Monday, December 29, 2014

Hooray For Movie Musicals!

This weekend I was fortunate to see two movies and BOTH were musicals. That is a rare thing in our day and age, but it makes me happy to see these movies do so well at the box office (especially Into the Woods). It is a win win for movie goers and live theater audiences.

My daughter is 10. The perfect age to see Annie. I was 10 when the John Huston film version came out with Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney and Carol Burnett. I was mesmerized by that film. I already knew I wanted to be an actress, but that film opened my eyes to the magic of being a performer and I ate. slept and breathed anything "Annie". Almost a year later I would be cast in the role and my passion for theater hasn't stopped since.

So, it was very special to take my daughter, along with my mom who was visiting for Christmas, to see this movie. It didn't disappoint. It was a sweet, genuine family movie with many of the familiar tunes given a fresh make-over to fit in the modern setting. The chemistry between Jamie Foxx (the Warbucks character) and Quvenzhane Wallis (Annie) was undeniable. I loved the humor of Rose Byrne who played Grace and the over the top performance of Cameron Diaz who played Miss Hannigan. Both made me laugh and over all I thought this was a lighthearted, feel-good family movie.

From a vocal stand point it was adequate. Jamie Foxx is the true vocal talent of this film, that is pretty obvious, but I didn't mind too much. At least there weren't a bunch of screaming young vocalists, that drives me crazier than a studio affected sound. The three of us had a great time. And yes, I realize I am bias because of my sentimental attachment to this film, but so what, it was refreshingly optimistic and fun. We need more of that in this day and age. And much like my experience as a child, my little girl came home singing the songs into the night and expressed how she wanted to perform on stage. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree...

We had planned a double date with some friends for Into the Woods, but sick kids prevented them from coming so we took our kids. And it was nice to be able to do that. Another added bonus is these musicals are both rated PG. When you have a young family, it is great to have movies that you can all see together.

Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals. I am a Sondheim fan through and through. I was privileged to play the witch some years back and Roger played the steward. We were newlyweds and it was amazing to be in a show together at that time in our relationship. I had seen the original Broadway cast through a filmed version and then Roger and I saw the 2002 Broadway revival a couple times since my friend understudied Vanessa Williams as the witch.

This movie was AMAZING! I laugh, I cried, I marveled at Stephen Sondheim. He is always the star for me when I see his work. I learn something new every time I view or listen. No one writes lyrics like Sondheim, no one. This film adaptation was one of the best I have seen going from stage to screen. I will say that some of the humor was lost in translation, but I understood that because for this film they chose to make it more reality based and in the process that is why some of the humor was lost. But, it still worked in context and I thought the cast was wonderful and visually it was stunning. My hat is off to director Rob Marshall for keeping the integrity of this show in tact.

I realized from a vocal stand point that when I went to see the film version of Les Miserables the inadequacies in vocal performances and technique really bothered me, much more than they did with this film. I know Les Mis is an opera but I think one of the main reasons is because Sondheim always chooses the actor who can sing rather than the singer who can act. Even though this musical is mostly sung, the vocal imperfections didn't stand out as much because Sondheim prefers using performers to sing his songs who are imperfect, strictly speaking, in their vocal technique. That is one of the things I love about him. When you cast an actor first, you have the talent available to interpret his complex material. The singing is truly an extension of the story. It isn't meant to show off vocal chops or highlight some Broadway diva. It is all about the story, period. I will add, that his music is still very difficult. Especially from a timing perspective. It takes a lot of skill to perform his songs. It may sound easy while listening to the finished product, but for anyone who has done his material they know it is difficult and takes tremendous skill. So, I applaud the actors in the film for taking this on and making it look and sound so natural and easy.

