NATS 56 – Virtually Fantastic!

Right now, I am the student learning on Zoom, instead of the teacher. I’ve been consumed with the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) 56th National Conference since Thursday. The conference was supposed to be in Knoxville, TN, but Corona….

The conferences are always things I look forward to – I’ve only missed 2 since I started going in 2002. One in 2004 (New Orleans – I didn’t want to go there in July – my mistake) and one in 2014 (Boston – I should’ve gone but I was told that I couldn’t because of a summer program I was teaching, but I could have). Not only do I learn new things, but I get to see old friends and make new ones, and we nerd out together on all the things we’re learning, all the things we’ve done since we saw each other last, inspire each other to do new things (possibly together!), socialize, go to performances, and … did I mention socialize?

This is a little different. I don’t like it. But it is what it is and I’m making the most of it.

So far I have been in classes on:

  • Voice and hearing health
  • Pedagogy and profession
  • Wine with Dr. Wendy (a panel discussion about contemporary musical theater’s demands with Wendy LeBorgne, the co-author of The Vocal Athlete, along with singers/teachers Mary Saunders Barton and Noah J. Ricketts)
  • Country singing (!)
  • Voice masculinization and feminization for transgender singers
  • Children will listen (working with pre-pubescent voices)
  • Teaching contemporary musical theater
  • Eat, sing and be merry
  • Singing for better lung health
  • The opening session, at which the American Spiritual Ensemble (in which I have a couple of friends) gave an amazing performance
  • An amazing cabaret show with David Sabella (who is a friend of mine), who just wrote a new book called So You Want to Sing Cabaret (which I’ve just added to my reading list)

I started in on a session on subharmonics, but I just couldn’t. Acoustic sessions always make my eyes cross, I have to admit it. If I’m going to do voice science, I prefer watching vocal folds vibrate and other nerdy anatomical stuff (the infant vocal tract is fascinating!). And I like very pragmatic solutions to things. Give me some ideas – inspire me!

Speaking of ideas and inspiration, I have finalized arrangements with Lissa deGuzman to do the studio’s first online master class. More info about this will be available tomorrow – but if you can’t wait, check out the information here.

And now I’m off to Training music majors for a 21st Century “Mosaic Career,” which seems to be geared more toward academia, but as a private teacher with budding music students, I think it might be good. After that, I’m off to a session on teacher collaboration called “With a little help from my friends” which is being presented by two of my favorite people.

Then I get to go and sing in church for the first time since March, and then come home and watch a panel discussion called The Ethics of a Profession: Creating Workplace Safety, which will involve a group of teachers, singers, music critics, and conductors.

These are not like medical conferences, where everyone’s done by 2pm. Even in person, NATS conferences are all day and well into the evening.

I LOVE IT!

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I have so many songs….

In the musical A New Brain, the lead character of Gordon Schwinn is taken to the hospital after a seizure and is near death. His thoughts are of all the things has to do. In this early song in the show, as he is being examined, he sings:

All the songs I never wrote
Fizzle and remain
All the songs I did not start
All the rhymes I never made
All the stories I delayed in telling
Are welling up inside my brain
I should explain
I have so many songs!

I feel like this sometimes. I am full of ideas. I want to do workshops. I want to put on master classes, organize concerts, do so many things. And often, I do them. I’ve accomplished a lot of things. But I have more to do. I have tons of content created that is sitting in the cloud waiting for me to disperse it (what a great choice of words … dispersing from the cloud … like rain on a thirsty field…. ooh).

Seth Godin wrote a recent blogpost called “That’s a good idea.” His first line is “And then what happens?”

You have to take the next step. Does putting on a master class involve sending an email or <gulp> picking up a telephone to contact a person to host the event or to be your featured clinician?

And then what happens? What do you have to do next in order to make this happen? And then what happens after that? What is your next step?

In this particular case, when I say “you” I mean “I” or “me” and when I say “your” I mean “mine.” But this applies to us all when we’re planning a project. How many steps are involved? Do they have to be done in order? Do they have to be done perfectly or just done?

