Sunday, April 2, 2017

Inhabiting Your Craft



Happy Sunday!  Happy April!

I was tagged in a post on Facebook this morning...which got me to thinking...

The post was very complimentary: “…XYZ is a wonderful actress…BUT, her voice needs the tender and intelligent ministrations of SEY.  Her voice is in pieces - you could hear her move from one register to the next, and the “high” notes would crack in between.  It was painful to hear.”

I thank the person who wrote this - I am honored.  And it broke my heart. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we neglect or reject a portion of our craft, thinking or hoping or praying, that another aspect will make up for it?

It breaks my heart for many reasons.  One is personal.  I have done this.  I have relied on my acting intelligence when my voice was a mess.  I knew it was a mess.  I knew WHY it was a mess.  I was stubborn (my best and worst trait!) and made myself get through.  Did it work dramatically?  Yes.  Did it work vocally?  Oh hell no.  Was it reliable?  absolutely not.  Was I in survival mode only?  Pretty much.

So, I get it.  I get it more than you will ever know.

This is why I am vehement as a teacher to try to instill the absolute NECESSITY of CRAFT.How does one inhabit one's own craft?What does it demand of you?What does it reveal about you?These are the big questions we have to be strong enough,  stubborn enough,  willful enough,  to ask - and then to ANSWER.

It directs us from opposites.  The "actor" feels the story telling is enough to mask the lack of vocal development.  The "singer" feels the voce will supersede any flaws that the lack of acting intelligence may have.

WRONG.Both, and I do mean, BOTH are crucial to truly inhabiting your craft.

It doesn't matter what genre you are in - music theatre, opera and all its manifestations - CRAFT is CRUCIAL in order to fully inhabit what you say you do and who you say you are.

FEAR is a big obstacle.  I get that.  The "but what if..."  can often be truly in the way.  But what if I can't?  Hey,  but what if you CAN?What scares you?  failing?  or succeeding?

So what are you doing to inhabit your craft?  Where are the weak spots?  Are you just doing a patch job, or are you truly looking at it objectively and seeing it fully - big picture - and are you ready to work on the overhaul?

Craft as a singing actor is CONSTANT.  We work,  we discover, we hone, we physicalize,  we gestate,  we incubate,  we "ah-ha!",  we create behavior,  we create consciousness,  we observe,  we step away,  we internalize,  we materialize...

It's a lot.  It is.  I know that.  But we MUST.  We must honor the craft we say we do.  

I see great actors simply not discovering what they can do for a HEALTHY singing voice.  That's a choice.  A choice NOT to.   We see all their commitment into their acting craft,  and even their SPEAKING voices - but then not what is needed to sing with the same level of authenticity.  The study and discovery has to happen in order to create a fully realized characterization.  The voice doesn't have to be amazing.  An actor who sings may not have a beautiful voice,  but they can create beautiful technical behavior to access what they DO have,  and access their talent at will.

Study doesn't just happen when you book a show.  Study happens in the in-between.  However, when you BOOK,  you better be studying in order to have that 2nd set of ears and eyes keeping you healthy in order to do your work!  The maintenance is KEY.  Maintenance cannot happen if the behavior has not been achieved.

The same goes for singers who act.  I have heard incredible voices and as soon as I see them on stage - I can't watch.  They are awkward.  They have no idea what to do with their bodies,  how to move,  how to physicalize their voices with any dramatic choice.  We lose how magnificent the voice is,  because we SEE the awkwardness or the self-involvement with the SOUND and the craft of acting doesn't exist.  A character is not realized.  This isn't inhabiting the fullness of craft either.

With both singing and acting -  you must look at each specifically before you can integrate fully.  You need to discover the physical behavior of EACH in order to embody BOTH.

"It's good enough" my darlings, is bullshit.  It's your stress management talking.  Trust me, been there, done that, have the tattoo.

Inhabiting your craft takes time,  perseverance,  tenacity,  stubbornness,  willingness,  desire,  passion and drive.  

It's not over till it's over.  It will be enough when you aren't over thinking and overcompensating and aren't making excuses for something.  And then,  the muses will reveal what more you can do!Inhabit because you MUST.  

