Saturday, October 31, 2009

Monologue Direction for Opera Singers part 2!

Saturday musings - and happy Halloween!

This is a continuation of yesterday's blog...

As you begin to explore the repertoire of monologue/character/type relating to fach/authors/form etc - then you need to find an acting class and acting coach!

Personally, this portion of how we are trained is lacking from the beginning! Opera is theatre and even though voce leads, you MUST have some working knowledge of building a character and being on stage!

So, invest in your craft by finding an acting class that allows you to build on basic vocabulary, or renewed vocabulary, and then find an acting coach who works specifically with monologue work. This can make all the difference in the world to your understanding, your development and your presentation as a singing actor!

How do you find these coaches? Ask! Ask your teachers, ask your colleagues, check out acting schools and email for information about people who teach there who specialize in monologue work and check into private coaching. There are many great coaches who are working in this capacity and there is no excuse to not find them!

Monologue books are great resources and I will give you a few suggestions to get you started on this blog (Thanks Doug for your comment on yesterday's blog...!) but it is important to then read the full play as well. KNOW THE WORK you are excerpting. Just like understanding the context of the aria you are singing, so you should have the same knowledge for your monologue.

Acting with your speaking voice has physicality, melody, rhythm, subdivision, pulse and beat. We work with the musicality of language as actors and then take it deeper into dramatic beat, subtext, breath, resonance and tempo. We have to discover ALL of this to allow for a reality to emerge and make specific decisions to create this reality! The layers of discovery are exciting and tangible if we follow them carefully! Great coaches can help bring this to your consciousness and your physicality with triumph!

So, start digging through monologue books, plays, anthologies of authors, ask questions, explore and development this crucial part of being on stage!

Here are some suggestions of monologue books to get you started that can be filled with great ideas and information and this list is by no means exhaustive! As I said yesterday, Drama Book Shop in NYC is a great resource for material, but also for a staff that is knowledgeable and helpful - another great resource!!!

221 Monologues for Women (and one for Men) by John Capecci

Hope this is helpful...and just a few to get you started!!!

Don't eat too much chocolate tonight and enjoy your monologue exploration!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Monologues for Opera Singers

Friday musings....

The audition season is upon us and once again, I have been working with and helping opera singers with their auditions!

One this that opera is now asking for in the audition in most cases- be it summer program or grad school or stage - is a monologue along with the arias.

Many of you have stage experience but no straight theatre experience so this can be daunting and just knowing where to look, how to look, what to look for is as nerve-wracking as a non-singer being asked to sing!!!

So, with all respect, I would like to share with you some suggestions that if you can use, please do!!! And if you are an opera singer in need of a monologue and you'd like further help, don't hesitate to email me!

First, know specifically what the audition is asking for. If they ask for a 1-minute monologue, that's what they mean. They don't want a 2-minute one...stay within the perimeters of the audition requirement!

If you have NO straight theatre experience or training, DO NOT do classics like Shakespeare or Ibsen or Shaw!!! This would be like an actor who needs to sing for an audition choosing an opera aria when he's never trained!! If you have not trained in theatre and in classical language, text and physicality, leave it to the people who have!!! There is SO MUCH monologue repertoire out there that can work for you and not against you!

Start using your aria text as monologue. This should be happening anyway. Opera is theatre after all!!! Work with your aria text without music. Create the scene with the language ONLY. This will allow you more depth in your presentation, but also begin to acknowledge language as craft, as well as VOICE and MUSIC. Get used to language without your singing voice so you become less constricted and self-conscious.

Find contemporary monologues that use language you understand and language that is physically comfortable. Structure is KEY. You will be able to assimilate the physicality of language into your body with less stiffness, if the structure and release of the language is closer to how you SPEAK! Then it's not "acting", but rather, conversational. It will sound more real and more true.

Allow the monologue you choose to reveal an angle of the fach you sing, and for even more contrast, try to contrast the monologue's energy and focus with what you sing. If you are a full lyric soprano singing all the "death" roles, find something that shows a lighter side of you in a monologue - a bit of humor, a bit of light.

If you are a soubrette and sing the great character roles and humour roles, find a monologue that is fresh and ingenue-like, but maybe shows a deeper more serious tone - or shows crazy - something that the soubrette in your audition arias does not!

The audition as a whole should show dramatic range, not put you in a box!

Choosing your monologue should be like choosing your arias - know what each one does and what aspect of you and your technique it evokes. Show what you do best, not what you'd like to do!

Perhaps you'd like to be a great Shakespearean actor, but if you have never studied Shakespeare in an acting situation and never put it in your body and up on its feet, you can't just DO it!! If you want to learn it, then take some classes, coach with an acting coach and LEARN THE CRAFT!

As much of your audition repertoire is not within the 20th/21st century, this allows you to choose a contemporary monologue from these centuries!

Just as any craft, learning how to DO is crucial! Reading plays, even working through monologue books to associate yourself with the repertoire will be helpful.

The public library can definitely help you in this regard. I also recommend to every singer to check out NYC's Drama Book Shop whether you live in New York or not!!! The staff is brilliant and can be so helpful either in person, online or on the phone. Utilize this resource!

There are online sites that will give you access to monologues - sometimes brand new ones, sometimes, with permission by the publisher or the author.

Don't exclude monologues from screenplays and novels which can be easily worked into an audition. There are great scenes to access here too!

As a singer, it just requires and tasks you to think in the spoken word for a bit...and explore a portion of your craft that is accessible but underdeveloped.

A great place to start is to make a list of characters in books you have read and movies you have seen that you are drawn to. Then acknowledge their "type" and see if it relates to your fach. Then revisit their character to see if there is a monologue - 1 - 3 minutes, or even 45 seconds that is powerful enough to stand alone.

This can then lead you into the realm of theatre and you can explore from Noel Coward to Neil Simon to Tom Stoppard to David Mamet and beyond and through!

Enjoy this crucial and exciting discovery as an acting singer!!! Opera is not just park and honk. It is theatre, and in the 21st century, singers must have a sense of their theatricality in voice and acting, and then a working knowledge of it. GO GET IT!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hiding in Plain Sight - a note to audition pianists!

Thursday night musings...

First, let me say that those pianists who truly understand the art of collaboration - I salute you and couldn't perform or rehearse without you!!! When a singer finds an amazing pianist, you are our strength and our life line and create the support and structure for us to create together!!! This blog is not for you...

So feel free to copy the blog, use my name and leave copies in conspicuous places where those OTHER pianists can find it and read it and maybe realize a thing or two!!!

I have railed on CDs and producers for not paying for a decent pianist; I have railed on singers for learning the art and etiquette of how to prepare for a pianist and treat a pianist.

Now it's the pianist's turn!!!!!

What is going on in the audition room?!?!?!?!? Why are we running into such attitude and lack of respect and frankly, lack of competence from the bench????

I don't need to get "diva" 'tude or blatant disrespect from the bench, especially if, as a singer, I am prepared and treat YOU with respect.

And why is it that the pianists who are less than competent are the ones with 'tude???
Compensatory behavior really needs to be relaxed, and perhaps a little more time practicing is in order!!!

So, to those of you hiding in plain sight while sitting on the bench with snide remarks, rude behavior and wearing sunglasses cause you have to play "cool daddy" in your own play - since you CANNOT's a few suggestions...

LEARN HOW TO PLAY THE REPERTOIRE. Seriously. If you accompany ballet classes, don't call yourself an audition pianist. If you don't know the audition repertoire - learn it. If you don't know how to collaborate with a singer - learn how to sing. Playing for an audition is an art too.

IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU!!!! Be as eccentric as you want, but PLAY WELL. This is the singer's audition. Respect that. You are there as very important and vital support staff for the singer who is auditioning. You are there to help each and every singer present in the best possible way! If you see a major faux-pas or flaw that could easily be addressed, don't assassinate the singer in the room and certainly don't start the tear-down before they start singing!!! A suggestion - have your business cards on the piano. After the audition, when the singer comes to thank you and pick up their binder, offer a card and say "email me - I may have a suggestion or two for you that might help".

Singers will love you for paying attention and for offering some advice without tearing them down!

Recognize that singers are spending time and money to coach and LEARN how to treat YOU. Don't disregard them! It costs NOTHING to greet them with openness, a smile (even from behind the shades), and make them comfortable! You have nothing to prove!!!! THEY DO!! Give them support if you see they have made the effort to be prepared.

LEARN SOME SOCIAL SKILLS!!!!!! Holy cow!!!! I mean, seriously...a little common courtesy goes a long long way...

