Saturday, September 25, 2010

Could We Understand the WORDS please?

Saturday musings...

Perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves is nothing understanding singers - in ANY genre and style - while they sing.

As someone who learned to speak before she walked,  and who grew up in a family of actors, language was CRUCIAL!!

I have heard many a singer say to me "if it was just on 'ah' it would be so easy to sing!"

Perhaps you are over-estimating the excitement of your "ah" vowel - and perhaps you simply don't have the linguistic knowledge of how LANGUAGE informs tone.

As an instrument, we are the only one with language.  It is there for a reason and it would be extremely wonderful if we could enjoy it and understand it!!

Language itself is complex and marvellous.  It has its own musicality, its own cadence, its own pitch and physicality.  It is up to us as singers to weave this complexity of language into the fabric of the composer's musical choices.

The complexities of these two forms do not need to be COMPLICATED.  They need to be completed TOGETHER.   The language will inform the tone and the styles more completely.  If the composer had wanted the singer's "ah" he/she would have just left it "ah".

So, instead of just complaining how difficult it is to sing it with the words, learn how to DO it.

Language can help not hinder, the release of the voice into the line.  As we learn and understand the nuance of the language used,  how it formed and shaped, how it resonates naturally,  how it intensifies with given pitch - we begin to realize and physicalize the athleticism of language in the singing body.

EACH language brings another set of nuances, sensations, releases.  We begin to physicalize the differences BETWEEN languages, dialects, accents.  Using an Italianate [a] or an Italianate [u] will not suffice for an English one.  Language is NOT interchangeable!

And guess what?  This takes time, thought, study and discovery!!  To sound AUTHENTIC in the language presented is just as important as creating the authenticity of style and genre in tone.

The marvellous complexities of singing language and style and genre can scare the faint of heart - and cause excuses galore!  They are for those singers who are willing and able to dig in and discover the truth and reveal it no matter what it takes!

As a singer, we have the responsibility to discover these complexities - not make excuses for them, or for us.

Language has "foot" - feminine or masculine;  it has meter;  it has pitch;  it has melody; it has cadence;  it has shape and fluidity and release.  Language is music in its own sphere.

Its purpose is to communicate further, deeper, higher - and to put the music of the composer in higher relief, or in some cases, allow the music of the composer to release the language of the text in higher relief!

Whatever the decision,  the language is CRUCIAL and needs to be heard AND understood, simply from the linguistic stand point.

If we try to learn all of these complexities at once, we often come out with a giant mess - like a huge ball of yarn matted together.  If we work one weave at a time, and then gradually work them together - a wonderful tapestry of textures and colours reveals itself fully.

Just the PHYSICAL and ATHLETIC aspect of language and how it enables us to create a line,  develop a dramatic subtext,  draw on resonance subtleties and reveal timbre and tonal suggestions can open up an entirely new and exciting aspect of our singing to us!

I haven't even begun discussing the KNOWLEDGE of what that language is saying - or what it means - especially if you are singing in a foreign tongue!

Just the physicality of language and how it becomes a part of YOUR physicality is about time and practice;  about paying attention to the authenticity of its music!

As we find this authenticity of the naked word within the singing behavior of our bodies and our voices, we can begin to get excited about how is projects and is understood.  We begin to worry less about "does it sound okay?"  and realize "can you understand it?"  is more important.

If the language is internalized,  understood physically and released with authenticity - not only will the singer sound okay,  but the sound will be a glorious release of tone, timbre and clarity - of sound AND language.  Language is sound after all.  Why separate it?

Language weaves into the fabric of voice, and voice into the fabric of language.  These two musics should never feel "put upon" but rather, need to develop a sympatico that is real and necessary in the singer's body.  Anything less isn't worthwhile.

If you are going to do it - do it with conviction, til you get it right!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Big Fish/Small Pond

Sunday musings...

As we begin the fall season - many of you may feel like fish out of water!

