Friday, August 20, 2010

The "Skin" of the Singer!

Friday musings...

How thick is your skin?

As singers in this business - or even just getting started - we will endure criticism from many places: the business, the studio,  the stage,  colleagues and anybody else who thinks they can add their 2 cents, or anybody you deem to ask (this can be a smart move - or not!)

Criticism can come unbidden - both constructive AND destructive.

How do we deal with it?  How do we absorb and learn from the constructive, and let the destructive fall away from us?

The human psychology is unique and complex.

As artists, we need the openness, and the pliable vulnerability to grow and develop our craft.

As artists in the business, we need to be clear of the distinction.  We need to understand and not take personally some of the business activities.

Criticism is one of those complex and very gray areas.

How do you allow for both the openness and pliability to be an artist and the ability to repel anything that is destructive?

I wish there was a simple answer.

Perhaps we begin with "to thyself be true".

If we are unaware of who we are, and what we are about,  we haven't a hope in hell.  We will be led and manipulated and often wasted.

The truth of self means an ability to be honest - with where we are, what we have to work with,  where we are in the process,  what we need to do,  how we need to work.

This self-truth will draw us toward those people who will see us honestly too - and allow for constructive criticism and development.

The self-denial of talent, ability, process, can often create a denial community: we surround ourselves with people who simply tell us what we THINK we want to hear.

The skin of the singer has to have a bullshit detector.  Thin, thick or developing,  it has to be able to RESPOND to truth!

Growth doesn't happen when you are being told you are wonderful all the time.  On the flip side, growth doesn't happen when you are being told you are awful and will never amount to anything, or that your only chance at anything real will only happen with the person abusing you!

As you will need to prove yourself to the powers that be,  so do the people you entrust for that constructive criticism.  We all have to EARN our place.

Earning our place means developing an understanding or WHO we are and where we stand, and who we stand in front of and simply why we are there.

If you are a "singer" that chooses not to listen to constructive criticism and tunes out anything that may help in the development of that process, then my question is simply, why are you singing?

If you, as a singer,  ask for feedback from a colleague or friend, or coach and then are taken aback by that feedback - then maybe you shouldn't have asked, or perhaps you should have been prepared fully for the possibility!

"Skin" is simply how we process information.  Some of us recognize the difference between constructive and accessible and developmental criticism versus destructive and controlling criticism versus blowing smoke up your ass versus simply jealousy.

Some of us don't.  Some of us recognize the difference on paper and haven't been able to live the difference...yet.

Some of us simply have created a cocoon of denial so that the truth will not penetrate.

Some of us have no filter and wander from one person to the other looking for answers outside of ourselves - changing teachers, technique, ideology,  repertoire faster then changing clothes - looking for a quick fix or a place that makes us feel "good".

The"skin" of the singer needs to develop - in order to recognize the TRUTH of what is being delivered to us, and the ability to recognize the truth from within.

Often, a sense of devastation isn't so much about a thin skin or no skin, but has more to do with the internal dialogue that has deluded self.

If we ask for input and are unwilling to hear it and find a place for it - then why did we ask?

If you don't want to know, don't ask.  If you feel you don't need to know - why sing?

If you are pursuing singing, you need to pursue the TRUTH of that and where you stand in that pursuit.

If you are pursuing singing in the business,  you need to pursue the truth of what that means and what it means of you.

We need to be able to HEAR what we need to be prepared to do,  and then decide whether or not we CAN or even WANT to!

Finding out what you NEED to do is less about feeling it, and simply about claiming it and doing it!  We don't have to get overly sensitive or feel put upon.  We need to HEAR that which is being said and KNOW who it is coming from and in what spirit it is being said.

"Skin" is simply an ability of detection.  Do we ask for information and are we prepared to hear it?

Do we know and respect the person who is giving the criticism?  Do we understand why that criticism is being given? Is it constructive or destructive?  How does it uphold the craft or the knowledge of the business?  How does it benefit YOU as a singer?

Is there something in that criticism that you can take and create into a better you?