Don't dismiss a singer's request for tempo!! They have worked hard to establish this. Now, granted, they might be nervous and not give you precisely what they want, but LISTEN to them - ACKNOWLEDGE they have tried!!

WAIT TO BE CUED!!! Don't decide when to start - wait for them to acknowledge they are ready and acknowledge YOU. You are there to SUPPORT!!!

If a singer is talking to you about tempo or showing you their cut (as they are taught to do) don't begin playing the song and ignore them, or text on your blackberry, or look around and ignore them!!!! COME ON!!! PAY ATTENTION!! Give them a little respect and recognize what they are asking of you.

Great pianists who work in collaboration NEVER give attitude because they are not compensating for lack of skill or talent. Pianists that give 'tude, generally have small...ability.

Singers - do not associate attitude with great ability!!! Those pianists who are truly gifted are generous, respectful and will do everything they can to give you the support you need during an audition. If YOU disrespect THEM, they will eat you for lunch, and have every right to do so.

Singers, treat your pianists with the respect they deserve; but do not let ANY lack-lustre pianist treat you with disrespect in ANY way. This is abusive and puts your audition in jeopardy.

If, as a CD, I saw ANY attitude and lack of ability coming from the bench during an audition session, I would stop the auditions, reschedule and fire the pianist on the spot. You either work with integrity, or you go back to wherever you came from!

How do you gain respect pianists? KNOW HOW TO DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU DO. PLAY, SUPPORT and DO NOT HIDE behind attitude, flamboyance, eccentricities or excuses. You are there as a professional, so either be one, or go home to your piano and practice a little more.

Singers - demand the best from yourself and your preparation, but also demand the best for your audition!!!

Do not HESITATE to contact a CD if you have a poor pianist and give them a heads up. Sometimes, they don't know!! And often, they will be thankful for the information.

Pianists, leave your personal problems and mental issues at the door - they are not part of the audition process, and they do not have any business in the room! The singer has nothing to do with your break-up, your ADD, your lack of funds, your hangover....(yes - I have heard ALL of these and yes, in an audition room!)

If you want respect as a professional, BEHAVE as a professional - in word, deed and attitude.

And to those who do: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Audition Material for Music Theatre

Sunday musings...

This topic comes up constantly, as it should!

So today I am going to take it from another angle - from a BUSINESS angle.

This is always so difficult for us, as artists, to make this leap. We must recognize that the audition is to get the JOB and SHOW SOMETHING SPECIFIC about what we do. It is not about anything more!!! When we book the job, THEN we can begin the creative process and create!!!

So, these are my musings, and my opinions on developing that audition material.

It should be morphing and changing, as your voice matures and develops, as your psyche evolves and as your tastes and your type change!

However, when choosing repertoire, I believe it is important to know PRECISELY why you are choosing it and what it shows and and what it SHOULD show. And then, can you do that?

You cannot think like an artist in these situations!!! This is where we get into trouble and make it more complicated than it needs to be! We need to be precise, and in that precision, we will know what to choose and why to choose it!

First and foremost, do you connect to it? If you don't, it won't be authentic. There is so much marvellous repertoire out there - there is absolutely NO REASON to be singing something you feel "beige" about!!! Sing it cause you WANT TO!

Let's walk through an example (sung at a recent workshop - so thanks Michelle for being my example!!!)

Meadowlark from The Baker's Wife. This is a marvellous song!!! It is a narrative - shows great arc of story-telling and intimacy of acting intelligence. It shows line, language, and it exposes the beauty of voice. It can utilize mix, chest, belt, and higher extension.

But what about the audition material?????

None of this matters in this piece for an audition!!! This song is a bitch to play if you set it infront of a pianist, so that's a strike against you immediately. If you decide to use it, you might want to get your 16 cut re-arranged with an easier piano arrangement.

And narrative, intimacy aside - what does this song show in a 16 bar cut for an audition? It is simply that ascending line at the end "My beautiful young man and I" - which moves from mix to belt or mix-belt - which is ALL they need to hear!!

So what does this song show in an audition? More uptempo, rhythmically complex, and if you have a great mix and middle voice and can truly mix belt or full belt that last note and let it ease out of the ascending line without a bump, voila - TRIUMPH!! THEN DO IT! If you can't - pick something else!!!

There is really nothing else in the song that is easy to cut or shows anything exceptional for an audition (other than the piano reduction is STUPID hard and you don't need to put your pianist or yourself in that situation!) so if you like this song, great. But for an audition, can you DO the cut? If yes, use it! If no, FIND SOMETHING ELSE!!!

Getting the idea?

So the questions are these: What do you do well? What are the CUTS that show that off? And then, what is the required repertoire to show that?

Don't show them what you can't do; what you would like to do; what you THINK they want to hear! Show them what you CAN DO and what YOU WANT THEM TO HEAR!!!

If you are more an actor than an "voice" - in other words, if your acting intelligence is stronger than the beauty of your voice, then don't pick a cut that is rangy and shows the flaws! Pick a cut that is character driven and allows the acting intelligence to shine!!

If you can't belt, don't!!!

Don't copy or mimic!!! MAKE THE CUT YOURS!!! Sing it with YOUR VOICE!!!

Know your strengths, and expose them!!! You can find your strengths in every genre and every era of your audition book! If you lead with your strengths and you know PRECISELY why you are using a particular song, and finding that precise cut to expose it, then that audition piece has a REASON to being there...just cause you like it, doesn't make it a good idea!

Be BRUTALLY HONEST with what you can do. Again, a song in the context of a show, or a song in its individual context can be marvellous and wonderful, but perhaps for an audition cut, it won't work. So save the song for a concert or cabaret or something! Find something else that will give you the audition cut that will serve you perfectly!

Find the keys that serve you best! There are many on-line services and marvellous people out there that will transpose and arrange for you - find your cut and make the investment if necessary!!! It will serve you well in the long run!

Just keep reminding yourself the audition is different from a full song performance!

Find the cut that serves you and know what you want to show with that cut! Don't settle for "meh" when the repertoire exists out there to be "wow"!!! It takes time to discover it, but it is WORTH THE DISCOVERY because you are worth it!

Sing it cause you love it; sing it cause it shows your strengths; sing it cause it is WOW in your voice; know SPECIFICALLY what is shows about what you do!!! AND THEN DO IT!!!

More to come...

Friday, October 23, 2009

How Large is Your Spirit?

Friday evening musings...

It seems so much of our business brings certain levels of rite of passage, but what about acknowledgement of work accomplished by the artist?

And I mean, acknowledgement OF OTHER ARTISTS.

Why is it so difficult for some artists to acknowledge and applaud the success of someone else? Why must we be stingy and rude about our affirmation of others who are achieving and achieving a standard? Is it really costing us anything to acknowledge this? The only thing I believe it does, is enlarges the fact that we are not where we want to be - so instead of it reflecting on the other, it reflects back on us and our sense of self.

By acknowledging other artists, we are only uplifting ourselves and our art form. Applauding another artist for the sake of isn't always necessary, but when the standard is met or exceeded, what does it cost us ultimately to give it up!?!?!? Do we think by ignoring, making excuses or finding negatives, that we are uplifting the art form or encouraging the artist?

Artists by nature, give. They do not squander. They do not lie. They do not quibble. They tell the truth. If a performance is fine, we must acknowledge that, in order to build up that artist, build up our art form, and in doing so, build up ourselves!

Those that choose to find nothing good to say EVER need to re-evaluate why they are there in the first place. There are many who are willing and able to put down what we do; we do not need to do it with each other. Honesty, yes. But jealousy, pettiness and meanness, are unnecessary and frankly, show lack of respect for the art form and the journey to achieve it. Jealousy and pettiness is not artistic. It is demeaning and juvenile. It shows a lack of maturity and evolution as an artist and as a human being.

Each of us as artists brings our own unique gifts to our craft. It is our responsibility and goal to discover these and nourish them, and nurture them in order to find where they must live and grow. If our uniqueness is real, then it can live in its fullness next to somebody else!!! We can encourage each other, without feeling threatened, and still discover our similarities and our differences!

Having a spirit of generosity shows the evolution of your artistic soul. If you have the room to be generous, then DO IT. It does not cost us anything to be generous. Generosity is a gift, not a crime! Being generous with time, encouragement, a smile, only adds to the well being of the one being gifted and the giver!

Being stingy, negative, rude and inaccessible, reflects completely on the one who chooses this behavior. It is complete opposition of what artistry is: creative process to create a living truth.

If we are not prepared to allow this living truth to breathe, we have no business calling ourselves artists.

Artists also recognize sabotage and cruelty and work to bypass it or stop it from happening. Having a generous spirit, does not mean you let cruel spirits treat you with disrespect!!! Generosity of spirit means you also speak as you see it - and in cases such as this, the truth must be revealed!

