Saturday, July 4, 2015

What a photo can reveal without your consent!

happy 4th of July to all American readers!

As I continue to work on physical therapy I am always amazed at breath and alignment.

Each must be so tangible and available to us just to move through our lives,  but even more so as singers and actors.

This has been an insistent and visceral theme in my world and of late,  even more so.

As singers,  we have to constantly stay in the NOW to discover how that breath and alignment is working with us,  not against us. 

One of those discoveries can be through a photograph.

Many singers and actors use photos to promote themselves - through websites, submissions, on social media and the like.   Head shots are one thing,  and "performance" shots are quite another.

These performance shots can be very revealing.  I am talking more about you in concert,  you walking onto stage,  you taking a bow,  you being YOU,  not playing a character in a production.

The importance of physical behavior is captured in that instant for all to see. 

Are you aware of what it reveals?  Are you willing to see it as it is,  and then make the adjustments necessary to improve upon it?

Many singers and actors are unaware of how they come across in a room or in a photo.  They simply put the photo up, not realizing that the subliminal response can be just as important as their head shot.

This doesn't mean you can't use the shot:  it means that you need to examine WHY and if necessary, crop the photo to exude only what you wish to be shown.

This demands a great deal of objectivity and not wishful thinking.  This requires you to ask bigger questions of yourself and the professionals you trust to give you the truth and what you need to hear,  not what you want to hear.

A photograph can reveal a professionalism that you embody - or it can reveal an amateurism that prevents you from being heard.  Wouldn't you want someone looking at a performance photo to say "I'm intrigued,  call her/him in!" 

Lately,  I have been seeing too many "amateur" looking performance photos.  You can do better than that;  you ARE better than that!

Use the photos that POP professionally and aren't just "good enough".  If you feel like they are "meh",  trust me, the business isn't going to give them more than a glance.

Energy READS.

If it's a full length photo - are your knees locked?  Is your stance too wide? Is your stance too closed in?  All these reek amateur.

What about your torso? 

Is your chest sucken?  Are you sitting on your solar plexus?  This is an apologetic stance.

Is your chest too high? Is your sternum and ribcage locked?  This often reads as bitchy and defensive.  (P.S.  This was MY M.O btw...I am not immune to these issues either!)

Are you leading with your stomach?  Completely unengaged?  This reads as you don't care. 

If you don't care,  why should they?

What are your arms doing?  What about those pesky hands?

Are you using a mic or mic-less?  If holding a mic,  are you comfortable with it? 

There is a reason to practice with your hair brush in front of you mirror you know...!!!!

Are your eyes open?  Is there something being said there?  Is there passion or fire or engagement?

The photos that encourage someone to enter are the ones that engage fully,  and create an EASE with the body, not a rigidity.

Some of you may ask for examples.  I can't use photos of people and embarrass them so if you want some feedback on yours,  ask me!  Or ask someone you trust who works with you regularly.

Don't forget,  in this day of photo shop you can crop crop crop!  Maybe your face is engaged and your hands are engaged, but your lower body is locked.  Crop it out.  Doesn't mean you can use it!  Just know HOW to use effectively!

In the meantime,  keep exploring and staying present in your body and your breath as you move through your day.  Keep integrating the two;  Sometimes practice without singing - just using the body through a song or aria.  Guide your intentions with your breath.  Make them authentic by making them conscious so they have an opportunity to find an honest spontaneity!

Let your photos reveal something about you that is more than professional or amateur.  Let it give the viewer pause;  and want to know more and HEAR more!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

What is Vocal Technique Anyway?

happy Fathers Day!

First and foremost,  you aren't going to learn to sing from this blog post.  You aren't going to get any 'vocal tricks'  (because they don't exist!) but I hope I can give you some solid information and clear some things up.

Lately there has been so much misinformation,   pseudo-information,  kinda true kinda not information,  being thrown around via blogs, or websites, or YouTube videos.  The age of immediate information via the Internet is always a double-edged sword as you still have to wade through it to find what is real,  who is offered the knowledge and does it make sense.