I’ve taken the first step and asked former student and Broadway actress Lissa DeGuzman to be a master clinician for an online master class I’m hosting on July 17. She’s accepted. This was a good idea. Now I need to take all the other steps so it’s not wasted.

What is your great idea?

And then what happens?

Tell us your stories. Tell us your songs. Don’t let them “fizzle and remain.” Get them out there. Take the steps.

 

The Unwitting Personal Trainer/Emulating vs. Imitating

About 7 years ago, I was at Zumba at the Wisconsin Athletic Club, and I was not feeling all that motivated. I had a move coming up, I was packing, and I was lonely, since both my dogs and my husband were out in Maryland.

I noticed a young woman in the row ahead of me who was really into it – her energy was on fire, her moves were smooth, and she seemed to be having a great time. Her t-shirt said, “Tosa East Senior Powder Puff Football 2007.” I did the math and realized that would make her 23. I decided that I was going to follow her and match my energy to hers. I joked later that she was my “unwitting personal trainer.”

Earlier this year, I started doing Zumba again at Brick Bodies and was really enjoying myself At the end of class, a woman (about my age) came up to me and said, “you’re really good! I was following you!” and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m someone’s unwitting personal trainer!” It felt good.

The reason I bring this up is that I follow a blog called Bulletproof Musician, written by a violinist and performance psychologist named Noa Kageyama. His most recent blog was on the topic of motivating yourself to practice by “copycatting a friend.”

EC089BBC-7BE7-4376-A6AF-60B4FE366309Generally, being a copycat is frowned upon (just ask Billie Eilish) in terms of finding your creative voice. But in this case, Dr. Kageyama is talking about finding someone who inspires you and looking at what they do that makes them successful. Do they get up earlier? Do they set a specific practice time daily and stick to it? What artists do they listen to?

Emulate, not imitate.

What does that mean?

According to Professor Paul Brians of Washington University, “emulate” is a more specialized term, meaning that you are striving to achieve something that someone else did (or surpass, as some definitions say). “Thus[,] if you try to climb the same mountain your big brother did, you’re emulating him; but if you copy his habit of sticking peas up his nose, you’re just imitating him.”

I emulated Miss Powder Puff Football 2007.

I imitate Julie Andrews.

Who is your “unwitting personal trainer?” Are you emulating them or imitating them? Do you know the difference?

(By the way, this song gave me a new appreciation for Billie Eilish.)

Don’t rain on my p̶a̶r̶a̶d̶e̶ recital

Weather – specifically precipitation – has been the bane of my existence. I’ve had shows sabotaged by blizzards and ice storms. Birthdays rained on for 6 years in a row, including my graduation from high school on my 18th birthday. And I held a graduation party three days later. It rained then too. It’s enough to give you a complex.

However, some of my favorite songs have been about rain.

Just noticed that both of those songs are by the same composer, Harvey Schmidt.

The song that started me on my journey as a singer was about avoiding rain. Metaphorical rain, but rain, nevertheless.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Mezzoid Voice Studio is scheduled to hold a semi-live, semi-virtual recital out in my backyard. And there is an 80% chance of thunderstorms. Not just rain, but thunderstorms. My plan was to have people sing live, interspersed with videos sent to me by some of my past students and ones who weren’t comfortable singing live in public during the pandemic.

DON’T RAIN.

JUST THIS ONCE.

But if it does, I will ask my students who were scheduled to sing to self-tape themselves (it’ll be a good exercise!) and submit the videos to me. I will then create a playlist of videos from those and the people who had submitted them for the live recital and then send them out to my studio.

Resilience. Adaptability.

These are good traits as a singer.  And a teacher.

But still. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain.

What are your favorite songs about rain? Or weather in general?

Did you have a grapefruit this week?

