Based on the Kevin Kline movie of the same name, this new musical is having its premiere at Arena Stage in Washington, DC this summer! The contemporary musical theatre score has notes of pop, classical, and jazz. The singing in this show ranges from soulful chest voice to pop falsetto and musical theatre high mix to operatic ‘Queen of the Night’ notes in the highly comedic and memorable National Anthem scene. I’m very familiar with Tom Kitt’s shows (I think I’ve seen almost everything he’s written) and could hear his voice throughout Dave.
Things to practice when building your versatility as a vocalist:
Warm-up your whole instrument: top to bottom, head to mix to chest, and going between the different registers. Yodeling on vowels or words and Mary Saunders Barton’s Yahoo calls can be helpful. For men, work on having quick access to your falsetto (without a breath) and then seamlessly switching to a falsetto mix. For women (and men too!), focus on creating chest and mix sound that is light and effortless. I talk about this in my studio all the time; a lot of young singers associate belt with a heavy, strong, pounded out sound and that is the exact opposite of what I actually want.
Find a great art song! Even if you have zero interest in classical music, learning a classical art song can further develop your technique for musical theatre.
Listen! A part of practice in my studio is listening to other performers. This can help with hearing different sounds, understanding specific vocal stylings that are associated with the individual singer, and expanding your repertoire knowledge.
Switch up your song choices. Sing that classical art song and then immediately after sing a soulful pop song and then after that a Disney song. Can you switch between these different genres quickly and easily OR does it take you a few minutes to get into the next style?
Dave is playing at Arena Stage through August 19th. Click here for tickets!
I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to see the current production of Candide at the Kennedy Center Opera House. My good friend has season tickets for opening night at the opera and invited me to join her for this show. I will admit upfront that I am not very familiar with Candide except for the soprano solo, “Glitter and Be Gay”, and knowing that it is a Leonard Bernstein piece. I do know that Candide has been done at opera houses around the world as well as with musical theatre or light opera companies. The Kennedy Center’s casting reflected this with both renowned opera and Broadway performers.
The two main vocal components I want students to focus on are:
Diction: There are a lot of fast moving lyrics throughout the score for Candide and it’s of utmost importance that I can understand the storyline. The Washington National Opera uses the screen for most songs so you can read along the lyrics (as they do with all operas especially those not in English), but musical theatre companies will not have this so I believe that crisp and clear diction is paramount. We sometimes have vowel modifications based on vocal range and resonance, but these modifications should not change the word in a way that the listener cannot understand you. Practice speaking the lyric clearly and fast then sing the lyrics with special attention that you’re not getting sloppy with your diction.
Tone Quality: There is no doubt that a legit sound is used throughout Candide. I might emphasize open vowels, a relaxed throat, and low, open breath throughout the score. Sopranos will be head-dominant whereas all male roles have a classical chest-dominant sound. There are great pieces in this score that are reminiscent of classical musical theatre including Bernstein’s other works, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Lerner & Loewe. It’s certainly advantageous for musical theatre performers to have a diverse skill set and study pieces from more classically based productions.
Think about what other shows might bridge the opera and musical theatre worlds. Perhaps The Merry Widow or Pirates of Penzance (both light operas). Find a song to sing from this genre and see how it challenges you vocally!
I mentioned in my last blog post that it is important to cultivate your interests outside of singing and musical theatre. I am an avid reader and enjoy nothing more than spending a short time before I go to bed each night reading a book. I’d love to have more time to sit outside on a beautiful day, enjoy an iced coffee, and read, but with two two-year-olds running around, I rarely have time for this treat. This past month, I finally read the debut novel by Caroline Angell, All The Time In The World, that was released this past summer. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this on a nightly basis and didn’t want to finish (I try to savor good books as much as I can).
I knew this author in college; we had several courses together and even interacted in the campus dorms. We were both musical theatre majors at American University and we both ended up in New York City after graduation (though our paths didn’t cross in the city). Caroline also directed several theatre productions including one musical each summer at The Theatre Lab in Washington, DC. Some of my private voice students were even in these productions! When I heard that she had published her first novel, I was excited for her and couldn’t wait to buy my own copy.
The main character in this novel just so happens to be a musician (a composer, to be more specific). She is an educated artist living in NYC and working as a babysitter as she figures out her path. The novel explores topics of grief, family, romance, and finding your way in this world. It was a resonating read and had me tearing up at moments. As a mom of two little boys, I certainly thought about what it would be like if I wasn’t there for them (more tears!). As an artist, I thought about when I first moved to NYC and babysat afternoons on the Upper East Side while going to auditions in the morning. I also thought about how my experiences in babysitting influenced my career path.
I’ve never truly embraced reading on an iPad or kindle; I’ve tried it a few times, but nothing compares to holding a book in my hands and turning the pages myself. When I saw All The Time In The World sitting on the shelf at my local Target, it was immediately in my cart. If you haven’t read this novel, find a good weekend to relax outside or snuggle in by the fire to read it. I, for one, can’t wait for Caroline’s next book release!
On Friday, November 4th, I saw the opening night performance and the youth production regional premiere of School of Rock at West Potomac High School. I had several students in the production that I coached for their auditions, which consisted of singing from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score. We worked on extending our range into a balanced effortless high mix, eliminating vibrato, releasing notes (without cracking or pulling back or falling off), and switching between registers seamlessly.
Four things I learned from watching this production:
A. The role of Dewey is exhausting. The sheer amount of energy required for this role is astounding.
B. Singing strong and high (in both mix rock and legit) is difficult to master. I knew this one already, but seeing this show definitely reiterated it.
C. Becoming more than a triple threat and being able to also play an instrument is a huge component of this show for multiple characters! Doing this at the high school level is another awesome opportunity to hone skills that will benefit young performers in the professional theatre world.
D. The ensemble in School of Rock is great and there were some memorable moments within the ensemble! Kudos to Director Clark for utilizing the ensemble in interesting and notable ways.
Here is a video examining two short sections of musical theatre rock vocals and how to execute them!
I know firsthand how important it is as an artist and as a human being to continue to learn, grow, and never become complacent. I teach students of all ages and levels and I’m constantly encouraging them to seek out new repertoire, expand into different musical genres, and discover new meaning in each song. Sometimes I need to take my own advice.
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to sing a solo with an awesome group of vocalists at Shaw’s Tavern in Washington, DC. My specific piece was recommended to me by the music director, Jill Parsons, and I had never heard of the song nor did I have the sheet music. I learned by listening to the lyrics and then using my own voice to tell the story.
In all honesty, I haven’t performed as a soloist very much since my twins were born and they’re now 21 months. Before this, I was performing professionally with several concerts, recordings, and shows a year. I felt really nervous at this performance. Looking back afterwards, this was silly and unnecessary; all of the singers in the program were welcoming and supportive. I jumped into my song quickly (could have taken 2 more measures), rushed a few phrases, and made a skip in lyrics (thankfully, Jill gracefully followed me on piano so the audience wasn’t aware). I would have performed better if I had just relaxed, told my story, and found the joy in this awesome singing opportunity. It was a learning experience for me; a strong wake up call that I need to do just want I propel my students to do and enjoy the journey!
I thought I would share a home rehearsal of the new musical theatre song that I sang at this event. Here’s “A Man In Mind” from The Route to Happiness: