Sunday, May 24, 2015

Terminology and Responsibility!

Sunday musings...

I have seen much discussion this week about terminology in singing.

We, as a community of singers and teachers and coaches,  use vocal terminology often without thinking about it.

So why blog about it?

Because there is a responsibility we must take more seriously about our teaching and coaching when using terminology;  and there is a responsibility we must take as singers more seriously to understand and translate!

First and foremost,  are we, as teachers,  aware of the vocal terminology we use?  Are we prepared to address it,  define it,  and re-define it fully for a singer to translate it into their consciousness and their physical instrument?   This is crucial.

I believe,  my philosophy of course,  so if it's not yours no worries, I'll sleep well:  I teach the SINGER,  then the material.  I do NOT work out of a "manual".  My job is to find the singer where they are,  not for them to walk into the studio and try to figure out what I want.  To me, that's ass-backwards!

So,  I must be very present in order to access what the needs of the singer are at each session;  what we are working on in an overall arc;  where they are in that process;  where they are with ME in that process (trust takes time!);  and what reveals itself in a moment to change the direction suddenly if needed.

If I, the teacher, am not present,  I am not serving the SINGER.  Nor am I serving the profession of singing. 

But, that's just me.

I do not believe one size fits all. 

As a young singer,  when given terminology,  I took it literally.  And when I asked why, often I was met with resistance.  Sadly, I still see that today.  Many use terminology that they simply cannot explain.  They cannot describe what it means as it pertains to the task at hand, or the singer at hand.  And sadly,  much of our current terminology is just incorrect.  Yes I said it.

I really encourage teachers and coaches to keep asking questions.  Find answers.  Discover new ways of describing technical behaviors,  physicality,  acoustics,  resonance,  vibration. Or simply, learn what it is first before you start using over-used words that mean nothing and can put singers at risk.

Singers, it is your responsibility, because it is YOUR voice, to ask questions until you get an answer that is real, and one you can work with;  to keep exploring your knowledge outside the studio about voice, the study of voice and YOUR voice.

Real teachers aren't afraid to say "I don't know but I will find out for you!".  Real teachers are never lax about their teaching and often have a voracious appetite to learn more too.  Find one like that.

Question your knowledge of general words in the lexicon of vocal-speak.  I am not even going to call it pedagogy as many are incorrect.  Figure out why it could have been talked about that way, and find out what the true physicality is behind it in order to give a more accurate and more obtainable result with a singer.  The more ways we, as teachers, as able to bring some of the pedagogical principles to light,  the more possibilities a singer has to access it fully!

If teachers do not understand WHAT they teach, then a singer has a hit or miss chance.  If a singer doesn't understand what he/she is DOING, then when they enter the business of show and translate literally what someone outside the studio is saying literally,  someone who knows even LESS about the voice in most cases,  they are screwed.

Think about it:  all theatre terminology is in opposition:  stage left, stage right, downstage, upstage, etc etc.  We learn it, we get it into our bodies and we don't think about it - we just do it.

Perhaps we must discover what the terminology of voice actually means, and get rid of the words and phrases that make no sense - literally or physically! - to what we are doing. 

To take that responsibility means focus, time, and attention.  It means being present every step of the way. 

Ask why.  Find out why.  Find out why not.  Don't just use the words if you don't really know what they mean.  If you cannot define it fully, then it's not realized. 

Take full responsibility of your terminology and how you use it.  Challenge its use in yourself. 

It will make you a better teacher, a better coach AND a better singer.

Language has agency.  Therefore, it is crucial we use it well.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Audition is About YOU!

Sunday musings...

Auditioning has come up again and again - of course.

Some of you freeze, some of you hate it, some of you love it,  most of us view it as a necessary evil.

So, what is it? REALLY?

Guess what? It's about you.

It's about you doing your research on the company, the casting director, the artistic director, the "who's who" in the room;

It's about you doing your work on your voice and your repertoire that you are going to audition with;

It's about you doing your research to understand what you are actually auditioning for and what the requirements might be;

It's about you figuring out what flatters you physically, because we see you first;

It's about you figuring out how you walk into the room;

It's about you knowing how you come across honestly;

It's about you learning how to reveal only what is necessary;

It's about you being comfortable in your own skin,  in your own preparation,  in your own time, and being okay with that;

It's about YOU.

