Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Imagination of Voice

Happy New Year's Eve...

I was inspired this morning by a post on that same singers board (!!) and so I thank that anonymous poster for his contribution to my thoughts today!

Where does voice begin?

We know it inhabits the physical being and the sport of technical behavior allows for it to function...

Yet, all possibilities exist in the imagination...

The voice must be imagined for the reality to occur. It is the imagination that begins the process, and it is the pedagogy/vocal science that backs it up!

Then, as each singer determines HOW they learn, they can take the languages given to them - be it imagery, metaphor, simile, be it vocal science terms, be it anatomy description, be it demonstration, be it looking at a physical model - and translate to the language they learn in, and embody it!

This is how the imagination can work! The voice begins in the mind - in the thought, in the desire, in the willingness, in the repetition...

Just as a child learns to speak - so our singing voices develop. It does not happen in a vacuum; there is no exact/correct/one way to sing! (Thus my blog about neutral voice...)

As a teacher, I must be willing and able to develop MANY languages to meet a singer where they are. I must also encourage and challenge that singer to discover THEIR language - and to discover how to translate back to their imagination!

If the imagination is vivid, the possibilities are endless! Thus, in developing and building a voice, if we conceive within our mind's imagination - learn to see/hear/taste/touch/feel - THERE, the tangibility in the physical body has a chance.

Vocal science can determine WHAT is going on; but there are many singers who know nothing really about the science of the voice. Yet they still sing. The body still responds. The imagination has allowed for it.

We have a responsibility as singers and teachers of singers to embody a fully-dimensional and tangible imagination! What does this mean? It means, building, developing, understanding from many angles, re-enforcing, re-creating, and being able to explain how we do what we do and why we do it!

Our desire for knowledge begins in the imagination! If we are a "science first" singer - our desire to read, to describe the physicality of the instrument, to know those intrinsic details, to experiment - still begins in the imagination!

If we are visual/metaphor driven - it is our desire to physicalize those visualizations in order for the voice is function - and still begins in the imagination!

We must know what leads us - HOW we learn and then if we are truly to be a singer of depth of knowledge, we must fill in and discover what else is going on - through science, through multiple translations to access the multi-layers of complexity we can learn within ourselves!

One singer may have a metaphor that allows their physical instrument the truth; another singer may be able to explain that truth through vocal science; yet another may be able to find a spiritual tangibility that creates that truth...all begin with the desire for truth/desire for voice/desire to SING! All begin with the imagination!!!

If voice begins with imagination, perhaps as developed instrument, it becomes a physical tangibility of imagination. There's something wonderful to chew on as you sip your champagne!!!

I am liking that! Voice is the physical tangibility of one's imagination.

Yes - I think I will keep that.

So, on this eve of remembering, clearing away, making way, making new decisions - I wish for you a year that is FULL OF IMAGINATION - and full of your own discoveries of your true voice!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What is the Neutral Voice?

Happy eve before New Year's!

There has been quite a little discussion happening about voice and style - or so I thought - at the New Forum for Classical Singers. I got involved - and realized this might make an interesting blog entry on building the voice and what I mean as "neutral" voice.

"Neutral" to me simply means unencumbered. It is developing a vocal behavior that is balanced, inhibited, unexpressed by style or genre. What do YOU sound like when your physical behavior of breath, support, engagement, resonance and muscular balance - intrinsic and otherwise - are working with YOU?

This is the "neutral" for me. It allows for no baggage. It allows for a freedom to discover further into the technical balances, stylistic knowledge within the physical instrument, emotional commitment, musical language and traditional expectations for a genre or a style to be embodied.

Often, I am asked by a singer in theatre or R&B or otherwise, "If I study will I sound like an opera singer?" This is completely why I have developed the word "neutral" in my teaching!!!

Simply put - if you study and learn how your instrument works and how it builds, you will sound like YOU. Then, that "you" will have the opportunity to develop further into different stylistic journeys - opera, theatre, belt, R&B, pop, whatever you choose to explore.

Does this mean you can sing anything? That's a loaded question. It means you have the physical possibility to learn what each style and genre demands of your neutral voice - of YOU in balance. When you find that nakedness of sound you can then explore the re-balancing of style/muscular et al to discover how your instrument can take on any given style.

Perhaps you won't have the physicality to do it authentically; perhaps you do not have the aptitude; perhaps you do not have the desire; perhaps you do not understand the tradition or have lived that tradition or with it; HOWEVER, you have the possibility if you choose to explore it!

The body as an athletic instrument is intricate and complex. It is a miraculous event that we do what we do!!! So many muscles, so much alignment! A complexity of support, elasticity, engagement, balance...if we don't learn and know what that is without complicating it further, we are continually masking issues, instead of discovering what IS.

The complexity of the physical and athletic instrument is within the body as a whole. It also has to do with the complexity of the psychology of how we approach our instrument and our sport. The neutral voice takes into account the physical balance of support, the tangibility of breath, the intricacies of onset, laryngeal balance, resonance and transition ease and how we think about it, view it, regard it, and ALLOW it to emerge.

Then, and only then, in my experience as a singer and as a teacher, can the true dimension of the singer truly emerge to take on style and genre with clear intent - psychologically and physically and athletically!

Every genre has its technical behaviors. These behaviors can only be discovered fully once the neutral voice is in alignment. Otherwise we work from a patchwork position and not from a foundational one!

We can only mask issues for so long, and then the cracks appear! Then we must rebuild/reconstruct and recognize the truth of our voice! What is it able to do? What do we ask of it? Is there a foundational truth in the neutral voice or is it put on from the outside?

Muscle and breath and engagement needs to build with the BODY. It must be build from the inside out. The voice is to inhabit the physical to allow for a tangible intensity to occur. If the body is strong and balanced, the voice can then develop its balance within the structure that has been created for it. This is neutral voice. This is voice without baggage or excuse. This is INDIVIDUAL voice that can be further developed into the genre of choice or the genre of compatibility.

How do you know if your physicality and psychology is best suited for opera if you do not assume a regime of athleticism to discover how the instrument will function first in balance, and then further, into the demands of the genre? And if it is suited for opera - do you start with Puccini and Verdi? Or Mozart? What voice fach are you in "neutral" and when the voice begins changing and developing, where do you end up?

