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Confident Humility vs. False Modesty

False modesty: behavior in which a person pretends to have a low opinion of his or her own abilities or achievements (Cambridge English dictionary)

Have you ever seen a performance that was really, truly amazing, and then you saw the person afterwards and told them so, and they responded with something like:

      • You’re just saying that
      • Oh, come on, anyone could do that
      • Please,  X was so much than better than me

But they were good. You know it, and you know that they know it too.  And their rejection of your praise/acknowledgement of their accomplishment rings false, and annoys you.

I just finished reading Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, and at one point, she describes having a conversation with Oprah Winfrey (the book does a lot of name-dropping) during which Ms. Doyle downplays her accomplishments as just being lucky and around the right people, to which Oprah (also a bit of a name-dropper) says,

“Don’t do that. Don’t be modest. Dr. Maya Angelou used to say, ‘Modesty is a learned affectation. You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out.'” p.286, Untamed

We’re told we should be modest, we shouldn’t brag, but instead credit our success to sheer dumb luck, being in the right place at the right time, etc. .

But that’s a load of hooey.

What is humility? Specifically, what is confident humility? (TBH, I thought it was a term I just made up while writing this, but … I was wrong!) According to Vinita Bansai, in her article on Confident Humility: Paradox of Successful Leadership:

“Confident humility is the confidence in a leader’s ability to make the right decision while acknowledging that they need others to do it right. It’s knowing what they don’t know and having trust in what they do. It’s having faith in their strengths, while also being aware of their weaknesses. It’s accepting that they don’t have the required knowledge, but enough confidence in their ability to acquire that knowledge.”

I strongly recommend reading this article – the 20 traits of a leader with confident humility are truly inspiring. And the word “modesty” isn’t mentioned once.

As performing artists, we need to recognize that we need others – teachers, collaborators, composers,  playwrights, the audience – in order to be successful at what we do, but also that we have the strength to do it. (Sounds kind of like, “It takes a village,” doesn’t it?)

We had that confidence when we were children, until people told us not to be so high-and-mighty, too big for our britches, think we’re so special (all of this is being written by me said with a strong Milwaukee accent). When we were children, we thought we could grow up to be:

      • An astronaut
      • A movie star/celebrity
      • A firefighter
      • A professional athlete
      • A superhero
      • President of the United States

Whatever you do today do it with the confidence of a 4 year old in a Batman t-shirt

And then we set our sights lower as reality sets in (or we realize we’re not good at science, afraid of fire, can’t actually fly or leap tall buildings in a single bound). And maybe we can’t do those things on our own, but we can do variations of them with help from those around us who can, if only metaphorically, leap tall buildings in a single bound. At least in our field.

Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Know who can help you build upon the former and minimize the latter.

Know what you are capable of and what you might be capable of.

Know who you are and take strength in that. There’s nothing wrong with pride – it is a feeling of satisfaction at your achievements.

And when someone tells you that you did a great job, don’t diminish their accolades with false modesty. Just say:

Thank you.

Now go put on that Batman t-shirt.

******

If you want to build upon your skills as a singer/actor, registration is open for
Back to … Whatever, with sessions on August 31-September 2 (6:30-8pm ET each night). Kick off your return to performing with teacher/artists who know their stuff about vocal technique, style, and interpretation.

B2W: My Favorite “Sings” Vocal Technique Bootcamp

Twenty years ago, I wrote a song parody about vocal technique, using the tune of a well-known song from a musical we all know. In 2017, I wrote a blogpost about it, which you can find here.

When I decided to put together Back to … Whatever, I thought that the first thing we needed to do was get everyone singing again. I had done a vocal bootcamp at the beginning of the year, to kickstart the new year, and I thought I’d like to do something like that again, only with not just me this time, but with a couple of other teachers. I put the word out within my business coaching group, The Speakeasy Cooperative, that I was looking for a couple of collaborators, and lo and behold, two people stepped right away.

So I’d like you to meet them.