First - this is normal.  If you have started school, changed teachers, changed programs, changed cities - made a change to another voice type or fach - you are going to feel somewhat in limbo for a bit.

THIS IS NORMAL!  Accept that and take a breath and pay attention to what is going on around you.

We often go into some form of denial or self-protection when we feel threatened in any way.  We may be legitimately threatened, but often in the case of change as I have described above, it is more about vulnerability than actual threat.

Sometimes making change shows us we aren't where we thought we were to begin with.  It happens, thus the change.

As a singer,  recognize that your previous work, your previous study, your previous self is not for naught!  It is an important stepping stone to where you are NOW.

If you are moving from high school to college or university and making a shift from one teacher to the other you will most definitely be making some huge changes!  If you were primarily a choir singer,  you have developed some marvellous skills, however, perhaps now you are working on your solo voice.  This is another set of skills, and another development of your instrument.

Recognizing that these changes are leading to growth will perhaps allow to approach your lessons and see how your teachers are trying to approach YOU!

Ultimately, no matter how much you THINK you know,  if you are studying,  you are saying there is still so much to LEARN.  In all honesty, no matter how much you DO know, there is still more out there! No one has a monopoly on truth,  and in turn, if you were ready and able, you wouldn't be there would you?

So - if you are making a change of studio, a change of fach, a change of voice type et al - believe that what you DO know will be developed and not negated.

In this instant society, and this ageism mentality of "younger is better", it is often difficult to recognize that in singing, neither of these concepts hold true.

Singing is not a trick, nor is it instant.  A singer is ultimately an athletic activity and thus, it is physical age appropriate.  In this case,  younger is not better, but rather time and maturity is on your side for the long haul!

"Knowing" mentally does not mean your physicality can do it yet!

At the undergrad and grad "age" - singers are just beginning to develop and build a physical instrument.  If the vocal instrument does not reach maturity until well into the 20s and often into the 30s, then at 18, the singer is a vocal embryo!

If a singer is more mature and has been singing in a certain fach or voice type and suddenly is seeing a need to change and morph elsewhere,  this is a MAJOR shift in athleticism - muscles will have to relearn/unlearn/redevelop and rebalance.  Resonance will have to shift and rebalance.  Psychology will have to shift and develop.

None of these things are easy,  and ALL of them TAKE TIME.

If you are switching teachers, it takes TIME to develop vocabulary that both of you inhabit.  Be patient. Be open.  If the teacher is true, he/she will work to find you.  If you hide, you are defeating the purpose. Don't make excuses!  They get you nowhere and only frustrate you and the teacher.  Listen.  Be still.  Pay attention.   Create the space between you and the teacher WITH the teacher.

Ultimately, like building muscle and a discipline of any kind,  the specificity of how YOU function and how you WILL function, takes focus, TIME and patience.  It takes an ability to see clearly, and a willingness to see honestly.

We often make excuses,  place blame when we feel unsure.  When we are taken from a perceived comfort zone and placed in a new environment,  we need to figure out how swim.  The excuses and the blame will only sink those possibilities.

As you listen, observe,  and TRY,  don't be afraid to ASK.  Don't ask because you can,  but ask because you are truly trying to put the pieces together!!  No question is stupid if it comes from a clear and open honesty.

Develop knowledge of where you are - literally and figuratively.  Realize not everything is personal, nor is a correction or a development, a negative.  Learn how to swim in this new pond!!!  You'll never know what you have to offer if you don't try!

Trying begins with a willingness to HEAR.  Hearing requires a willingness to learn.

Not knowing isn't a crutch,  but rather an incredible opportunity to discover!  That discovery is up to you!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

a youtube plug!

Just wanted to let readers know about the Thomas Young channel on youtube!

Yes, Thomas happens to be my husband, but he also is a world-renowned tenor for the past 40 years!

With performance in opera, concert, orchestra, as well as music theatre and jazz - he truly embodies the "cross over" artist to a "T"!

Two of his opera arias are now available on youtube

and then just search for "Twisted"!

hope you enjoy!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Building a Discipline into CRAFT!