Thinking about THEM simply takes you out of the game.

What are you there to do?  Are you prepared to do that?  What have you done to get you there?  Are you present in that knowledge and that commitment?  

There are no apologies, no "yeah, buts",  no self-sabotages, no over-revealing, no over-sharing,  no extras. 

Auditioning is like a job interview, yes.  Even more intimately,  auditioning is like a first date.  If it's not a blind date,  you have done your research.  If it feels like it might be a good match for you,  you are simply focused on getting a second date!

Revealing too much on that first date can make them suddenly have an emergency and leave; or simply not call you again.  Be aware of what you are revealing.  DECIDE on that.  Nobody needs to know everything on a first date.  The panel doesn't have to see all of it at an audition.

They need to see just enough to be intrigued enough to say "hmmm, let's call her/him back."

Write your audition script,  but be prepared to stay present enough to improvise when needed.  Don't sabotage your script.

I often do workshops on the authenticity of auditioning.  Something as seemingly frivolous as knowing what foot you used to step into the room with allows you to remain present and focused.  You'd be amazed at how many of us are already over at the piano before we walk into the room! Literally!

Nerves are nasty things sometimes.  However, I have learned to look at nervous energy as a sign that SOMETHING IS IMPORTANT TO YOU.  So hone the nerves.  Focus them.  What do you want to focus them for?  What can you focus them away from?

Know what happens when you aren't present and the nerves take over:  do you laugh?  Do you talk too quickly?  Does your speaking voice get higher?  Do you walk too quickly? Do you "snap" your answers?

We have to practice the audition to actually stay present in it when it happens.

Do it in front on the mirror.  Do it with friends you trust.

Be aware of how you come across, and if you don't know, ask someone you trust.

If it's important to you,  you have to find out what happens and how you come across.

It's all about you.  Make it count TOWARD getting that call back or that possibility!

Be prepared.
Be focused.
Be serious about the work,  and not take yourself so seriously.
Do the research, including the research on yourself.

Write the script.  Play the script.  Know your actions, and your decisions and your motivations.

Know who that person is who walks into the room.  Know that person intimately.  Know how to play that person.  Know how that person responds, and reacts.  Know what you that person will reveal and nothing more.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Path to Where?

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms and nurturers out there today and every day!

I have written about path and journey before, but it has come up in several places over last couple of weeks and I thought it was time to explore it again.

What about that "path" and where are we going?

I am a big "why" person:  when singers come to consult with me, or study with me, when colleagues make statements and their language reveals something to me that is larger than the statement, I ask WHY?  I don't do it to be a pain in the ass.  I query in order to find the truth in the language that is being used,  or the way in which someone is hiding in plain sight.

Language can also reveal stagnation,  self-sabotage, or simply just not knowing, no experience, no true discovery yet.  None of that is "bad" on its own:  it simply reveals to the listener where that speaker is. 

Some of these "paths" queries come in question form, and some in statement form.  They are still queries.

As a singer,  no matter the genre,  we do not have the luxury of a one-size-fits-all path.  If you are going to be a doctor, there is a protocol that gets you onto that path, along that path, and when complete it, you are a doctor.  Voila. 

We do not have that clarity. 

What we DO have is the luxury of self-discovery and creating that path that will be uniquely ours.  It is scary, frustrating, annoying and exhilarating and exciting.

So where are you going?  Sometimes that determines where you are, and will allow you to see for yourself what you need to create that path.

Often, we must work backwards from the question, or the statement we reveal.

Here are some examples:  When a singer walks in and says "I wanna sing at the Met" or "I wanna be on Broadway"  guess what my first question is?  Yes, you guessed it:  "why"?

Often the allure of the unknown is bright and shiny and the reality of what that actually MEANS hasn't sunk in.  What does it MEAN to be ready to be there?  What do you have to do?  Do you have enough bread crumbs to weave yourself back to where you actually are right now, in order to build a focus of intention to that particular goal?  Why is it that important to you to be "there"?  What does it represent to you? 