Aimee Woods, soprano
Aimee Woods

Aimee Woods is the Director of Songwoods Studio in Fort Collins, Colorado, as well as its Master Teacher. She joined the faculty (then called Magnolia Music Studio) in 2009. Aimee took over Songwoods in 2017. She brings a wealth of teaching and performing experience, with more than 15 years of teaching, performing and directing. Aimee participates in educational clinics and masterclasses and is Vice President of the Colorado/Wyoming Chapter of National Association of Teachers of singing. In addition to teaching at Songwoods Studio, Aimee is Music Director and conductor for Fort Collins Children’s Theater. Aimee teaches all ages and styles including classical and contemporary vocal styles. She is sought out as a rock/pop vocal coach, working with several local band singers and singer/songwriters and rock operas. She has performed professional opera and music theater along the front range with her favorites being First Lady/The Magic Flute with Loveland Opera Theater, Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast, and Kaye in The Taffetas. Aimee earned her Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Colorado State University where she performed leading roles with CSU Opera (Countess/Marriage of Figaro, Susannah/Susannah) and received her BM in Vocal Performance from University of Northern Colorado. She is Vice President of National Association of Teachers of Singing and is a certified CoreSingingTM Teacher, trained by founder Meribeth Dayme. Upcoming projects include LIVE showcases with Songwoods musicians and ELF with Fort Collins Children’s Theater. Aimee and her husband Jeremy live in Loveland, CO with their daughter.

Phyllis Horridge
Phyllis Horridge

From Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we’re joined by Phyllis Horridge. Phyllis holds a Master’s Degree in Music from George Mason University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Music, with a minor in theatre, from Lynchburg College in Virginia. She has been performing in theatre professionally for many years, most notably with the Drama Desk Award Winning York Theatre Company in New York City. Phyllis is certified in Somatic Voicework (sm), participated in the Summer Vocology Institute at The National Center for Voice and Speech, and trained in Estill Voice. She has been actively involved in the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), National Association for Music Education (NAfME), and Actors Equity Association. She maintains membership in the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), where she has worked on films including Ted, American Hustle, and Grown Ups 2; was regularly seen on ABC’s hit drama Body of Proof; and appeared in national commercials for Titleist and Popeyes.

Phyllis is an award winning choir director, musical director, and served as adjudicator for many events across the country. She is also active on social media, boasting over 100K followers on TikTok (@phyllis.sings).  [Seriously, her Tiktok is amazing!] After many years on the road, she now calls Louisiana home, where she is the owner of Phyllis & Friends Singing Lessons, a boutique studio that offers singing, acting, and audition prep.

And the third clinician is… ME. And if you don’t know me by now…

But hey, if you don’t, you can find out more here.

What I’m particularly excited about is that when the three of us sat down and discussed what we would like to do, my first thought had been that each of us would spend approximately 20-30 minutes presenting our favorite vocalises. But then once we started talking, we decided it would be more fun and more interesting if we did a sort of tag-team approach. Aimee will start and do a set of vocalises around alignment and articulation. Then I’ll take over and do some breathwork. Then Phyllis will focus on registration. But we’ll go back and forth so that it won’t be quite so formal, and shorter durations. And then we’ll apply the technical things we’re doing to a song that we can do in the second half of the class. But what song?

      • Aimee wanted to do an American folk song.
      • Phyllis wanted to do more contemporary musical theatre.
      • I thought we should have a piece that was accessible to all ages.

Finally, we decided on a song that all of us had taught and that we were pretty sure everyone knows. Perhaps you can guess what it is.


Of course, since we’re online, all singing will be done on mute, unless you are one of the volunteers that would like to step up and have one (or all three) of us use you as a guinea pig work with you on whatever element of vocal technique you feel you need. Is there an ascending line that goes through your break? Are you running out of breath? Is there a diction issue that you’d like to address? We’ll apply what we did in the first part of the session to that song.

A Q&A will follow, as time permits.

All sessions will be from 6:30-8:00pm, August 31-September 2 and will be recorded and available through September 10 for those who opt for the full three-day registration ($90).
Individual sessions are available at $40 each and does not include the video replay option
(save $30, get an extra week of time to watch!).
More information and registration available here.

*****

Accepting new students for 2021-2022. The new term begins September 7 and goes through June 11 of next year.
Find out more about how to work with MVS!

B2W- Meet Heather Statham!

