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Shmigrate

Sometimes I like to make up words. Occasionally on purpose.

A few that have come to mind are:

  • phlegmacious: having a surplus of phlegm (also called “phlegmular,” by former student Jennifer Leevan, who, when I said, “that sounds like it’s granular,” responded with, “Well, sometimes it is”)
  • boobular: wearing an extremely low-cut or very tight top, as in “Well, she certainly looks boobular today.”
  • woobidy-woobidy: a stomach pain that isn’t quite nausea and seems to have somewhat of a spinning motion (that one confuses doctors), as in “My stomach is all woobidy-woobidy today”

But the other day, I had one that I think was particularly brilliant and can be used in multiple circumstances.

SHMIGRATE

This came from a slip of the tongue, as I was teaching young Arin McManus on how to efficiently move through their range by subtle shifts or migrations of the /a/ vowel. (You may remember Arin from the post, “Breath is welcome here.”) I began to say “shift,” but then changed it in the middle of the word to “migrate,” so what came out was

SHMIGRATE

And I thought that was useful.

The definition of “shift” is to move from one place to another. The definition of “migrate” is the same.

When we talk of moving through registration is a seamless manner, we talking of shifts or lifts or transitions. Sometimes this involves vowel modification or vowel migration, the latter of which is my preferred term. I understand vowel modification as an active substitution of one vowel for another, whereas migration is where the vowel goes when you give the note you’re singing the appropriate amount of space and shape to produce an efficient and attractive tone. Rather than consciously saying, “I’m going to sing an /a/ vowel up there because I can’t sing an /i/ that high,” which will compromise vowel integrity, I prefer to sing that note with the intention of /i/, but with the space of /a/. The text may be compromised somewhat but the intention of the correct vowel should be clear. (And let’s face it, if, as a composer, you put an /i/ up that high, you deserve whatever comes out. I’m looking at you, Gian-Carlo Menotti.)

Plus, if you’ve already sung the word “steal” 643 times, the audience isn’t going to think you suddenly said “stall,” as long as the intention of “steal” is still there. The same is true with the final note of “Climb ev’ry mountain,” with the word “dream” placed on an Ab5. (Thank you, Rodgers & Hammerstein. Thanks a lot.)

So as you are moving through a phrase, in order to shift efficiently from one register to the next in a manner that is nearly imperceptible, the vowel you are singing probably will need to migrate. In other words, you’re going to need to

SHMIGRATE

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If you’d like to know more about how to shmigrate or any other element of vocal technique, I have a few openings in my private studio.
Find out how to work with me!

Mezzoid Voice Studio teacher Christine Thomas-O'Meally contemplates a new word she made up - shmigrate!
It’s better than phlegmacious

Bragging Boldly

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the idea of confident humility vs false modesty. in which I talked about the need to be confident in your abilities and not to be afraid to share that confidence with others.

And then this happened.
On Sunday, one of my former Milwaukee colleagues, who is now in a major artistic administration position at the Metropolitan Opera, commented on how thrilled she was to have been a part of the amazing Verdi Requiem performed as a 9/11 tribute the previous night. This was a comment on another person’s post about how wonderful the concert was and what a shame that PBS cut off the last minute of the live broadcast.

Her joyful comment was met by someone still living in my hometown with the oh-so-supportive, “LOL, bragging much?”

Did I mention that she works at the Metropolitan Opera???
This really punched me in the gut because I just got a response like that from someone with whom I shared some accomplishments (or as she put them, “perceived accolades” – and there was no LOL). There was more to this conversation than that, and I’m not going to get into it, but basically –

I find it so disheartening when you share something joyful with someone and you get accused of bragging or being “too big for your britches.” 

I shared this on FB and my very wise friend Cynthia Vaughn said:

I love Bold Brags. Share your sassafrass! I have no respect for “Dream Stealers.” A true friend or colleague celebrates the achievements and happiness of others.

And a little later:

I’m looking forward to reading your blog post about this topic.

Well, Cynthia, here you go. (She knows me so well.)

DEEP BREATH.

STOP IT.