There was a blog post that was being talked about that dismissed "classical style".  Two words that have no meaning unless they are connected to something.  The young man making these statements has since made his blog "private" which is probably a very good thing,  and sadly doesn't realize what he doesn't know.  I am not linking anything of it here. 

Many singers and teachers are not clear enough about what technique is and how it layers fully.

To dismiss a style or genre just because you don't do it, or understand it,  has no validity. 

When asked if I "teach opera"  or "teach music theatre"  or "teach pop or jazz",  I respond with:
"I teach the singers who sing in these genres."

There IS a distinction.  To teach or sing a certain style or genre ASSUMES you already have access to your instrument fully enough to wear that style.

THIS is technique.

Technique is the true access to the behavior of the instrument in order to work with it fully with ease and clarity in order to move into the genre you say you do.

Great technique develops as behavior.  Physical behavior that is developed over time,  and honed and crafted in subtle ways as one grows and develops in one's craft.

Great technique is not a quick fix.

Great technique is not SEEN - but allows a style,  a genre,  a character to have a place to revealed fully.

Great technique is going to allow you access more of your physicality in order to do what you say you do or what you say you want to do.  It should lengthen your singing life,  not exhaust it.

We often call great technique,  be it voice, acting or dance,  "classical".   Why?  Simply because we are working for a balanced neutral to fully access the FORM of what we do.

The form of what we do always begins and ends with the athleticism of the body,  the breath and the alignment.  Its function is to find a balance of resonance in the vibration of the tone we produce.  Its function is to find a full elasticity of register,  of range, of dynamic;  to develop a physical and buoyant legato as well as an ease and finesse of movement.

Notice, NONE of these things have ANYTHING to do with style.  Style then informs that form.

Vocal behavior must come first.  It must be what we go back to in order to discover without value judgement, what our instrument does and what it needs.

What do great dancers do no matter the style they are dancing?  They go back to the barre.  Back to neutral.  Back to the basics.

If you are an opera singer then you can develop further operatic technique,  and stylistic technique depending on the genre and the composer.

If you are a theatre singer,  then you can further develop specificity to traditional legit technique, or contemporary legit technique,  or belt technique.

If you are a jazz singer,  then you can further develop specificity to register technique, mic technique, use of language technique.

And on it goes...

So often we put the cart before the horse.  We try to develop stylistic technique into the physicality before that physicality has had time to develop,  to understand and to create a place to reside.

This is when we often have to "redo" our technique.  Discovering physical behavior is a constant in our lives as singers.

Asking WHY we work the voice the way we do is crucial in developing the physical knowledge of what it allows for.  If we don't know WHY we cannot make it behavior.

A teacher's job is to find the singer where they are - physically, emotionally, intellectually - and where they are in their physical behavior technically and how they process.  It's work!

As  a teacher,  I am going to demand as much from myself to find you as I do from you to ask the questions to find you too!

So let's consider calling vocal technique what it really is:  an athletic physical behavior that develops the body and the vocal mechanism to allow full access to the instrument in order to begin to develop authenticity in the styles and genres we want to sing in.

Let us not confuse the term "classical" with anything but developing FORM.

Is your voice building or isn't it?

Can you access what you say you do?

Do you have the physicality to access the stylistic techniques in order to be authentic in that style?

Find your instrument first.  THAT is alpha and omega of vocal technique.  It doesn't have a value judgement.  It doesn't have a style or genre.  It's just about you.  What YOUR instrument does when it finds its truest form and can access itself fully there.

You aren't going to know what your voice can do until you actually create a place for it to reside!

So,  drop the wrapping of the style for a moment,  as scary as that may be,  and dare to find what what is REALLY underneath....

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What is Authentically YOU?

Sunday musings...

and if you think by clicking on this post, that question is going to be specifically answered for you by me,  you have more work to do and need to give your head a shake!

This week,  a fascinating thread on a forum page was discussing what was required in the audition room - more about how to dress etc.  Of course,  those that have little experience have the most to say,  and frankly,  are generally more than green, but simply incorrect in their reasoning.

If you think you know what an audition panel wants,  you need to go and sit down.

However, as someone who has been on these panels,  has adjudicated competitions for over a quarter of a century, and knows many a conductor,  artistic director, director, casting director, general director and those others who may sit at the table,  I feel I can offer some advice. 