If you only belt - what if you get into trouble? What if the voice breaks down? How do you find a rebalanced voice that can inform that belt?

If you are a high soprano and never develop that middle voice - will those high notes exist forever without issue?

And on and on...

If we don't have a starting point - and ABC - a NEUTRAL - we can wish, we can hope, we can create in our minds, but it isn't always a truth. We begin to patchwork/mask and pretend. The truth of the instrument begins to get murky. The truth of our artistic spirit is being compromised, because the technical behavior of our physicality has not found "home".

Neutral simply has expectation of SELF. Recognizing self when self is seen, and claiming it.

Neutral is active - because it is a frame of reference - physically, technically, psychologically, spiritually - to find where we are, and where we are going, and what we have and how we develop it further.

If we have this frame of reference and this behavior, we have the best possibility to walk into a genre authentically and create that operatic role as an opera singer; that R&B tune as an R&B singer; that theatre piece as a theatre singer; that cabaret song as a cabaret singer; and on and on...

Style and genre is PHYSICAL as well as psychological. It is a living and breathing creation based on the physical manifestation of the neutral pure and vivid presence of our instrument - our athleticism!!

We train within that athleticism to discover and develop specificity to our craft, to the genres we choose to seek out, to the technical demands and requirements. However, if the ABC of the neutral instrument has not found "home", we are drifters, and "home" doesn't exist.

Neutral is that place we can always come back to - to refocus and rediscover - to rebalance and re-acquaint.

Neutral voice is the truth of you and your voice - it is the core of what makes your singing YOURS.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What's in a Headshot?

A musing about those headshots...

How important is it? Very.

What is the point? YOU.

Headshots are crucial in our business - and in all aspects of our business!

Finding a photographer can take time, but finding someone you can trust to find YOU in that picture is crucial!

More expensive is not necessarily better - know what you are paying for: this is a service. Look at portfolios - see what you respond to, positively AND negatively.

What are some of the things to consider as you talk to your photographer about your shoot? So often, we expect the professional to create the magic and make us fabulous but they can only work with what we give them, and what we are willing to give to ourselves.

First, know your business. Commercial shots will not be the same as opera shots, will not be the same as music theatre shots, will not be the same as cabaret shots. Many of us wear numerous hats, so make sure to discuss this with your photographer so he/she knows what you are looking for.

What do you want people to see when they look at that headshot? "Hire me" isn't enough!!! What do you want them to SEE?

That headshot needs to look at like you so when you walk into the room, there isn't a disconnect! It can be another "look" to then show the versatility of your look, but it still must be you! A glamour shot is not a headshot. A more formal shot isn't necessarily a glamour shot!

I would rather someone say "You look even better in person" than "Wow, you don't look anything like your headshot!" as in that shot is better than you are!

The headshot is a calling card - an opportunity to not give it all away, but to entice and draw the person viewing it to stop a second and ponder...

Your hair and makeup might be flawless...your touchups might be Vogue-perfect...but if your eyes say NOTHING, they will pass by that photo so quickly it will leave you chilled!

Theatre isn't about modelling - it's about showing YOU. The eyes need to show what you are about - or what you want to show about you! What do you want them to see? How do you want them to see it within the structure of the photo?

The photographer brings his/her expertise with lighting, balance et al; the hair/makeup expert (and please use this - it can really make a difference!) will bring his/her artistry to bringing out the features you have that need to be brought out, and balancing those features with the lighting the photographer uses.

YOU are the crucial and important part of this! Decide what you want to be captured. A type? A fach? A personality? An energy? A what?

Be as specific as you can be...the more specific you are, the more that will show in your eyes and your inflection!! You don't have to be "perfect", but you have to be REAL.

This is business, and so it needs to reflect what you are selling and trying to be seen as. Know what that is. "Ingenue" isn't enough. "Dramatic Soprano" isn't enough. "Lyric Tenor" isn't enough. Why? Because it doesn't tell us anything personal or individual!

Sit down and create adjectives for yourself. Don't be shy. Ask the people you trust - not your mom or dad or your wife or husband if they aren't in the business - you need BUSINESS words. Use your business and team assets for this one.

Ask the photographer what they see in your energy in meeting you. They will be honest. Is that what you want when someone sees you or not? How can you change it or make it larger or more specific?

This will help you in choosing clothing, colours, jewellry and help your photographer on poses/backgrounds and lightening, and your makeup artist on colours and how he/she paints you!

Every aspect of the business needs a different headshot focus...the theatre ingenue is not the same as the operatic soubrette, is not the same as the film/tv ingenue...know how you can change that "look" and know how to describe her in YOU.

Get creative!!! It's business, but it can be creative.

What do the eyes say? Approachable? Pliable? Open? Closed? Hard? Needy? Available? Trying too hard?

What do you want them to say? Make a decision!!! "I take my work seriously but I have a great sense of humour"; "I am approachable and pliable, but don't piss me off"; "I'm quirky and coy but don't dumb"...."I am noble, expressive and regal"...the possibilities are endless, and the individuality is up to you!

That photo is your foot in the door to any CD, Director, AD, Producer, Agent - so it needs to represent YOU - who you are, what you are about, what you are in the business for.

We want to be individuals and we ARE individual but sometimes getting help from people you trust in the business by asking for 3 names of actors/singers that your energy/voice/look or any combination thereof that you remind them of in ANY way is an interesting way to see how you are SEEN. It can give you a larger perspective that isn't quite so internal and give you a chance to see yourself from the outside in, rather than the inside out.

Take all this information into your photographer. He/she will welcome your input - because YOU are the centre of the project and he/she wants you to shine!

Headshots are an investment. They are a very important investment and need your thoughts, time and energy to allow for a great result!!

What's in a headshot? Everything you want to be there - and a little mystery to intrigue the other side of the table to look at the resume or simply call you in!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sing Cause you WANNA SING!

Sunday musings...

Business shmisiness...


We do our job - we sing! We audition, we prepare our 16 bar cuts, we prepare our 5 arias, we go into our job interviews to get the job....

But WHY do we sing?

Often we can lose sight of why we sing, or even DO we sing?

As I think back over the last year, and begin to contemplate what 2010 will hold, I am going to be pro-active.

I am going to sing cause I WANT TO! I am not going to wait for an opportunity, but rather, create one that is uniquely mine to sing what I want and why I want to.