Continuing to work BACKWARDS, today’s blogpost highlights the clinician at the middle of our 3-day series, Heather Statham!

heather Statham, Certified Rock the Audition Vocal Coach & Blues Singer

Here’s Heather’s bio:

“Man you’ve got some pipes!” may be something you feel compelled to say after hearing Heather Statham belt out a couple of tunes for the first time and you wouldn’t be alone! Based in Atlanta, Georgia and the front woman for ThunderGypsy band, Heather has become known for being a power vocalist with a dynamic stage presence.

Her love of the performing arts was nurtured at an early age on stage in dance and musicals. Her training continued while in school at Brenau Women’s College and later took her to New York City and the CAP21/NYU Program. After several years in regional theatre, she turned her attention to live music. She is now ecstatic to be the front woman for the powerhouse quartet that is ThunderGypsy – the 2017 Atlanta Blues Challenge Winner. And if you don’t find her performing on stage belting out those blues rocking soul stirring hits of the 60s/70s, you may find her belting out her favorite tunes from many of the Broadway divas – Ethel, Bette, Elaine, Debra, Patti… and so on. [Here’s a video of her doing just that!]

 

As a vocal coach, she loves helping her students understand how to connect to a song and deliver a rock solid performance for an audition or show. Having just completed her advanced training in Sheri Sanders’ “Rock the Audition” curriculum, she is thrilled to be a Certified Rock the Audition Coach, helping musical theatre performers create and cultivate authentic performances of pop/rock repertoire. She also helps teachers and vocal professionals understand and navigate the world of pop/rock/musical theatre repertoire in her workshop – Pop Rock for Dummies (or those who just haven’t had time to study it.)

And that’s exactly what Heather will be doing on September 1 at 6:30pm as part of the Back to …. Whatever series that Curiously Strong Performing (the coaching component of Mezzoid Voice Studio) will be offering.

In Pop/Rock for Dummies,  Heather will:

      • touch on generalities of Pop/Rock (technical and stylistic)
      • talk about what to look for in choosing rep
      • dig into Pop/Rock for Musical Theatre singers
        AND
      • answer any questions that you may come up with in the Q&A to follow

Why is this valuable?

Well, for those of us who identify as classical singers or even musical theater singers, finding an authentic voice in pop music can be frustrating. I remember one time, before I’d even started studying voice (but I was in choir and the musicals), I bought a piece of sheet music by Fleetwood Mac – specifically, “Dreams.” And as I sat the piano, singing the opening lyrics,

Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom –
Well, who am I to keep you down?

I thought to myself:

Facepalm ChrissieI sound stupid. And weird. 

I had no idea how to sing pop music. And although now I am certified in contemporary commercial music through my training in Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method, I have steered away from teaching anything pop-ier than contemporary musical theater. Not because I don’t enjoy commercial music, but because I don’t feel like it’s my strong suit. And I’ve been afraid that my students will feel like they sound stupid and weird. (Not that I would allow them that negative self-talk, because it’s been enough for me to deal with all of my life.)

Or that I’ll give them repertoire that I feel somewhat comfortable with (60s/70s singer/songwriters), but that stuff might be too old. But I don’t really know that much about the current crop of singer/songwriters (I’m listening, I’m trying!) and I don’t know where to find their music.

And then along came Heather Statham. The answer to my oh-so-many questions. And yours, as well, I have no doubt.

This session is for you if:

    • You are a musical theater singer who has to prepare a pop/rock song for an audition and you have no idea where to start

    • You are a classically trained singing teacher who feels extremely comfortable with musical theater but is clueless about pop/rock (why, that sounds like me)

    • You listen to pop songs all the time and sing along with the radio/Spotify/Apple Music but when you try to sing them at karaoke night, you sound… wrong

    • Or perhaps you are all of the above (also like me)

In addition, all registrants will receive a reduced rate for a Rock Out Your Rep session with Heather (both of us are members of The Speakeasy Cooperative, and it’s a little perk of collaboration!). This is a great way to get a curated, customized list of songs that you can work on with your teacher (or if you’re a teacher, with your students). More info will be available about this soon, including links to Heather’s booking page.

Remember that all three sessions will be available on replay through September 10 for everyone who registers for the full series. The cost for all three sessions is $90 ($30 each).

You may choose to register for individual sessions – the cost for that is $40 each and there will be no video replay available.

For more information about the full B2W experience and links to register,
check out the page on this site right HERE.