Grapefruit blogpost

My husband is somewhat hard of hearing. It comes from spending his 20s in rock bands and his 30s doing woodworking projects, both without benefit of hearing protection.

So when I said to him last week, “Online lessons are going so much better than I expected. Yesterday I had three people who had breakthroughs!”

He said, “They had grapefruits??”

Much mirth ensued.

I told that story to one of my students (who had been one of the breakers-through) at her next lesson and she said that now she wanted a grapefruit.

I have found that the advantages to online lessons include:

  • I can’t play for my students on vocalises, so they need to become more independent. Consequently, we can hear where there are intonation and registration issues that otherwise might be covered up by the piano.
  • Since I can’t play for them on repertoire, they need to sing a cappella or with an accompaniment track. I have to listen to them, during which I take notes – almost like I’m adjudicating a competition. I miss less because I’m not playing the piano and splitting my focus between them and the accompaniment. Something cool I’ve been doing is to type my observations directly into the chat while the student is singing, so that they’re there for them when they finish. If the student records their lesson, that chat is there for them to review afterwards.
  • I can look at them really closely in a way that would be frowned upon in an in-person way. I can get up to the camera and say, “What are you doing with your tongue?” and look directly into their mouths (without any fear of bio-aerosol droplet virus transmission or experiencing halitosis – on either side). Again, if I’m playing the piano, I might not notice that someone’s jaw is not releasing back and down, but rather is coming forward, but if I’m not, I can (which was the first “grapefruit” of that day).

This time has been one of experimenting with what works, and, in doing so, experiencing some growth that we might not have expected. And maybe finding a grapefruit or two.

(And yes, I am married to Emily Litella.)

We breathe to live.

I have written a lot about the importance of breath.

I have written about breath as a necessity for both life and singing.

I have written about breath as a vehicle of spreading the virus.

I have written about breath as something to be held or taken away in moments of extreme emotion.

To take away one’s breath has another meaning right now.

When I first saw the article about George Floyd on Facebook, I saw the words “I can’t breathe” and thought it was an article about Eric Garner, who also said those words. I didn’t open it because I thought it was an old article and maybe it was the anniversary of his death.

It wasn’t till later in the day that I heard what had happened. And I stayed quiet about it on social media, which is not like me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. It wasn’t that I hoped it would blow over. I was angry and I knew that this was not going to be wept under the rug again.

I was ashamed.

Not of being white.

Not of being privileged.

I was ashamed because I was raised by people who were willfully ignorant, who were limited by their circumstances of their own upbringing and their own choice to stay that way, who were prejudiced toward anyone who was not Christian, who was not white, and who didn’t stay in their lane. I was raised by people who used racial epithets around the house as easily as they said “Go clean your room.” By people who saw other races/ethnicities as less than in intellect, in beauty, and in moral character. And who were proud of that and of themselves, because they were white people, and therefore superior.

I know where I came from, and I have evolved, but there is that part of me that is afraid that I do not have the right to say anything because I am from that background. That I don’t deserve to speak out.

But I will speak out because we all have to speak out.

Because George Floyd’s last words were:

“I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
They’re going to kill me
Please
I can’t breathe”

We breathe to live.

George Floyd should have been allowed to breathe.

George Floyd should have been allowed to live.

Eric Garner should have been allowed to breathe.

Eric Garner should have been allowed to live.

Breonna Taylor.

Freddie Gray.

Tamir Rice.

Philando Castile.

Botham Jean.

Alton Sterling.

They should all have been allowed to live. And to continue to breathe.

#BlackLivesMatter

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June Practice Challenge (Mine, Not Yours)

I’ve been seeing a lot of my colleagues set themselves a goal of singing through the entire 24 or 26 or 28 Italian Songs collection. They’ve taught them ad infinitum over the years, but they’ve never actually sung them themselves. So, in this time of respite from performing and in-person teaching, they’re recording themselves singing the songs.

That’s nice.

I don’t wanna.

Maybe I don’t wanna because everyone else is doing it. (I’m like that.)