It does not cost us anything to speak a word of encouragement, or to say "bravo" or "brava" if it is well-earned!

Recognizing and responding to work well done, or work well-intended is as artistic and professional as recognizing when things haven't lived up to standard!!! It is always easier to find what didn't happen well. It takes energy and truth to find the truth and respond to it.

Just saying "that was great" is not enough. This is theatre people! Subtext is rampant!!!!

Say it cause you mean it. Mean it cause it's TRUE.

What does that cost? You aren't losing anything by recognizing and speaking truth. This isn't taking a role from you, nor an opportunity.

There is no shame or anxiety in saying "I wish it were me, but you did a GREAT job! You committed, you succeeded!"

Success in its truest form affects us all. When we recognize it, and rise to our feet to acknowledge it, we lift our art form to another level of achievement and another level of consciousness as an artist feat!

Why must we get petty and jealous and immature? It only shows our inability to truly be ready to be the artist we claim to be. We are not going to get all the roles we want; when someone gets something and achieves something with it, the acknowledgement is CRUCIAL to the development of our craft.

We must develop a sense of spirit to acknowledge excellence as well as inferiority. When we achieve, we need to respond with as much energy as we do when things are inferior!

We must develop our psyches and spirits to recognize we are part of an overall craft. Each of us has a part in that, and a sense of development. We claim it, and we rise to achieve what is asked of us. When we do that, there is no room to get petty. We each bring our strengths and our specialities.

As we become more and more secure with those strengths, we can begin to recognize the strengths of others, and salute them for their work and their purpose and their achievement, as they will begin to do the same for us!

So how large is your spirit? Don't pretend!!! You ARE large enough to acknowledge worthiness, just as you would want someone else to have the same largesse for you.

Acknowledge another artist for the sake of achievement; For the sake of what they bring to their craft and their work. And don't worry about them being better - YOU ARE UNIQUE BEINGS!!! Even if you are the same type, or the same fach, or sing the same repertoire in an audition, you are UNIQUE and bring your life force, your personality, your experience and YOU into the creation of that to make it YOURS. There is NO COMPETITION unless you make it so; and then, it becomes about the competition and not about the art.

Even if you are up for the same role - you aren't going to be able to do anything about how a panel or an artistic director decides. Creating a competition with another singer is simply false! SING! BE TRUE!! Acknowledge that truth in yourself, or lack of it, and deal with it honestly!

As you begin to realize that acknowledgement of truth can be achieved without costing you anything, it will begin to reward you in ways you didn't realize were possible!

Let your spirit live as large as your artistic soul! Acknowledge, embrace and respond! Don't wait for somebody to bomb - but know when it is solid, when it arrives, when it achieves!

It will come back to you ten-fold, and your journey will be rewarded, as you open yourself up to all possibilities!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Please Fix My Voice!

Thursday evening musings, as I re-emerge into the land of the living out of the land of mucus and fever...hope everybody is looking after themselves out there!!

I've heard this line in some form or other repeatedly. "Please fix my voice", "I need to find somebody to fix my voice", "can you fix my voice?"

It occurred to me this week, in my fever-induced state (yes, I am still thinking about singing even then..) how this question, query and statement is actually standing in the way of the singer getting the help they need.

First and foremost - nobody can do the work, but YOU. The statement actually takes YOU the singer out of the equation and leaves you victim and makes the responsibility of success or failure, completely in the hands of somebody else. WRONG.

Your success, and your failure, is YOURS.

What needs "fixing"? You must determine that either by yourself, or with the help of someone with the authority and knowledge. Perhaps you aren't sure what needs work, but you know something isn't working! That is a start! When you are dealing with a specific concern, lead with that, in finding a teacher who can address if fully. You may find what you thought was a specificity is simply a by-product of something else that the teacher is privy to;

Do not ask for magic bullets, magical visualizations, immediate results! Be able to explain what you are dealing with as best you can, and ask for expertise to riddle it out and discover why and what to do now.

I always tell my students that THEY DO THE WORK. Their development and success is THEIRS. I am there to provide the eyes, ears and expertise to guide them, but I cannot do their work. They must develop the tools in which to translate and physicalize and make it muscular and technical behavior.

If you are looking for somebody to "fix" you - I can almost guarantee you, that will never happen. Even if you happen to meet somebody who could actually help, you won't realize the help, because you haven't learned to ask the right questions!!

Nobody can fix anything about you! YOU and ONLY YOU can do the work!!

By assuming somebody else can "fix" you leaves you open and vulnerable to wander from teacher to teacher aimlessly gaining frustration and losing time and money and the will to discover your voice!

What are you needing to "fix"? If you know, then you seek out the person that understands that and is willing to work WITH you to discover how to do just that. If you are wishy-washy and needy, you become your own victim. STOP THAT!!

Your voice is YOURS. You must claim it, and everything that comes with it; Including the good the bad and the ugly. You must be willing to see truly where you are to know how you got there and how you move forward into a more positive and usable instrument! Waiting for a "fix" is self-victimization, excuse-land and does not promote a mature forward moving artist!!

How do you fix your instrument? YOU CLAIM IT. IT IS YOURS!!! Quit pretending, and find out how it works! Find out what isn't working and why. And then get to work!!! The work begins with YOU and your discovery of self. Then it takes time to research and find a teacher that will work with you and recognizes your needs and frustrations. A teacher must be able to hear you where you stand and give you a solid appraisal with definite goals in mind. Life is too short for "Let's just sing and see what happens". Find somebody who HEARS you. Find somebody who CHALLENGES you to discover what you need and who will create a course of study that will EMPOWER you and give you knowledge and practical physical work to create the behavior for your instrument to behave!!

This is work. Finding the right teacher for that time isn't always easy. Nobody said it would be easy. If it is important to you, you will seize it and find it!

Then DO THE WORK. Whatever it takes, however long it takes. COMMIT TO IT if it is what is important to you.

By claiming the work, you claim the results. You cannot blame anybody, including yourself. You make CHOICES. You make a choice, you follow that choice to its logical end, and then see the results - or make another choice.

If you come to me and say "I need you to fix my voice" - I am going to hesitate, and may recommend a psychologist is more appropriate. If you come to me and say " I need to fix my voice - can you help me find the way? This is what I think is going on..." NOW we can WORK!

CLAIM IT ALL!!!! Let it lead you to the truth. Don't let your excuses misguide your discoveries. You find it, you fix it, you claim it!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vocal Health During Flu/Cold Season!

I am home sick today!

Between planes, trains and automobiles, and 50 degree changes from coast to coast - it was bound to happen!!

I decided to speak on this as I am beginning to feel better later in the day, especially when opera audition season is beginning, ongoing auditions for music theatre are in the works, and we are entering flu and cold season!

There was a time in my life when I wouldn't have stayed home today and would have pushed through. As I get older, I don't bounce back like I did in my 20s (!!) (or 30s!) and have begun to realize what my body needs in order to still get work done without compromising my health!

I am no good to any singer in the studio if I am sick. And I don't want them to share their germs with me, so likewise, I do not want to share mine with them.

How are you looking after your general health as we enter the busy season and the sick season? Do you take the necessary time off to get under yourself and get healing again?

If we are going to be in public, and public means people, we are bound to pick up germs at some point! It is inevitable. It's annoying, but inevitable.

So how do you keep yourself as healthy as possible?

I would love to hear your protocols and ideas!

Hydration is key. Are you drinking enough water? I am often guilty of this myself and need to hydrate more regularly when I am NOT in the studio.

Rest. Not just sleep, but REST. STILLNESS. Very important to allow the body to regenerate.

A multi-vitamin with minerals to keep the immune system high is important.

Neti=pot users swear by it. I finally got on the bandwagon last year, and it really does keep the sinuses free of bacteria and pressure. For those of you who are chronic sinus infection prone, you might really want to look into this!

I use zinc tablets - in moderation as it can make my stomach upset. Great for throat ailments like swelling, and for minor laryngitis.

Oil of oregano has been shown to have great antifungal, antibacterial properties when used correctly.

I make a tea that is just chopped up lemons (with rinds) and ginger root in a pot of water. Boil it gently and strain and drink. Great for antioxidants, relieves throat/gland/sinus pressure and swelling and cleanses the system. I drink this often, not just when I get sick!

I use hand sanitizer! DAILY! And wash my hands OFTEN.

Steam is great for moisture and for sinus pressure.

Mucinex is great to break down and move the phlegm when it begins to collect!

Essential oils - peppermint, spearmint, lavender etc - can be soothing and comforting. Find those oils that you respond to and nurture yourself!