This is TRUE SKIN!  Claiming truth and development in self;  seeing and seeking honestly in self and others;  responding with an artistic yearning and desire;  responding with a business sensibility that does not deny the truth of the craft.

So, if the skin is real, then ask away!  Ask from those that have the answers and be willing to hear and absorb!

If the criticism comes unbidden - consider the source,  consider the situation and make a decision to give it weight, or dismiss it.  Either way, you will learn from it, and learn more about your skin's ability in the process!

Criticism in constructive mode will always have humanity in it,  it will have a reason for being said that is complex and important,  and it will not be a blanket statement or dismissal.

Truth needs to be pursued and recognized if you are to be a singer with depth and knowledge and craft!  If you cannot be truthful with yourself,  you will not hear the truth from others.

"Skin" is a filter.  It is not a denial. It is not a impenetrable wall.  Skin breathes,  skin sheds,  skin has layers and layers!!

Filter the bullshit - from within and from outside!
Absorb the truth - that is yours and that you learn!

 DO the work.  BE a singer!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ladies, Do I Need to Talk About SHOES?!

Yes, yes I do...

Whether it is an audition,  a masterclass and certainly a performance - if you are performing and presenting as YOU and not a character who is in costume - YOU HAVE TO EXPLORE THE HEEL!

Quit whining you who only wear a ballet flat!!

There MIGHT (and I say a very qualified "might") but certain "types" in Music Theatre, that can get away with a flat - child role for example - for an audition, but I have actually heard Casting Directors say if they see one more ballet flat they are going to scream!

Opera?  Classical?  NO WAY!

The heel is the acceptable shoe of choice.

And guess what?  There are TONS of choices!!!!  Type of shoe,  heel height,  fabric,  colour - all those things that can enhance your body, your outfit and your performance!

Some of us were born to wear heels comfortably - but guess what? We still practice walking in them,  working in them and finding the correct heel for the outfit and the occasion.

You need to discover what works for you.  If you've never worn heels and you wobble out in 4 inch stilettos,  that's ridiculous too.

Flats make you look like you have stove pipes for legs and generally make you stand like a duck.  If I'm noticing this, I'm not listening to you, am I?

We SEE YOU FIRST.  Learn how to pull it together,  and work it!!! Quit making excuses and whining!  YOU ARE IN THEATRE FOR GODSSAKE!

DO NOT WEAR CHARACTER SHOES for performance or audition;

The KITTEN HEEL was made popular by Audrey Hepburn and it still is a wonderful option if you aren't a high-heeled girl!!    It still gives you lift and curve without making it impossible to walk!  The heel can be a low as 3 centimeters with a narrow "stiletto". Are you kidding?! Get some!!!

STILETTO HEELS come in EVERY height - they are really more about the dimension of the heel.  They were named after the Stiletto Dagger of the 1930s.  They can be 1" in height up to whatever you can wear!!!
A REAL Stiletto heel has steel or alloy - thus the beeping at airport security!

Stay away from the heels that are clear (!)  or too much club wear...(!)

Here are some "stilettos" at EVERY height:

STACKED HEELS are also appropriate for daytime, with a suit and the like - again they come in every height.  They are more casual, sometimes a thicker heel, and give the illusion of a wood heel.

THE WEDGE heel is also an option - again, a little more casual depending on the occasion!
This was my FIRST high heel - and if you have trouble in heels, you might want to try a wedge.
It was created by Salvatore Ferragamo in 1936 in Italy and made its way to North American in the 40s.

They are better with wide legged pants or longer skirts...

THE MARY JANE can be found in numerous heel heights and types of heel as well:

As you can see - there is more than enough to choose from - these are just a start!

Your occasion, your fabrics, your colours will all play into your choice of shoe - not just the HEEL - height and make!

THE PLATFORM is not for the faint of heart - and really gives height, but is easier to walk in than you think - work your way up to this!!!

SO explore what works for you!

Even those of us who love our high heels, have heels of every height, dimension and description!

Just DISCOVER those heels - of ANY height, and walk and sing and work in them.


Edited to add:  STRETCHING is so important when you wear heels! Calves, hip flexors and plantar metatarsal stretches.

