lines, but she can’t wait to get back. Other credits include: Broadway: King Kong. National Tour: Aladdin. Regional: West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and Chasing Rainbows. @lissadeguz

Lissa’s masterclass will begin with a brief talk about her career path, after which she will work with 8 singers on addressing the acting journey and how it informs vocal colors and technique. Each singer will present a song or excerpt of 90 seconds or less. A Q&A will follow. I have room for 5 more performers and up to 42 auditors. You can check here for more information and to register.

Meanwhile, here’s a recording Lissa made while she was still in college, and one I use often to demonstrate to people how to use belt, mix, and head voice interchangeably as tools of expression. Enjoy!

Spectral Audio Visual · Get Out and Stay Out – Lissa DeGuzman