As a teacher, and singer, I am using my voice constantly. So, by taking a day off, it allows for vocal rest - which is most important if I am fighting something off. Vocal rest and hydration is key to allow for my health and energy to return.

When in doubt, take a day and REST!!! I have had to learn how to do that - so don't worry if it's difficult for you! I have found that I get healthier much quicker if I just take a day off and nurture myself. Otherwise, the fatigue and ache can last much longer.

Often, after I have dealt with an ailment, taking a massage and/or acupuncture treatment to help move the lymph and energy through the body again can be a marvellous thing! This is NOT an indulgence!!! If you are a teacher and/or singer, your body is your instrument and your instrument is your work. INSURE it through INVESTING in it.

Off to my ginger root/lemon tea and my book...

Look after YOU.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dear Symphony Orchestra Administrations: A Letter of Regret

Saturday evening musings...

Dear Symphony Orchestra Administrations:

I truly hate to have to write you in this way, but I am beyond trying to understand you.

Could the reason your orchestra is losing money, going down the tubes, unable to run a company, is because your heads are firmly up your asses???

Now, don't get defensive!!! It is simply a question, based on some observations.

Orchestral Administration has two basic facets: artistic and business. Why must you disrespect both? I am wondering what the payoff is.

Artists are not difficult. You, as an administration, make it difficult. You refuse to see them, and thus, refuse to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve. A little secret I want to share with you - the only reason they seem "difficult" is because you have refused to see them for what they are, and ask them what would make them comfortable. I can assure you, they will not ask for the sun, moon and stars, but simply to be given respect in action and deed and a paycheck commiserate with their talent and fee base.

We know there is a recession. What was the excuse 10 years ago? What will be the excuse 5 years from now? If you ask an artist to take a pay cut, are you cutting the ticket prices for your season too? Are YOU taking a salary cut? Wouldn't it simply be said that without a season, and the artists to execute it, that you would not have a job, and therefore, NO salary?

Just musing...of course...

Should artists not be respected for their expertise and ability to execute that expertise in the form of craft and performance? Should that not count for something?

And what about that business portion? Why do you continually refuse to acknowledge how business operates? Why do many businessmen and women who are asked to sit on your boards leave - disgusted with the operations of your company? Could it be that you refuse to see and realize how business is done?

If you are a CEO, you surround yourself with EXPERTS to build all aspects of your business - from artistic liaison to bookkeeping - and you don't always ask bottom line - but rather, what do they NEED to function at optimum levels?

Why do I see so many board members, who are highly successful business people, leaving your boards in droves and disgusted by your so-called business operations???

Could it be that your ego and your stupidity far outweigh your ability to run a company? That you refuse to recognize what is best for the building of the company in both the artistic and the business aspect of it? That you don't know how to spend money to make money? That you hide behind whatever is convenient in order to save your ego and not the integrity of your orchestra?

If an orchestra is a business, why is it not being run thus? If an orchestra hires artists, why are those artists treated like 2nd class citizens??? Or worse, why is there a segregation and hierarchy of "star" versus "artist" - at the ego-stricken whim of an administration?

There are egos and personalities in EVERY business. Yet, many are successful. Why are you not? What are you missing? Perhaps it would be better to look in the mirror and actually SEE what's there. Do you know ANYTHING about artistic development, artistic integrity?

Do you know that when you program something on your season, you really should have the artistic talent to execute it???

Do you recognize the difference between "standard" repertoire, like Handel's Messiah, that is much easier to find soloists for, and "specialized" repertoire, like "Kindertotenlieder" that require - perhaps the few people in the world who can do it? Are you paying attention to this?

Why do you advertise concerts and sell tickets, and not have soloists booked?? Do you feel so entitled that you believe you will be able to just find someone without issue and will work for whatever fee you deem "appropriate"?

Why are you consistently seeing the cost of things and the worth of nothing? Cost and worth are not the same thing...Your business sense would tell you that. Do you have ANY sense of that?? Or have you alienated your business liaisons completely - those people who have business sense, acumen and talent - who could help you build this business? Know how to build a business? Would give of their time and talent to do so?

Has your inflated ego and sense of ignorance, and frankly your stupidity, stood in the way of creating a TRUTH through artistic balance and balanced books?

Perhaps, looking at the state of things, you have.

Perhaps it will hurt a little to pull your head out of your ass. But you stuck it up there. We did not. We warned you. Your ego made the decision. It might hurt a little, but you'll breathe a little better and might learn a few things. Like not to stick it up there again, and perhaps spend some time learning about artists, and about business and about - success!

Most sincerely,

Someone who sees you!

Friday, October 16, 2009

What is Elusive About Belt?

Friday musings from Los Angeles...

Belt technique is just as "legitimate" as any other technique! It is a technique to access a certain sound to facilitate a certain style. It cannot be the base of your technique, but it can be an "icing" and be accessed once the voice is aligned and developed in a balanced way.

Belt is not bad. But we must know what belt is!!!

I have written a blog about belt previously - so feel free to read this one too!

Perhaps we should begin to understand what belt IS NOT. Belt is not yelling. Belt is not singing in your nose. Belt is not nasal. Belt is not pushing. Belt is not closed throat. Belt does not hurt. Belt does not wreck a voice.

True belt is based on a balanced instrument and a well-supported and engaged breath energy. In fact, the instrument MUST be balanced in order to find this fine-tuning we call belt!! Belt takes even more breath and more support suspension!!

Belt is "one gear" in its execution. There is not room for dynamic or gradation - it is 6th gear and go! It is brassy, without push; it is wide, without spreading; it is compact, without collapse;

Can I teach you how to belt by writing about it? Nope. You gotta come into the studio and WORK to learn how to do this properly. Reading about technique only gives you a portion of information. Hands on "doing" is how we integrate technical behavior. And hands on with a teacher who knows how to access it is key!

I often have singers come in who want to learn how to belt. When I hear them, I have to be honest: the voice needs further alignment FIRST before we begin the belt. If the basic neutral of technical behavior is not engaged yet, belt will be futile!! THIS is where singers get into trouble - trying to create a technical behavior before they are ready. It's not just for belt!

When we try to do something before we are ready, it can often lead to more issues - and with belt, those issues can be extreme!!

True belt cannot be integrated into an instrument that hasn't found balance yet!! Those who believe they are belting on an uneven foundation, end up creating a faux-belt which causes major vocal and physical issues. MTD - muscle tension dysphonia - is a major issue for faux-belters, when the laryngeal balance has not anchored correctly first. Register transfers can become frayed and fragile, and often "holes" in passaggio can occur because of tension, pressure, tightening and too much sub-glottal pressure. Faux belt can cause cord issues - inability for closure, pre-nodules, calluses, and the like.

So before you begin the journey of belt discovery, get that instrument aligned and balanced and suspended!!!! Let the belt be an extension of that alignment, not the primary development of your voice! Find a teacher who understands the physicality of the belt and how it grows from the neutral balance of your voice! Remember, belt grows OUT OF and is NOT IMPOSED UPON!

It requires careful, intense muscular development - and within YOUR instrument!! You cannot make your instrument into something it is not. But you CAN develop the potential of that instrument to its fullest if you are HONEST, FOCUSED, and ready to work at it!

Belt is not elusive. It is simply an extension of you - within the boundaries of your voice. Find it through healthy exploration so you develop a TRUE belt, not a faux one!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

But I Need to Learn to Belt!

Thursday musings from Los Angeles...

I often here this from so-called "legit" singers in music theatre. I have written a blog entry on belt and will elaborate more fully in future blogs.

Again, learning HOW to belt and DOING it are two very different things!

Belt within the music theatre arena, is a style associated with a type of character, and then can be a developed technical balance associated with tone and technical choices.

Learning the technique of belt is one thing - what is required of the muscular balance, the breath, and the support as well as the language is one thing. Executing it, maintaining it and ENDURING it are quite another!!!

So my question to the "but I NEED to learn to belt" is simply "Why?"

Belt is not a parlor trick. There is NOTHING about vocal behavior that is a trick!!! Ironically even though we use "belt" and "legit" as terms, the technique of "belt" is a "legitimate" technique!!! I often work with so-called "belters" who find out very quickly, they haven't been belting at all - but that's another blog!!

So the "why" of needing to learn to belt is very important! First of all, can you learn the technical behavior of belt? Then can you learn how to make it muscular and execute it physically? And then, can you infuse that technical behavior stylistically? And then, can you maintain a consistency and authenticity of style and physically while singing a so-called belt role?

Not all voices are the same!!! Some voices have the physical attributes to maintain a health belt, and some do not. Some voices are more suited elsewhere!