I am amazed at the absolute false information that is either being 'taught' or being misunderstood by young singers.  It saddens me. 

What is told to me over and over again,  is that the panel at the table is really wanting to meet YOU.

They don't want a character.

They don't want pretend.

They don't want phony.

They don't want desperate.

They don't want annoying.

They don't want know-it-alls.

They want YOU.  (If you are any of the above - knock it off!)

So,  how do you find that?

In an audition,  you have a short period of time in which to make an impression.  Preferably, it's a memorable one, and a positive one.

The authenticity of you is crucial.  Some people find that early in their lives and let it evolve;  some people don't;  some people don't even know they aren't reading "authentic" because they are too caught up in what they think they "should" be doing.

Two things need to go hand in hand:  honoring the OCCASION,  and honoring YOUR AUTHENTICITY.

These are not opposites. 

Figuring out your "style" - how you dress, how you behave, how you enter a room - is an extension of who you are, who you are becoming, and how comfortable you are with that.

Some people need to stand close to the wall.  Some people have no walls.  Embrace who you are!  Figure out who that is,  and how you can infuse that self into how you present yourself and how you embody what you sing when you are in that room.

Of course, the 'schooled'  ones believe everything is ultra-conservative,  and must be "by the book".  If that makes you comfortable,  use it.  We always know when you are green in the audition room by how uncomfortable and stiff the entire energy you bring with you, is.

Just because you were taught a certain way,  doesn't make it so.  Did you every ask why?  If you don't have an answer it's not behavior.  If it's not behavior, it's put on.  If it's put on, it's not real.  If it's not real,  it's schmacting.  If it's schmacting,  nobody is going to pay attention.

Honoring the occasion of an audition doesn't mean you have to be rigid, in a 3 piece suit, or a tux or a ball gown.  In fact, please don't.  That's not the place to be ridiculously formal.

It is also not the place to be looking like you should be on the beach at a BBQ either.

Is it really rocket science?  Yeah, sometimes it is.  Why?  Because fear cripples us.  We begin waxing unpoetical in black and whites when we are just scared.  Sadly it comes across as arrogance and puts us in a further bad light.

It takes a long time to learn how to play like yourself.  Paraphrase of Miles Davis.

It takes a lifetime to learn what notes NOT to play.  Paraphrase of Dizzy Gillespie.

So yes,  you might look very "clinical",  and behave very "grad school",  or "conservatory" when you first leave because you haven't figured it out yet. 

What you have permission to do is to step away from the wall and actually claim something more: YOU.

What aspect of you shines?  How do you discover your own personal style, or flair, or personality that will find its way into every audition and every situation of your world?

Auditions,  if you are a performer and want to perform,  are a necessary evil that you need to embrace.  Why shouldn't YOU come into that room?

How does the personality, the voice, the talent,  the spirit of YOU show itself, not just in how you present the music,  but how you present the full package?

If you are comfortable in your own skin,  that is the first step.

Someone could be doing all the "right" things and still be uncomfortable,  because it just isn't them.  Discovering, and experimenting with your own style,  your own touch,  is worth investigating.  It matters. 

Some guys wear a 3 piece suit with ease and some do not.  Some guys can put a suit together with boots and it works;  some cannot.  Some guys can actually make jeans look great in the audition room.  Some cannot. 

Some women can wear open toed shoes and some cannot.  Some can wear pants and it works;  some cannot.  Some can wear an amazingly bright lipstick while others cannot. 

Celebrate the occasion by knowing who you are and what puts you at ease to present yourself. 

Experiment a little. 

Just like taking the time to find the right repertoire to sing,  discover your personality through your physical style by getting creative there too.

There are no absolutes here.  Just remember the occasion and know you have a great deal of space to claim depending on who you are if you remain authentic.  Remember that style should morph and evolve with you as an artist, as a performer and as a human being.

Take the information you are taught,  and as my father told me,  decide what works for you and then go out and claim more to fill it out!

Nobody wants to see you awkward, stiff or constrained.  Nobody wants a paper cutout of the person who was just in the room.  Nobody wants exact replicas.

They want to meet and SEE,  YOU.