Stop being a dream stealer. It is toxic. It is unsupportive, it smacks of

      • Jealousy
      • BitternessWhy Mad Men's Betty Draper is the Perfect Example of a Tragic Character
        and
      • Pettiness (or “Bettiness,” as I nearly wrote, which might mean being in the state of Betty Draper on Mad Men, my least favorite character on the show, and someone who is probably the embodiment of all three of these characteristics – but I digress)

As Heidi Skok, another friend of mine (an accomplished teacher who has also worked at the Metropolitan Opera, and with whom I shared a stage at Wolf Trap way back when – me in the chorus, she as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni) commented on my post:

Let your light shine.

Thank you, Heidi. Thank you, Cynthia. Thank you to everyone else who posted affirmative comments.

As Deanna Maio said,

A wise person once told me “it’s not bragging if it’s true.“ 

If I’m too big for my britches, it’s because of chocolate. Those are my literal britches, and yes, they’re kinda snug right now.

As far as my metaphorical and professional britches, they fit just fine, thank you very much.

Shine a light on your accomplishments
*Not my actual body*

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If you have a bold brag or sassafrass to share, feel free to share it in the comments below or on my studio Facebook page. Let your light shine! No snark allowed!

Bloom or wilt?

I have written twice about blooming where you’re planted. Both times in the summer of 2017, a month apart.

The truth is that I forgot I wrote the first one when I wrote the second. But that’s okay, because the first one was the seed, so to speak, and the second was  its germination. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself)

You need to feed and water plants in order for them to not only live, but to thrive. Otherwise, they will wither, and wilt, and die.

In your career, whether it’s in the arts or not, it is not enough to learn your skills while you are training, because things change.

  • Ideas about technique change.
  • Ways to market yourself change (BOY, do they ever).
  • Styles evolve (and repeat, but never quite the same).

Feed your craft. Fertilize it, transplant or re-pot it if need be, water it, shine a light upon it, and allow it to bloom and grow.

Choose how you want your career to go. What do you need? Where can you get it? What will it take? What excuses are you making to avoiding doing what you need to do?

 

Back to 2021-2022!

Time to head back to 2021-2022 and to another year of curiously strong singing and performing!

    OBack to 2021-22Yes, this is a reworking of the Back to Whatever graphic

Last week, we had a wonderful three day series called “Back to Whatever,” in which we explored:

  • Our Favorite Sings
  • Pop/Rock for Dummies
  • Exploring the Emotional Truth in Golden Age Theater Songs

And there were a lot of great insights and takeaways about technique, style, and interpretation. There weren’t as many registrants as I hoped there’d be. But the people who were there got a lot out of it. And it’s inspired me going forward.

I begin the 2021-2022 year with goals for myself and my students:

  1. To develop our technique to as far as it can go
  2. To explore styles with which we might not be 100% comfortable
  3. To create new interpretations, whether the music we’re performing is old or new

I’m remodeling the studio somewhat – painting, some rearranging, some new furniture – and I want to remodel some of the ways that we are accountable to each other. This is a work in progress.

More to come!

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I still have space for 3 or 4 more students M-Th afternoons.
Drop-ins available on Saturdays.
If you’re curious(ly strong), find out how to work with me

Show Up or Show Off

One thing that is misunderstood about performers is that we do this because we need to show off. Because we are full of ourselves, we think we’re all that, we’re too big for our britches, we’re extroverts, we’re superficial, and all the other things m̶y̶ ̶m̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶s̶a̶i̶d̶ that people often say.

And perhaps there are performers like that. (Who am I kidding? There are performers like that and I’ve written about them frequently, most recently in What is a Plagiarized Performance?) But the performers that I pay attention to are the ones who show up.

As I mentioned recently, I read Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, and found it quite inspiring. One line that resonated with me was:

Good art originates not from the desire to show off but from the desire to show yourself.

I feel that a better way to put this is that good art originates from the desire to show up.

So what’s the difference?