And here's the thing - not all roles are belt roles!! If you are an ingenue, yes, you are going to have to access chest voice to some degree, but belt? Certainly not in the fullest sense and belting a song like "If I Loved You" ain't gonna happen! Ingenues are not belters!

By learning HOW to belt, will it give you more access to different balances in the voice? Absolutely! Could it create more sense of a mix-belt in the lower extension when needed? Absolutely!

I am always amazed when a young light soprano with glorious high notes wants to learn to belt! We always want what we do not have, and don't realize that what we have someone else wishes they had!!

First and foremost, discover WHO you are in your voice - and then extend it. Trying to be a belter if you are truly an ingenue is just setting yourself up for disaster!!! If you are a more "legit" voice, then CLAIM it and develop it fully to be the best "legit soprano" you can be!!! (all examples of course!) If you know what your voice does best, claim it and lead with it!!! Nobody wants to hear what you don't do amazingly well. There are others who do that well. Find YOUR strength and lead with it.

If you are a "legit" type, then nurture that and make it impossible for others to look away! Trying to be something you are not is creating delusion and ultimately frustration and disappointment. Again, wanting and reality are not always the same thing.

Not all music theatre roles are belt roles!!! In fact, the irony is, most are not! Many of the contemporary theatre musicals have more mix and mix-belt in the styles that are presented, but then it is a matter of allowing the technical facets and demands to meet the physical behavior of the singer to determine how the execution is handled in a healthy and artistic way!

Learn to belt - but learn what belt is, and how to access it PHYSICALLY within your own instrument. You cannot change the natural balance of your instrument. But you CAN discover what that instrument can truly do!!! Give yourself time to discover and find it ALL before you start making judgements or demands on it!

Know WHY you need to learn how to belt and recognize how your instrument fits in the scheme of music theatre types. Before that belt, know the type you are going to be seen as and heard as - and develop that first!!! If you aren't a true belter, learning how to belt can be an enhancement to an already claimed instrument, instead of the "I wish I were a belter so I'm going to be a mediocre singer, trying to belt" syndrome.

BE HONEST. DISCOVER. ASK QUESTIONS - of yourself AND your teacher and coach. Get the answers that make sense, not that make you feel better! LISTEN to the answers so you can make the discoveries that are necessary and true.

Learn to do more than accept your voice - LOVE IT.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just Cause You Want It, Doesn't Make It a Good Idea!

Wednesday musings from Los Angeles...

As I heard from many of you yesterday about the blog entry, the next series of thoughts arose from what you are drawn to as a singer, as far as genre, arena, style is concerned.

Being drawn to a genre, and having a physical instrument that can athletically take on that genre doesn't automatically assume you have the goods to sing that style in that genre with authenticity!

We must find out what we are drawn to and why. Again, as I have said in numerous blogs before, it is imperative that the artist not live in a vacuum!! If you are truly on an artistic path, you must be prepared for self-examination and self-truth. Having the honesty to truly see yourself, is CRUCIAL in your development as an artist, and certainly to try to pursue a career in whatever avenue of the business you are delving!

We can be drawn to many genres and styles. Some of those genres are more suited to us just enjoying OTHERS doing them, and some we can explore as possibilities of performance!

A physical instrument and a passion for a genre is not enough! We must be willing and able and capable to delve into that genre fully - to immerse ourselves in the authenticity of that genre and style to find out how it lives organically, how it functions, where it comes from, how it is rooted, why it is rooted. Authenticity comes out of living something true. Authenticity does not happen because you want it to, or because you pretend it to.

A great example of this is R&B music. Many of us are drawn to it. I happen to love R&B! But just because we are drawn, does not mean we have ANY business singing it even if our physical instrument has the capability!!! Have we done our research? Do we know where R&B originates? Do we know the historical and musical development of the genre and the many styles within that genre? R&B has as many complexities as the history of opera! There is nothing simple about it!

As with any genre, we must understand the differences between styles and traditions. A style represents something; a tradition LIVES something. A style can be "put on", but a tradition must be lived in, absorbed and translated from the inside out.

We have seen and experienced authenticity and lack thereof in EVERY genre, arena, style of music. Stereotypes have grown out of the lack of authenticity of genre - from opera to jazz to music theatre!

Often when we say we "hate opera" or "hate jazz" - we are generalizing a response to the lack of authenticity we have seen and experienced by someone who should not have been singing it!!!

"Stylists" are rampant in our business. These are the pretenders, the dabblers, the finger painters. They are in every genre and in every arena of that style. From a distance, they seem to wear the right artistic clothes, but as you observe more closely, as Sondheim so eloquently put it "sometimes when the wrappings fall, there's nothing underneath at all!"

These "stylists" just brush the surface of a genre, and try to impress, not express. You ultimately cannot express something you do not know!

The self-truth of artistry allows for us to delve into where we are drawn, and once we recognize where we are, and what is there for us to learn, helps us recognize we are not necessarily the artist to bring the truest authenticity to that genre or style. Just cause you want it, doesn't make it a good idea! If we are true artists, and truth seekers, we must have the ability to see this and let it take us into the direction we are most destined to claim.

Stylists are not artists. They follow a formula, not a truth. They surround themselves with further formula to protect, not reveal. They might have the potential to discover but they never have the guts to reveal. They want it because they want it - there is more selfish, than self-less in their motivation and they will create a life around them that keeps that intact.

Artists do not function that way. We are and need to be driven by truth, and authenticity and have the guts to go deeper and higher and if need be, walk away knowing more but taking that knowledge into another genre and arena.

So, as you discover what your physical instrument is capable of, and what you are drawn to psychologically and emotionally and spiritually, you must then be aware enough to discover what you can DO and what is better left to somebody else. This does not mean you can't EXPLORE because that feeds and informs too! But just because it's there doesn't mean you should have it!

If you SHOULD have it - then really CLAIM it!!! Don't choose to be stylist if you can truly be an artist!! If you are going to DO something - DO IT FULLY, not half-assed! Ultimately it takes more effort NOT to be found out and creating a delusion than it does being authentic!

Discover, explore, claim and LIVE your craft!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Psychological Voice

Tuesday musings from Los Angeles...

As I spoke of the physical instrument yesterday and its requirements and required demands depending on the genre and arena, the next exploration is the psychological aspect of voice and the PERSON behind it.

This topic could be a thesis, and obviously I shall maintain an overview to make it readable (I hope) in touching on this subject and allowing you to explore what comes out of it as you read...

Being a singer has many complex levels of physicality and consciousness. Just because some levels and prowess exist, does not mean they all do and that they are all able to connect at the same level.

Having the physical instrument is only one aspect - albeit an important one - to being a singer!

The psyche of the human being informs that physical instrument completely. The building of that instrument MUST be willing and able to encompass the fascinating complexities of the human spirit, not just the physical pathology.

In saying that, we must ask ourselves what we are passionate about! Just because our instrument can physicalize an operatic sound - does that mean we must be an opera singer? Are there operatic voices that are not drawn to opera? (as an example) The answer of course is yes.

The question then becomes, is our physical instrument in line with our psyche and passion? Can we physically DO what we are drawn to? And if not, how do we wrestle and come to terms with that?

This is why, in my opinion, it is CRUCIAL to explore what that instrument does as neutral behavior!! If we don't discover the TRUTH of the physicality, we are dabbling and creating a facade - and "stylizing" not SINGING! Authenticity of style and genre comes from a complex inhabiting of stylistic commitment to the truth in that style rooted in the physicality and psychology of the singer. Anything less is basket weaving and we've become "the ladies who lunch".

What are we drawn to? Why? What brings us to that place? What is it about the genre, the style, the general arena or the specific stylistic choices that quickens us? If we are to be authentic artists, we must ask these questions and choose to dive in and discover the answers! And the answers will change as we evolve as singers, artists and human beings!

It is not necessarily easier to discover that your physical instrument and your psyche "match" because it then becomes too easy to slum and say "it's good enough" because you can rely on the natural match. This is being a lazy singer and not much of an artist. In many ways, this realization of clear match should be an indication of ignition!!! It's not good enough just to be, but rather, what do you DO with it? What do you do ABOUT it? A physical and psychological "match" now means integration and CLAIMING IT. It just doesn't happen! This is work - but work that is ultimately rewarding and exciting in its discoveries!

And what if the physical instrument and the psyche do not SEEM to line up just yet? Do not get frustrated!! This is an exciting time for you!! This does not allow you to go on automatic pilot, but rather, tasks you to discover the truth of authenticity of self! What a marvelous opportunity!