As artists, we build craft; as artists in the business we are looking for working venues and vehicles to create a living.

But sing cause we want to? What we want to?

We need to find these moments!!! Embrace them and create them!!

Sing cause you wanna sing!!!! Don't wait for somebody to create a moment for you! YOU create that moment!!! It doesn't have to have anything to do with business - JUST SING!

We work so hard at finding our fach, our type, and developing repertoire, and cuts to show the business we are what they are looking now - what about YOU? What will make you feel satisfied JUST TO SING?

Yes, this can be a public performance, but this can be a private situation too! Sing cause you can and sing cause you want to - not because you have to!

Sing what you want and create a moment for yourself. Learn the aria because you CAN. Learn the song, the theatre piece, because you CAN and because you WANT TO!

Artistry is also about self-fulfillment. Journey also has to do with YOU. What gives you a sense of self?

It sounds so simple and yet, we forget how fulfilling JUST SINGING for no reason other than SINGING is!!

So give yourself permission to forget the business and the pressure of work and once in a while JUST SING. Don't try to get the job with that aria; put down the 16 bar cut and find a FULL SONG you LOVE and SING IT! Sing the aria because you WANT to, not cause you have to...

The musical, artistic and physical satisfaction - that is so good for our souls - is about what singing gives us as artists. Don't forget to nurture that too. It is so easy to forget this part of our artistic soul, and yet, if we forget WHY we sing, and what gives us the greatest joy - then we have lost our way a little.

Doesn't it just feel good to sing???? Just to breathe and get athletic with our bodies, and make noise and commit to it? And doesn't it feel wonderful JUST to sing and not worry about job/impression/business - and just wrap ourselves in the vibration we create?

So sing - cause you WANNA not cause you have to! Once in a while, remind yourself, feed yourself, and wrap yourself in why you do what you do...for YOURSELF.

Whether you create a public venue for yourself or whether you just allow yourself the pure delight of singing through something you love in your living room, or wherever it may be...

JUST SING once in a while...I plan on it too! The business isn't going anywhere. Take your voice and let it sing when you NEED to and when you WANT to. Walk back into the business when you know what it feels like to do what you do.

Know why you sing. Claim that everyday. Breathe it in and make some noise!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Where are you?

Christmas Day musings...

A day of remembering, dreaming, and just "being"...

So where are you?

We work hard, we push hard, we go go go...the holidays have taken on that insanity too - and often as performers, it is our busiest time of year...

Do you have time, or can/will you make time to be still and consider where you are? How far you've come? Where you are going?

As artists, we want to be better than our previous selves. We want to explore the possibilities. Dare we just sit and ENJOY where the "self" is today? Dare we just sit and know the possibilities are being realized? Dare we recognize the contributions we have made to our lives and those lives around us?

Often, as artists, and performers, we are not aware of the profound affect we have on others.

Those of us who do the 8 show week, the tour, the ongoing "in repertory" et al - the concert schedule...the 800 Messiahs...this is our work; this is our day job; this is not "extra"!!

Just like any day job, it can get fatiguing, gruelling, and it loses its excitement quickly...

I am reminded of a story that my husband told me about Robert Shaw as he spoke to his chorus before a performance of Bach's B minor Mass: "Tonight, there are people in the audience who will hear the Mass for the very first time...and there are people who will hear it for the very last time..."

This has always resonated deeply for me. The profound affect of what we do as artists and performers, and what we stand for, can last a lifetime! We are responsible for something larger than a day job! What we have been gifted with and have developed, and continue to journey with, can change lives...

So, as we enjoy the season - take a moment to know where you are. See what you have accomplished. See where you've come from. Settle in. Rejoice in that knowledge. Our journey is ongoing, but it's okay once in a while to smile and say "I'm okay!", "I DO make a difference".

We need to wrap ourselves up in our possibilities and our realities. We need to hold our journey close to ourselves. We need to KNOW we make a difference - in our own lives, and in the lives around us.

We need to laugh a little, enjoy our own company a little, enjoy our friends and family a little and realize where we are is PRECISELY where we need to be. Wishing away, is not the same as dreaming for.

Be still and know you are enough. Know you bring a difference. Know your journey is further than it was. Know your journey continues, and so does your artistry.

Know you are HERE. And you came from THERE. That is movement, that is enough.

Take a deep breath and BE.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The "isms" of the theatre!

today's musings...

As we continue into the holiday season, and auditions are slowing down a bit - recognizing the "isms" and making a decision to rise above them and challenge them is as important now, as it always is!

Yes, Virginia - the theatre in all its manifestations has MANY "isms" - look-ism, size-ism, age-ism, and racism...yes I said it! Anybody who says it doesn't exist is terribly naive, in denial or has his/her head firmly stuck up his/her ass, or is part of the "ism" problem, in which case, denial is KEY to this problem!

We as artists have certain control and responsibility, and then none at all. We are still seen as product and as part of the equipment and are viewed as "they" want to view us, not always as we ARE.

We spend a lifetime trying to be SEEN as the artist first - not the white girl, the black man, the fat girl, the skinny girl, the plain jane, the blonde - and yet, the business often can't see past the OBVIOUS and see the TRUTH.

It's not everybody! I know many CDs, directors, producers etc who DO see us, but often have their hands tied. And I change my thought - often it's not that the business can't see, it's that they CHOOSE NOT TO SEE. They don't WANT to see.

Racism, sexism, lookism, sizeism, - all of these "isms" are so deeply woven into the fabric of our society - and these "isms" cause many artists to be dismissed, overlooked and disregarded by those who are in the majority or in the power position - in society or in the society of theatre, be it music theatre, opera, or any genre.

Why must we audition in wigs to be seen as another hair colour?
Why must a show be cast by "look" and not talent?
Why must there be such pressure for skinnier is better, to the point of death - instead of encouragement to be HEALTHY and claim one's body? We often see this with women, but make no mistake, it happens with men as well.
Why are we so afraid of casting past skin colour? Why are so afraid of casting so-called "inter-racially"?

This tells us more about life than anything. And if theatre reflects life, then it's doing precisely that - reflecting a society that is insulated and isolated, fearful of change and inviting everybody to the table! But if theatre could CREATE life and society and possibility - we could move past look, race, size - and see the artist for what he/she can offer the role and cast it purely on POSSIBILITY and talent and execution! What brilliance this would be!

