Sunday, June 27, 2010

What Inspires You?

Sunday musings...

Have you found a rhythm in your day?

Or have you fallen into a rhythmic rut?

Are you inspired?




Our business can be so disillusioning and often, dismissive and fatiguing.

We know it is a business.

It is simply because it is BUSINESS that we must continue to find inspiration to discover why we do it, and maintain the artistic integrity within ourselves.

It is easy to get discouraged.

It is easy to begin to lose our way.

It is easy to start to flounder or wonder why we do what we do.

It is easy to get tired, to get side-swiped, to even sleep walk through things.

If we are true to our artistry, we need to recognize this, claim it and move beyond and above it.

How?  Find the inspiration.

What inspires us to believe; to think; to become excited about our art; to become infused with energy again?

Sometimes we know and sometimes we discover something new - which is inspirational in its own way!!

Sometimes it IS the theatre, and sometimes it is something removed from the theatre.

It doesn't matter WHAT inspires us, just that it DOES.  Inspiration just needs to MOVE US STRONGLY.  It can even anger us to make a change;  It has to MOTIVATE.   It can only motivate if we allow ourselves to be motivated.

Do you want to be inspired?

My husband and I were in the theatre last week again, at FELA! on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.

Just BEING in the theatre inspires me - the smells, the presences - takes me to my childhood and makes me feel HOME.  In the house, walking across the stage with only a 500 watt work light - all inspirational.

I am inspired by my singers - daily - but even more at FELA! seeing them make history, create history, and give a history lesson, by creating something MORE than entertainment.  They radiated a epic theatrical device that transcended story, feeling, and device.  The show was transformative.  Is that a word? It is now.

This is power.

This is inspiration.

We are inspired when the truth is revealed.  We can't look away.  We can't stop feeling it.  We can't stop thinking about it.

We are transfixed, transported, moved, and moved to ACT and begin to create again.

Inspiration happens like lightening in a bottle - it affects and lingers but cannot be contained.  It is personal.  It is often hard to describe.  It is ALWAYS REAL to the one being inspired.

There is no apology for what inspires you or how you are inspired.

It can happen when you are least expecting it.

Being open to ALLOW for a happening is key.  

Sometimes we have "fall-back inspiration" where we go to be ignited again - a painting, a song, a film, a book, a poem.  Sometimes it's a smell, or a taste.  Sometimes it's a conversation or a sound.

And sometimes, it's a significant insignificance.  Those are truly special.  The least expected inspiration that is meant for only you.

Find inspiration.  Allow inspiration.  Seek inspiration.

This allows for the balance of WHY we do what we do, and why we have to do what we have to do.

We do what we have to because it's business.

We do what we MUST because it is inspired.  It is how we LIVE.  This is artistic integrity.  Perhaps it is your artistic stance that inspires another.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What to Wear to the Theatre?

After another marvellous look at FELA! on Broadway last night, it occurred to me how some people just don't know where they are.

What do you wear to the theatre?

Why does it matter?

Well, it matters when you know WHY you are there.

It has nothing to do with being snobbish, or elitist.

You are at the theatre because you are invited.  When you accept an invitation to partake of something, how you present yourself represents your response to that invitation: do you take it seriously or not?

You would think about what you'd wear to go to a job interview, or even a funeral, and certainly the club, so why not the theatre?

How we present ourselves shows an outward respect to where we are.

We are not in the backyard.  We are in the theatre.

We are not sitting on the couch.  We are in the theatre.

We are not in the park playing frisbee.  We are in the theatre.

It demands a sense of respect,  and a sense of occasion.

Theatre is there to create a truth, to create an escape, to create a deeper look, to create a timelessness, to create a stirring...

It is not throwing in a DVD and sitting around with friends.

The theatre demands from those on the stage, and those in the house seats.

HOW we present ourselves, shows outwardly our respect for the occasion, or the lack of it, or the simple unawareness.

How tragic.

No, it's not tragic in an earth-shattering way.

It is tragic when there is a dismissal of respect.  This is just a simple outward sign of how casual our society has become.

Why wouldn't you want to show respect?

I mean, you don't have to be in a tux or a gown, but knowing WHERE you are should present to you a standard to which you rise to, in order to present yourself.

You don't bring your house rules to somebody else's house!  You find out what THEY do and follow it, or you don't go.

You are in the house of the theatre - and the respect for THOSE rules just seems to not be there anymore.