As singers, and if we pursue truth and authenticity, as artists, we need to follow passion and in that passion discover the true destiny of where our voice inhabits and how it inhabits that space! It may not be where you initially that it was, but when the authentic desire is realized, it will be so much more rewarding!

Perhaps you have a voice that could encompass many or several genres and arenas. As you grow and evolve the genre that speaks to you most clearly for that time will emerge. You do not have to make a decision and stick to it exclusively! We must, as a singers, be flexible, and use our focused periphery to acknowledge changes and growth to the physical and psyche of our instrument!! If we do not, we are dabbling and not truly on the path to artistic expression!

Once we discover where we need to be in this moment, and how we inhabit that moment in our study, discovery, and execution, we truly are "home"!

Doing what everybody else does, or what somebody else says to do, is not authentic. We are relinquishing our truest sense of self and our ability to discover by passing OUR discovery to someone else's external observation!

Dare to ask the questions to discover the truth about your instrument - both physical and psychological! Dare to SEE the truth in plain sight, and then dare to LIVE it and find out where it takes you!

Being an artist is complex, but it doesn't need to be complicated! Take a breath, anchor yourself, and FIND IT!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Singing With One Voice! Part 3

Monday musings from the Land of LA!

Adding further to my blog entries on the "one voice" phenomena (!) your emails and messages have continued to pour in. Thank you for taking the time, not just to read the blog, but also to comment and to email me!!

Certainly, genres and styles inform the physical instrument, but what is that instrument? Is it more suited for certain genres, just in its physicality?

I have to say yes. Even though all voices have the potential to develop physically to allow for stylistic differences, they do not all have the physical specifications for all genres.

Technical behavior does not mean physical power or stamina!

Let's look at the so-called classical field. There are many styles and genres within this field. Not all voices have the size and power to be opera voices. The voice can learn the technical behavior for opera but must function within the boundaries of the individual physicality. Perhaps the voice does not have the size or the power or the penetration that opera demands. Or perhaps, it is more PHYSICALLY suited to early music, or to art song, or to concert work. The physical manifestations of the instrument can often help, not hinder, our decisions and choices.

If we look at our instrument as athletically as any athlete would, we begin to see the possibilities, not the roadblocks.

Not all athletes are built the same. Their body types, strengths, power and sensibility helps to determine their best destiny within the athletic world. All runners are not the same! Long distance runners and sprinters are not built the same, nor do they train exactly the same! Swimmers' bodies are not the same as football players, and basketball players are not built like weight lifters!

All are athletes. All are unique.

Singing is not different.

Singers are athletes. We use our bodies - intense cardio and tangibility of breath with balance and suspension of many muscle groups - both large and microscopic! Ours is about balance and reaction. Our athleticism is even further explored, because it takes into account the physicality of language, pitch and acoustic and more!

Our first goal is to discover the athleticism and determine what it does when it is lined up and healthy and ready to inform! Then, and only then, can we determine, from a PHYSICAL aspect, what that instrument's physicality can DO. What are its attributes within the genre we seek from a physical and athletic perspective? What is its scope? Its dimension? Its penetration? Where would it be best served, from a physical standpoint within the genre we seek?

Simply put, if the physicality of the instrument cannot just make enough noise to be an opera singer and cut through an orchestra and maintain a certain level of intensity, it doesn't mean there is something wrong with the instrument! It just means, that instrument is not physically built for that kind of demand! So, what demand is it built for? This is our quest as singers!

What does the physicality of your instrument indicate? This is a pursuit that is often not discussed fully or honestly. Trying to make an instrument something it is not, is creating failure and disappointment that is completely unnecessary!

Discover the voice within YOUR athleticism! What does that athleticism indicate? Are you willing to embrace that and develop it or are you going to keep mis-guiding yourself and never find the honesty and truth of your unique instrument?

Potential is spinning in circles if you never REALIZE it. Realizing potential reveals possibilities.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Singing With One Voice Part 2

Saturday musings -
based on your emails and the comment of yesterday's blog entry...

What is truly allowing style to inform the voice?

This is ultimately the goal no matter what style or genre. We want to sound authentic IN THAT STYLE.

First and foremost, it requires training the behavioral muscles to BEHAVE! The technical behavior of "neutral" must line up in order for register transitions and natural resonance to be balanced and even. (Simplifying obviously!!!)

Then, we WORK! I shall use S's comment from yesterday's post as an example to draw on.

What does a director or CD or MD mean when they say "I don't want to hear a classical singer singing legit MT music". ???? Well, first and foremost, who really knows if they know what they are saying...but I digress...

Ultimately, if I can be so bold, I would assume this means they want the STYLE of the MT legit as opposed to the operatic SOUND that comes in with the material.

Classically trained has nothing to do with it - ultimately, we should ALL be "classically trained" in the sense that we know how to breathe, support, create an even column of sound and find a neutral balance of natural voice!! We should all be able to have range, dynamic, legato and fiortura NO MATTER THE GENRE WE CHOOSE TO DELVE INTO!!!!

"Classical training" allows for an athletic instrument. How we use that athleticism depends on the demands of the style and genre we sing in.

If you are training to become an opera singer, you listen to opera singers. You listen to what the composers are asking for and what the performance practices are and have been in order to make your stylistic decisions when it comes to language, phrasing, shape of tone etc.


If you are an opera singer wanting to sing Music Theatre then DO THE WORK! Listen, explore, discover the intricacies of the form and the style and how it demands DIFFERENT things from your athleticism and from your instrument.

Ultimately, what I assume that director meant was simply - sound like you are singing Music Theatre when you are singing it, I don't want Opera!!! The term "legit" does not mean "opera". The choice of vowels are different; the physicality of the language is different; the resonance balances slightly differently because of the language; the style of presentation is different! And just as the style of presentation is different from Purcell to Mozart to Puccini to Verdi to Strauss, so the style of presentation within so-called "legit" material is different from Rogers and Hart to Rogers and Hammerstein to Irving Berlin, to Gershwin, to Lerner and Lowe to Sondheim, to Lucy Simon to Adam Guettel!!

To lump "legit" together is saying all opera is the same. Not happening!

The questions are simply: "What does this style demand? What does this composer ask for? And how does that inform what my instrument does? What do I DO to allow this information to live in the athleticism of my voice?"

If we begin HERE, we are pursuing the authenticity of what the style and genre demands and how it is embodied by our uniqueness of voice.

Dare to commitment to the balance of your athletic instrument, but then TRULY DARE to find the truth of style and genre of the music you choose to sing. Do not wear everything the same way!!! Style is not ambiguous or beige!!! Dare to create authenticity as your voice takes on its uniqueness THROUGH STYLE, not in spite of it.

More to come...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Singing with One Voice!

Friday musings...

This question came up this week - "Do I have to sing with different technique or a difference voice if I change styles or languages?"

The short answer is no. And of course, the next question is "why"? and "How do I do that?"

My philosophy on vocal behavior, and thus technical behavior, is that the singer creates a voice that is uniquely theirs. It is built and balanced in a neutral position that is informed by nothing by self. This can be very exciting to discover and embrace - like creating the most balanced, naked mannequin of our own voice. This is what the voice does in balanced behavior.

It is then, and only then, that we accessorize with style and genre and language!!! Within these accessorizes are further technical behaviors to access style/language/genre comfortably.

What does this give us as singers, ultimately? It gives us PRESENCE, UNIQUENESS, CHOICE!

Do you really want to sound like someone else? Be a cookie cutout of another singer? Is that the goal??? I absolutely say NO!! Dare to find your voice - and sound like YOU!

This can be daunting on one hand, as ironically, many singers "hide" in their sound - as it becomes manufactured and mannered. However, finding and claiming the true voice in its physical balance, frees us to the power of what that voice can do in its nakedness, and then ultimately, what it can take on in repertoire choices!

Only when you find that truth of instrument will the genres and styles and languages inform with authenticity. It is truly working from the inside out!

The accessory of style/genre/language will begin to draw out the subtleties of our instrument - and how we can further enhance that which we choose to develop!

Let the style inform the tone. Let the genre inform the instrument. Let the language physicalize its authenticity. English vowels are NOT Italian vowels. French vowels are not German vowels.

Studying voice encompasses the truth of the neutral instrument, and then the authenticity of style and genre and languages. And in that authenticity, the execution of what is required to produce it.

We then find that the physical instrument, although capable, will tend to favor and lend itself to certain genres and language and style. And even more, the psyche and spirit of self will also gravitate toward that physical language more organically.

As the physical language, the organic language, the spiritual language and the soul move together, the instrument transcends and SINGS!!! So many levels of consciousness and behavior come together to become the uniqueness of YOU the SINGER!!!

