Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s score has a contemporary musical theatre sound with a strong conversational component, pop music elements, and lyrics that inform the melodic line. The production of If/Then that I watched last night at The Theatre Lab (pictured above) was not my first experience with this show. I know the music well and saw Idina Menzel in the starring role twice, first in the pre-Broadway tryout at the National Theatre in Washington, DC and then on Broadway in the fall of 2013.
Quick Vocal Tips for Singing If/Then
There is a conversational component to almost every song. Whether a solo, duet, or group number, each song is really dialogue or monologues that could be spoken without pitch so we want to hear specific inflection on pitch and extension of your speech on pitch. Please leave vibrato and sustained notes for another show! Exception to this is the high mix and belt notes for both mezzos and tenors that usually end a song: these are meant to have power, be sustained, and wow the audience. Practicing speaking on pitch and getting used to your natural speaking voice while on specific pitches, both high and low, is a great way to get comfortable with this style.
Tension is the singer’s (and actor’s) worst enemy. Releasing tension is something I work on with students in all genres of music. With a contemporary musical theatre score, it’s important to find a way to tell the story without clenching the muscles in your neck (or jaw, shoulders, back, hands) and straining. How to practice with music from If/Then (or any another contemporary show): sing the song while literally rolling your head like a rag doll, swaying (not in time), and/or with your arms outstretched and open. A lot of times tension is a result of body/voice awareness that takes you away from the character and out of the moment. Being open and receptive to what’s going on around you and just breathing that in can be helpful. It’s also useful to be aware if there are specific notes that are either just beyond your comfortable range or on your break that cause you to tighten your muscles either in preparation for the big note or in order to sustain the big note. Prioritize warming up your voice with vocalises that emphasize vowels that are helpful to YOU on your big note(s)!
While If/Then is not my favorite Kitt and Yorkey musical (Next to Normal takes this for many reasons), it has awesome ensemble characters and music that reflects everyday speech. I love that the show takes place in NYC and that we get a glimpse into the many different people that live and work in the city. I’m a type A, over thinker so the “what if” question that is constantly asked throughout the show is interesting to me.
Special shout out to my student, Carla Crawford, who was excellent in the role of Kate and made strong singing and acting choices throughout the show! The Theatre Lab’s performances ran through last night (I saw the closing show!), but be on the look out for their next production since they tend to choose interesting material for singers and actors to learn and explore!
Last weekend, I saw a local community theatre production of Pippin at The Arlington Players. My student, Carla Crawford, was featured in this production as Fastrada and was wonderful! I’ve been familiar with the songs from Pippin for a long time and remember singing the opening number, “Magic To Do”, with my middle school chorus.
Written in 1972, this was Stephen Schwartz’s second Broadway show. He started working on it in college, but none of the original numbers actually made it into the Broadway production. Stephen Schwartz is most known to my students for Wicked and I think it is so important to discover and learn about earlier works by our current composers. In addition to Pippin and Wicked, Schwartz has also written Godspell, The Magic Show (has some great and not-as-well-known songs!), The Baker’s Wife, and Children of Eden. There is great repertoire in all of these shows (and even more musicals and movies that Schwartz contributed songs to and/or wrote) that are worth listening to and exploring as a musical theatre singer!
I was able to catch the Broadway revival of Pippin in September 2014. The two productions, while telling the same story, are vastly different in terms of concept, production (set, lighting, etc), and even casting. The revival cast an African American female as the leading player (which I loved!) and utilized circus acts, bringing in professional circus artists for high balancing acts, fire elements, and gymnast choreography. The Arlington Players’ production was grounded in the original 1972 concept with emphasis on simplistic storytelling and utilized simple musical instruments played by the “players” on stage. On a side note, I just realized that I have seen this musical twice and both times was in my third trimester of pregnancy (too funny)!
In addition to my awesome student, Carla Crawford, I really enjoyed the two men that played The Leading Player and Pippin at The Arlington Players. They are both theatre educators (and seeing some of their students in the lobby after the show warmed my heart and made me smile!) and the opening number to the second act, “On The Right Track”, was a highlight to the show.
There are shows at The Arlington Players tonight and tomorrow (October 20 and 21) at 8PM so you still have time to catch it! Click here for more information and tickets.
I decided to take the first month of 2017 off from writing on this blog. As a voice teacher, performer, mom, and wife, my days are full and finding time for more things can be a challenge. With every new year comes new resolutions for many people. What types of things to I want to achieve this year? Better grades, a slimmer figure, a raise at work, more time for fun, and the list goes on. I want to focus on some great resolutions for singers and have compiled this list of five goals that are attainable.
1. To practice more. Find time to sing everyday: vocalises, repertoire, breath and foundational work. Even ten minutes a day is better than nothing (though to be honest 30 minutes is ideal for most of my voice students).
2. To seek out performance opportunities. Whether in a musical theatre production, a recital with your voice studio, or a solo with your school or church choir, find ways to sing in public.
3. To listen to music in multiple genres. If you primarily listen to pop music in the car, on your walk to work or school, and at home, then find time to listen to classical music or Broadway music. You can learn so much about different styles of music just by listening!
4. To take a workshop that will broaden your vocal skills. This workshop could be at your current voice studio, at another local arts organization, or at a top-notch conservatory.
5. To embrace your other interests and know that they make you a better singer and a better performer. What else do you love? Is it cooking, playing soccer or tennis, writing, traveling, or creating a new phone app? Whatever it is, it is important to spend time doing things that are not singing because that will make you a more well-rounded human being and a stronger performer.
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!