Also, those of us over 40 begin to lose the fat in the metatarsal - ball of the foot - (could just shift some fat from other places, but I digress) so if you need to - wear a silicone metatarsal pad!

I highly recommend Yoga Toes - to stretch the foot and keep the bones aligned et al.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The "Difficult" Artist?

As the business continues to shed interesting light on interesting happenings...

What is the "difficult" Artist?

Performers who come across as "difficult" seem that way only from certain perspectives.

Sometimes performers are simply difficult because they are not professional enough to really claim their artistry - or simply are not artists.  They think they need to behave a certain way to give them some kind of credibility.  What they do, is give those of us who are truly artists, emerging artists, performers of substance and integrity, a bad name.

SO - if the artist truly IS one - why are they labelled "Difficult"?  And who does that labelling?

I have many clients, great friends, relatives, and self who have been labelled "difficult".  We are simply not.

We simply are ready to stand up for what we believe in, and say so, and back it up with professionalism, and the ability to bring our craft to the stage.

Perhaps, what is the most insulting to an artist, is being dismissed.  The "dismissed" artist certainly will let you know when you've crossed that line.  As they should.  As someone should.

An artist is a human being.  We would like to be treated with that basic dignity.  We are not a commodity, we have feelings,  we have a spirit and a soul.  We are not part of the equipment.  We are a living, breathing life force that deserves the simple respect of every other human being.

An artist is not "difficult" if he/she is not "dismissed".

An artist carries a special quality called talent and craft with them.  This is why they are hired.  They are hired to do a job because they are qualified for it.

Artists honestly do not ask for much.

Simply, an artist wants recognition for what they do, and who they are.  They would like to be respected for what they need in order to do their job to the best of their ability.  They would like a simple thank you,  a simple human dignity,  an exchange for their time and their effort.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually been asked "what can we do to make it work for you to be here?" or something of that nature...

Imagine having a work environment that treats you with respect and dignity?  That is safe on every level?  That allows you to create?  That does not cause anxiety?

If you disrespect your artists,  do not expect loyalty or ease of execution.  You will be met with what you deserve:  a hostile environment that YOU have created.

It comes down to relationships, boundaries and mutual respect.  If the relationship is misrepresented, if the boundaries are breached, and the respect is not there,  how can we as artists work?

Yes, the artist must take ownership in this.  Of course!

Again, I ask - what is so difficult about making an offer that is with respect, dignity and fairness?

If you offer respect, dignity and fairness, chances are you will get it back - as well as loyalty and an extra mile from that artist!

If you get that loyalty and work from the artist, then the show goes on - to great success!!

When you create an atmosphere to inhibit, disregard and dismiss an will get what you deserve.

Why have we lost the "treat others the way you wish to be treated?" in business?  It could work you know!  The pretenders and "over-egos" and the plain crazy people might even be shaken loose in order to make way for respectful, strong, dignified and fair human beings who have integrity and live by a code and honor larger than some one's greed.  On BOTH sides of the footlights.

Am I dreaming?  I can wish and hope.

And I can live my life and my art that way.  And in doing so,  shed some much light and awareness on that dark hole that can create difficulty where there was none to begin with.

Difficult?  Absolutely not.  Real artists aren't difficult.  Perhaps you are hiring the wrong people.

But if you dismiss me and disrespect me, as an artist - then it is YOUR decision to be difficult - prepare for consequences on a karmic level.


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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One Voice Lesson and You are Ready for What?

Wednesday musings...

Why is the discipline of voice often disregarded?

Would it occur to you that an hour in the dance studio would make you a dancer? Or an hour in acting school would make you a Shakespearean classical actor?

Then why would one assume you would only need ONE voice lesson and be ready to take on the business?  Or never studying and expecting within a month to be ready to audition for a major international show?

These are some of the "interesting" experiences and questions as a singer and as a voice teacher we are often faced with.

One voice lesson isn't going to make you proficient.  Many years of study doesn't necessarily make you a singer either - but that's ANOTHER blog!