Maybe I don’t wanna because there are only a handful of them that I really like.

  • Vittoria, vittoria mio core
  • O del mio dolce ardor
  • Amarilli, mia bella
  • Se miei sospiri (or Pieta, signore, depending on which book you’re using)
  • Quella fiamma (and I like the tacky version with the “Il mio bel foco” recitative from the 24/28 series, even though it’s really not authentic and very cheesy)
  • Tu lo sai

But if I commit to singing those, I’ll have to sing

  • Caro mio ben
  • Sebben crudele
  • Alma core
    AND THE WORST ONE OF ALL
  • Se tu m’ami

I hate that song with a white hot passion. Teaching that song is truly the definition of having taught something ad nauseum.

So I’m not gonna. Because I don’t wanna.

But what I do want to try is singing through a technique book of vocalises – which I never did in my undergrad or grad school studies, and which I’ve never used in my own teaching. I’ve always done ones I’ve gotten from books, or teachers, or workshops, or made up myself. But a lot of my colleagues teach from the technique books – mainly Vaccai. So a couple of years ago, I picked up a book of Collected Vocalises: Concone, Lutgen, Sieber, & Vaccai (medium key).

I really like the Concone and the Lutgen. Vaccai leaves me as cold as Caro mio ben. (But not as bad as that which shall not be named again.)

Appcompanist has all of the Concone accompaniments, although they’re in the high key, so I have to adjust them a bit. They also have the Vaccai, but, unfortunately, neither the Lutgen nor the Sieber.

So my June challenge is that I’m going to read through all of the Concone this month. Maybe I’ll put them on FB – maybe on my personal page, maybe the studio page, maybe on Insta, maybe all three. And maybe if I feel like it, I’ll throw in one of the Vaccai.

If you’d like to try this, you can pick them up on Amazon. (Note: I do have an Associate Affiliate account, so if you purchase from one of these links, I will receive a small pittance.)

A New Brain – A New Voice

This Friday, May 29 (5pm), I will host the final listening party (for the time being). We will be listening to William Finn’s A New Brain, which is a semi-autobiographical story about the composer’s personal experience with a genetic vascular disorder in his brain.

WHAT? Another weird musical?

Yes. Y’all can listen to Oklahoma or South Pacific on your own (although I really enjoyed the bluegrass version of Oklahoma this past January – oh, Broadway, when will you be back?). I like to listen to stuff that just pushes the envelope a little bit without being too self-consciously, “hey, look, I’m pushing the envelope” about it (I’m looking at you, Spring Awakening).

The 1998 original Lincoln Center production of A New Brain features Malcolm Gets as the stricken composer, Gordon Schwinn (William Finn/Gordon Schwinn – see the connection). Penny Fuller is his Jewish mother, Mimi. Norm Lewis is his partner, Roger (who sings the most beautiful song of the show, “I’d rather be sailing”). Other celebrated actors in the show are Chip Zien, Mary Testa, and Kristin Chenoweth. The show was revived in 2015 with Jonathan Groff, Aaron Lazar, Ana Gasteyer, and Christian Borle. Apparently, there were some rewrites – I have not heard that version yet, and I think I need to listen to it.

Instead of selecting a local arts group to link donations to, this time I am going to put a link to a group called VocaliD, which is a group that is dedicated to digitizing sound to create new voices for people who have lost theirs (the link takes you to a TedTalk explaining the mission). My friend Ami Bouterse, a voice teacher at UW-Parkside in Kenosha, Wisconsin, turned me on to this. Her daughter, Evelyn, is doing it as a service project for school:

It’s actually free to donate – just your voice is needed. People record their voices, which are then used to create voices for those with assistive devices. You can share your voice in your own time – from the comfort of your own home to help change a life. All you need is a computer, headset with a microphone, and Google Chrome! Visit this link to create your own account and join my Voice Drive:

Join the ‘Evelyn’s Voice Drive’ Voicedrive on VocaliD

So listen to A New Brain and help someone get a new voice.