"Isms" are not our responsibility as artists, but they become an issue if we want to work and they get in the way! We often have to make a decision to either make the business comfortable or take the long way around!! Only you can make that decision.

We need to recognize what we are dealing with, who we are dealing with, and why we are dealing with it! We need to know how far we go to become a part of the business if we stand against an "ism", or what we do if we need to stand for something larger than it.

Knowing WHO you are is crucial! The truth of you AS AN ARTIST needs to be seen by YOU each and every day. Who you are seen as in the business needs to be acknowledged - and you work with it, work against it, or work to change it. Or all three!

As an artist, it is your responsibility to seek truth; create truth; acknowledge truth. It is also your responsibility to shine a light on that which is not true. You do that through BEING first - DOING second. Sometimes just the power of your presence in the business is enough to cause a change - in your corner! Sometimes we have to DO something. The doing depends on the "ism"! Sometimes the doing starts with us - getting healthy, showing different looks, and sometimes it means challenging attitudes and making people uncomfortable with our artistry to see past what they see and assume.

So during this holiday time - I challenge you who are artists to SEE YOURSELF TRUTHFULLY. Know what you HAVE. Know what you are building. Acknowledge it and claim it fully. Step out in that truth and don't apologize for it.

Get healthy, get real. Laugh a little or a lot! Don't stick your head in the sand - but see the truth as it is. Acknowledge what you can do about it and what you are not responsible for. Decide how you will create and develop in spite of the "isms" and despite the "isms".

We all have a journey - and the business is only a small portion of that. Do not relinquish your power of truth and creative force for the negativity and narrow-mindedness of the "ism". You are much much bigger than that. Recognize WHO you are and who are BECOMING and make the best of that in EVERY way.

"Isms" aren't going anywhere - as the fabric is old and tightly woven. But we can recognize and expose the snags and worn patches and not pretend!!! Theatre isn't about pretend - is it? Theatre is about CREATION. Creation is REAL. Pretend is...pretend.

Know the difference - and know who falls into the categories of creative vs pretend. The "isms" will become clear to you FOR you - positive and negative.

Take this season to claim the positive and the truth - and to shine a light on the negative and bring it out of the shadow so it is exposed.

Claim YOU - it is ENOUGH!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Look"-ism in the Business

Sunday musings...

Many of you have talked about this - and asked me about it's time to begin to explore it. This could be a multi-entry topic and I am willing to ask some questions so here is the beginning...

Many of you deal with your voice not matching your "look".

First - may I refer you to the Art versus Business blog entry a couple of days ago: Your voice and your "look" may not be matching in the BUSINESS.

If you are an artist, if you are pursuing your craft, if your ultimate goal is to invest in YOUR artistry and see what you can express and what your voice is able and willing to do - the your look DOES match your voice!!! Why? Because it is YOU!!!

I am NOT being Pollyanna. Trust me. My husband and closest friends are laughing while reading this as they know how negative I can get at times!!!

What I am saying is this: EMBRACE ALL OF YOU!!! Sing with YOUR voice (which means finding it and developing it and investing in it!) and sing with YOUR body - no matter how big, how small, how fat, how skinny, how tall, how short!!!

This is the BEGINNING. EMBRACE YOURSELF - ALL of it. Who are you? What can you do? What do you WANT to do? Will you dare yourself to DO it?

The SELF must come first. You must anchor from the SELF. This is the truth of you and if you cannot recognize it and rejoice in it, you will never be able to truly infuse yourself into the business with any clarity. If you don't anchor yourself to yourself, you will allow the business to define you. YOU DEFINE YOURSELF.

Do not apologize for what your voice does and is! Do not apologize for your body/look! BE who you ARE. Develop that. This is the "you" that makes most sense and will constantly morphing and recreating to be a reflection of where you are as an artist and as a human being.

What if the business doesn't recognize it as a match?

Do you have to make a complete makeover physically or vocally?

ABSO-freaking-LUTELY NOT!!

Your voice is your voice. Your body is your body. It is up to you to make BOTH of those facets of you the best you can!

If you want to be in the business and your are an ingenue voice with a voluptuous tall body - then explore WHERE that could be! Dare those hiring to not ignore you!!!! How???? Make sure your voice WORKS BRILLIANTLY!!! Tall and voluptuous can still be dressed, and accessorized to show possibilities to be closer to the vocal possibilities!

What part of the business are you in?? Opera, Oratorio, Music Theatre, Cabaret? What? Start being honest: have you done EVERYTHING to invest in your voice? Are there options you could explore in styles and genres that would give you a stronger foothold in the business? Are you willing to go there?

Know what you cannot change and embrace it. Know what you can DEVELOP and DO IT! Develop your voice, make your body strong and powerful! Know what you want to project, and project that!!! Enhance it with the accessory of style/genre, and visual impact of how you walk into a room - and develop the self-confidence that what you offer and who you are IS ENOUGH.
The business will either make a place for you, or you will make a place for yourself. Being willing to explore BOTH.

Develop and commit to your voice FOR YOU. Lose weight FOR YOU. Get healthy FOR YOU. Gain muscle FOR YOU. Explore your look FOR YOU. It has to begin and end with you.

Accessorize for the business - so they can see your versatility, your pliability and your commitment to yourself. Don't sing for the business! Don't change your body for the business!

The business is fickle. You cannot be. Commit to YOU and creating YOURSELF. Stay anchored, stay focused, and develop a sense of humour!!

If this business is fickle, learn to play the game, and play it within your zone. Know what you will gamble with, how much you are willing to put down, and know if it doesn't pay off, when you walk away!!! Fickleness doesn't deserve you to throw yourself in and lose it all.

Business trends come and go. Trends are accessories. You can change these as necessary! Your "self" is not a trend. Know the difference: embrace and invest in one, and play the other!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Vocal Technique is not an Art, it's a SPORT!

Saturday musings...

I cannot take credit for coining the title but rather, it came from my mentors and great friends - Ted Baerg and Irena Welhasch-Baerg who gave it to me!!

There are many ways of speaking about vocal technique - and I have blogged about certain aspects here as well...but ultimately, the physicality must create FORM in order to execute the idea. Wanting to sing is great, but if you can't, it's just an idea, a thought, a desire. Ideas, thoughts, desires need to take FORM in order for them to live and breathe. It is the form, the behavior, the physical athleticism that allows the voice to sing!