Voice study and development doesn't just happen.  Vocal ability isn't a trick.  Technique is not a circus act nor a party trick.

As my husband has always said "Can you summon your talent at will?"

No matter WHAT your discipline - your talent is a raw energy that needs harnessing.  That is discipline and craft.  One hour of study does not create discipline or craft.  One hour of study does not "make" anything.

If you believe one voice lesson is all you need - then I suggest you give your head a hard shake and perhaps find a job that you can learn in an hour.  Whatever that might be.

Real vocal discipline isn't a quick fix, or a band aid, or a trick, or a delusion.  Real craft is about time, and dedication, and practice, and discipline and research, and attention and consistency of study and practice.

So,  now that we have established that you will not learn to sing in one lesson - what WILL you learn? What COULD you find in that hour?

You MIGHT learn, in that hour,  whether you can work with with the teacher you stand in front of.  Trust your gut.  You MIGHT learn you are not going to get it all in an hour.  You MIGHT learn there is a myriad of muscular and athletic components to your instrument that need time and development.  You MIGHT learn what needs to be addressed FIRST for your instrument.  You MIGHT learn what needs to be focused on primarily, not what will be the final result.

"I want to be a singer"  might simply be met with "Great, let's introduce you to the beginning of a singer's body".

"I have to learn to sing" might simply be met with "Do you WANT to sing?"

That first hour might be a simple INTRODUCTION to a POSSIBILITY.  You MAY begin to realize that this is truly something that excites you and you want to pursue it;  You may begin to realize that singing is not a trick and it may take more time than you thought;  You may begin to realize that it is way too much discipline than you are willing or able to give it;  You may begin to realize that your goals may take a little more time and effort than you thought.

Whatever your realizations in that initial hour (and I hope you have some!)  there should be realizations!

Either you are ready, able, willing to dedicate yourself to this discipline or you are not.  Either you are ready to make the commitment and the step to explore your singing voice and the craft of singing, or you are not.  There is no gray or shading here.  You either DO it or you DO NOT.

In that first hour - you MIGHT discover that there is work to be done!  You should have a sense of what you need to begin with, how to initiate it,  what it will do and how it will benefit.  You should know WHY these things are important and WHAT it will do.

In that first hour - you and the teacher you stand in front of, MIGHT begin to discover vocabulary and what you know and what you do not know.  What your organic language seems to be;  What your physicality is able to do initially and what it might be able to discover over time and discipline.

The art of singing is a discovery and honing of craft that is athletic, organic, physical, acoustic,  and places demands on all levels of understanding and all levels of intelligence.  You will not find all of this in a hour, or a day, or a week.  In that first hour, it may be revealed to you that this discovery takes experience, time and attention!

In that first hour - you might get a sense of POSSIBILITY.  With time, discipline, patience, dedication and practice,  what might I find about ME?  about the craft of singing as it pertains to my physicality, my athleticism, my instrument?

In that first hour - you might get a sense of RESPONSIBILITY.  What is yours? What is the teacher's?

In that first hour - you might recognize there are issues to work out before the building of the voice can begin;

In that first hour - you simply might have walked in thinking you were going to be told how to sing, and now discover you are humbled and NEED to LEARN how to sing!

If you walk away from that hour energized and humbled, excited and inspired - then yes, begin that journey of discovery and see what your voice reveals as you begin the discipline of voice.

If you walk away from that hour thinking you don't need anything more - then you sadly just weren't listening.  And no, you still are not a singer.  You have not achieved a trick, a discipline, a craft nor an artistry.  You just wasted that hour.

Discipline of craft - singing, dancing, acting - EVEN LIFE - shows us that the more we study, the more we discover, the more we develop the more we realize that there is so much MORE to learn!

If you don't take that discipline into EACH aspect of your life - you will waste a lot more than an hour...

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Irony of Getting a Job!

Friday musings...

Discussion with a singer yesterday who is ready to rejoin a tour got me thinking...

The irony of working in the business, is how do you keep your creativity alive when you DO get a job?

We work on craft, on discipline, on technique in all aspects of what is required of us as a working artist.  Then we get work.  Now what?