To show up as a performer means that you have committed to telling the truth:

  • as you interpret it
  • as the composer/librettist/playwright intended it
  • in a way that motivates others to show up as well, whether they are in the audience or collaborating with you

You are there to a shine a light on something. Perhaps you’re shining a light on your own personal emotions, values, opinions, or perhaps it’s what someone else has to say, and you feel that it’s something that needs to be seen and heard. And that’s why you’re doing it. Not to call attention to yourself.

show up or show off
Decide whether you are a performer who shows up or one who shows off.

Tonight’s masterclass with James Valcq is on Finding the Emotional Truth in Golden Age Theater Songs. These songs are all at least 60 years old. But even the fluffiest, most old-fashioned song needs to come from a place of truth in order for it to be relevant. And that’s what will be happening tonight. (I’ll be writing about my takeaways from the B2W series in next Tuesday’s blogpost.)

My challenge to you is to –
Decide whether you are a performer who shows up
or one who shows off.

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If you want to find out what the difference is in your own performing, I have room for
4 more singers who want to become curiously strong performers.
Find out how to work with me so that you can show up at
your next audition, rehearsal, or performance.

Believe In Your Ideas

This morning’s Seth Godin post was timely, because it spoke about how sometimes things take time to catch on, no matter how good they are:

Seth Godin textI have had a bunch of ideas this past year that I thought were terrific and that people told me were terrific and then I’ve put them out there and …. they aren’t getting the traction I’d like.

Things I’ve done in the last year include:

  1. Masterclass with Lissa DeGuzman

  2. Masterclass with Richard Carsey

  3. Self-Tape Workshop with Amanda Kaiser

  4. Musical Theater History & Performance Course

  5. New Year’s Vocal Bootcamp

  6. World Voice Weekend

  7. Ave Maria webinar

  8. College Audition Panel Discussion

    and tonight through Thursday

  9. Back to Whatever!

And some of them received more registrations than others (the panel discussion,  the course, Richard Carsey). But they all have one thing in common.

I believe in all of them as being something valuable and worthy, not just for myself but for my audience. And maybe I need to identify my audience a little more specifically, but I believe that one day, these programs will catch on. And I’m willing to keep waiting.

It’s not too late to register for the workshop. If you register for all three sessions and you can’t make one, all three will be available for video replay through September 10. I have ten people registered – I’m not sure how many actually will be there tonight (I’ve warned both Aimee and Phyllis that we might well be talking to ourselves), but we are going to be giving every one of those people their money’s worth and then some. Because I believe in every single thing I do.

Register here and if you are reading this any time before Thursday,
use code F&FB2W to get a $10 discount.

 

 

Making an Impact Goes Both Ways

Sometimes I get emails from the parents of former students asking me to put something together to commemorate their child’s success – usually, graduation from high school or college – because apparently I had made some kind of impact in their lives and it would mean something to them. (I’ve also been to a couple of pretty great college recitals, bat mitzvahs, and weddings as well.) This is always a huge honor for me.

The other day I came across an email I sent back in 2014 to a student who had decided, upon graduating from college with a degree in contemporary commercial music, that what she really wanted to do was to move to Los Angeles and be a comedy writer. Her mom asked me to write her a letter of encouragement to her, which she would be putting in a collection of messages called Life Instruction Book.  This is what I wrote:

Dear Maria:

When I was a little kid, I thought the greatest jobs in the world were:

  1. Comedy Writer
  2. Advertising Copywriter
  3. Singing and Dancing Nanny 

Yes, I was a fan of the Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched and Mary Poppins (especially since the star of the latter got to dance with the star of the first one). I am so excited that you are pursuing your dream – even if that dream has changed along the way – but life throws us curveballs sometimes. I hope you’ll keep singing, because, as my teacher always said, “If you have the voice, you have no choice,” but know that I think what you’re doing is terrific and I hope it all works out for you! I am and will always be so proud of having had you as a student.

Christine

Very little has changed since my childhood. I still think those are three of the greatest jobs in the world. And I still love Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews.

However, I have transferred my advertising copywriter affection from the late Dick York over to Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm.