Last night, I saw everything - from respectful and tasteful, to tacky, to rude.

Jean cut-offs, a wrinkled t-shirt, a ball cap and swimming pool flip flops?! REALLY!??!?


Again, dress for the season, and dress for the occasion.

Just like any public exposure, we SEE you first.  It isn't just the actors and singers on the stage that are seen.

Our costume in the house of the theatre shows our respect, or lack of it, or even recognition of it, to where we are, and who we are in the company of.

Let's have a little pride in how we present ourselves.  Let's have a little accountability of where we are and why we are there and what is expected of us.

If you are invited, respond accordingly.

If I invite someone into my home and they behave rudely, they will be asked to leave and never asked back.

Know where you are,  why you are, when you are.  Behave accordingly.

This isn't rocket science - it just takes some awareness and some respect.  Common sense? Not so common.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What's the Summer for?

Sunday musings...

If you didn't book a summer show, or summer stock, or a YAP, or a film or a...

What do you do?!?!?

Okay my snowflakes (thank you Lewis Black!)...this is YOUR time to get YOU together...

Summer is a perfect time to take that class, to take some more intense craft-building workshops, to maybe take some lessons that you've wanted/needed and haven't done yet.

Summer is the perfect time to get your materials updated.  How's that website going?  (Yes, you NED one of those in this day and age) How about the reel? How about the sound clips?

Are your photos organized digitally?

Do you have your promo materials organized and updated and ready to send out for August?

Even though many agencies and casting companies slow down in the summer, they ARE open for business!

Are you looking for an agent?  Perhaps a good time to submit when things slow down.  Submit AND FOLLOW UP!  Don't expect that submission to be acted upon if you do not follow up.

Find a way to make yourself known to casting directors:  many give workshops! Take them!  It is a good way to be seen, to be heard, to be noticed!  It's called jumping hoops and paying your dues.

In August, things start to rev if you have time NOW, NOW is the time to be prepared to jump in when things start rolling again.

So quit moping around!!!!  DO something for your craft every day!  DO something for your business every day!

Perhaps creating a "Summer Workbook" is in order - repertoire you need and want to learn/agents you want to contact/casting companies you need to sing for...

Then - what needs updating? website? video clips? sound clips? headshots? promo shots? production shots? resume?

Then - what is your 3 month plan?  Your 6 month plan? Your 12 month plan?

It doesn't have to be in stone - it needs to be fluid and real.  It has to be YOURS.

Then - what classes/lessons COULD I take? What classes/lessons SHOULD I take?  What are necessary?  What are "extras"?  What can I afford?  What I can afford NOT to take?

What have I been putting off and procrastinating about?  Why?  What do I need to do to change that?

Summer can be a PERFECT time for the business of YOU.  Take time to enjoy it, but take time to explore YOU.  Create a plan and keep it fluid.  Know it change as your needs and your career shifts.  Nothing is in stone, but if you don't pursue it, it will not happen.

Write out your goals - SAY them out loud.  CLAIM them and claim the possibility of YOU.

Create your path and walk it.

ENJOY your summer, EVERY day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Artistic Value

Saturday musings...

Who really values the artist?  And what is artistic value?

Many of you are laughing - along with me.  When did value have anything to do with anything in this business?  When did LOYALTY of artist have anything to do with anything?

It doesn't.  Sadly.

The value of the artist and the artistic value of that artist has to begin with self.

The integrity of an artist has to begin with the artist and what they bring to their craft.  NO ONE can devalue that.

Many try.  Many try to devalue the artist through many means:  "putting an artist in their place" - by not hiring them,  by promising things and then breaking those promises,  by asking for the artist's integrity to create a project and then summarily ignoring that input - all these things try to devalue what makes a project TRUE.

The irony - it simply radiates the "suit mentality" of stupidity by the company, the conductor, the director, the arranger, the composer that they really are NOT artists and have no real sense of artistic value.

We, as artists need to know our worth.  We need to LIVE our worth.  We need to recognize when others want to devalue that worth and WALK AWAY.

When a project chooses (and it is a choice) to devalue the worth of an artist, or to devalue the artistic value of a project to put bums in the seats, to spite someone, to use nepotism to bring in someone who truly, artistically, shouldn't be there - this ultimately shows the lack of artistic presence/value/integrity of said project.

It also amplifies the lack of artistic commitment from the organization.