Next Tuesday’s blogpost will be about the first day of the series, My Favorite Sings: A Tag-Team Vocal Boot Camp, and the fantastic teachers who will be joining me.

Stay Tuned

 

B2W – Meet James Valcq!

It’s 4 weeks till Back To Whatever (aka B2W) and I’d like to take this opportunity to work backwards through the three-day extravaganza and have you meet Thursday’s masterclinician, James Valcq!

James Valcq, composer/conductor/actor
James is best known as the composer of the Off-Broadway musical The Spitfire Grill (Playwrights Horizons, 2001), which won the Richard Rodgers Production Award administered by the American Academy of Arts and Letters (Stephen Sondheim, chair) and received Best Musical nominations from the Outer Critics Circle and Drama League plus two Drama Desk nominations. Written with collaborator Fred Alley, Spitfire has been produced over 700 times in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. James is the composer/author of Zombies from The Beyond which opened Off- Broadway to critical acclaim in 1995 [I saw it at both the Skylight Theatre in Milwaukee and Cardinal Stritch University, and honestly, it needs to be performed more often].

He has composed scores for Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Door Shakespeare, The Passage (with Fred Alley), Victory Farm, and Boxcar for Northern Sky, and Anatole for First Stage. During his decade as co-Artistic Director of Third Avenue PlayWorks [TAP], James created the Irving Berlin cavalcade Say It With Music, reconceived the opera “La Serva Padrona” as Maid to Marry, and created a new adaptation of the 1910 musical Madame Sherry. His monodrama Velvet Gentleman was named “Best Performance of the Year” by Green Bay’s WFRV-TV in 2017 and 2018, and his 2019 restoration of Gershwin’s La La Lucille [which featured MVSMKE alum Ryan Cappleman as well] broke audience attendance records.

Broadway credits as conductor and/or musician include Chicago, Flower Drum Song, Cabaret, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Other conducting credits: Maurice Sendak’s production of Really Rosie; Candide, Lady in the Dark, South Pacific (Skylight Opera Theatre); and She Loves Me (Indiana Rep). Television appearances include The Today Show (NBC) and Musical Theatre: New Directions (PBS).

Directing credits include Zombies from The Beyond off-Broadway, Northern Sky’s The Spitfire Grill, and TAP’s The Glass Menagerie, The Drawer Boy, Candide, and The Amish Project (among many others). Favorite acting roles include Cosme in Souvenir (Boise Contemporary Theatre, American Stage Company, TAP), Feste in Twelfth Night (Door Shakespeare), Ernie in Guys on Ice (Milwaukee Rep), Tuttle in La La Lucille & Philippe in Madame Sherry (TAP), and Pierre in How I Became a Pirate (First Stage). James holds an MFA from New York University Tisch School of the Arts and is a proud member of the American Federation of Musicians & Actors Equity Association.

James was profiled in the December 2018 issue of American Theatre magazine.

[Fun fact: We were in the chorus together at Skylight Opera Theatre way back in the 19… never you mind…]

The focus of his masterclass will be “Finding The Emotional Truth in Golden Age Theater Songs.” (Because angst existed before Rent.)

Shows pre-Sondheim are often thought of as superficial, old-fashioned, sentimental, and having little to do with contemporary values and issues. (Check out this excellent and quite accessible 2017 research paper from Danny Adams at Illinois Wesleyan University for more on these prejudices.)

As Roger DeBris put it in The Producers,

Max Bialystock : Up to now, you’ve always been associated with musicals.

Roger De Bris Yes! Dopey showgirls with gooey gowns. “Two, three, kick, turn. Turn, turn, kick, turn!”

But if you think about it, there are a lot of themes covered in Golden Age era musicals that remain relevant today:

    • spousal abuse and suicide (Carousel)

    • racism (Finian’s Rainbow, South Pacific)

    • stalker (Oklahoma!)

    • gang violence (West Side Story)

    • the rise of fascism (Sound of Music)

    • classism (My Fair Lady)

    • labor unions (Pajama Game)

And even when things aren’t quite that heavy, the characters still have real emotions to convey. Yes, “Many a new day” from Oklahoma is kind of a drippy song, but why is Laurey singing it? What is she establishing about herself? 