Dick York Jon Hamm
(Sorry, Dick)

Maria (the recipient of the above email) is still singing, and she’s doing some writing as well, plus she’s just scored a sweet gig working for Soundcloud. Speaking of Soundcloud, here’s a recording of her covering a Sara Bareilles song, “Dear Hope” (with her brother, composer Dan Waldkirch, at the keyboard). Have a listen:

 

If you want to hear more (covers and originals) from Maria and Dan, as well as some of their collaborators, check out their Soundcloud page, Strange Battery.

Another one of my more recent students, Olive DeVille, just graduated from the vocal prime program at Carver Center of Arts & Technology, and is headed out to Long Island University toTowson student Olive DeVille begin her BFA in Musical Theatre. You might remember Olive from the recent What To Know/What I WISH I’d Known About College Auditions panel discussion, for which she was one of the panelists. 

Her parents put together a similar project to the one Maria’s mom did back in 2014, but with a video component rather than print. I was very honored to put together a video for her, and I decided to do one of my favorite songs, but with words specific to the 5+ years that Olive and I worked together.

 

I am honored to work with each and every one of my students, whether they go into music or not. And I am glad for “what we’ve done and what’s to come.” I can’t wait to see what else Maria, and Olive, and Juliet, and Julia, and Maureen, and Matt, and Sasha, and Ella, and Sela, and … wait, I can’t write all their names. But I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do, whether it’s in the arts, or politics, or medicine, or business, or whatever.  

Because they’ve all had an impact on me. More than they could ever imagine.

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If you’re curious about becoming a curiously strong singer and performer,
I have a few openings for students for 2021-2022. Lessons begin 9/7.
Find out how to work with me, either on a regular or intermittent basis.
Let’s have an impact on each other.

Work with MVS

Assume People Like You

Since I’m out of town on vacation, I went through a few of my blogposts to see which ones could be re-visited, and here’s one from 2017. Hope you like it – and me. (And excuse any formatting issues – these were exported over from a different platform and the spacing is a bit wonky.)

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When Sally Field accepted the Academy Award for Best Actress for the movie Places in the Heart, she made a speech that has been misquoted as “You like me! You really like me!” Her actual speech was “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time [she won the award, for Norma Rae] I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it — and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”

As a performer, needing to be liked often comes off as needy, as if you aren’t performing to tell the truth and to be authentic, but out of a desire to be popular. If you audition with that mindset or with the mindset of “I really need this job,” it’s often seen as desperate and inauthentic.

When I was living in Milwaukee, I didn’t feel as though I was liked. And it wasn’t just the last time I was living there. It was growing up there as well. I haven’t had that feeling living on the East Coast. And I think I know why. I think I was raised with the idea that other people’s opinions of me were paramount and that I needed to make myself likeable. And I never felt that I knew how to do that.

The last few auditions I did in Milwaukee played against that idea – I went in with a self-protective and closed-off mindset of

  • I don’t care if you like me.
  • I don’t care if you hire me. You probably aren’t going to anyway.
  • I’m just going to sing these songs. Bite me if you don’t like me. (That part might be a bit extreme.)

And it backfired. I came off as uninvested in my music. I didn’t enjoy the audition and I didn’t get hired. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yesterday I read a blogpost by Noe Kagayama, who writes the blog The Bulletproof Musician (to which I subscribe). This article was about assuming that people like you from the get-go. Not that you have to make them like you, but that they already do.

Basically, it talked about everything that I’ve done wrong in my life – that research has shown that self-protective behaviors like impersonality or hiding your true feelings negatively impact people’s perception of you. It might seem like this study was conducted by Captain Obvious himself, but to those of us who were raised with the idea that people wouldn’t like us if we were too silly, too honest, too real, it’s eye-opening.

(Interestingly enough, I never felt that way in my Milwaukee studio – only in performing circles and in my personal life. I think I already assumed my students would like me. Huh.)

Kagayama closes his article with the conclusion that entering a new situation (whether it be teaching or performing) with the idea that the students/audience/colleagues already like us is paramount to creating an environment that is authentic, focused, and conducive to creating music.