Your craft demands all of you.






Sunday, March 12, 2017

Exploring the Consciousness of the Body

No matter the level of study or development you are, I hope you have a teacher you check in with regularly that has a strong understanding in the physical instrument.

What we all need to do, on a regular basis, is check in on that physical function of our fully body instrument. In other words, the ABCs.

We can do some of it ourselves, as we become more aware of what to watch for and observe, and then having a teacher who can diagnose or re-adjust what you cannot see or sense is crucial for keeping the physicality aware and awake for your voice to find an authentic place to reside!

Observing these tangible elements is really an ongoing and daily practice for those who are pursuing craft effectively!

1.    Body Posture

How are you moving? How are you standing or sitting while you speak? Where is there hyper-extension? Is there slumping or compression? Any locked spots? Any pressure spots?
2. Energy Centre

What position of energy do you "lead" from? High in the chest wall? Collapsed through the solar plexus? Compressed or pressed through the pelvis?

3.    Head/Neck/Jaw

We deal with what has been referred to “text neck” as a general issue in our current smart phone society. Is the head balanced on a long neck or does it push forward? Is there chin tucking or jutting forward? Is the jaw tight? Is the speaking voice in fry or is in buoyant? Is there range of motion in the complexity of the neck muscles or is there compression?
4.   Singing Posture

As you begin to vocalize, how is your posture affected? How is the breath engaged? Is there ease or are you struggling?
5.    The Breath

How are you accessing the breath? Can you find ways of engaging more elasticity in the body in order for the breath to have more buoyancy and release without adding voice or vibration to it yet?
6.    Body Basics

As you engage breath movement with the voice, how is your body responding to the athleticism of those intangibles? Is there fatigue? compression? tightness? collapse? grip?

7.     Voice Onset

What happens on the onset of the voice? Are you paying attention to that initial and crucial onset for balance?

As a teacher, I am paying attention to ALL of this with every singer when they walk in. As a singer, I am paying attention to all of this when I begin to stretch and workout my body, breath, and voice during a practice session.
In the study of voice, one size does NOT fit all. We have to learn to recognize where we are and begin there. Learning to observe without criticism (!!) gives us permission to not judge and simply recognize the habits and behaviors that are not always conscious. This can then lead to more conscious CHOICE of changing habits and behaviors to better serve us.

Consciousness.  Awareness.  Willingness.  Clarity.  Focus.  Pliability.

All of these are crucial to the singer, as well as the teacher, in order to discover what you need on any given day.






Saturday, March 11, 2017

I am returning to the Laurie Beechman Theatre in April

after a sold out performance in November, to public and critical acclaim,  I will be returning
to the Laurie Beechman Theatre,  at the West Bank Cafe in APRIL!

"WHY?"  returns THURSDAY APRIL 13, 2017 at 7 p.m.

Laurie Beechman Theatre, West Bank Cafe

directed by Trent Armand Kendall
music direction by Steven Ray Watkins
bass, John Miller
drums, Don Kelly

tickets available NOW


Join us!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Can't, Don't, Won't

welcome to March!

Auditions are in full swing in the Music Theatre community...
Auditions continue in the Operatic community....

It can be a very busy and overwhelming time of year.

How are you doing?


This is the time of year I often re-visit how I am talking to myself,  as I see all kinds of psyches in the studio!  I see the can't, the don't, and the won't...

As artists,  we have an incredible ability to self-doubt.  That's not a criticism, it's an observation, because I DO IT TOO.  Self-doubt doesn't have to be a negative:  it gives us permission to find more, and achieve more, and push ourselves to reveal more, if we allow the doubt to motivate us, not debilitate us.

Our "self-talk" is crucial and it also it important to acknowledge it and see if it needs tweaking or changing.  Behavior can't be "stopped",  but it can be replaced.

Deciding how we are going to self-speak without delusion  (WAAAAAY above my pay grade) is always an important discussion.

What are you saying to yourself?  What are you saying out loud?  What do others hear?