Growing up with the original Broadway cast I will admit it was hard to get them out of my head while viewing this film, especially the witch and baker's wife. I found it funny that even though Meryl Streep is my favorite actress I was longing to see and hear Bernadette Peters, but I had to let it go early on in the film and just embrace Meryl's performance and of course the delightful take that Emily Blunt had to offer for the baker's wife. Overall this was a tight film. Very well done. It makes me beyond happy that young audiences can experience Stephen Sondeim's work on the big screen. I hope they go home and look him up and start digging into his repertoire. They won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Teaching at Utah Children's Theatre

I just ended my first semester teaching at Utah Children's Theatre and can I just say, I love teaching! I work with some amazing co-workers (I am looking at you Jana Cox) and the students...ranging in age from 4 years old to adults. I look forward to going to work and exploring the world that I love almost as much as my family: the theater! Seeing this wonderful art form through the eyes of children is a special treat. Well, let's admit it, anything seen through children's eyes is a gift.

Theater is a bonding experience and a process. At first in most of my younger classes I focused mostly on discipline and concentration. And it can be frustrating at times to have so much to get through on the syllabus and you spend half of the time telling children to be quiet and keep their hands to themselves. Then something wonderful happens, the children start to love you and trust you and in turn you have grown to love them. You know all their names, basic interests and personalities. The class falls into a rhythm and they know what to expect and what is expected of them. The tides turn, and realizations start to happen. Their sweet little minds catch on when deciphering a simple stage direction or what you mean when you say, "project your voice!" or "cheat out!".

With the very little ones we work on imaginary play and helping them to focus all that energy. In a world of technology, some of these kids have a hard time with imaginary play at first. But, they catch on real quick and end up being the leader in many improvisational games. The older kids are ready for a challenge. They are so smart and I was amazed at how they handled some demanding material I threw at them. By the time the recital came they were memorized, focused and so proud to show their family and friends what they had been working on.

My adult class is my most challenging to prepare for. I feel so many of my students could teach the class themselves. What could I teach them that they don't already know? The funny thing is, what adults need most is reassurance. Confidence is a big issue. I try and make it a safe place they can come and try out new material for an audition. We work a lot on relaxation and are focusing on different approaches to the material so they can use what works best for them as an individual. Of course, scene work and improvisation is fun. I love to see what they come up with. I laugh a lot in this class. Schedules can be crazy, and sometimes our numbers are few, but, I fly with it and adjust where I need to.

I look forward to next semester. I mostly teach straight acting classes but next semester will be co-teaching a musical theater class. I helped out a lot with that class this semester and felt right in my comfort zone. I love musical theater. Anyway, I have learned so much and enjoy helping people discover their talents, their confidence and see the "theater bug" being caught all around me. It is hard to find a cure once you inherit the bug. ;-)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Aid Kit Concert

On November 17, after coming home from my sister's 50th Birthday Party Roger and I had the privilege of attending the concert of Swedish band, First Aid Kit. They are a delightful sister duo that sing pop/country/alternative fare and put on (as my niece Jesii would say) a show that was quite magical.
 Roger introduced this band to me about a year ago. He is always on the lookout for new bands and they resonated with me from the start. They are young, but seem to have a mature musical sensibility. Other artists I respect, like Jack White, took notice of them early on and they have opened for him in the past. The crowd was just delighted with the whole show and very into it. I loved the atmosphere and how these young performers were able to captivate an audience who politely and gradually pushed closer and closer to them as the show went on.
Being mostly a live vocal performer myself, I know how difficult it can be to sing in front of an audience. Things go wrong in a live performance. Forgotten words, notes may be a bit off key at times and fatigue can set in. Live performances are not perfect. Not like a studio, where you can do take after take and choose the best one and then if needed a studio technician can tweak things to make it sound fuller, more in tune or add (the all too familiar in today's popular music) auto-tune for affect. Many popular artists today sound very different from their recordings because of these factors. So, it is refreshing to hear a band that sound very close to their recording. They don't need much tweaking because the have the vocal technique in place. These girls sounded great. Not perfect, but I loved the imperfections. Nothing too obvious or way off key. Just the sound of two people singing live and doing a bang up job of it. Especially since they do tight harmonies for most of their songs. They made it look easy and above anything, they were having fun.