“Otherwise, we risk going into a situation determined to prove ourselves, and come across as defensive, stubborn, and snobbish. Or in an effort to avoid showing our cards and letting on how excited we are, end up seeming withdrawn, cold, aloof, and standoffish. And ironically, end up getting exactly the result that we were afraid of in the first place.” [Emphasis mine]

I’m tired of that result – and I’ve only had it once since I’ve been back here, and it involved a situation where I was upset and afraid to make my feelings known. And it won’t happen again. 

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Learn from my growth, as belated as it was. 

If you are going to an audition, assume that you are likeable. That you have something to offer, not only with your talent and ability, but yourself. You don’t need to blurt out Sally Field’s Oscar speech as you walk into the audition, but know inside that you are likeable, you are liked,  and, as Stuart Smalley said:

 

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me”

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Other people who are more than good and smart enough are the clinicians
for next week’s Back to … Whatever! series. Registration is still open.

 

Music’s Path

I’m heading off to Milwaukee Irish Fest this weekend (my own Music’s Path – more to be explained at the bottom of this post), so here is a 2017 blogpost about what Irish music means to me. (Excuse the spacing – this was imported from a different platform.)

When I think of Irish music, I think of calling in to the help desk for my then-new IBM PC and getting an Irish customer service rep:

Me: “Oh, you’re from Dublin! I love Irish music.”
CSR: “Around here, we just call it music.”

In 1995, my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I went to Milwaukee to visit my parents. Our visit coincided with Milwaukee Irish Fest 1995. I had been to IrishFest before with my ex-husband, probably in the first year or so of its existence, and we just didn’t have a good time. (Then again, we rarely had a good time together. He was the only man I knew who could sit through a rock concert stone-faced and then claim that he was having a great time.)

Bill, on the other hand, took to it right away. He loved everything about it; the music, the dancing, the cultural exhibits. And when we got back to Baltimore, and he started researching cities with family medicine residencies, Milwaukee suddenly became a place he wanted to go. And that’s where we wound up. And we went to Irish Fest every year for the next 17 years, till we moved. And we’ve been back twice since then and will be going back next month. We’ve also been to Ireland and want to go back.

There’s not a drop of Irish blood in me. I’m Slovenian and Estonian, but my parents never really introduced me to their cultures as far as music was concerned. And my ex was 100% German, and I was briefly in a German polka-rock wedding band (another story for another time), and I speak a bit of German, but I always hated German food and the music didn’t move me. (Lieder is another story.)

I coordinated two Irish themed concerts for the MacDowell Club in Milwaukee, and I was particularly proud of the second one. I did a lot of research on Irish classical composers, and coordinated pieces for clarinet, piano, piano trio, organ, and voice. Finding contemporary classical vocal pieces was particularly difficult – I could find pieces with texts by Irish composers, but not a lot of pieces by Irish composers, and nothing with Irish Gaelic texts.

About 7 years ago, I found three poems that I particularly liked by Irish poets that were written in Irish Gaelic (with translations provided by the poets). I wrote to the poets and asked for their permission to have the pieces set to music. And then I just sat on it for the last 7 years. I did contact the Irish Fest Center and Irish Cultural & Heritage Center in Milwaukee to see if someone could help me with pronunciation, but no one returned my messages.

A few weeks ago, I put the word out on the listserv Nextdoor that I was looking for help with pronunciation and got multiple offers. Today someone got back to me with the pronunciation for the first piece. Wow. I can see that my next project will be to figure out the IPA for this – I never could’ve done this on my own.

The other thing I need to do is to find a composer who will be willing to set this to music. I thought I had someone in Milwaukee lined up, but she hasn’t returned my messages. (Do we see a pattern here? Perhaps the pattern that resulted in my moving in the first place?) Ideally, I’d like someone of Irish descent, but that’s not a dealbreaker.

My goal is to have these pieces ready to perform in the 2018-2019 season, as part of the Out of The Box concert that I wrote about a week ago. And maybe, just maybe, the Irish Fest Center might be interested in sponsoring a performance of them….

(Not holding my breath about that.)