Sunday musings...

After a great class at CnCStudios in NYC yesterday (that will be the start of many more we hope) called THE ACTORS VOICE,  my thought return to craft and the discipline of craft.

What are the truths of having craft?

First, and most importantly it doesn't happen instantly.  It doesn't happen overnight.  It doesn't happen cause you think you want it.

Craft and the discipline of craft is about commitment.  This commitment is about study, about pliability, about discovery and about doing whatever it takes to find out what you can DO with it.

The truth of craft is expensive.  It costs.  If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to get what you need in order to have it.  This can be literal and figurative.  As an artist building craft in ANY discipline,  you need to INVEST.  As with any investment, it requires a great deal of research first to find out what you need, what's out there, how you will find what works for you, and then pursue it.

The expense of developing craft is literally money, yes.  Classes, lessons, coachings and more.  It is expensive in what it demands of you physically, emotionally, spiritually.  It costs in time and focus.

However, if the investment allows for further development,  creates tools that are more accessible to you,  creates possibilities to work, possibilities to network,  possibilities of ANY kind  - then investing in that expense is worth everything you put into it.

You can learn to dance, to sing, to act - but it doesn't make you a dancer, a singer nor an actor.  The investment of time,  money, temperament,  tenacity and guts will truly reveal whether or not the discipline can become craft.

In this "instant" society and this "star" mentality,  the truth of how craft is developed seems to completely evade some people.

You will not be able to dance after one class, or by learning one combination.  The art and craft and discipline of dance takes YEARS to achieve.

You will not be able to sing after one class, nor call yourself a singer,  whether you have a "natural" instrument or not.  The art, craft, discipline and athleticism of singing takes years and continual pursuit.

You will not be an actor after one class!  The truth of acting takes time and consistency to discover, acknowledge and develop knowledge.

You can "read" about discipline of craft, but until you make the commitment to DO it - you are neither learning how, nor being.

After a 3 hour introduction to voice from the actor's perspective yesterday -  I suggested to my clients that perhaps NOW they were prepared to BEGIN to learn HOW to sing.

Again,  this doesn't mean you are a singer.  That comes later.  Or perhaps you ARE a singer, and you need to invest in learning how you do what you do, in order to learn to summon it at will.

If you do not develop craft,  you are deceiving yourself, and ultimately deceiving the business in giving the illusion you are ready to do something you know nothing about.

What if you can deceive something through an audition?  What if you get a callback?  What if you get offered a job and have to DO that job and simply don't have the craft to sustain it?  Then what?

Wouldn't you rather know you CAN and know HOW you do what you do?

Don't you want to be known as a reliable, inspired and disciplined artist in the business, than a deceptive flash in the pan just because you didn't want to pursue something fully?

As my Dad used to say to me when I'd get upset with something I was struggling with - "who said it was fair?"

There is nothing fair out there.  Take that and let it go.  Nothing will be handed to you.  You need to work for it.  If you don't study dance, you have no business posing yourself as a dancer in the business.

If you don't study singing,  you have no business posing yourself as a singer, nor going to a singing audition.

If you don't study acting,  you have no business auditioning as an actor.

Your responsibility is to be able to KNOW and DO your craft.  If you don't know and can't do - it's time to either do something else, or quit whining about how expensive things are, how long it takes to develop, and DO IT.  Figure it out!

It isn't easy for any of us.  We have all had to struggle.  If the craft is important enough,  if the passion and the desire is strong enough,  if the need to pursue is deep enough,  you find a way to do it!

Only in these choices,  do our realities emerge.

If we expect it come to you,  you will waste a great deal of time.

If you are willing to do what needs to be done, get creative and get real - all possibilities emerge!

So, don't call yourself a singer, an actor, or a dancer unless you have discovered vocabulary,  have developed craft/are developing craft,  and know what it takes to BE - not what it takes to wannaBE.

The reality is, you only hide from yourself.  And that's a waste of spirit.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Entitlement doesn't get you work!