So ultimately, it is YOU - ONE VOICE - informed by the authenticity of the physical and spiritual instrument of the voice - tangible and intangible - that sings.

The core of your voice remains authentic in order to explore and CLAIM whatever genre, style and language you delve into.

The core of your voice is YOURS. You must find it, claim it, realize it - its uniqueness, its balance, its flaws, its beauty, its LIFE!

If you do not have that core behavioral balance - unique in its nakedness - it leaves all other discovery false and manipulated.

Trust the core behavior. Accessorize with flare and DARE to explore it!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Next Week - in Los Angeles

A quick note - I am in LA next week teaching!

If any of you are out there and need/want a lesson, I have limited space still available, but still have some time Monday and Wednesday only.

Email me directly for more information!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Is It Asking Too Much for a Decent Pianist?

Sunday evening musings...

It's a two blog entry day!

I am asking the question - why can we not have just competent pianists for auditions????

A pet peeve that has once again reared its ugly head today...

Why is it asking too much for casting directors, producers and artistic directors and general managers, if running an open call and claim to have a pianist in house, to have a pianist who can play the repertoire?!?!?

Even if what the artist needs isn't important - don't you who sit at the audition table want your time used well? Why waste it with incompetence??? If the pianist cannot play well enough to support the singer then everything becomes a disaster and a fatigue. We are not asking for outstanding but competent would be lovely.

I did an audition about a year ago that was a disaster - the pianist didn't know the song (!) and said so (!!) and proceeded to GET LOST in a 32 bar cut! After the 3rd time pointing to the music as I was singing to show her where I was, I stopped asked if I could just play for myself...un-freaking-believable!!

Lately a student told me that the pianist looked at her selection and said "I don't think I can play that, what else do you have in your book?" Thank goodness that student had enough grit and centre to say "I am not here to give you something you know, I am singing this - if you can't play it I will sing it a cappella"!!!!

Why wouldn't the "powers that be" want to hear the singer at their best - therefore, provide a pianist who can PLAY THE REPERTOIRE?!?!?!?

What is the difference between getting a less than mediocre pianist and a decent pianist who knows the repertoire and can play it? $100? $200???? Are you KIDDING ME?!!?!??!

That's IT?!?!?! Why not pay the freight and get some decent auditions instead of a disappointing day????

Good and great pianists are worth EVERY PENNY they charge!!! They provide knowledge, support, understanding, musicality, sight reading skills, improv skills, and an incredible asset to both the singer auditioning and the people sitting at the table!!!

Don't just look at what something costs people - but look at what it is WORTH!!!

A good and great pianist is worth far more than what they charge for a day of auditioning. The difference between a poor pianist who doesn't play for singers or for auditions regularly or doesn't coach or know the repertoire and a great pianist is worth their weight in GOLD!!! It can make the audition day go smoothly - singers are happy and can relax and do their best work; the audition panel can sit back and really hear what the singer is capable of instead of guessing around the incompetence of a poor pianist...

Are there good and great pianists out there?!?!? OF COURSE THERE ARE!!!! And if they are treated with respect and dignity, will be more than happy to provide a much-needed service for their fee. They give no attitude, they are supportive and empathetic and will give positive feedback and understanding and provide a service and a spirit that a singer can relax into and therefore, do their best work in the circumstance. What a concept...

If CDS would provide a great pianist - artists would begin to have more respect for the process. They would offer what they really do well instead of trying to guess what to sing in case they get a crappy pianist!

Imagine, singing an audition with something you do well - and not worrying about whether the pianist could play it??!!!!

I would love to see these marvellous pianists being hired to play for auditions all the time - and be given their due! They need to be paid because they deserve to be paid well for their time and their expertise!!

Learn what expertise is worth and pay for it! Know that the results will be beyond your expectations and true artists will have an opportunity to truly show you what they are about in an audition instead of worrying whether the tempo is even close or the notes are right or the rhythms are there.

If it is simply a matter of a couple hundred dollars difference between poor and pathetic to great and marvellous - are you KIDDING ME?!?!?!?

HIRE THOSE FABULOUS PIANISTS!!!!!!!!!!!! We need them in the audition room as artists - and so does the audition panel! I will send you names and emails if you need them!!

Power versus Authority!

Sunday musings...

My husband and I were discussing this last evening - as a second part to yesterday's blog entry.

What is the difference between power and authority?

Simply put, someone can have authority over you simply by their "position"  - a parent, a teacher,  a coach, a director etc - HOWEVER, NO ONE has power over you unless you choose to relinquish it! NO ONE.

Power and authority are not the same thing and are often misunderstood.

As artists we must be keenly aware of the difference and embrace that fact.  Someone may have authority or have the authority to make a decision ABOUT you, but they do no and will not have power over you - your free will and your artistic freedom and expression is YOURS.  

I remember my grandmother telling me this story which encapsulates this perfectly: "When my father told me to sit down, I did; but I was still standing up inside!"

She recognized his authority and followed the rules, but still made up her mind what her core was about!!  

Often I hear from singers who are exhausted by the "power-struggle".  More often than not, it is a game of authority.  Those in authority can often get "power-hungry", however, it is up to us to remember that the power they seek, they shall never possess.  Self-power is about the psyche.  It is the life-force that creates our core and our will and our intensity.  It guides our humanity, informs our integrity and burns for truth of self.  Power is what grounds us; guides us; roots us;  it is simply what gives us purpose.  As an artist, it is what motivates us and what confirms our commitment.

Our personal power is sacred.  It is a life-force that creates, questions, discovers and builds on who we are and who we are becoming as human beings and artistic souls.

If we recognize this sacredness and its strength, we realize very quickly that nobody touches it. It belongs to YOU.  You don't even have to protect it - you just CLAIM it.  By claiming, it knows it is home and will continue to burn and develop strength.  It can only be relinquished if we CHOOSE to give someone else power.  It cannot be taken.  Again, the choice is ours.

By recognizing the strength we possess, that exhaustive battle we often see, can be dissolved quickly!  The authority we must stand under - in our artistic lives and in our personal and social lives - is simply authority.  It is authority that is created by structure and from external force.  It is not power from an internal source!

As we begin to recognize these so very important differences, we can put things into perspective with more ease!  

An example: a casting director or producer does not have the power to hire or fire - they have the authority to make a choice.  We, as artists, can respect the authority and recognize it in its place, and at the same time, recognize they do not have the power to define us.  Even though not getting the job can be disappointing and frustrating, we still walk away with our power intact.  There is no chance anyone has power over you and thus, you are intact and can find your next!  

When we look at abusive situations - be it with a teacher, a director, and in our personal lives - we often marvel at those who can survive this and seem to come through intact. Why? Because they never relinquished their power.  The core of truth was always there no matter how abusive things got.  And at a certain point, they got out - past the authority or faux-authority and deep within never let go of their personal power.  Not only did they survive, they are free.  And they were always free within the sense of self.  Authority prevails only so long.  Power lasts always.

Within our business we run into egos, stupidity, politics, stupidity, misplaced authority, stupidity, delusion and stupidity!!  However, once we recognize the TRUTH of the situation, we are able to handle it with maturity and grace.  We can learn to respect the "office" of authority without bowing to it if it is abused and we can embrace our power and not relinquish it to ANYONE in order to keep our sense of self and sense of artistic spirit intact.

Whether you are in school, out auditioning, working regularly, just getting started or a veteran in this business,  this power vs. authority is constantly being seen.  SEE IT!  Recognize that we often refer to as "an abuse of power" is actually "a wish for power and a abuse of authority".  

We can respect the "office" of those in authority - and what it represents - be it teacher, professor, director, conductor, producer, agent,  etc.  If that authority is taken with integrity, so much the better!  However, we do not need to even entertain the possibility of someone within that office having power over us.  Our power is intact.  It cannot be taken, moved or stolen. 

Walk into that studio space, audition space, rehearsal space, with your power and sense of self intact.  Stand for something.  Express something.  Create something.  

You do not have the authority to give yourself the job - but you can walk in with power and leave with power.  Power is eternal.  Authority is fleeting. 

Claim it. BE IT.  

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Who Are You Trying to Impress?

Saturday musings...

Are you trying to be impressive? Who are you trying to impress?

Okay - it's a setup of course.  Should you be trying to be impressive? 

I don't know what makes me more tired - "jazz hands" perky music theatre types, or holier than thou, indignant opera types...

Neither are impressive in ANY way. Both show they are trying too hard and have missed the point.  The business is full of them.

So - if we are not trying to impress, what should we be doing?

