From Signature Theatre’s (Arlington, VA) production last spring to the NBC Live Broadcast on Easter Sunday to our local high school’s production this month, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1971 hit has been popular this past year. Jesus Christ Superstar is very on point with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s material (sometimes classified as “poperetta”) with hits from the show being widely popular radio songs as well. Vocals are at the forefront as this is an entirely sung-through show and a wide vocal range and ability to sing in a plethora of styles is simply present throughout the entire score.
Rock Opera Vocal Technique
Warm-ups for this type of show are key! I work with all of my singers to make sure they have a balanced instrument so even if they’re in a hard rock with edge place for an entire show, I always incorporate light humming and lip trills into our warm-up. I think it’s a great idea to go down a scale (sol-fa-mi-re-do) on a bub or mum and allow yourself access to a vocal fry sound, work through pentatonic scales, and make some ugly sounds with your tongue all the way out (yeah or nyeah or weah) in a higher belt/mix register. With men, a falsetto warm-up that leads itself toward a falsetto mix is awesome for this show; getting this sound without strain is essential. I cannot stress enough that if it feels painful to sing, you are doing something wrong. Even if your character is physically in pain, your voice should not be.
Beware of gratuitous riffing, growling, and stereotypical rock trends. While Jesus Christ Superstar absolutely utilized rock (not Broadway) singers in the original production and we want that type of sound, it’s important to understand how to implement your own voice into the style without mimicry or what I like to say is “pretending you’re on American Idol” when you’re in fact still in a musical with a cohesive storyline. There are moments in the Jesus Chris Superstar score that are marked ad lib so knowing how to riff (especially in the characters of Jesus and Judas) and going there both dramatically and vocally is what makes it so powerful.
Vocal Health: drink lots of water, get enough sleep, don’t abuse your voice, be careful of too much singing or speaking on show days are all things we’ve heard time and again. If you feel tired after a show, that’s normal and okay; you’ve just taken us on an enormous journey and may need to rest. I just always want my students to understand the difference between feeling tired and feeling like you’ve completely blown out or demolished your vocal chords. It’s easy to push or strain when you’re working on a high rock belt sound. It’s much harder to create a nuanced performance with vocal choices that are stylistically correct and healthy.
Jesus Christ Superstar is playing at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, VA through April 28th. Special shout-out to the freshman playing Jesus, Brevan Collins, who I have been teaching for over four years and who continually puts in the work when prepping for roles, auditions, and building his technique.
Driving to the local high school theatre at 6:58 PM (for a 7 PM show), I’m realizing I may be a few minutes late to see my students. My mom joined me for the show and just in case she missed the opening number, I was happy to give a full rendition in the car. “Oh, oh, oh woke up today, feeling the way I always do. Oh, oh, oh hungry for something that I can’t eat then I hear the beat.”
Hairspray is a high energy, contemporary musical with a score that is reminiscent of 1960’s pop music. The two stand-out vocal technique elements to the show (for me!) are stamina and vocal placement.
Stamina: practice your music while running, while jumping, while dancing around your bedroom: with fast paced lyrics and no clear rests for breath, you need the energy and muscle strength to get through the music in character. “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is a prime example of this: we don’t want to skip a word just to get a breath, you have to practice going through the phrasing in that song as much as possible to do just this!
Placement: there is no doubt that this a contemporary musical theatre show with the roles all embracing a strong belt and high mix registration. I talk to my singers about seamlessly switching registers and making sure they are placing correcting during breath (not after!) all the time. There are moments when young singers may crack a note or abruptly cut off or have breathy quality simply due to not knowing how to place a particular phrase on their voice. In Mama I’m A Big Girl Now, I want a forward sound with a lifted soft palate and relaxed forward tongue; I also want to hear the difference in sound between the mothers and their teenage daughters. In I Know Where I’ve Been, I want a soulful, gospel like quality with a grounded chest voice. Knowing your character and vocal placement go hand in hand. It is important to always think about your character’s journey and the lyrics when making specific technique choices!
Hairspray is running at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria this weekend and next weekend (April 20 to 28th, 2018)! Several of my voice students are involved with the production including Aidan White (Edna) and Grace Steenstra (Prudy Pingleton). It’s an awesome opportunity to support local students that are diving into these great characters and truly making them their own!
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a show that will always have a special place in my heart. It was my first professional stage gig. I was an ensemble wife in the Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre’s production and was 18 years old when rehearsals started.
Seeing this awesome show at MVCCT last Sunday brought back fun memories. I had several students in this show (6 to be exact and at least 3 working backstage too!) and certainly am a proud voice teacher.
Vocally, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is not an easy show to sing. Until working with my students (Emma Brown and Lyndsey Lawrence), I never realized the vocal range for the narrator and the demand for a strong high mix in this role. Here is a video that demonstrates the use of this high mix register in “Jacob & Sons” and “Go Go Go Joseph” as well as two exercises to help singers develop their high mix!
It’s that time of year again! For me, I love going through my clothes, shoes, and household items to decide what to donate, what to sell, and what to keep. It gives me such joy to organize and get rid of things that I no longer want or need. The same can be true with our audition books.
As people, we are always growing and songs that may have worked for you in the past may not work for you anymore. What should I take out of my audition book?
For starters, there are songs that no longer fit your type. If only a year ago you were a 4’11” boy soprano singing “Lift Me Up” from The Secret Garden and you are now a 5’3″ fourteen year old boy with a tenor range, this song can easily be discarded from your audition book. The same can be said if you feel that you no longer appropriate for teen roles, 20s roles, and so on. Height can play a big factor, especially in children’s roles. In fact, certain casting notices list height restrictions. Matilda (max. 4’3″ for the title role and 4’10” for children’s ensemble) and The Producers (women 5’8″ and up for Ulla) are great examples!
Next there is your vocal development. Has your voice changed since the last time you went through your audition book? Have you developed a stronger belt or polished your legit chops? As you continue your development as a singer, you’ll notice your ability to sing certain repertoire will change and therefore your audition book must also change.
Then there is material that you no longer are passionate about singing, don’t feel a connection to, or simply can’t relate to anymore. This can be a little harder to decipher, but look through your book and think about what songs you actually enjoy singing. If you’re bored with the song, then there is a huge likelihood that the people auditioning you won’t be impressed either. There’s so many songs out there in every genre that there’s no need to audition with stale material.
Once you have done all of this, think about what types of songs you still have in your book. What are you missing? What do you need for the upcoming audition season?
It’s that time of year again. January: when it seems that snow is everywhere and students have more school days off than on. If you’re missing rehearsal, choir, lessons, and more due to the weather, what will you do? One word: PRACTICE.
I cannot emphasize the importance of practice. Singing for even 10 minutes a day is a great way to keep those muscles working to build good technique and healthy daily routine. I start every single lesson with a hum followed by a lip trill. Warming up the voice is key to building our technique. Scales, arpeggios, and simple open vowel exercises while focusing on breath, pitch, and resonation all help one to develop their voice.
While I am a mezzo with a strong belt and mix voice, I am also the biggest advocate for learning legit singing. Utilizing your head voice at any age (young child through professional adult) is key for healthy vocal development. It also can help to make you a versatile singer, which is always a big positive in the extremely competitive and sometimes brutal performing arts career path.
This video highlights a very standard warm-up that is used by voice teachers around the world, including myself. Enjoy!