This is the song that closes Irish Fest every year, and why we stay till the last note is sung on the last day (which is called “The Scattering”). It ends the jam session of all the musicians on the grounds. This recording is by the late Tommy Makem, who I saw perform many times before his death in 2007. It’s a very special song to me, and this rendition features the Irish American band, Cherish the Ladies.

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I’ve come to realize that Milwaukee Irish Fest is my DisneyWorld. 

Since I wrote this in 2017, I met Emma Langford, and brought her in as an artist for my recent World Voice Weekend. If you haven’t heard Emma, please check out my multiple blogposts about her and check out her two albums, Quiet Giant and Sowing Acorns, as well as the many other projects she’s doing.

I also found a composer, Garth Baxter, and he set not only the three poems I found, but also three others. The songs are called “Music’s Path: Six Songs by Irish Poets.” I was supposed to premiere them last March at a house party, but … COVID. But we did record them (in English – the Irish Gaelic was just too hard) and here’s the playlist:

 

The title comes from the final song, Music’s Path, by Gabriel Rosenstock:

“Music’s path, no one knows its beginning or end…
When the music stopped
the universe became silent.”

 

Revisiting the Why of Golden Age Musicals

In preparation for the upcoming “Finding the Emotional Truth in Golden Age Theater Songs” masterclass with James Valcq on September 2, I thought it was a good time to revisit this blogpost from two years ago. (New additions in brackets]


I hear this way too often from people:

“Why should I sing golden age music? It’s so old-fashioned! I don’t know any of it.”

  • Technique. Today’s musicals tend to be very text-driven, and aren’t necessarily vehicles for mastering things like legato and breath management. (And that doesn’t make them less than, just different.)
  • Revivals are big nowadays. Two revivals were nominated this season – Kiss Me, Kate and Oklahoma (see below).
  • Sometimes it’s right for the audience where you’ll be performing. A retirement community will appreciate a Rodgers & Hammerstein song more than they will something from Pasek & Paul. Usually.
  • [Because of stuff like SCHMIGADOON!!]
  • Because choosing repertoire is one of my superpowers. If I’m picking it for you, it’ll be right for you. Trust my judgment.
    AND
  • History. Most of all, history.

Oklahoma won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. It’s supposed to be fantastic, and I want to see it. And I don’t even like the show. However, the way they’re looking at it is more contemporary – the accompaniment is a band, rather than a full orchestra, the casting is diverse, and the direction takes it to a darker place than most traditional productions. [Note: Since writing this, I went to see the revival and it was everything I said it was – in fact, I don’t want to see the show done any other way.]

In undergrad, I wrote a paper about the characters of Curly in Oklahoma and Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro and how groundbreaking both of them were for their times. Frank Rich pretty much wrote the same thing in this article:

“At its birth, the show was to its America what Hamilton has been to ours: both an unexpected record-smashing box-office phenomenon and a reassuring portrait of our past that lifted up theatergoers at a time of great anxiety about the country’s future. Its Broadway opening took place less than 16 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when America was shipping its sons off to war and still digging out of the Great Depression. Like Hamilton, too, Oklahoma! was deemed artistically revolutionary for its time. A self-styled “musical drama” rather than a musical comedy, it dispensed with the usual leggy chorus line and leveraged its songs to advance character and plot.”

There is a vast history of American musical theater, going back before Oklahoma! Knowing about it makes you a more well-rounded singer.

And again – trust my judgment.
*****

After watching Carousel on Amazon Prime this past weekend (Nathan Gunn, Kelli O’Hara, Jessie Mueller, Stephanie Blythe, Jason Daniely, Shuler Hensley), there is no doubt in my mind that Golden Age musicals have the same relevance that they do now.

  • Single moms
  • Domestic abuse
  • Joblessness/financial struggles

Angst did exist before Rent! There is emotional truth to be found in golden age theater, you just have to find it.

And just how do you find it?
Sign up for James Valcq’s masterclass on September 2, as well as the rest of “Back to …. Whatever!” to learn more about fun vocalises,
pop/rock styling and repertoire,
AND the depths that you didn’t know (but should’ve known)
existed in golden age theater songs.
Registration is still open here.