(Honestly – I’ve always found Laurey to be kind of a drip. But maybe the Laureys I’ve seen were singing their songs superficially and hadn’t found their emotional truth.)

Don’t be that Laurey.

 


Five singers will sing for Mr. Valcq. Each singer will get 15 minutes in which to perform a Golden Age-era theater song in its entirety, after which Mr. Valcq will coach them on the nuances needed to get to the truth of the song, and consequently, of the character.

Registration for the 3 day B2W series is $90. To sing for Mr. Valcq in Thursday’s class on top of that, the fee is $15. All registrants for the 3 day workshop will have access to a video replay through September 10.

Singers who only wish to take the Thursday masterclass will need to pay $40 plus an additional $50 to sing. There will be no video replay for single-session registrants.

There are only five spots available – I believe I have 3 filled so far.

 

For more information and registration, please check out the B2W page or message me directly. I’ll be happy to help you out
with any questions you might have..

 

Back to Whatever

I am thrilled to announce that I have gathered together some fantastic folk for a 3-day series I’m calling, “Back to … Whatever!”


Back to Whatever workshops and masterclassThis series is intended for:

  • People returning to auditions for choir, performances (professional or community theater), college, school arts programs after a summer (or let’s face it, a year) where you might not have had the opportunity or inclination to do much
  • People who want to learn more about pop/rock repertoire and styling, especially if you are a musical theater student or teacher
  • People who want to learn about the emotional depths to be found in Golden Age theater songs – because angst existed before Rent (as would be evidenced by my teenage diaries)

On Tuesday, August 31, I will be joined by Songwoods Studio owner Aimee Woods of Fort Collins, CO and Phyllis Horridge of Phyllis & Friends Singing Lessons in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for a tag-team vocal boot camp I’m calling, My Favorite “Sings.” In this 90 minute session, we’ll lead attendees through some of our favorite vocalises and then offer technical advice on a song that everyone should know (there’s a hint as to which one in the title of session). Singers will be muted when working through the exercises, but volunteers are welcome to unmute themselves (one at a time, of course!) to demonstrate specific concepts. More info about Aimee and Phyllis next week.

On Wednesday, September 1, we will be joined by certified Rock the Audition Coach Heather Statham from Atlanta, who will provide information about:

  • Pop/Rock Generalities
  • What to Look for in Choosing Repertoire
  • Pop/Rock for Musical Theatre

More info on Heather to follow!

And finally, on Thursday, September 2, we will be joined by James Valcq, who is the composer of The Spitfire Grill. In addition to composing, James is also a director, a pianist, a conductor, an actor, and an impresario,. And most importantly, he and I were in the chorus together at the Skylight in Milwaukee wayyyyy back when. Much more information to come about James next week. .James will be conducting a masterclass on the topic of finding emotional truth in Golden Age theater songs. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about this.

The cost of all three of these sessions is $90 and will include video replay up through September 10 for all registrants.

Individual sessions may be purchased at a cost of $40 each and will not include the video replay bonus.

Performing in Thursday’s masterclass will be an additional fee of $15 if you’ve purchased all 3 days and $35 if you’ve only registered for that day. I think I have all my performers,

I created a new webpage for this event, which you can find HERE. More information and registration links (for either individual sessions or the full three days) are on that page.

Save $30 by registering for all three AND get the video replay for a week following the end of the series.

I was going to open registration tomorrow, but today is my blogpost day, so this means those of you reading this today get an advantage!

Today ONLY, save an additional $25 on the three day option (the same rate MVS students will be getting) if you use the code B2W0729.
Register HERE.

 

Big Fish, Small Pond?

If you are looking at colleges for music or theater (or anything else, for that matter), the question arises – should I strive to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

If you are looking for individualized attention from a small faculty and the opportunity to perform throughout your entire college career, a small college (or pond) might be exactly what you are looking for.

But not all small ponds are created equal.

I have a pond in my backyard. There are fish, and toads, the occasional snake (ew), and a lot of plant life. My pond has a water pump to keep the water aerated, and a filter to sift out icky stuff. And I have a husband who cleans out the pond in the late fall and prepares it for the spring in late March or April (I’m certainly not going to do it). As a result, my pond looks like this:

 

The O'Meally pond

If I were the one in charge of pond maintenance, it most likely would look like this:

Stagnant Pond | A few pictures of an algae choked stagnant p… | Flickr

This is a stagnant pond. Oxygen does not circulate. Fish die. It breeds bacteria. Nothing grows here.