As I have said before, technique is about physical behavior. The entire body needs to be involved, and the psychology needs to be involved! This is how the "sport" of singing is crucial to the singer! You cannot and will not sing with consistency without developing the "sport" of your athleticism and the "sport" of your psychology.

Look at the great athletes and what makes them great! It isn't just talent or prowess - it is how they build their instruments, how they treat their instruments, and how they look at and approach the game, and how they are dedicated to being better than their previous selves. The focus, the physicality, how they develop physical strength, mental strength and psychological strength in NEVER compromised. This makes them champions.

The technical behavior of ANY physical athleticism needs to be considered SPORT in that it involves the body and the mind - and the DOING!! Nike coined the "Just do it" and it applies across the board.

As singers, we are often riddled with roadblocks - excuses, getting in our own way, emotional and psychological barriers - and yet, our technical discovery needs us to get physical and athletic with it, and JUST DO IT!!!!

We must learn how to claim our STRENGTH - physical and psychological. We must learn to turn those negative voices off while we work, in order TO WORK.

Art is journey and creation; Technique is physical DOING. It is strength and power through physical behavior and mental steel and focus. There is no room for anything else. You either do it, or you don't.

As I have said before, the technique is the physical balance - the nakedness of the voice - and the art is how you accessorize and dress it!!! If the structure underneath does not exist, it will not show the creation draped on it! It will only show what ISN'T there.

Dare to be an athlete. Dare to discover the SPORT of your voice. Dare to claim your physicality, and REJOICE in it. Dare to discover what it can do and what it WILL do. Dare to sweat!!!! Dare to work some muscles!!! Dare to engage the psychology of the athlete you are and who you are becoming! Dare to discover what your physicality does and develop it further! Dare to leave your pitfalls, emotional roadblocks and excuses at the door and JUST DO IT!

Dare to be committed to your SPORT so that your art has a place to LIVE!!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Art versus Business

Friday musings...

It is called Show BUSINESS not Show Art.

Do we know the difference and how to develop the difference as artists?

How the business sees us, when they see us, IF they see us is often out of our control. However, if we want to WORK and try to make a living, what is the compromise that is livable?

Your artistry and your development vocally and dramatically is up to you. How you translate that into business is a very different animal.

We can either bitch about it and whine and complain, or we can recognize what we have, how we nourish it and develop it artistically AND how we promote it within the business.

Our artistic development is ongoing and uncompromising! Who we are, who we are becoming is not up for negotiation. This is crucial in recognizing the difference between art and business.

Business is about negotiation. Business is about buying and selling PRODUCT. YOU are the product. What is the business buying?

Once we really understand the difference, we will not confuse the two and the emotional investment we need as an artist will not enter into the business side.

Art is about creation and journey. Business is about product and result.

Can you balance this? Some cannot. This is okay too. Some are artists cannot and will not make any transition or movement into the business world. This is a decision and if your artistic soul will not, cannot, or chooses not to go to this side, THIS IS FINE!!! YOU are ultimately the one who makes this decision.

Some performers are all about product and result and not about artistic journey at all. They are all business and this works for them.

Some of us work to create a balance between both. We are artists first and have a place we call home that keeps us anchored and secure. We have a journey that is unique and a place we can be still and ask the big questions, and remind ourselves why we do what we do when the business side gets overwhelming!

As we take that step to discover the product of us, we must be firmly planted in our artistry and know we are not leaving it behind, but rather, using it as a compass and a place to return!

Often the business sees us differently than we see ourselves. It doesn't mean the business is wrong, nor does it mean you are wrong!!! The differences can be reconciled if you are willing to get creative with it as long as it doesn't compromise your integrity as an artist or as a human being. YOU decide what is negotiable and what is not. YOU decide what are deal breakers and what you can consider.

Know what business you are in! "Show Business" is a huge label and within it, there are many businesses that operate very differently. Opera is different from Music Theatre is different from voice over work is different from commercial singing is different from the cabaret world is different from concert and recital work is different get my point!

Many of us have a foot in many angles of our business, so know where you are that day! So many angles not enough feet!!! Recognize the place you stand - the expectations, the realities, the necessities, the compromises...can you stand there and create? If yes, then explore it! If no, then walk away and find somewhere else to be!

Many of us have types or fachs that may not find "home" right away - and we have to hurry up and wait!!! So, while you are waiting, what are you DOING???? How are you developing your craft and your artistry and still exploring what you can do in the business?

Some of us have physical types that just don't match our voices within the business. SO what do you do? Give up? Walk away? NO!!! SING with your voice - your artistry leads you! Perhaps you have to compromise WHAT you sing if the business wants to hire you. Can you do it? Does it make SENSE to you - artistically, vocally? If it's not going to compromise your instrument, can you do it? Will you do it?

Only you can make that decision. This is where the balance of artistic soul and business savvy comes into place. Compromise does not need to mean selling out! You and only you have decisions to make.

Where is your talent best served artistically and where is it best served as product? Sometimes you have options, and sometimes the answers are different places. If you are willing to explore, and recognize the possibilities, the possibilities grow.

Your artistic journey is yours - no compromise. It is yours to explore and develop and nurture. DO THAT!!!!

You are product in this business is about compromise. Will the business see you as you wish to be seen or will the business ask you to be something you aren't comfortable with? Will you be able to compromise and perhaps see yourself slightly differently that opens up new possibilities or not?

If the business requires you to make a compromise, this does not mean a compromise in your artistic life!!! EVER!!!! You decide if that compromise is workable, or perhaps if not, the compromise needs another negotiation so you are more content. Business is about negotiation from BOTH sides.

Can you do it? Only if you want to. The journey and the product still begins and ends with YOU.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holiday Celebrations - Susan is Singing!

Yes there was a blog entry today - please go to it below!

For those of you in New York City this week, if you are free and want to experience a little cabaret...

I will be singing at WEDNESDAY CABARET at THE IGUANA 8 p.m. Wednesday December 16th.

Hosted by the impeccable Dana Lorge and Richard Skipper, this is a warm and inviting evening of song and fun! Please click on Richard's name to get to his website to find out more details for reservations et al.

I will be performing some Kurt Weill and some Kander & Ebb...