If you truly are about artistic value, and artistic excellence, wouldn't you want the BEST you could achieve in a project?

To me, that is common sense.  I recognize common sense is going the way of the dinosaur.

Common sense,  along with artistic values just seem to not exist within many projects.

Ego, self-absorption and attitude seem to prevail too often than not.

When we put ego/false pride and self-possessiveness before the artistic value of a project - the project ultimately fails.

It fails, because it is FALSE.  It reveals no artistic truth.  What it reveals is the lack of understanding, commitment and lack of artistic character.

Make no mistake - some who call themselves "artists" are simply suits posing as artists.  When the clothing is stripped, there stands a poser who is really neither suit nor artist.  They go where the wind blows them.  They have no artistic integrity nor sense of character.  Spineless in fact.

As artists, we have to find the core of self and rely on that - not on the bright and shiny.

If it looks too good to be true - it probably is.

If there are promises, chances are there are not.

The lack of artistic value/loyalty/character will promise anything and say anything to get what they want in the moment, and summarily dismiss the artist when that moment is over.

It truly is a pimp mentality.

Sad indeed.

Again, as I have said before, being an artist has NOTHING to do with being an artist making a living in the business.

It is indeed IMPERATIVE to recognize what you stand for and why in order for you to make it clear what your boundaries are.

Artistic value only has weight when it is lived and breathed.  The true artist does that.  The true artist holds weight because he/she stands for something LARGER and in fact, shines a very bright light on those that are posing.  Those posers don't like to be revealed.

We take on a larger and more dangerous position when we choose to stand for truth.  We take the chance to be ignored and dismissed - not because we cannot do the job, or cannot bring artistic value to a project, but because we are just a little too real for the lack of reality that runs the project.

To those that welcome TRUTH, I salute you.  To those that can put ego aside to reveal the artistic value of a project, THIS IS ART.

To those who dismiss artists due to their own ego and insecurities - you are the ones that seem to work so hard not to be seen.  Ironically, we all see you for what you are and you stand for nothing real or true, and should be ashamed of yourselves.  Sadly, you won't be ashamed because your egos and attitude are larger than your talent could ever be, and you will continue to try to dismiss those who really hold truth and value.  You are not artists.

Artists - continue to demand value: of yourselves, and of others.  Bring the authenticity of your art to the table.  If you are dismissed, you just bought that dismissal due to your truth and their lack of it.

You can walk away with your head held high - because you stand for something real.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Breathe from your Diaphragm"

Saturday musings...

What are these "pedagogical catch phrases"?

Well,  catch phrases perhaps, but pedagogical?  Hardly.

Again, these catch phrases become gimmick and what do they mean really?

The physicality of singing needs to be understood - by both singer AND teacher.

REAL teaching isn't just regurgitating phrases.  Teaching is about passing on true knowledge and understanding.  The teacher needs to know and understand first in order to pass that on to a singer.

So let's examine the phrase "breathe from your diaphragm".

This is totally ridiculous.

Breath fills your LUNGS.  The diaphragm is a muscle.  It is also a muscle that has NO nerve endings or sense of position.  It is a REACTIONARY muscle.  When the lungs fill, the diaphragm  drops and flattens at the bottom of the rib cage.

If we as teachers do not understand the suspension affect of the muscles of the body and how they support the voice and the breath, how can we honestly teach it well?

Repeating what we have been told, in simile and metaphor and visualization isn't going to work all the time!

Knowledge is POWER.

As singers, and students of singing,  we need to explore the knowledge.  We need to research and do the work - in our research and our practicing.  If you do not know WHAT you are doing, and WHY you are doing it,  what is the point?

The diaphragm is only ONE muscle.  It is not the ONLY muscle.  The entire physicality of the body and the position and development and balance of the suspensory muscles as a totality is what makes up the support system and the breathing mechanism!

Knowledge of how the muscular workings balance for support and breath and vocalizing is imperative to how we teach, and how we sing!

Perhaps it is worth exploring the muscle group that affects the breath in support: the sacrospinalis muscle groups.  There is elasticity and release from the head through the pelvis.  It is this elasticity that helps to release THROUGH the diaphragm so the breath can fill the lungs.  The lungs, that are in the ribcage - not in the stomach or the lower back.

"Breathing low"  - another catch phrase, cannot physically happen.  Why? Cause the lungs do not live there! "Breathing high" - doesn't work either!  Breathe into the lungs.  That is the reality.