So find out who that is.  Dare to make a "mistake" in the practicing of it all in order to find a better way, and a better you.

Wear what makes you feel like you;  not what someone told you that you MUST wear.

Wear a color/colors that make you feel REAL.

Wear fabrics that give you pleasure and let you breathe.

Style can liberate you,  and further enhance the YOU you wish to be and the you you wish them to see.

What do they want?

They want to see and hear, YOU.

Now that is completely up to you.  Take your time.  Discover it,  uncover it,  rejoice in the uniqueness you bring to it!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Intensive Study

Sunday musings...

I am recovering from a birthday weekend as I enter a new decade and thought I wouldn't be offering a blog post today, but sometimes things come up and I want to share with you!

What of the Intensive Study?

What does that mean to you?  Have you done it?  Do you understand what it means?

As a young singer,  I would make several treks a year to New York City to work with my teacher and my coaches and create my own intensive.  I would be in town for several days, or a couple of weeks or longer if I could do it,  and create a course of study that allowed me to work with professionals I needed almost every day,  or several times a week.  This allowed me to immerse myself in the study of my voice, my music, my craft, language, acting, movement, and more depending on how long I could be in town,  and who was available.

I work with singers in this way regularly throughout the year. Whether it is 3 days or 3 weeks,  singers who are committed to their development commit to their study.  If they are in town for a few days, I see them EVERY day and know they are working with coaches and in an acting class or probably a movement class or at an Alexander Technique session.  I am always impressed by a singer's commitment to their studies and their success by how they study.  HOW you study reveals much about you.  How you DO NOT study, also reveals much. 

Obviously we can talk about it, we can "like" statuses, we can "share',  we can "favorite", we can "retweet" but until we DO IT,  it hasn't truly been realized.

Whether you are in the throws of your degree,  or an emerging professional or a developing professional,  your ongoing study, honing of craft and development is so crucial.  Even as a teacher, I have to keep my skills relevant and clear.

If you don't live in an area where you have access to a regular teacher,  coaches for music, acting and movement, etc - what do you do?    Where do you go?

If you are serious about your voice and pursuing it fully,  the intensive study immersion is CRUCIAL.   We all learn differently,  but often going in and being immersed and then going home to allow all that information to sift through and begin to take shape can be exhilarating and life changing. 

These trips can be exhausting and at the same time,  energizing.  You can be exposed to much information,  challenged by new ideas,  not just in the studios of teachers and coaches but also by seeing live theatre,  going to great art galleries and museums and being in an environment of STUDY that is all about you.

Often, if you create your own program of study, you can take in MONTHS of study in half the time and then take as long as you need to sift through, absorb,  adjust, discover and create more behavior when you get home.

The intensive allows it to be all about YOU.  You don't have to wait til next week,  you get more tomorrow or later in the afternoon.  You don't need to juggle study with laundry with family with chores - the intensive is giving you a focus of study that is about you, FOR you.

If you haven't done it - why not?   Don't pick up the excuses.  The excuse is creating another reason why NOT. 

So WHY do it?

If you say you are a singer, then BE one.

If you say you want to learn, then learn.

If you say you want to have a career,  then pursue what you need.

If you say you want to know,  then SEEK the knowledge.

Sometimes we don't know what we want.  Sometimes we don't know what we have.  Sometimes we need to have a consultation and an intensive to find out where we actually are,  what we actually want,  and how we need to get to the next.

There is no excuse for NOT doing an intensive.  Why?  Because it's about you and can be working into your life, your finances and your needs.  You can plan for it.  You can adjust it.  You can explore it.  You can create what you need and find the professionals that can help you discover YOU.

Read, listen, discover.  Prepare.  Don't just regurgitate - but know what you are taking in, and absorb it!

If you want it,  skimming by isn't going to get you there.

If you want it,  the demand is on you, and only you,  to find out what you need and commit to it!

Here's to you finding what you need,  instead of becoming complacent with what you have.

If you want to be taken seriously,  if you want to keep growing as an artist and performer,  you must keep on the quest of discovery!   I raise my glass to you discovering YOU,  or at least finding professionals you can stand in front of who will introduce you to what you can become should you take on that quest!