Above is a photo of them singing without the mics. Everyone had to be very quiet and it was one of my favorite numbers of the night. Especially when they had us join them in singing. I love how music can bring a crowd of strangers together in a very intimate way...magical.

Here is a sample of some of their vocals on one of my favorite songs they sing, Emmylou. Ivy and I sang this song for my recital this year. It was a pleasure working on this song and it holds some very dear memories for me. If you get a chance, research this band and take a listen. If they come to your town to perform, I strongly encourage you to go see them. Enjoy!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Salt Lake City Recital

Due to illness I had to postpone my Salt Lake City Recital by three weeks. It was frustrating to deal with a cough/cold in the interim, but things worked out for the better since some family members and friends who couldn't make the original date were able to come on Sat. It meant a lot that we were filled to capacity. Next year I will either have to spread it out over two nights or move out of my studio to a bigger venue. I love doing it in my studio, so I think the option to do it on two different dates will be the best option.

I had been pretty ill so there were some residual things like an occasional dry cough and more phlegm than normal, but all in all I realized as I rehearsed going into this that as long as I warmed up more than I usually do and got a strong connection in my first bridge that I was good to go. It is always interesting to me how singers find ways to work around illness to get through a performance. And I felt blessed to have the education I have in singing so that I knew what my voice needed to get through this particular repertoire.

I still had the shakes when it came to playing guitar, but that will fade the more I perform and play in front of an audience. As the saying goes, "fake it til you make it!", that definitely applies to me and my relationship with the guitar in performance. I have loved developing this talent and will continue to practice every day and find opportunities to play so it becomes second nature.

As usual, I was freaking out a little a few hours before the performance. Many of you know that back in 1999 I lost my voice completely due to a traumatic event in my life and it has been a LONG road back to being able to sing again. I feel like my voice is stronger than it was before my trauma, but I still have this little warble/crack thing that occurs seemingly out of no where. It adds stress as I prepare to perform because I feel it sounds like weakness in my voice or that I made a mistake. It was happening during warm ups and Roger had to 'talk me off of a ledge' and calm me down. I am so grateful for the love and support he gives me every day, but especially when I am having moments of neurosis, he knows just what to say.

By the time I performed I was ready to go and had the mind set of not just singing and entertaining this audience, but to share my God given gift. We all have our gifts and they are meant to be shared. I was focused on that and everything went off brilliantly. It was a very special night and I can't wait for the next one.

Here I am afterward with my sisters Franci, Lissa, my mom Lajoy and Annie.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

EVERYONE Should Sing!

I recently saw this video posted on my high school choir teacher's Facebook page and I fell in love with this message:

As I work with students, and fellow actors, or associate with friends and family, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, "I can't sing." EVERYONE can sing! EVERYONE has something to offer in the singing realm! AND EVERYONE should stop thinking they are limited, or not talented or not good enough just because they don't sound like (insert favorite singer here)....Because the truth of the matter is, Music is Communication and we as a society need to sing more often and STOP criticizing those that do.

If you want to sing, Start Practicing. If you want to sing, join a choir or group, audition for a musical, take voice lessons, start up a family/friend band and get together once a week to belt out your favorite tunes. If you want to sing, stop feeling inferior to those people who "sing" and are revered as "the best" and find your own voice. Singing brings people together. It uplifts, inspires, motivates, relieves stress and captivates the soul.

My voice is not perfect. It has its quirks and sometimes I get frustrated and think, "Why am I doing this?" But, the next day, I warm up and do it all again because I love it. It comes from my soul and I have to sing like I have to breath.

Start today. Turn off the computer or TV, put down the phone, crank up the music and SING!!!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

St. George Recital 2014

This past weekend I was able to travel down to Southern Utah and perform my Annual Recital for family and friends.