Check out the schools you are looking at. Are the students thriving? Are they going on to careers in their fields or to graduate schools of note? Are the performances of quality?

Would you be the best performer at that school as a freshman?

As self-affirming (or self-aggrandizing) as that might be, you really shouldn’t be. There should be room for you to grow and get better.  You shouldn’t be taking up all the room in the pond. Plus it isn’t reality-based.

Check out the pond in which you’ll be swimming for the next four years. Is it one where you’ll flourish? One where you’ll stagnate?

Conversely, if it’s too big, will you get lost in the weeds?

Or will you find a school that will inspire you and encourage you to swim forward with a common goal?

School of fish
(See what I did there?)

This has implications beyond school. When I was moving from Milwaukee back to Baltimore, we were remodeling our entire second floor (ah, timing!) and I had a chat with our British plumber/bathroom designer, who was really quite the artisan. Of all our subcontractors, he was the best and most thorough in his work. He asked why I was moving and I said that I needed more of a challenge in my performing. He told me that he got that – he used to be a bass player in London, and while he was not the best bass player, there was a lot of session work to be had, so he played all the time, and he played with some fantastic colleagues. As a result, he got better. He HAD to in order to keep up and continue to get hired at even better gigs.  When he met a Milwaukee girl and followed her to Wisconsin, he had fewer places to play, and colleagues who weren’t at the same high level he was used to playing with (sorry, Milwaukee, but, hey, it was London). So he stopped playing. And he missed it terribly.

It may well be that you decide you want to take up residence in a small pond. And that’s fine.

But make sure it’s one that can sustain life and growth.

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If you are looking to grow your craft, stay tuned for information on an upcoming series of workshops with nationally known teachers and a masterclass with an acclaimed composer/conductor/multihyphenate. Full details coming in Thursday’s blogpost or you can click here to get on the mailing list for more information. 

Choosing Authentic Repertoire

I have several rising seniors who will be auditioning for college in the upcoming year, as well as younger students who will be considering this as well in the not-too-distant future. The most important thing we need to do in the next few weeks is to select repertoire for their auditions. Specifically, repertoire that shows them in their best possible light, and in which they can find something authentic that speaks to them as expressive human beings.

In listening to Dr. Nicholas Perna on the January 31 episode of The VocalFri podcast,  I was struck by a particular quote and had to stop walking the dog for a second so I could listen to it again and dictate it to my Notes file on my phone for use in this very blog. The quote was:

“When we see a genuine performance, we see an artist taking hold of their own repertoire.”

(FYI, I was listening to this in June – I was really behind on my podcasts, so I wasn’t stopping on an icy pavement.)

For me, the most authentic repertoire I have chosen has been music for themed programs, whether those are classical recitals (my Joan of Arc concert at HCC in 2016, the “Woman’s Life & Love, Yesterday & Today” concert of music by Schumann and Maury Yeston a year or so later) or my cabaret shows (Oh! to be a movie starIf music be the food of loveThe Not Here Cabaret, I can definitely say that I took hold of my repertoire in those performances. And I was very satisfied with those performances.

But then again, by that point, I was not a teenager or an undergrad,  and I’d had the life experiences to know what was going to work for me.

For the students I’m referring to, they can choose their own repertoire to a certain extent, but I’m expected to guide them in those choices. I am looking for songs that are

  • age appropriate
  • voice appropriate
  • ethnically/racially appropriate (no cultural appropriation!)
  • emotionally appropriate
      • And ones that they like.

Because if they don’t like it, they’re not going to learn it. At least not as deeply and truly as they would a song that speaks to them.

And sometimes they might like it, or think they like it, and it checks all the boxes as far as appropriateness, but for some reason, it does not work.

Case in point – I sang on a spring-themed Baltimore Musicale program a few years ago. I chose three songs for myself, and one was by Brahms. I’ve sung a lot of Brahms in my life. I love Brahms and I think his music fits my voice perfectly.

I could not memorize the words to that song for love or money. I wound up making a joke about how I was reviving the tradition (according to Anna Russell) of the German lieder singer not memorizing lyrics, “but carry[ing] them on the platform written in a little book.”