Other examples:

"I don't sound like xyz;  I need to sound more like that so I can get a job."

Again, I ask "why".   Language reveals.  This is a goal to disaster because sounding more like so-and-so isn't going to get you a job.  Sounding more like YOU is going to get you more like YOU, and if they want YOU then YOU get the job.

"I want a career."  And again, I ask "why"? and "doing what?"  What does the word "career" mean to you? 

Often, those "lofty goals" will change as you become more and more clear about who you are, why you are, and how you are.  They become less important because the path becomes clearer in its specificity of NOW.

What inspires you?  Who inspires you?  Why?

Are you aware there is a difference between making music and making a living making music?

Do you have talent, tenacity and training and the eagerness, energy & focus to hone all of it?

Wanting it doesn't make it so.

We often still hear "If you want a career you must do...."  as if there is a holy grail of knowledge that creates a career path. 

That just isn't so.  Not as performers.

You can be talented, go to the "right" schools, sing for the "right" people,  apply for the "right" programs, and still be sitting at home with no career.

There are others that don't "follow the protocol" of "right" - and somehow they develop a career.


Well, a little bit of luck doesn't hurt.  Being in the right place at the right time doesn't hurt. 

And the big one: being READY in case it's time.   There is nothing worse than missing an opportunity because you weren't ready. 

And what is ready?  Revealing YOU through your craft.  Claiming YOUR authenticity through the medium you wish to be seen in.  That means training, and discovery and self-discovery, and more honing, and more training, and more discovery!

I have been listening carefully to the language used by people in the business - be it opera or music theatre - and it reveals the same:  "That sounds great on you."  "You wear that well."  "As soon as I heard him I knew he would wear this character well."

It's about YOU being ready.  YOU.  YOU to step in and embody that song, that role, that repertoire.

Not you sounding like the other people that wear that;  Not you doing what everybody else does; Not you  pretending;  not you "schmacting";  not you "winging it";  not you "faking it til you make it". 

JUST YOU.  Developing, evolving, emerging, finishing.  YOU and your craft.

So, the path to where exactly?  Are you going to be YOU when you get there or did you forget that THAT path - to the authenticity of YOU - is more important than anything else?

You want a career?  What are YOU doing to make it happen?  Have you developed YOU enough to have one if it arrives?  Do you understand all the components?  Can you do them all?  What are you lacking?  What needs more YOU?

Ah, the questions reveal where the path is - and guess what?  Once you start to answer the questions, and DO the are ON the path.  The path to YOU. 

Let that guide you to the potency of destination that will keep morphing and growing with you.

The day we "arrive" is the day we quit growing. 

The path is whatever you choose to forge.  It's how you take it on that matters now. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

I Know...But...

Sunday musings...

How badly do you want to be an artist pursuing a career?

How hungry are you?

Do you know what you need to do, and how to do it, how to find it, how to evoke it, how to develop it, how to challenge it,  how to see it,  how to discover it,  how to claim it?

If you don't,  are you willing, able and ready to find out and actually DO it?

I see, too often, people who say they want a career, yet even when given the information, don't actually do anything with it, and then will say how frustrated they are.

As I get older, my shorthand gets shorter.   When I see that,  hear that,  my response is:  figure it out or do something else. 

And let me tell you a little secret:  it's okay to do something else.  Everybody isn't going to have a career.  How talented you are isn't really the issue.  Some people just cannot, will not, don't know how even if it is explained to them,  DO what I just asked above.  Period.

Not having a career doesn't mean you don't have artistic value, can't perform,  can't be involved in theatre or singing, or something creative.  It just means you don't make your money doing it.

That's okay.  Why pretend?  What's in the way?

As I have said many many times, delusion is a great protector against stress.  At some point, however, that protection is going to snap, and then what?

YOU are your product.   If you aren't honest about how you are seen,  what is seen,  what you have TO be seen, then how do you know how to sell it?