Ultimately, the diaphragm will do what it is supposed to as a RESPONSE.  You cannot "strengthen" the diaphragm as this works at cross-purposes.  The diaphragm anchors on the inside of the lumbar spine and when at rest, rises in dome-like shape at about 4th rib level - or nipple level.  Yes, that high.

The bottom of the heart and the lungs rest on the diaphragm.  The stem of the diaphragm is actually in several sections, which allows for flexibility.  It is NOT a solid, one-piece muscle.  There are connective tissues at the top of the diaphragm that extend and "pulley" to the back and up through the neck muscles, which help with support suspension from above.

The diaphragm is tent-like in its suspension.  And if we consider the support mechanism as being suspended, pulley-like, and in no way rigid, we begin to realize how much the skeletal system and the full muscular system informs how we support our breath and our sound.

There needs to be stretch - lengthening and widening - in order to create the shift needed.

Ultimately it is not the isolation but rather, the integration of the breathing mechanism with the support mechanism that allows for a balanced coordination.

Breathe from your diaphragm?  Hardly.

Breathe and sing with your body soul and spirit?  Perhaps.  But as a teacher, you MUST KNOW in order to teach it.  And singers, YOU MUST FIND OUT AND DISCOVER and don't just take the catch phrase as gospel.

Vocal pedagogy is not an exact science.  It is also not a simplified catch phrase system.

It is body, breath, vibration and the knowledge in the mind, imagination and the physicality.

When you don't know - YOU NEED TO ASK!  If you don't get answers, or you are given excuses or another catch phrase, it's time to find someone who can give you those answers.

Then YOU must take that knowledge and physicalize it.

Take responsibility - for your teaching AND your singing.  It is YOUR responsibility.

Friday, June 11, 2010

You Gotta Have a Gimmick!

Friday musings...

We truly have become a society of "brand name".  This has seeped into the study of voice.

So often, the VALUE of study is dismissed, and the "bright and shiny" gimmick or brand name is what attracts clients.

We are a society that puts more weight on the COST of something and not the VALUE.

Brand name does not always equal QUALITY.

Gimmick is a marketing technique - it is not necessarily depicting value, depth or quality.  It is SELLING something,  which is not the same as NURTURING something.

When a singer enquires about "what METHOD do you teach?"  this sadly indicates "brand name" mentality.  This indicates a certain lack of depth.

This would assume the person asking knows anything about the "methods" and language and titles thrown around!  Most often they do not.

In my opinion,  a teacher of voice needs to be aware of the so-called "methods" and "gimmicks" and "brand names" in order to answer questions and queries of potential students.

A teacher of voice needs to be aware of the national styles and techniques that are prevalent in the teaching world.

A teacher of voice needs to be aware of the standard pedagogical texts,  schools and the ongoing pedagogical developments in vocal science and writings.

And then, the teacher of voice needs to be aware of who stands before them and what they are there for and what they need.

I was asked yesterday - do I teach a "method"? Is there a Susan Eichhorn Young "method"?

I simply say no.  I do not teach a "method" - I teach the singer.

A "method" to my understanding would be about teaching MATERIAL and disregarding the individual needs of a singer.  Not all singers are created equally and a teacher's responsibility is to meet that singer where she/he is and work with their needs and their voice.


I have a philosophy which serves HOW I approach a singer, how I approach the pedagogical principles, how I approach the ART of singing.

A method?  It is simply the individuality of the singer.

I must assess what I see, what I hear, what I get from a singer and build a course of study that is uniquely THEIRS!

One size does NOT fit all in the study of voice!

If you walk into the gym and work with a personal trainer, and someone 20 years your junior (or senior!) walks in at the same time and you both with the same trainer, there is NO WAY your goals will be the same,  your body types are the same, your abilities are the same, and therefore the workout that the trainer tailors for each of you will be INDIVIDUAL.

Voice is no different.

The study of voice requires a singer to discover depth of purpose,  recognition of what it's going to take in time, dedication, consistency and practice.  It's going to take physicality,  intelligence,  spirit,   breath,  and commitment!  It is going to take WORK!

The study of voice requires a teacher who sees and recognizes EACH INDIVIDUAL SINGER who walks in!  It requires a teacher who is willing to meet that singer individually,  discover what they NEED not just what they WANT,  stay true to the task of BUILDING VOICE NOT GIMMICK and developing a course of study that will further the technical and musical and artistic development of EACH singer - not about creating brand name gimmick as a catch-all!