Friday musings...

The entitlement factor is alive and well.

Just cause you want it, doesn't mean you've EARNED it.

The business doesn't care if you THINK you should work, or THINK you shouldn't study, or THINK you should be offered something.

The attitude of "I am therefore I should have" doesn't fly.

If you are going to pursue professionalism,  you need to recognize what is needed FROM YOU.

How to build craft,  who to go to to develop that vocabulary,  what it's going to take, and who you stand in front of.

The entitled attitude expects from everybody else but themselves.  They expect that everything will be handed to them on a silver platter and nothing has to be worked for.

The real world simply doesn't work that way.  No matter how talented you are or THINK you are;  no matter how special you are or THINK you are.

There are MANY outstanding emerging artists and developing artists, and frankly fully realized artists that still don't get a chance to work.  They are more professional than the next and even with craft, smarts, talent and will power - they still may not work.  They aren't looking for a handout;  they don't EXPECT.  THEY WORK FOR IT.

Real artists are not afraid of work.  They get tired of chicken shit - from the business, and from the entitled who expect more from everybody else than they have to actually offer.

If you want to be an artist in this business,  you cannot live in an entitlement dream world.  You must realize what is going on, and what it's going to take to even have a shot!  And even then, there are no guarantees.

However, if you EXPECT things without working for them,  then you are truly in the wrong place.

Just because you want to study with a specific teacher, doesn't mean that teacher will have time for you.  If you want to be seen at that audition, just cause you want it, doesn't make it happen.
Getting an agent, just because you think you should have one, doesn't always work in your favor.
Just because you are Equity doesn't make you better, more talented, or further ahead than someone non-union.

Art in the business is HARD.  It demands dedication of mind, body and spirit.  It demands a level of intensity, a level of intelligence and a level of commitment that cannot be compromised.

Thinking your talent is enough is a lack of awareness,  naivete and more...

Talent is NOTHING if it isn't realized.  Realizing it means WORK.  Work means study.  Study means commitment - for the LONG HAUL.  Taking a couple of voice lessons doesn't mean you can sing, nor does it mean you are a singer.

Taking a quick dance class to learn a Broadway combination to get a callback doesn't allow you the right to say you are dancer - let alone a triple threat!!

"I got that" about your acting skills, your dance skills or your voice skills shows how truly amateur you are.

True professionals talk about what they continue to strive for.  They do not expect a handout;  they do not expect a favour;  they do not expect anything but commitment and dedication from themselves.

True professionals know who they stand in front of.  They know if they ask for help, guidance, professional study they must be willing to compromise their time to engage that teacher, that class, that workshop.  If they consult with another professional that is in a position to give them instruction to take their craft to another level of consciousness, they DEMAND FROM THEMSELVES in order to get everything out of that session.

Professionals practice what they preach.  Literally.  If they call themselves singers - they practice daily.  If they call themselves dancers - they dance.  If they call themselves actors - they act.  It is never done.  The more they do, the longer they do it, the more they learn and develop craft, skill and artistic awareness.

A true professional never feels entitled.  They can feel lucky - being in the right place at the right time - and they know they work hard and have help along the way.

Professionals don't whine.  They don't assume.  THEY DELIVER.

Entitled behavior is childish and amateur.  It is narcissistic and self-obsessed with nothing of value to back it up.  The talent might be there, but the truth of its development does not exist.

True professional behavior is mature and self-possessed.  It is aware,  curious, striving and developed or in development.  It is relentless in its search and discovery.

Feeling entitled doesn't make it so and won't offer you a place in the business.  Whine all you want.

Developing craft, artistry and integrity will create a professionalism that has a CHANCE to work.

The business doesn't care who you think you are.  The business wants to see what you are prepared to DO.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

what can you be SURE of?

This is often the time of year we reassess,  recommit,  start to make plans and focus!