Your product needs to be known.  Honestly.  You need to be using the tools of the business in a way that gives you VISIBILITY.   Are you doing that?  Do you know how to evoke your type/your person/your product through your head shot?  Through your website?  Through your video and audio clips?

And as I ask this,  I hear:  "I know...but..."

Well,  my dear snowflakes, if you KNOW, then why aren't you DOING IT?

Procrastination,  excuses,  all the "buts",  are your way of stress management,  and preventing you for doing anything and coming to the honest truth of what you really want and why you want it.

I heard someone say last week "in the last 15 years of my career".   The absurdity of that comment as part of this person's narrative was astounding,  as there has been no career.  Pursuing a career?  Maybe, but very loosely as nothing has happened;  Actual career?  No.  That would assume making a living at it,  really knowing what you have to offer the business, and how to do it.

We all,  at different times, due to our capacity for self doubt,  make statements that aren't quite right.  It is a coping mechanism.  I get that, trust me.


Now it is time to shit, or get off the pot.

If you KNOW,  then do it.

If you KNOW,  then why aren't you doing it?

If you KNOW, then why don't you know?

If you DON'T know, then ask.

If you ASK,  expect some answers, or expect more questions that YOU and only you have to figure out.

If you ASK,  prepare to hear the truth, not what you want to hear.

If you WANT it,  you have to work for it.  Nothing is handed to you on a platter. 

If you WANT it,  how hungry are you?  What are you willing to do?  REALLY??

Where are you in the development of your craft?  How do you know?

What do you want to do with that?  Why?

Says who?

What are you passionate about?

Just because you did a BFA or a theatre degree or a BMus, or something in the arts, doesn't guarantee nor preclude you are having a career in that focus.

If you say you want a career,  why? 

Have you figured out what you NEED to begin that journey or restart that journey or get you onto the right path of that journey?

Have you started to pursue those necessary steps?

Or are you procrastinating?


Have the excuses started already?

I know...but...

But what?

YOU are the business.  If you want to be in the business,  your product has to be purchase-ready. 

You have to hone that product to make it purchase-ready.

The business of you doesn't have anything to do with the artistic you. 

This is business. 

There is an enormous difference. 

If you don't figure that out,  should you really want to pursue a career,  then the business will make a decision for you,  and will simply call   "NEXT!"

YOU have to know.  YOU have to hone.  YOU have to present it to them or you leave them making their own decisions or dismissing you.  That's up to YOU.

This means getting to work.  This means getting to nitty gritty of how you are seen;  what your energy reveals in a room;  what your voice does;  what characters you will be seen for and why;

Remember, there is ALWAYS a why.  Sometimes we have the power to change HOW,  when we learn the WHY.  However, you are never going to know the how or the why if you don't start asking questions instead of answering "I know..but..."

An excuse never got anybody anything,  except a chance to create more delusion and not move.

Free yourself to do your work - whatever that is - by dropping the excuses. 

Do the work,  or don't.  Claim it.  If you decide, you don't want to be bothered with all of this to find a career path in the business,  then find whatever you are passionate and DO THAT!!!!

Doing what you are passionate about is NEVER failure. Doing something because you think you have to prove it to someone,  or because you went to school for it you have to try,  is just going to drain you and cause you to put up more walls.  You will be miserable,  and chances are you will miss something you might really love doing.

If you have an answer for everything I have said,  as in,  an excuse of why you HAVEN'T done it,  then I would really truly consider what you are doing.  Life is short,  and you don't want to let it pass you by with excuses and "I know, buts".

If you feel motivated again;  if you KNOW where your passion lies;  if you are getting HUNGRY for that career;  if you can not only claim your fears or self-doubts, but realize what you need to do, and are willing to get on that path to do it,  then DO IT!

Start it.  One step at a time.  Create your business.  Develop goals.  Make a business plan. 

Nobody does it but you.  However, utilize the assets around you to help enhance that plan so you can hone it as expertly as you would hone your craft and artistic temperament. 

What is holding you back?



 The answer is NOT "I know...but."

The answer is a nod, a quiet acknowledgement.  Now GET TO WORK ON YOU!