The study of voice is not the study of gimmick.

The study of voice is not the study of brand name.

The study of voice is not a fast and quick fix.

The study of voice is not the study of becoming famous.

The study of voice is not the study of mimicking.

The study of voice is not the study of impressing.

The study of voice DEMANDS an honesty from both singer and teacher.

The study of voice DEMANDS WORK from both singer and teacher.

The study of voice requires DEDICATION from both singer and teacher.

There is no room for automatic pilot, for gimmick, for brand name.


Then, and only then, does the voice of a singer have a chance to find itself.

Gimmicks?  Leave them for the used car salesmen.

Art?  Technique?  Depth of knowledge?  THIS is what is explored in the studio!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Is Your Coat on Your Shoulders? Are you Cold?

Friday evening musings...

I was thinking today about the "diva/divo trappings" - those outward signs that we associate with the Diva/Divo mentality:  coat on your shoulders/scarf around your neck/small pet in a bag/dark glasses/attitude...

YOU know the ones...

How ironic that most times we SEE the association, there is really no Diva/Divo underneath it...

Becoming and establishing a reputation as "Diva" is like fine wine - it develops with age AND experience.

Are you a true Diva at 17? Absolutely NOT!  You might have ATTITUDE but you have no substance to back it up.  Attitude is NOT substance.  It is not craft.  It is not technique.  It is NOT life.  Ultimately it shows a lack of it all, including respect and truth.

Diva isn't about attitude - it is about EXPERIENCE and it is about not backing down from that experience.

The title of "Diva" is EARNED.  It is not self-assumed.  If everyone is a Diva then nobody is.

Diva represents a level of craft,  an intensity of realization, a substance of life and truth by which one stands.

Diva is NOT about false attitude, bad behavior,  or the 'trappings' of stardom or self-involvement or self-importance.

Diva is about truth - true theatre, true craft, true commitment, true questions, true answers.

Diva makes the phonies in the room uncomfortable.

Diva asks the difficult questions, because she knows WHAT to ask.  (I am using Diva/Divo simultaneously - but am too lazy to write both - please insert Divo as needed!)

Diva expects REAL ANSWERS.  She does not put up with bullshit.  She KNOWS what to expect and expects it.  She KNOWS what to respect because she knows HOW to respect. In turn, she GETS respect.

Diva can laugh at herself - because she knows how important the ART is.  She takes the craft and the art with complete seriousness and validity.  She takes herself with flair.

Diva does not play with business.  She DOES business.  If you stiff her, it will only happen once.  If you play her, or try to - beware the next time!

Diva is loyal to those that show respect to her craft and to her person.  She is dismissive to those that show themselves to be phony, who cheat and lie, or make excuses.

Diva knows HOW to work.  She has developed craft.  She has LIVED her craft.  She has HONED her craft.  Her expectation of others is only trumped by her expectation of HERSELF!  She does not make excuses or whine or demand silly insignificant things  SHE DOES THE WORK!

Diva NEVER DIALS IT IN!!!! She is committed,  she is present, she lives and breathes through each rehearsal and each performance.

Diva asks WHY because she is constantly learning.  SHE WANTS TO KNOW to be a better artist!

Diva does NOT assume ANYTHING.

Diva will give you the truth - if you are ready.  Be careful what you ask for!

Diva does NOT play games.  Life is too short, and the work is too important.

If it's not working for her,  and you don't come correct, Diva is GONE.  There is no time for pretend in a Diva's world.  Reality is what works.

Can you build a Diva from the outside?

Absolutely NOT.  She is deemed "Diva" because of how she LIVES, how she BREATHES, how she hones her craft and how she puts her artistic life into practice each and every day.

She earns "Diva" with expertise and time.  She recognizes whose shoulders she stands upon.  She is generous when she can be.  She is protective when she needs to be.  She develops and maintains a HUGE bullshit detector.  She calls it as she sees it, no matter how uncomfortable it is - for ANYbody.

Her reputation - as human being, as artist, - allows her the the esteem of "Diva".  There is no attitude - only WORK and DEDICATION to the art, to the project,  to the craft.  The work and the art have no compromise - only people do.  Diva will NOT compromise and let the art suffer. There are no "tricks" - only hard work and dedication.

If she wears her coat on her shoulders - it's because she's cold.