Hope to post a few pictures - so bring your cameras!!!

Now, back to the blogging!!!

What is Your Responsibility in the Audition?

Sunday musings...

Having heard from several of you doing EPAs for Broadway, and having HEARD some of you at NOLA studios this week (!) doing opera company and program auditions...

What are you responsible for as you walk into that audition????

Don't assume ANYTHING.

If you don't do your OWN research, do not blame somebody else for your laziness!!

Yes, it's laziness!!! If you are told an EPA or any music theatre call is asking for a "certain style" in audition - don't just accept that!!! DO YOUR WORK!!! Find out what the show is and what the style is. Don't accept anybody's input as gospel, and do your research regardless!

Take a book in for MT auditions that shows you off the best - in ANY genre or style. Have possibilities ready to go if asked, and stay flexible. Know why you are offering what you are offering - what does it show about your voice? your type? your specific strengths?

Know what you are offering and why you are offering it! "Because so-and-so said I should prepare a pop rock song" isn't good enough!!! What if it's a legit show?!?!? The so-and-so isn't doing the audition!!! YOU ARE!!!! Find out and figure it out!

Is your music well marked? This goes for MT AND opera. Don't assume your pianist can read minds (even though they often can!) because that isn't fair, and frankly they may decide they don't wanna!!!

If you are doing a cut/cadenza/tempi changes/adding fermati or anything that needs special attention - MARK IT CLEARLY IN THE SCORE!!! Take a minute (it is YOUR audition) to show the pianist what's going on - this is respectful, and it will also guarantee you a more grounded audition, because you leave nothing to chance with YOUR preparation!

Don't assume, opera singers, that just because the candenza ALWAYS starts there, that it shouldn't be marked clearly for the pianist. Don't assume!!! Mark it!

Know why you are there. Seriously. Stay true to that reason! Are you trying to get work? Trying out new repertoire? Discovering how to "be" in the room more fully? Stay specific to your goal and focus there.

Don't assume the people at the table care. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. It's not personal. It shouldn't be rude, but sadly, it often is. If you are made to feel like you are wasting their time - TAKE YOUR TIME!!!! Do your work! Do not apologize for being typed in/having an appointment/having an audition time. We are not responsible for their manners, knowledge or lack thereof; We ARE responsible for what we DO and we respect and represent ourselves. You are responsible to be professional, responsive and do what you came to do.

Always have extras of everything!!! headshots/resumes; copies of music; pantyhose (!!!); whatever you might need, bring it!!! I even bring a 2nd pair of shoes since many years ago I broke a heel onstage during a concert. Even if the shoes I walk in with are not my audition shoes, I have a 2nd pair if something stupid happens! I usually have some safety pins in my bag (buttons have interesting minds of their own sometimes, as do zippers!) and a stain stick isn't a bad idea - to spot things! Never assume how you leave the apartment/house/hotel, is how you are going to arrive at the audition! It is your responsibility to figure out a contingency plan and be prepared for it!

Look your best!!! For your body, your type, your fach and the occasion! This is a job interview! This isn't a costume party nor a cocktail party nor an 8 p.m. concert!! You are talking with HR and often the boss. How do you want to be seen??? Don't assume you will be unless you invest in that decision! It might be obvious to you but it's cannot be assumed it will be obvious to someone else!

You are responsible to represent yourself how you want to be seen - literally, vocally and dramatically, and personally. You want to be seen as someone who is prepared, knowledgeable and pliable without being a suck-up, stuck-up or rude or rigid, or a lap dog!!!

Ultimately your responsibility is to yourself. You must find the information; you must research the show/season; you must present yourself in the best possible light; you must present what you do with clarity and without apology; you must be clear and focused at the task and have the props there to complement your task without chaos! Have your extra copies easily at hand; do not share your panic with those in the audition room or in the hallway. Figure it out. It is no one else's responsibility or problem if you forgot your music or have a run in your pantyhose, or prepared the wrong material, or slopped on your tie, or have salad in your teeth!!

Be certain why you are doing what you are doing, and do it. Prepare, and never assume so you are further prepared for anything that might lend itself to pulling you off your focus so you can refocus quickly without any shift in energy or disturbing someone else.

No matter who you trust/who is in your corner - YOU walk into that room and set that music in front of the pianist; You introduce YOURSELF - you don't introduce your coach or your teacher or your mother or your wife...It is YOU. Be responsible to yourself, for yourself.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Knowing Your Worth!

Holiday musings...

I have said before that often we deal with people who know the cost of everything and the worth of nothing!

Do you know your worth and are you ready to stand for that?

A singer who chats with me regularly sent me this post from a message board she frequents, wanting my take and thought it might make a good blog topic. Thank you Arianna for your input here!!

Here's the quote:

"I had a famous NFL football player here in the Tampa Bay area approach me about working for him on NYE. He is planning a charity weekend that includes a golf tourney, cornhole tournament, and fishing tournament. This event raises about $300,000.00 a year for the local children's hospital.

I was more than happy to first. THEN, he told me that he wanted me to MC and DJ the ENTIRE NYE event for 9 hours for free.

I checked into it, and professional services CAN NOT write off their services if they give them for free to charity. You CAN write off any expenses related to providing the service for the charity, but you CAN NOT write off the value of the service itself.

I've done major events in the past, and even the exposure doesn't particularly lead to any other jobs, so I'm not sure that is a good incentive.

I'm not trying to come off as selfish, but isn't 9 hours unreasonable with very little incentive beyond the charity work itself? Thoughts??"

Is this an unreasonable request???? ABSOLUTELY!!!!

Holding a charity event is about raising MONEY for a charity, not about "hiring" and not paying! If you have entertainment, caters et al - they need to be paid for their time and their work.

This is a typical sense of entitlement from the guy who is organizing this. Ridiculous. He should be ashamed of himself. The people he is inviting to the event are the ones who should be and will be giving money to this charity, not those who are working for the event. Again, someone who doesn't know the etiquette nor the business of how to organize and plan an event.

So, how much are we responsible in educating those who might hire us?

Each potential job has to be taken at face value in my opinion. As an artist, as "work for hire" - soloist, entertainer, whatever - we must know our worth, and we must know how we put a dollar figure on that for our time and effort.

I am often asked how I come to my teaching fee - and I don't charge for my expertise - I charge for what my TIME is worth to me, while still trying to be fair to my students.