As I challenge myself,  I challenge every singer that walks in the studio with their self-language.  We often don't realize how we self-sabotage just with a word which then becomes a thought, which then becomes a behavior,  which then gets in our way.

How many of us have been told to get out of our own way?  Hmmmm.

"Can't" easily is an excuse.  Remember, this is not exclusive,  but more a way to discover HOW you speak to yourself and when it happens, and why it happens.

"I can't get out of bed to get to that audition call."

Well, unless you are sick or dying,  yes you can.  CAN'T is the excuse of something else.

Maybe you don't want to.  Maybe you're exhausted.  Maybe you're scared.  Maybe you're confused.

What would happen if you took a step away from "can't" and got to the crux?

"I can get out of bed,  but I don't want to."

Fair.

Do you HAVE to?  Is there something that relying on you to DO that task?

Each statement reveals another question that gets you to the real answer that you need to claim and then DO something with.

"I can't learn all this music."  

"I can't decide what to sing."

"I can't decide what to wear."

Unless you honestly CANNOT,  this is stress management talking.

That's okay.  We ALL DO IT.  Move past the "can't" to figure out why that word?

As you move past "can't"  we get to "don't".

"I don't wanna."

okay - that's honest enough.  But, WHY?  Never settle for the can't, don't, won't.  Figure out why the dismissal.

"I don't have time."   "I don't have the money."  "I don't have the aria/song prepared."  "I don't...xzy"

Why don't you?  And you cannot answer with "can't"!!

Do you WANT to?  If your answer is no,  then that is something you can work with to find out what you want and what you DO have time/money/energy/passion for!  If the answer is yes,  then what is in your way for that time/money/preparation/action/energy/passion?

Won't.

"I won't audition for them again."
"I won't sing that again."
"I won't use that monologue."
"I won't..."

Again,  why?  "Won't"  is beginning to claim a decision.  A decision can be unconscious but if you say it out loud, it becomes conscious.  When the conscious CHOICE allows you to create a boundary that is positive,  "won't" works if you know why.  When you know why,  you can claim the choice and create a behavior that replaces the one you aren't going to do again!

Our vocabulary reveals much about where we are.  It's not always easy to look into that particular mirror,  but if we choose to explore the artistic nature of who we are, and if we choose to embark on the passive/aggressive love affair of the business of show,  then we must DEMAND of ourselves that check in, and that honesty.  It isn't about being hard on yourself;  it is about being HONEST.  The honesty can be tough,  but it will give us direction and clarity.

That doesn't mean if you self-speak light, love and glitter bombs that you are being honest with yourself either!   Stress management and delusion live on either side of the veil.  The truth is somewhere in the middle.

I can't....why?  Answer it immediately so there's no time to meddle.  Then continue to riddle it through to a logical end for that question,  on that day.

I don't...why?

I won't...why?

These words need to be there for each of us to find our boundaries and our behaviors.

Claim them;  answer them;  laugh at them;  take a big breath and DO YOU.

Sometimes it turns into:

I can...
I do...
I will....


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The singer neurosis

What is the singer neurosis?

If I truly knew the answer to that,  I would be living in a villa in the south of France!

I am not a medical doctor and the truth of neurosis is well above my pay grade,  however, as a teacher of voice and a singer, I am very aware of what I shall call "the singer neurosis".

here a definition of Neurosis from the dictionary:

1. a functional disorder in which feelings of anxiety, obsessional thoughts, compulsive acts, and physicalcomplaints without objective evidence of disease, in various degreesand patterns, dominate the personality.
2. a relatively mild personality disorder typified by excessive anxiety orindecision and a degree of social or interpersonal maladjustment.




Again,  I have no medical degree, but I do deal with the neurosis of the singer daily.

For those singers who truly have psychological issues larger than what a voice teacher can handle,  this is a disorder that needs medical attention.

HOWEVER,  a mild case of neurosis as a singer is not uncommon!

We hear, or have said at some point in our singer life, a we clutch our throats wrapped in a large scarf,  "there is something wrong with my voice!"  or  "Where has my voice gone?"  or  "I have phlegm, or dryness, or post nasal drop,  I cannot possibly sing!"