I would like to continue doing these listening parties once a month. I’m thinking we might have a better turnout on Saturday mornings. Let me know if you’re interested in continuing – and maybe suggest something I don’t know? Message me and let me know what you think.

“You are here not to laugh; but to learn”

This Friday, I’ll be holding Listening Party #4, which will focus on the musical Bat Boy The Musical by Laurence O’Keefe. You may know Laurence O’Keefe from Legally Blonde The Musical and Heathers The Musical. The latter two of which are based on movies of the same name, and, consequently, are pretty commercial.

(What is up with shows post-1995 having “The Musical” after them? Would we not know they’re musicals as soon as people start singing? And yes, I’m watching the Jerry Seinfeld special on Netflix while I write this.)

Bat Boy, on the other hand, is a 2001 off-Broadway rock musical based on the now-defunct tabloid Weekly World News 1992 cover story about a fictional creature found in a cave who is half-bat, half-boy.

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Yep. It’s a musical about a mutant. I don’t know Heathers  (yet). From what I’ve heard of it, I think Bat Boy is more like it than Legally Blonde.

I’ve only seen one production of Bat Boy, as part of the 2005 summer theater program at Divine Savior Holy Angels HS in Milwaukee.

DSHA was a curious choice for a show like this. It’s an all-girls, relatively-conservative Catholic school. But they did a pretty good job with it. I enjoyed it immensely (in part because I had two students in the leads). And I love the cast recording

What does it say about me that I like musicals like this? Let’s look at our listening parties so far.

  1. Sweeney – barber kills people, landlady makes them into pies
  2. Ragtime – well, that’s relatively traditional, but still pretty intense
  3. Assassins – presidential assassins
  4. Bat Boy – see above.

This will be at 5pm instead of 3pm. I’m using the same PMI as for my lessons. If you don’t know what that is, message me.

As always, admission is free but donations will be accepted for the American Visionary Arts Museum (my favorite place in Baltimore).

I’m excited to introduce this show to people. It’s really weird. The music and lyrics are just terrific. But you might feel the need to take a shower afterwards.

Why SHOULD we sing – when there’s nowhere to sing? (Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about the findings of medical professionals regarding singing and the safety about doing it publicly. You can read that here. Apparently, singers and loud talkers are considered “super-spreaders.” Guilty and guilty. And feeling kind of judged about it.

Like I said, I found this terribly depressing. Everything had been going so well. I was singing as much as I wanted to and where I wanted to. My studio was growing and my students were all making tremendous progress, and many of them were finding more and more performing opportunities that were satisfied and motivating.

Why should we sing at all, when there’s nowhere to sing?

The English composer William Byrd published a songbook in 1588 that was considered the first great collection of English songs, Psalms, Sonnets and Songs. Not only have the song settings survived the test of time, his forward to the book has also inspired many singers. I have it hanging on my divider as my students enter my studio – or at least when they did (and will again).
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Feel free to print this out and hang it where you can see it: Reasons to sing – Byrd

This is our time to polish our technique, to learn new things, to take some risks, to sing for fun, to sing some old songs, to sing new songs. And we can do it without having to rush from work/school, rush to rehearsal, come home and stay up late getting homework done, or laundry, or prepping for the next day’s events. We have the luxury of time.

We can practice the right way, mindfully and with intention, instead of just ripping off a few lip trills to get the voice moving and then launching into a song. (Note: Once we’re back in the studio, we probably will never do any more high-spit factor vocalises again.)

Performing will look different for awhile. It may be online. It may be outside (and I just had an idea about that). It may be in the living room with your families, like in the old days. It may be live, it may be pre-recorded. But it will go on because we need to sing. I need to sing, you need to sing, we all need to sing. It’s like ice cream (I scream, you scream….)

And when we can perform for an audience (and we will), that audience will be craving music and theater. They’ll want it so bad and –

WE WILL BE READY!

Who’s with me!