As a performer, it is about time too. Leaving expertise and talent and artistry out of this business transaction for a moment, what is your TIME worth?

Unless you are in a position of wealth, position, celebrity, and can afford THIS type of generosity, most of us are working singers and actors and performers. This means work for HIRE. Hire means a fee. A fee means money.

It is very simple. This is the business of what we do. We cannot confuse the business with the art. And we cannot dismiss the worth of our artistry but also the worth of our TIME. We cannot get our time back; Our time is valuable and WE must value it in order for others to respect it.

I am going to say that again: We must value our time in order for others to respect it.

Our time is what we can negotiate a fee for. Selfish has nothing to do with it. Time/fee and negotiation are business concepts that we must work with and stay clear about. Feelings do not play in business. Business is business.

We must know our worth in our time, and in our expertise; we must know our worth in our talent, artistry, individuality, uniqueness;

Those can afford to pay us, and still ask for a freebie are being disrespectful. They must be held accountable. Educating someone like this doesn't need to take a great deal of time or effort or investment - but finding a way to show HOW you are a business is crucial to SPEAK business.

With the above query, it sounds to me like this football player/business (?) man doesn't understand the concept of "charity event". The fees to the tournaments should go to the charity, not the wages of the performers or DJ or catering staff! In this case specifically, a DJ playing and "on" for a nine hour event, needs to get paid his fee. Plain and simple.

This is great template to all of us as performers. We must know our worth, and in knowing, we can then afford to be generous when and where we can.

We are often asked to donate our talents to a worthy cause. And we do, if we can. However, we should not and cannot be required to give AWAY our time and expertise. This is a fine line, and we must find it. The line moves depending on the situation, and we must stay fluid to greet each situation as it - unique - and consider what is being asked of us.

Knowing your worth helps you create boundaries, and helps you make decisions about who you are and what you stand for; It teaches you what you can afford and what you cannot - in every realm! Knowing your worth then allows you to CLAIM that worth and not apologize for it.

You may negotiate a fee, but your WORTH is not negotiable. Be prepared to be flexible in negotiation of COST, but never relinquish the WORTH of you and what you do.

So, if it costs you nothing to be generous - and you WANT to do it, do it; but if a request comes to you that does not respect your worth, and will cost you more than you can afford - on ANY level - then graciously withdraw and say no. An explanation is not necessary, but if asked why, then you CAN educate, if the one asking the question truly wants to listen.

Walking away from a gig - paid or not - is something we all have to do from time to time in order to keep our worth intact. Our worth is priceless. The fee is negotiable only when it makes sense to you. You owe no one an explanation. Your business is YOURS.

Contribute - yes; give it away? absolutely not.

In this season of "giving" - perhaps learning how to SHARE what you possess, is truly the art of "giving" and not "giving away".

In this DJ's query - he gives when he shares his talent and time for his business; And should be compensated, otherwise his worth is lessened.

So it should be for all of us. In all instances, share your artistry. Negotiate your fee for your time. Be generous when you can afford to be - through artistry, through time, through money - but always ALWAYS know your worth, and always ALWAYS demand the respect of that worth.

Saying "no" is not being selfish, nor is it a flaw. Saying "no" sometimes means just taking a stand.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What is Self-Confidence?

As I watch the snow coming down...

What is self-confidence for a singer/performer/artist?

And why does it seem so elusive?

Confidence is not delusion. Often, delusion is larger than confidence and is put carefully in place to not be able to see or become aware of the reality of self.

I am musing because as I write all these blog entries, I don't plan them - they are free form and take on a life of their own...I truly am musing in print! So, I am on this journey of discovery with you as you read and I type!

Is confidence a feeling or an action? That is a good question. Or is it something else? "I HAVE confidence" not I "DO" confidence or I "FEEL" confidence. I might FEEL confident because of something I DO or something I HAVE or something I KNOW (which is having I guess...)

So, is confidence a possession that is intangible based on knowing?

I know I can do something, therefore I can possess and hold a confidence in that knowledge, and thus, in that doing?

As you think about this, it certainly gives you something to DO, and in DOING, are you nervous or feeling self-conscious?!?!?! HA! Probably not. Maybe that is the point!

First and foremost, do I know I CAN? As singers, as artists, it is imperative to work from a place of knowledge and of truth in order to create a reality that can be shared. Do we do that? Do we claim that place that is based on knowledge and truth and understanding? Do we claim that place that lies under that knowledge which is often called DESIRE?

If the DESIRE is there to inform the knowing, and the knowing allows us to DO what we are working toward, and the DOING is successful, the possession of confidence of self in the doing is concrete.

What?!?!? Maybe I'm onto something here...

How much do you want to DO what you say you want to do? That is the desire. That is the passion. And what is it that you want to DO? And what are you willing to do for that desire??? Entitlement is not desire. Wanting and not doing is not desire nor passion. Recognizing the difference is key.

If the desire and passion is TRUE and then the ability to then discover how to manifest that passion through the development of craft is tangible and actionable, then the possession of confidence is tangible in the recognition of what the artist has offered, can offer, will offer, and does offer.

"Feeling" confident doesn't just happen! It has to be present because of many other realities. Pretending to be confident is pretending. Sometimes we cannot be confident, but we DO what we say we can do anyway. Isn't that still some level of confidence? Otherwise, how could we do it if we haven't, on some level, found enough confidence to DO something?

I think our culture of singing (there's a connection from yesterday) plays so many mind and spirit games, that it can actually convince us we have NO confidence, when in fact, they fact that we can stand in front of someone telling us we have nothing, we actually have more!!!

MUST you sing? If you MUST then you have desire. If you have desire then you MUST develop that into a tangible craft. If you MUST sing and you CAN sing and you PURSUE your singing, there is confidence interwoven into that DESIRE from the very primordial response to that desire. Your "lack of confidence" is actually not an internal flaw but rather, an external imposition to your artistry!!!

Is this possible? Why not!?!

Perhaps self-confidence is a birthright. Perhaps it is the external isolation of culture nuisance that begins to pick at the confidence that is innately there to allow us to experience. And in that external "picking", we somehow have mis-interpreted it as inner fear, questioning, and lack of confidence.

Why do you feel scared? Fearful? Mortified? Do YOU make yourself feel that way??? Or is it lack of preparation, someone else's response? Is it an internal or an external influence?