It is so easy when we book that show or that tour to fall into the complacency of "going to work" every day.  Or in some cases, twice or even (god forbid) 3 times a day!!!

As artists, it is even more important once we have booked a show and are working regularly to keep the creativity and study and the discovery alive!!!

I see too often artists/performers who, once booked, don't study regularly or discover regularly.

This is so sad.

It is even more important to keep your craft vivid and your muscles active while working.

It's like going to the gym:  you start doing the same thing day after day for too long, and after awhile, your body just gets used to it and there is no growth/development or change.

Our artistic life and our technical behavior life is the same.

We work to be able to sing/act/dance the roles we are hired to do.  If that is ALL we do, we get stuck.  There is no growth.

If you are in a city that allows you an opportunity to stretch your voice with a teacher - DO IT.  Even if it's not every week, it is so crucial to work with a professional REGULARLY in order to make sure you aren't falling into bad habits by repetition and fatigue.

Are you discovering the other passions in your life while you work?  Are you reading? Going to museums or galleries?  Are you writing?  Are you listening to music outside of the realm you are performing? Are you stretching your creative muscles by cooking or tasting?  By painting or drawing? By writing songs?  What passions and creative outlets are you ALLOWING for yourself WHILE you work and create a character night after night?

Are you looking after your physical instrument?  Do you claim the gym or yoga or pilates or martial arts or a dance class for fun or something to keep your body strong?

Are you looking after and feeding your spiritual instrument?  Your emotional instrument?

ALL aspects of you need to be fed, as you feed your job of creating a character for others.

If you are on the road and changing locations frequently,  you need to be creative in discovering your creativity!!!  You need to bring your creative outlets with you and find ways to explore the artistic-ness of the places you visit.  Get out of your comfort zone and see what's out there - and who!!

As a singer, do you have your teacher with you?  What do I mean?  Do you have practice CDs or recordings so you hear your teacher's voice and work with her/him via recording?  Do you stay in touch with them via email/skype/ichat while on the road to keep you fresh?

Do you have creative ways of keeping your space YOURS while on the road?  Do you bring with you those things that give you comfort, give you energy, give you grounding?  Do you bring "home" with you?

Do you allow time for yourself each day to create?  To breathe? To stretch? To sing because you WANT to and NEED to, not because it's a job and you HAVE to?

Do not let the job get in the way of your creative spirit!!  That spirit needs nurturing each day in order for you to feel as if you infuse your job with integrity.  Do not assume that just because you are working that is enough.

Journal, write, read, sing, stretch, laugh, taste, smell - keep studying!!! Keep re-studying!  Keep realizing!  Keep discovering and growing!!!

Do not allow the JOB to stop you from being a developing artist!!! It is more important NOW than ever to discover what else you can DO so when the "next" reveals itself, you are READY.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Attire for MEN! Audition/Masterclass/Performance OH MY!

okay boys - here it comes!!!

What do you wear for that audition?!??! For that performance?!?!?

There are some marvellous sites about formal attire for men - the history, the etiquette, the explanation of evening wear vs morning wear within a formal setting - just google it and see what you find!

Let's start with some basics though:

FIT!!!!  Make sure whatever you wear, fits you.  Audition, masterclass, performance...nothing worse than seeing a man in a jacket that is too big in the shoulders, too short in the arms...

SHOES!!!  no scuffs, and dress for the outfit and the occasion!  Again,  you want to create length and the shoes are a part of that!!

A TOUCH OF YOURSELF!!!  Get creative with colour and texture and pattern and cut and something uniquely YOU.

My personal pet peeve - the white man's business casual - khakis and a blue button down dress shirt.  This might be what the corporates call interesting (!) but for an artist in an audition - HELL NO.  WALK AWAY FROM THAT RIGHT NOW.

Okay - back on track...

Formal wear - for PERFORMANCE ONLY please.  You don't wear a tux for an audition or for a masterclass in opera or in music theatre.  Generally, and traditionally, it is EVENING wear, so the tuxedo doesn't have to show itself during the day.  Obviously if you are performing with an orchestra in an afternoon concert you may want to use a dinner jacket tuxedo, and maybe a long tie, or monochromatic colour scheme instead of a traditional look.  Your choice.

