I took my two year old twins to see Arts of the Horizon’s production of Nutt & Bolt last week. I had the opportunity to watch two artists tell an awesome story about working together without using any words. My two young boys that are usually running around like crazy actually sat still and were mesmerized by the thirty-minute show.
These two actors were communicating solely using their voice, simple instruments, and their bodies. This is important to my voice students because I am constantly talking about inflection in my studio and how we not only need to understand the meaning of the lyrics, but also the intent behind those lyrics. How can we vocally communicate frustration or excitement or timidity? When Nutt was upset at Bolt, we knew this from the tone of his voice (he may have sighed or grumbled) as well as from his body language and facial expression, two things that are also vital to my musical theatre singers.
An exercise for my readers: Pick your favorite song and tell the story without using any of the lyrics. How can your face, vocal sounds (not words), and body language communicate what is happening in the scene? After that, read through the lyrics as a story and be aware of your vocal inflection in each phrase and what that says about your character.
Arts on the Horizon produces theatre for ages 0 to 6, both in Alexandria, VA & Washington, DC. Check out their website for more information on their upcoming programming.
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:
It is common practice in musical theatre for auditions to consist of singing 16-bars at both the professional and community level. On occasion you may be asked for 32-bars, a short song (2-3 min), or even an 8-bar cut (yikes!). I’m focusing on finding 16-bar cuts, approximately 30 to 45 seconds of music, for the purpose of auditioning. Many of my students want to show everything they can do in this short amount of time from their highest note to their powerful belt to their awesome acting chops to their musical prowess. In short, this is an impossible task and not what I want my students to focus on.
What’s important in those 16-bars?
- Find a song that is age and voice appropriate. I don’t want to hear a thirteen year old singing “Send In The Clowns” or a fifty year old singing “Good Morning Baltimore”.
- Find a song that fits the style of the show you’re auditioning for. If you’re auditioning for Rock of Ages, a rock song (preferably not from a musical) is what I’d recommend whereas if you’re audition for The Sound of Music, I would generally suggest a legit classic musical theatre song.
- Find a song that you love. There is so much music to choose from that there is no need to settle for a song that you think is just okay.
- Tell a story in sixteen bars and make sure that your cut makes sense. We don’t want to end in the middle of a phrase or on a leading tone (note that wants to be resolved to Do). It is possible to have a cohesive story in 16-bars.
- You! Directors, music directors, and the producing team want to work with awesome people. Don’t get so caught up in vocal technique and acting and musicality that you forget to simply enjoy the performance of your 16-bars!
- Last, but not least, HAVE FUN! It’s your time and your audition so enjoy it.