A friend and colleague who has often collaborated with me on the piano and conducted me,  told me the story of the singer walking onto stage with her pianist saying "darling, my voice is feeling a little fatigued, can we take the recital down a tone today?"  To which the pianist replied,  "Of course Diva,  your wish is my command."  (insert eye roll here)  and commenced to play the recital in the keys that were on the page.  She didn't know the difference, and of course, sang perfectly well.

Ah, the singer neurosis.

We have developed an over-ripe stereotype because of it.  We need to own it and discover WHY.

I am not making excuses for it at all,  nor am I simplifying real psychological issues,  but part of the issue is simply this:

As singers,  we have to discover how we embody INTANGIBLES.  This is where the basic neurosis can be linked.  Intangibles.

We do not have the luxury of looking into the mirror,  making an adjustment and continuing to dance.

We do not have the luxury of having our instrument on the outside,  so when things aren't working we can tighten or loosen a string,  use some rosin,  change a mouthpiece or reed,  or simply stand up and walk away until we are in a better head space!

We work in intangibles:  breath,  and vibration.  We work with a physical athleticism that is intrinsically impossible to see while working.  We cannot simply stand up and walk away or replace a string, or a reed or add some rosin.  We somehow have to take all those intangibles and discover how to make it tangible without getting so emotionally involved that we cannot function.

That's our job.

That's what we have to work out.

How do we discover this intangible/intangible and intertwine it with craft and mind and thought without it driving us insane?

I share with you how I speak about things:

The voice herself/himself (and I speak of the voice in 3rd person to not involve self ego/self sabotage) is FINE.  Where she/he chooses to RESIDE (your physicality) is not always optimal.

So what is our job?  Discover the FUNCTION of the physicality.  Allow for the tangibility of that physicality and why it works or what it needs to work optimally so the voice can move in, and feel like it can reside fully.

WHY isn't the voice working?  That's for YOU to discover and if the focus is physical first - your emotional energy doesn't have to get involved in the production.

The body is your instrument.  The sound and the resonance and the breath is shaped by how you use your body.  The focus then needs to be on discovering how to access that body,  intrinsically and extrinsically. 

I often ask singers,  not what they want to change or fix,  but rather,  what they love about their voice.  This is most often met with hesitation,  shyness,  and sometimes wariness and excuses.

Why?  Just like body image,  we often can great a litany of reasons and a list of things we dislike/want to change/don't understand,  but we are not often allowed to speak about what actually gives us joy when it feels good!

This does not give you license to be delusional!  However,  it does give you permission to slow down and discover when things are working,  what is actually happening!!

So,  don't blame your neurosis on "being a singer".  I don't buy it.

Yes,  the discovery of intangibles can be daunting.  Yes, it takes more work.  Yes, it takes time.  Yes, it takes commitment.

If you say you are a singer,  then I dare you to BE one.  Don't fall for the stereotype and let that define you.  Let YOU define you.  Dare yourself to discover your physical function and let the intangibles have a real place to reside and be discovered consistently.

Dare to fight the singer neurosis just by knowing what you are doing,  instead of making excuses for what you don't know, while pretending that you are.

SING because you MUST.





Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Artists 4 Artists Newsletter Released!

If you subscribe to my Artists 4 Artists Newsletter,  it was released at midnight last night and should be in your inbox somewhere!

If you don't subscribe,  and still want to take a look at the many resources in it,  the link below will take you there!

http://eepurl.com/cvjAr5


This newsletter,  although heavily NYC-based,  has many other cities/areas with resources as well as ONLINE WORLDWIDE resources.

From coaches in opera and music theatre,  to classes for performance,  to skin care and makeup artistry,  to fitness,  to photographers,  to finance specialists for artists,  to composers,  to social media and website design and MUCH more - I hope there is something you can find that you might need now, or tuck away for when you may need it!

The newsletter is a labor of love for me and a chance to give back a little to my community of artists.