We need to build our artistry and our craft and our integrity in order to CREATE and EXPRESS.  Creative expression outweighs the need or desire to impress and shows an AUTHENTICITY rather than a sense of hiding and pretending.

Artistry is not pretending.  Acting is not pretending.  It is REALIZING and EMBODYING a truth through the means of craft and commitment to that craft.

Leaving an impression is not the same as trying to impress.

So the question we must ask ourselves is this: how do I leave a solid, positive impression through the creation of my craft?

By changing the question, we can begin to discover authenticity. By discovering authenticity, we can walk away from the hiding.  

As actors/singers we are developing ACTION.  Our craft is not passive.  It is in the doing that the reality develops clearly.  If we concentrate on TRYING rather than DOING the focus splits and the truth of our craft is confused with a pleasing that is dismissive.  

Trying to impress someone - be it a colleague, a casting director, a teacher, a director, a producer, a conductor - is fatal and futile.  Trying to impress is empty, phony and tired.  It takes much more energy - and waste less energy - to pretend, which is what trying to impress does.  

Being real, developing true craft and authenticity of artistry and self takes focus and commitment and uses energy in a positive flow. It takes guts; it takes nerve; it takes courage.  But it is REAL and it stands on its own for itself.

Your reality will create an impression.  Your artistry, your authenticity will create an impression.  

So, perhaps, we can change the question to simply this: What impression can I create? What impression do I work to create?  What impression do I CHOOSE to create?

This initiates the artist to work from their own energy.  This allows the artist to be responsible for his/her craft and reality.  

We have no control over other people's responses to us, or to our craft.  However, if we begin from a reality and work for expression, we have the chance to create something true, and leave an impression of what we are about, what we are capable of if nurtured, what we stand for.

What do you stand for?  THIS leaves an impression.  This allows the freedom to express. This also allows the freedom for others to RESPOND and be embraced by this expression.

Trying to impress is exhausting and wasteful.  It NEVER goes very far.  Its phoniness only seeks out the phoniness in others.  It will never embrace or welcome authenticity and only attract others who are phony, and are insecure,  and are without backbone, authenticity or stand for nothing but superficial things.

Trying to impress is superficial.  It is about nothing real or substantial.  It is not a good place to hide!!! In fact, it exposes you much more than you realize!!  The lack of depth and substance by pretending to be full of depth and substance is transparent, irritating and completely stands in way of true artistry and expression.

Are you willing to be real?  Are you willing to explore the truth, in order to tell the truth?  Are you willing to take some risks? Are you willing to quit trying so hard to discover HOW to express authentically?  Are you willing to drop the facade in order to leave an impression that has a truth and IMPRINTS in a profound way?

The facade is not protection.  It is a transparent layer of self-delusion.  We see you.  When you stand in front of authenticity, facade is completely exposed.  When facade stands in front of another facade, there is no sense of truth and nothing can be explored or achieved.  Facade cancels out facade.  

Do you want to keep trying to impress?  Or are you prepared to be real? Are you prepared to stand for your craft?  Are you willing to DO your craft in order to leave the impression of truth and authenticity with the person you stand in front of?

Whether they have the capacity to see you or not, is their issue.  You will then be free to seek where you need to be.  Authenticity seeks its level.  Facade drops to its level.

Choose. It's yours!  

Friday, October 2, 2009

Building your Voice Regime

Friday musings...

I've been discussing this with several students over the last few weeks and thought I would write a bit about it today...

Why are you studying? How are you studying?

Often, we have a large idea of why we study but it never gets more specific than that. When the studying becomes nebulous the development tends to not focus either and we can wander around endlessly looking for a magic bullet but claiming nothing.

I always ask a prospective student the question, "what can I do for you and with you?"

It allows me an opportunity to find out where that singer believes they are, in order for me to begin to assess their needs, wants, realities and possible delusions (!!).

I may hear "I want to be a professional singer", "I want to be a better singer", "I am a dancer who needs to develop my voice", "I am an actor who needs to use my singing voice", "I want to be an opera singer", "I want to audition for singing roles", "I want to be a music theatre singer".

These are the broad responses. These broad responses are important because they create the broad strokes of the end result as it looks at the moment.

What more is there??? Here are the important factors: teacher and singer must work TOGETHER to create REALITY and FOCUS in order to discover what those broad stroke statements mean. It is not, nor should it be left exclusively to the singer nor the teacher. A singer is standing in front of a teacher to discover the knowledge to access their instrument and growth. The teacher is there to meet that singer and impart the knowledge they have to work with the singer.

Vocal and artistic awareness is crucial to this process - from both singer and teacher.

This relationship is parallel in many ways with a personal trainer and a client at the gym! The large goal must be acknowledged to find out how to build a regime in order to build toward that. In the process, we must tailor that regime to accommodate the individual client - physical aptitude, ability, commitment, availability, willingness, and mental aptitude.

This is the same for the singer's regime. An ongoing developmental plan must be blueprinted in order to create the best possible process for that singer! That plan must be focused, flexible and pliable in order to accommodate ongoing changes of direction, psyche, physicality, natural vocal ability, intention, and all the other things that come into play. The regime must be fluid, pliable and PERSONAL.

No singer is with a teacher for the same reasons. No singer sings for the same reasons as another singer. Perhaps the LARGE goal is similar, but the path and the journey is unique and personal, and thus, the regime or plan of study must be as unique and personal as the singer!

The development of a vocal plan or vocal plans, should encompass the large goal - which will be more general, - and with each smaller goal and smaller umbrella of development, the vocal regime or plan will be more detailed and more specific.

These vocal plans should encompass WHAT THE SINGER NEEDS - needs and wants have to be acknowledged as hand in hand in many cases. Often, the need comes before want as it provides the framework to acquire the want. Wanting never materializes without DOING.

So the large umbrella of the obscure goal needs to have footsteps along the way. It is up to the teacher and the singer together to discover these footsteps!! Both need to acknowledge that this creates a much more focused and directed and AWARE developmental movement. It holds both singer and teacher responsible for the process every step of the way!

A singer's goals may change in this process - and this is FINE! Perhaps what you thought was your goal becomes clearer as you as you develop these smaller focused goals in order to move forward. Perhaps your goal COMPLETELY changes directions because you are developing this smaller focused goals!

We must be willing to find these focused developmental plans. We must, as singers, DEMAND to create them with our teachers.

As teachers, we must be RESPONSIBLE to this process. We are required to be honest, forthcoming and clear. We must find a singer where they are, assess their development as it stands and give our professional option of what needs to be done - immediately, within a short period of time and over a longer period of time. We need to recognize that develop can follow its own timeline, and we must be flexible to accept those changes and be willing to adjust to the needs of the singers we work with!

As teachers, we are not readers of the future - and cannot say a singer will have a career , or will not have one. We need to know what we can offer each singer within these small focused goals and footsteps to allow a singer to find the detailed journey they have chosen to walk, for the time they walk with us!

So, begin to ask your questions - of yourself, and of the teacher and coaches you work with. Why do you study? Answer with a large overview. Then, how do you achieve those goals? What are you developing? Where are you now? What seems to be the foremost issue to deal with NOW? What will the next step and the next regime be? How long does that take? How can I watch the progress and see it become behavior? Does my overall goal need to be there? Am I being realistic in ability? Realistic in time?

As an example: if an actor comes to me at 45 and has never sung before, and has no music background, and says her large goal is to be a professional opera singer, chances are that goal is too broad and not completely realistic! However, if that same 45 year old has an aptitude, an instrument that has potential, perhaps the realistic larger goal is to be the best singer they can and audition for community and local productions.

Another example: Perhaps a developing singer comes to a teacher wanting to develop the upper extension of the voice. As the teacher assesses, she/he realizes that the upper extension is not going to happen until the core strength of the middle voice is re-balanced. This must be discussed, examined and a course of action must be given, so the singer can create the TRUTH of the goal-oriented work. Working to discover what NEEDS to be done and HOW to do it, can then take us to what we thought we WANTED in the first place.

So - the questions are to you now - why do you study? What are your goals? Do you discuss and prepare the regime with your teacher? Do you follow blindly? Do you push back? Do you realize your potential by DOING or are you wandering aimlessly? Are you being lead with nebulous "mysterious" no-answers? Or are you and your teacher ACTIVE in your regime and development? Do you BOTH inform the development and the ability of the process? Do you BOTH acknowledge your responsibility in this process?

More specific goals, and more specific work, and WHY will give the responsibility of DOING to both singer AND teacher AND coach. This gives us tangible development - something we can measure physically, technically, musically and artistically.

Creating goals creates responsibility to the process and to the possibility!

Dream - and then realize! THIS is possible!