So many of you are frustrated with this business.  I hear you.  Thanks for the emails and messages.   I wish I could tell you there is a straight path that will allow you to make a living with your talent and your artistry.  Sadly, there is not.

Only YOU can make the decision whether or not you want to be bothered.

Do you want to be bothered - and if so, be bothered with what?

And do you know what you can be sure of in this business?  And how seriously do you take that?

Perhaps one of the biggies that you can be sure of is that you WILL be lied to!  From all sides!  You will be told a blatant lie to your face, for often no reason than just to not have to engage in the truth!  Or be told a half lie that isn't really the issue...

Here are a few I heard this week from clients and colleagues:  LIES.

1.  You are too fat (size 8) for the role.
2.  You are too pretty for the role.
3.  We want a POP voice for Guinevere in Camelot...
4.  You have an accent.
5.  You have too much facial hair.
6.  We know you've been offered another contract for the same time and don't want to give you the impression you are that talented.
7.  We can't pay you your regular fee for next season because I need to pay for health insurance for my violin section.
8.  Nobody wants to hear you this season.
9.  Don't ever expect a music director from a major theatre will be interested in you.

Yes, I am NOT lying.  I have heard ALL of these in the last 2 weeks.

If you try to riddle out the half truths and the lies you will drive yourself MAD.  This you also can be sure of!

First, KNOW THE SOURCE of the comment.  Often you will get a half truth from someone who is simply trying to cover THEIR butt.  Doesn't make it right, but it happens.


You have to dismiss it, and more on.  Know who you trust and WHY, and who has to still EARN your trust and WHY.

So, lies are part of our business.  Two-facedness is as well.  Welcome to the business of show - and frankly, welcome to LIFE.  It's sometimes just a little more colourful in the business of show.

Recognizing the dirty laundry of our business is part of surviving the business.  Knowing how you are going to handle rejection,  lies, cheating, back-stabbing in order to survive is important.  Knowing what you need to do to balance that negative with positive is KEY.

What can you be SURE of in the positive?  What can you work toward and aim for?

Again, it depends on what constitutes positive for you!

Do you have have a supportive and engaged team around you?

Do you pursue your CRAFT everyday for the sake of craft?

Do you have work or prospects of work?

Do you have auditions or prospects of auditions?

Are you feeding your artistic soul each and every day?

What gives you JOY outside your craft?  Do you nurture that as well?

What can you do to create projects for yourself and not just wait on someone else?

And simply,

Do you want to be bothered????

You are NOT A FAILURE if you decide to explore another path, or take a leave of absence, or simply go another direction in your life.  You are a winner because you are following your NEEDS.

No matter what you decide to DO,  you are always an artist.  You just might not be making a living being one.  The artistic soul and mind and spirit is nurtured or not nurtured and never has anything to do with a pay cheque!

Often, artists are good at MANY things.  They could go many directions for a life path.  This is exciting and frustrating because sometimes we just have to DECIDE.

You can be sure that you have MANY choices.  You are NEVER STUCK unless you want to be. That is also a choice.

Only YOU can decide where you want to be and what you want to be bothered with and for how long!

You can be sure that the business will allow you entry, or you will make a place for yourself, or you will simply say "no thanks" and create another avenue of creativity and life for yourself.

You need to be sure of what you are striving for.

If you have lost that focus, it is time to re-assess and re-familiarize yourself with why you are here.

Many years ago,  someone changed my life by asking me that point blank:

"Who are you, and why are you here?"

I took a breath to answer and realized I couldn't.  It was a huge moment for me and a turning point in all aspects of my life.  Sometimes we can be sure we aren't sure at all.

So,  I take that question and ask you:

"Who are you,  and why are you here?"

Only you can answer - or not.  And only YOU can decide whether you are worth the time and exploration to discover the answer or create the answer in the life and in the business you NEED to be in and PREFER to be in.

You can be sure that there are many negatives and many positives in this business.

You can be sure some will like what you have to offer and some will not.

You can be sure you will be frustrated, angry, confused and disappointed at times.