Hope you enjoy reading through and if you are interested in subscribing to this particular newsletter you can sign up here:

http://eepurl.com/cbxMVj


Here's to the artists that support other artists!  Our community is STRONG!


Saturday, January 14, 2017

I just don't know what to do with you...

It's Saturday!

"I just don't know what to do with you..."

Ever heard that before?

I could have had that on every t-shirt as I was actively auditioning and learning how to manage the mine-field.

My answer of course was: "HIRE ME DAMMIT!"

However,  alas,  not so much...

Why?

Why was I told they didn't know what to do with me?

Why was I told how talented,  how musical,  how beautiful my voice was,  how skilled I was,  and then .... crickets?

It's about that damn audition room again.  It's about being an artist,  and having to negotiate that audition room.

We do too much.  Yes, we do.

We see the same people getting called back or hired.  What are they doing they we are not?

They aren't.  They aren't doing so much.

Too simple?  Perhaps,  but consider this.

Auditions are an opportunity to be hired.  Too much information in a short time,  even if the person on the other side of the table has imagination and knowledge,  is just too much information.  No time to sift through all that of that - so - NEXT!

So,  now the question is:  what do YOU do with you?

Quit trying so hard.

The perkiness,  the eager to please,  the desperation...way too much.

Quit trying so hard to look or seem indifferent.

The playing around with "I'm not impressed" doesn't work either.

What do you want to show them in the room?

Don't answer so quickly.  See?  That's part of the problem.  You have TONS to show them and that's why they don't know what to do with you,  if YOU don't decide precisely WHAT you will show.

You do not reveal everything.  You do not reveal most things.  You invite them to see one,  maybe two things during that audition/interview that intrigues them enough to call you back:  where you show them a little bit more.

Always leave them wanting more.

Do not leave them confused.

Often, as artists, because our internal lives and therefore our craft process is very complex,  we don't realize how to simplify.  It seems ridiculous to us.  It doesn't seem as if it's enough to be that simplistic in the room.

Really?  That's IT?!  That's ALL I have to do?

Yes, darling,  pick ONE thing to reveal in the room the first time.  Don't angst.  Just focus and do it.

When I began to figure that out and actually do it,  they finally knew what to do with me!

AND I wasn't exhausted after the audition like I had been.  I actually had enough energy to stay present in the room,  do my work,  simplify and leave and have energy to pick up the rest of my day instead of blinding wander back into the street and figure out how I could catch a nap.

Start exploring how you simplify for the audition.  What do you want to reveal?
Start with 3 or 4 things.
Then decide out of those 3 or 4 things what are uniquely you.  Narrow the choices to 1 or 2.

How will you execute those choices?

How will you stay present as you walk into the room with those choices?

How will you breathe in those choices as you prepare to sing?

It feels too simple doesn't it?

But it's not,  yet it is precisely right.

Not too much,  not too little,  but just right.

If you've done the work - if you can rely on your craft,  on your skill,  on your technique in all areas of your work:  voice,  acting,  presentation,  professionalism  - then there is nothing to hide or nothing to hide behind.

This gives you many choices that you can enjoy deciding from.  It isn't about throwing out ideas;  it's about deciding what to reveal today.  You may choose differently tomorrow depending on the call,  the opportunity,  the song choice and your energy!

These are not tricks.  These are decisions.  Decisions can be made because you are committed to craft.  Craft allows you to access more of what YOU will offer.

Offer what you have in small doses.  Give them something they will know what to do with,  instead of throwing the bag on the table and looking up and expecting them to choose.

The rest will follow.

All of your artistic "burn"  will find a place to unfold when you have an opportunity work a callback and then book the role and embody that!

Let's turn "I just don't know what to do with you"  into  "I know JUST what I can do with you"!






Saturday, January 7, 2017

but can you belt that?

Happy New Year!

Here comes the audition season in full swing!

So - how's your terminology?

This is why I ask:  there is a great deal of terminology in craft, and singing is no different.  We toss around words like "belt",  "mix",  "placement",  and hear "breathe low",  "project" and on and on.

Do you REALLY know what these mean?  Or are they just getting in your way.