It did not feel authentic. And the joke fell a little flat, TBH.

The other two songs did, but that one did not. Not only because it wasn’t memorized, but it didn’t speak to me. I didn’t sing badly on any of the songs, but I wasn’t emotionally attached to that song, and I think that’s why I simply could not memorize it.

My goal as a singer and as a teacher is to select music that not only will feel authentic, but allow the singer to be their most authentic self. Not a copy of someone else (cough Lea Michele cough) but to find their emotional truth in the telling of the story of the song. 

Take hold of your performance and choose authentic repertoire for yourself. If you are working with a teacher, work with your teacher to find those pieces.

I’m not telling you to reject songs outright – a song that might not seem right for you at first may turn out to be the most impressive song in your audition package. Keep an open mind and an open heart. But ultimately, know yourself and be your own advocate.

Choosing authentic repertoire

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If you are curious about how to find the emotional truth in your song
(particularly in a classic or Golden Age song), click here to receive info
about an upcoming masterclass featuring a well-known conductor/composer
(as well as two other valuable workshops in the series)

Amateur or … Duck?

As I was preparing to write this, I was looking for graphics for the word, “Amateur,” and the word “Dabbler.” I was able to find pictures of the former, but for the latter I found a picture of a … duck.

Amateur or Dabbler

A few weeks ago, I started working with an adult student whose husband had bought her a 4-pack of lessons for Christmas 2019 (pre-pandemic). Both of them are also friends of ours, and her husband is a professional musician as well. When I contacted her to set up lessons, she told me that she had felt a little nervous because she knew how I felt about dabblers.

And that made me feel like a terrible snob. And made re-examine what I mean and what I’m putting out there – and how it might discourage someone from taking lessons, or singing at all, for that matter.

Merriam-Webster defines an amateur as 

one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession

The word “amateur” comes from the Latin “amatore”, meaning “lover.” On Quota, self-proclaimed amateur writer Dushka Zapata defined the word as “someone who does something for love rather than money” or “someone motivated by love rather than money.” That is something that is to be acclaimed and is often valued more than those who are doing something for a living. For example, as a professional church musician, I have had multiple people say to me, “You sing at church for money? You should be singing for the love of G-d!” (That’s a whole ‘nother blogpost.)

Synonyms for amateur include admirer, devotee, but also less positive ones such as dilettante, putterer, and, yes, dabbler.

But “amateur” is not what I mean when I say I don’t enjoy working with “dabblers.”

Again, turning to Merriam-Webster:

Definition of dabbler
Someone who is a lover of something, who pursues it, studies it,  engages with it, is not a dabbler. That is not a person who is approaching something because it’s a lark or something different to do. Dabblers are the people, for the most part, with whom I’ve worked in the past who have lost interest because they’re not fully invested. In fact, the definition for “dabbling” on Merriam-Webster refers to it as being “superficial” or “intermittent.”

I did not know that “dabbling” also means to feed in shallow water, either just below the surface, or occasionally going in headfirst, but never too deeply.

Mallard Pair Dabbling

Can a dabbler become a devotée? Of course. There are many things people “dabble in” before they decide what to focus on, whether it’s for a career choice or a hobby.

If you truly love to sing but don’t want to do it for a living, I say, more power to you because making a career from singing alone is extremely difficult. If you are devoted to singing, and want to learn how to do it better for your own sake and betterment, you are an amateur in the best possible sense. And those singers motivated for love of singing and expressing themselves through singing are the ones I want to work with.

So if you are considering voice lessons, and you know that you love singing and want to put the time in to develop your craft, and you don’t want to duck the responsibility involved (see what I did there?), don’t feel that there’s no place for you. Sing. Join a choir. Sing at parties with friends. Take lessons from someone who also loves the craft and wants to help you develop your skill.

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And with that mind, if you are looking for a teacher, I have some openings
for the 2021-2022 term, starting September 7.
You can either commit to a 20-lesson “Busy Professional” Package,
a “Pick-4” Package, or drop-in from time to time.
Find out how to work with me

 

Tune Up and Tune In

(Yes, I forgot to write yesterday so this is a day late)

Do you anticipate returning to auditions/rehearsals for:

    • School?
    • Choir?
    • Community (or professional) theater?
    • College?