You can be sure you will have "a-ha!" moments, great discovery and freedom in your artistic day to day discoveries.

You can be sure you will be tired.

You can be sure you have a CHOICE in how your respond, how much you invest,  and with whom you invest it.

You can be sure you have a choice of whether you need/want/prefer to be bothered.

You can be sure that those choices are neither good nor bad, but simply what is right for YOU at the time.

You can be sure you have the freedom to change your mind; to follow your heart, your soul, your logic as it leads you.

First, know WHO you are and WHY you are there.  The rest are details.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Wish for Opera AND Music Theatre

Wednesday musings...

Sorry I've been MIA - the end of summer got ridiculously full.

As the fall season begins to develop momentum,  I have a wish for the development of opera and music theatre.

I wish Opera Singers and the training that goes into singing opera - be it undergrad, grad school, conservatory programs and semi-professional/professional YAPs and summer programs - could find a consistency in the development of opera singer as ACTOR.

Overall, this is lacking in operatic training.  Yes, there are some programs that spend time and energy on it, but in general it is a major part of theatrical training that is lacking, or in some cases, not there at all!

Ideally, Operatic training needs, along with voice development and language training et al,  NEEDS movement classes,  basic dance classes,  acting through physicality, acting through language, character development,  stage combat classes and an introduction to stage make up and wigs.

Opera is indeed about the VOCE, but it IS theatre after all!!  It is NOT park and bark.  It is NOT "light my good side",  it is not "look away acting"!!!  (ask me if you aren't sure about THAT one!!!)

What saddens me is that there are MANY singers who are operatically trained who have little to no stage craft,  little to no acting skills or discipline and have to often figure it out themselves.

If we began the integration of voice and physicality of acting from the beginning, how much more versatile our opera singers would be!!!  How much more evolved would singers be in the integration of craft and discipline - singing AND acting.  Not singing and pretending to act.

Acting is NOT pretending.  Acting is behavior just like singing is.  We don't want to see your technique while you sing, nor do we want to see it, or the lack of it when you act!  Combining of the two takes time and exposure and development.

Opera singers who have acting training,  who understand language and character - through tone, through breath, through physicality - don't walk and move and gesture like an opera singer!  They develop a dimensional sensibility of the physicality of the character.  There is dimensional realization that is larger than life and not positioned!  Character reality emerges!

On the flip side - what I wish for ALL music theatre singers is that they all study voice REGULARLY to develop a behavioral technique that allows them to align and discover the ENTIRE voice.

Singers who have learned how to find their TRUE voice,  how it aligns, how it resonates,  how it  physicalizes with the breath and the body, how athletic it can be,  are so much more able to discover stylistic authenticity, AND develop strength of endurance and stability!

Many theatre singers are afraid if they study they might sound too "classical".  Wrong.  All "classical" training does it to develop the voice fully,  so the singer can then begin to explore the details of further technical prowess to inform the styles he/she is pursuing.

The so-called "classical" training should be required for EVERY singer.  Why?  It allows the singer to emerge from somewhere and have a place to return.  It creates a balanced alignment of muscle, breath, resonance and athleticism to allow a place of departure.  If there is a "neutrally balanced" instrument (my term),  the voice has OPTIONS to move and develop specificity of style and genre.

This will allow the singer to utilize only what he/she needs.  This gives options! This develops security of technical behavior and clear technical decision.

Great technique means the voice will LAST!!!  In music theatre, because we are required to part of the equipment and often do 8 shows a week,  wouldn't you WANT a voice that LASTED?!?!?

The voice develops endurance and sustainability and longevity not cause you wish it so;  but because you BUILD IT HEALTHILY!!!

Imagine in all of "Musical Theatre" - be it Opera, or contemporary Music Theatre - that we had authenticity of character, of acting, AND of singing in EVERY style.

If each teacher and each singer takes responsibility to do their part - it is possible.

It takes recognition, responsibility, dedication and the DOING!

I will do what I can in my little corner - so what are YOU doing?