Tails - evening only gentlemen.  Especially the full white shirt/white vest attire.  After 8 p.m. ONLY.

Let your body type determine jacket type - single button, double button,  double breasted...

When you perform, you should be buttoned up!

Vest OR cumberbund - not both.

If you perform regularly you should have summer weight and winter weight fabrics  - as well as dark formal wear and light formal wear.

Men's formal wear has shown traditional, contemporary, corporate, trendy classifications.  This has to do with cut,  fabric, sheen,  etc.

You can discover different lapel types to add to your individuality - traditional,  shawl,  mandarin - several to choose from.  Daytime can be the same fabric as the body of the formal wear,  evening could be a different fabric and texture.

Here are a few possibilities:
The Classic Tux - vest, tipped lapels, bow-tie:
2nd with cumberbund and studs:

the formal white jacket - for warmer weather performance

Classic Smoking Jacket - Velvet Formal in a COLOUR (!) for a Classic Look

Single breasted Smoking Jacket -  Velvet

COLOUR can do so much - whether it's a full tuxedo, a smoking jacket,  tie, cumberbund, vest - explore the possibilities to shake it up a little!!!

Here are some more contemporary aspects of the tuxedo that might appeal - again EVENING wear...

3 button tux - centre button fastened for performance

Nero/Mandarin collar
double breasted

Frock Coat

If you are auditioning for opera or taking a masterclass during the day or into the evening - a suit or suit jacket or even sports jacket is completely fine!!

Again,  cut, colour, fabric and your personal tastes and personality can influence this greatly!

How you accessorize a great suit - through shirt of tie colour and texture and pattern, shoes etc can really make an outfit pop.

Here are a few possibilities that would work for masterclass/audition during the day:

For MUSIC THEATRE auditions - which are much less formal than a classical masterclass or audition - you need to dress for TYPE as well as body!

A suit jacket or sports jacket may work for you - if that is the type you wish to be seen as.  You can also try a less formal and more trendy look in how you pair it with jeans, more casual shirt etc:

Again - REAL SHOES GUYS!!! No flip flops and such.  Make sure they are clean and polished, not scuffed, not broken...
Invest in some audition shoes guys, that are NOT dance shoes. 
Boots are great too depending on your type.

Even if you are auditioning for a contemporary jeans and tshirt show - pull yourself together!! Don't look like you just rolled out of bed.  Make sure your clothes are CLEAN and FIT YOU!

Don't wear shorts.  You are not at the park or at the beach, you are at the audition!!!
Give it some respect with your presentation!

Don't wear Tshirts that distract from YOU - with slogans or pictures...
Your theatrical type and your personality can infuse your look in that audition room.
Take some time to enjoy that and develop that.

If you are a leading man type - then you can enjoy a more classic look,  even with a suit or shirt and tie, or sports coat.

If you are the guy next door - a more casual look is possible, but still pulled together. 

If you are the bad boy - let it EVOKE that not lock it in...

If you are the poet, the dreamer - EVOKE it...with colour and fabric

Here are some ideas - I purposely picked neutral colours so you can infuse your OWN look on the idea!

Guys,  decide what your best features are and play them up through colour and fabric and cut!

Create LONG lines

Draw colour and texture and pattern to evoke a type and to intensify your assets!

Example: Bring out your eyes with a complementary colour from a tie, or a shirt

Ultimately, you need to be comfortable in your own skin and then in your own clothes!

This is your BUSINESS and your attention to it reflects in how you present yourself.

Pull your pants up over your ass!  Make sure your clothes fit and aren't ripped up or falling off!
What you wear to hang out in shouldn't be what we see in the audition room!

WE SEE YOU FIRST.  Whether you like it or not, we make a value judgement immediately. Let it be a positive one!  Look like it matters to you that you are there.

Let this simply be a jumping off place of possibilities and ENJOY the creativity of YOU.

This is JUST the beginning!