First thing,  you have to know your instrument.  Your physical instrument.  Where are the damn parts?  What do they actually do?  How are interconnected?  How athletic do you have to be to access what you need?

Second thing,  you have to figure out how to translate what you are being told.  Many of the words we use, or the words we hear,  are not literal,  but as singers, many of us translate literally.  At least I am guilty of that.  It got me into lots of trouble.

Then I studied anatomy and acoustics and said "DUH".

I am not saying you have to do that - but I am saying that if you say you are a singer, you better know some stuff,  not just toss around the words.

So many of the terms we use as ass-backwards anyway.  Just like stage direction.  Until you really understood "down stage right"  you went the wrong way and had to think about it!

The "terms" are thrown around by singers, teachers, coaches, casting directors, directors - everybody in the industry.  You are not going to tell me that they all have the same definitions.  They don't.  After 30 years in this business, THEY DO NOT.

So,  what's a singer to do?

You MUST find the reality of your instrument.  What happens physically?  How do I translate that?  How do I access that?

You ask questions:  of your teacher  (you DO have a voice teacher, yes?),  and then translate with your coaches and then further translate when you are in the audition room and a casting director, or music director, or director asks for something and you have to be present enough to figure out what they are asking and then what they are REALLY asking.

You have a set of vocal cords.  One larynx.  Resonators that are shaped by YOUR body structure and soft tissue.  Breath.  Physicality.

You don't have a bunch of "different" voices to "put it into".  YOU HAVE ONE VOICE.  You have numerous registers,  but ONE VOICE.  Until you fully discover how to access this,  you can be frustrated when you are asked to sing in different styles.

Style informs tone.  Your voice FIRST.  Wrap the style around that.  Don't think you have to change your voice to access a style!

Learning to find this authenticity gives you authority in your audition and in your performance.

So,  I dare you to toss out terminology that is getting in your way;  embrace terminology that allows you to access YOU fully and consistently;  Develop the physical awareness of HOW you sing;  Explore what defines a style as opposed to "putting it into an xyz voice" to sing a style.  The stylistic definition will then give you permission to still sound like YOU!

When you are given an adjustment or asked for something in the room,  be present enough to figure out what you are REALLY being asked to do.

Industry/Casting are not pedagogues.  We cannot expect them to have the detailed knowledge of how a voice functions or how it develops or how it works.  So guess what?  YOU have to have it.  You have to know how to translate casting language,  which often uses the same words pedagogy does,  into the language YOU understand to access the end result they are looking for.

An ongoing issue is being asked  "can you belt that?"

What do they really mean?  Really belt?

Not necessarily.  If you try to do what they SAID,  you will often be met with "no, that's not what I wanted."

So, guess what? YOU have to figure out how to translate what is being asked.

Often times,  "belt" is associated with a vocal INTENSITY.  If the voice is lacking energy/intensity/vibrancy,  casting or a coach will say "you gotta belt that more".  They don't know what they are asking, but they know it if they hear it.

YOU have to translate that,  figure out how to discover that intensity and vibrancy,  and adjust to show them you can translate it.

And on and on it goes...

Make a list of those "terms" or those "adjustments" you are told or being asked for;  then see if you can explain them out loud or in writing for yourself.  If you can't, take them to your teacher and riddle it out together.

You aren't in this alone!  We all want you to succeed!  Casting wants YOU to be the person they can hire - they really do.

If you aren't prepared,  if you can't translate,  if you haven't found your authenticity yet,  you need to keep discovering that.  You must learn to KNOW YOU; to DO YOU;  to BE YOU in the audition room and in the coaching studio and in the voice studio.

Learn to listen;  learn to translate;  learn to stay present;  learn to see exactly where you are, and
what you need to do in access everything you are growing into.

Your voice and where it resides is all about YOU.  It's not about mimicking a voice;  it's not about putting it into a voice;  It's about finding YOUR voice and how your voice can begin to inhabit the styles you wish to sing in.

Do you and keep committing to that while you study and discover,  while you audition and discover,  while you perform and discover.  Don't dial it in - stay present and engaged!