And you really haven’t done all that much over the past year of pandemic? Or even if you have, you feel like there’s more you can do?

Do you need a tune-up?

Or do you feel like you need to tune IN to your craft?

Because I can’t go more than a few weeks without planning something, I will be holding three back-to-whatever workshops/masterclasses the week before Labor Day. There will be no lessons that week, but there will be things happening. The tentative time slot will be 6-7:30pm EDT on each day.

I’m still in the process of figuring them out. I have someone lined up for the Wednesday slot, but we haven’t made it official. I have reached out to a nationally known conductor/performer/composer for the Thursday slot. I am planning to have Tuesday be a vocal boot camp of sorts featuring two other teachers and myself.

Cost is also still TBD. People can spring for all three days or individual days. Performing in the masterclass will, of course, be more expensive than just auditing.

In other words, more info to come – in the meantime, save the dates!

Bac

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If you want to tune up and tune in, but want to do it one-on-one,
you can work with me! Taking new students for the
remainder of summer and for the 2021-2022 term.

What is a plagiarized performance?

Yesterday I was watching a Facebook Live done by my business coach, Michelle Markwart Deveaux (of faithculturekiss studio for voice and acting and the Speakeasy Cooperative), and she was talking about the difference between teaching and coaching.

As voice teachers, our job is to give information to our students. This is fine – this is the reason why many/most of our students come to us in the first place. Coaching, on the other hand, is intended to give specific prescriptive advice to clients based on their individual needs.

I’ll write more about the specifics of coaching at another time, but one of the points was that a coach helps people through a process of self-discovery and, in the case of voice lessons, have them learn to trust their own sound. While mimicry might be a tool to find out where different sounds “live in your mouth,” we need to make certain we aren’t giving “plagiarized performances.”

A plagiarized performance is one that is taken by listening to/watching a singer and imitating everything that they do – phrasing, dynamics, even diction choices – in a public performance. The term comes from Michelle via Meredith Pyle Pedley, another voice teacher (and recent NATS Intern) from Los Angeles.

Many young singers are guilty of this because they listen obsessively to a song and sing it just like the artist who created it. And there is something to be said for historically informed performance practice, particularly in classical music. It very well may be part of the process and the journey to finding your own voice as well as the voice of the storyteller. But when you become a professional, you need to be able to make choices that reflect your own abilities as a performer and storyteller and not as a mimic. And, unfortunately, some professionals don’t always know the difference.

Take, for example, this performance of Barbra Streisand in the 1968 movie Funny Girl, singing “Don’t rain on my parade.” (As I’ve mentioned before in my very first blogpost, this is the song that set me on my own journey to becoming a singer.) Her phrasing, her diction, her dynamic choices, are all what makes her an artist.

In 2009,  Lea Michele sang the same song on the TV show Glee. Not only did she sing the same song, she sang every phrase, every syllable, very dynamic exactly the same way that Barbra Streisand sang it.

And not only did she sing it that way on Glee (in which her character was, admittedly, inspired by Barbra Streisand), she sang it that way at the 2010 Tony awards (can we talk chutzpah?) and again at a concert in San Francisco just three years ago.

This is a plagiarized performance. 

Here’s another example of a singer who makes this same song her own. The late Naya Rivera also sang this song as Santana on Glee in season 5 (by which point, I will admit, I had stopped watching). While there are a few similarities in phrasing (and perhaps you could call those historically informed performance practice), she takes risks and makes choices that make the song her own and not a transparent rip-off of the original (too harsh?). It is an homage to the original, but goes in a new direction that is Naya’s/Santana’s.

This is not a plagiarized performance. It is an original performance – she is not telling Someone Else’s Story – she is telling her own.

Because when it comes right down to it, we have to find our own voices and we have to trust them.


Don't plagiarize your performance - make your own kind of music.

As Mama Cass sang, you’ve gotta “make your own kind of music – sing your own special song.” (And yeah, she did it a little flat, to be honest, but it’s still an authentic and honest piece of storytelling.)

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If you’re curious about how to find (and ultimately trust) your own voice,
find out how you can work with me!
At Mezzoid Voice Studio, you’ll get not only the tools
to build your technique, but someone who will help guide you through
the storytelling process to make a song your own.