If you feel scared because you know you didn't prepare - then that isn't lack of confidence, that is lack of preparation!!! If you didn't prepare and still feel fine, then you ARE delusional!!!

But if you feel scared because you don't know if "they" will like you/respond positively to you, then your confidence is being messed with by an external force that has NOTHING to do with confidence!

Confidence comes from understanding how you do what you do. So do it! Nobody does what you do, and nobody knows what you know. Do what you know. Know it is because you have worked for it. Know your work shows because your desire to present the truth of that knowledge is at the root of who you are.

Nobody and nothing can touch that unless you give them permission. Why would you allow permission to be drawn away from your desire?

Confidence is the absolute knowledge in your understanding and commitment to your desire and your willingness to nurture it and build the understanding and commitment into a tangible craft.

Can you use that? I hope so.

Let's see where that takes us...

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Culture of Singing

Friday evening musings...

As I have the distinct pleasure of having a foot planted fairly firmly - (well a stiletto wedged deeply into the dirt) - in the world of opera AND of music theatre, I feel I can see how these cultures differ...

And they DO differ...

This could be the title of a book I may need to write...but tonight, I will begin to observe and comment on what comes to me first - call it the word association of the culture of singing...

In opera, part of the culture seems to be the ongoing tied to the apron strings of student to teacher. Often, the culture of the singing in this arena is about how often you see your teacher, how long you've been with that teacher, are you with the "correct" teacher, are you doing EVERYTHING you are told to do? Do you have to get permission to do anything? Or everything? When are you going to be "out on your own"????

We all need our teachers, please do not misunderstand me! But we also need to be goal-oriented and be active about our development. We need to know WHY we are there. We are with different teachers through our careers for different reasons. One teacher is not all things to all singers. Nor should they be. Feeling beholden to a teacher isn't healthy; studying for years and years and never really developing isn't healthy; being held hostage in a studio isn't healthy; feeling you need to be with a certain teacher for political reasons isn't healthy;

The power/control game of singing is still very real and very present and we see it very blatantly in the classical and opera world. Many often pounce on a teacher to "fix" us - because they "fixed" somebody else; Many often feel the "name" teacher is going to make us and will by-pass a "real" teacher for a so-called "name"; Many stay with a teacher long after the relationship is useful - for either party! And many "study" when they aren't learning a thing!

We often hold the teacher accountable for some of this power/control game, and so we should! You all know I do! However, the singer is equally as responsible!! The singer has to learn, recognize and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!! If you aren't learning, and you know you aren't, why are you there?!?!?! If you don't want to invest enough in your craft and yourself to spend the time and yes, the money, to explore the possibilities of finding the BEST teacher for you for the time you need to be with that person, and have a sense of entitlement and blame then your denial and your delusion are larger than your talent, most likely!

We have ALL survived "bad" teaching, perhaps had "bad" technique, or NO technique, but it is UP TO US AS SINGERS TO FIND WHAT WE NEED TO MAKE US BETTER!!!! And if we are not, it is nobody's fault but our own!!! A teacher cannot give you a career; a teacher cannot make you practice; a teacher cannot create an instrument that does not exist - physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually; A teacher can lead, guide and help you develop what you are and what you have; However, the culture of singing in this arena should not make a student beholden, or held hostage to a "technique" or a "style" or a personality; It should not make a singer feel like a disciple of someone or something..."follow me or follow nothing" does nothing to promote the individual singer's journey!

In Music Theatre, the irony is this: the culture promotes the immediate. The singing is often not great across the board, because the dedication to the craft and the development of the instrument and the artistic musicianship is not cultivated in the arena of the "16-bar cut and here are your sides for tomorrow." Often, many feel if they can imitate it, they are singing it. Instead of really learning about style, form, physicality of instrument and true vocal development, many pretend and in actuality, know nothing.

Many dancers (not ALL!) I come into contact with will wonder why they can't learn to sing immediately - even though their OWN discipline of dance has taken them years to develop. The culture of singing in music theatre, as it is often promoted, is very deceiving and false: One lesson, or printing off the music the night before, should be enough work to nail the audition and get the job. This disgusts me. And it makes me angry. There is no knowledge in this instant falsehood. There is no craft, no voice, no responsibility taken. The entitlement of self, and the absorption of one's own delusion of grandeur reeks in this arena.

One lesson, one coaching, a couple of days of learning a cut, listening to it on youtube or on your ipod is NOT ENOUGH to call yourself an artist. Nor is it enough to call yourself a singer. It is nothing. Music theatre culture seems to falsely promote this. This is not artistry or developing vocabulary as a singer. Once in awhile studying,or once in a while learning music, learning roles, developing your voice does NOT make you a singer. It makes you a dabbler who is faking it. Fakers are not real. And fakers who fool the business and get jobs very quickly are shown that they don't have what it takes to survive, let alone thrive or grow. Vocal problems develop and the "singer" has to leave or will shorten their career quickly.

I applaud the singers who are willing to ask the hard questions - of themselves and others. Who are willing to realize that THEY develop their artistry. The business decides if and where they have a career. The two are NOT the same. I applaud the singers who say "NO, I can't do that. NO I am not ready for that. NO I need a little more time", when it is appropriate to say so.

A teacher cannot give you a career, but they can help you develop the instrument that you profess to want to have in order to develop your artistry. The business may or may not give you an opportunity to work in a venue that will give your artistry a place to show itself. YOU may need to develop that opportunity too. The business doesn't give you artistry. Only YOU can move past the culture of how the singer sings in your respect arenas and decide WHAT YOU NEED to be the best singer you can be.

If it doesn't matter to you, then I respectfully suggest you just keep working very hard not to be found out. You might fool a few people for awhile, but you can't fool everybody all of the time. And perhaps, the only one you are fooling is yourself.

If you call yourself a singer - in ANY arena, then BE ONE. Invest in the truth of that. Command it. Challenge the culture you are in to find what you NEED, and to find what IS needed to make the culture of singing true, pure, powerful and rich. Learn WHAT you need and why you need it. Don't expect it - go get it! YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE! Artistry is not lazy, entitled nor full of excuses. Artistry is active. Artistry is responsive.

Then, and only then, do we as artists truly take the reins and create our lives fully.