This year it was all country and folk music and I played the guitar! Something I haven't done for an audience since 2008 when I first learned how to play. Even then, it is my first time going solo with the guitar and I didn't realize how nervous I would be. The first song I played my hands were shaking so bad I had to take a second to calm down and then I did better and better as the time went on. It is funny how nerves manifest themselves. I didn't realize I was nervous until that moment. Crazy!

Here are some fun shots of me singing:

Not sure what was happening here, but I think this picture is so funny! 

Here I am explaining the duet I sing with Ivy. She said she was SO nervous. I had no idea because she sang the song the best she has ever done. I love harmonizing with this girl. 

My sister Franci accompanied me on the piano. Always a pleasure! 

My proud mom.

Proud Dad and Step-Mom

The spread afterward with Russ being goofy in the back when we told him get out of the picture. Haha. Janell made brownie bites, cream puffs, caramels, and lemon & key lime tarts. She made them! From scratch!! So delicious!!!

Now I am all prepped for the recital for my Salt Lake friends and family. This year's repertoire has been a blast to work on and a departure from what people normally hear me sing. It was fun to hear the feedback from the audience, "I didn't know you could sound so good singing country!", "Now that is MY music! Finally you sang something I liked!", "Country suits your voice.", and "I didn't know you played guitar?!" 

I love challenging myself. I love doing new things and getting outside my comfort zone. The hard work really paid off and now I have double the excitement to perform in Salt Lake. So come if you can! It is going to be a blast and yes, I am going to make all of you sing with me at one point so start doing your vocal exercises! ;-) 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Brandi Carlile: Singing from the Gut

Roger and I recently went to a Brandi Carlile Concert and found out first hand what an incredible performer she is. What makes Brandi so special to me is her ability to sing straight from the gut. She has so much soul and a strong connection to each song that she performs. You feel the molecules change in the air when she starts to sing and you know you are witnessing something special. She loves what she does, she has talent oozing out of her and to top it all off, she is gracious. Many artists say the cliche phrase, "I love my fans", but when Brandi says it you know she means it.

She decided that for our audience that she would just take requests the whole night instead of playing a well thought out set list. It was so fun! After her first couple songs she started calling on people and one of the first requests was her cover of Leonard Cohen's  "Hallelujah". She joked and said, "You are going straight to that one, huh!? Just taking the plunge!" She explained that she is used to singing it towards the end of her set so it should be refreshing to sing it without her voice being so thrashed from screaming for two hours. I have heard many variations of this song, and hers was definitely in my top three of covers. So beautiful. I pretty much cried through the whole thing.

And speaking of her "screaming" for two hours, I did not find that to literally be the case. There are artists who have a raspy tone and that is their voice like Tina Turner or Janis Joplin. With Brandi, she can turn on that rasp when the song needs that color and turn it right off. I was impressed with her vocal versatility and her ability to continue to sing so lovely after using that raspy, belt quality.

Her band that night was just her partners in crime, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, twin brothers who play guitar and bass respectively, and who write songs along with Brandi for each of her albums. Their back up vocals are spot on. And on cello was Josh Neumann who also played the piano at times. Brandi would sometimes just stand and sing at the mic or sit and play the piano while singing. But, my favorite was when she was wailing on the acoustic guitar. If you think "wailing" sounds like a weird verb to go with "acoustic" guitar you have obviously not seen Brandi play. Yeah, she rocks it out!

As you can tell, I really don't have much criticism to give. Her music resonated with me and I was inspired. With my recital coming up, I was excited to get home and dig deeper into my set list. To give each song the connection and interpretation it deserves. At least for my capabilities right now. I want to move people when I perform like she moved me. I want to sing from the gut and not just be a pretty voice, but an artist. Hopefully I am on the road to being the artist I always imagined I could be.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Still Able to Rock at 50+

Last night Roger and I attended the Foreigner/Styx concert with Don Felder (The Eagles). From the opening band led by Mr. Felder I could tell we were in for a fun night. I was so impressed with how tight the band was and with the vocals. Don Felder is in his 60's now and he was still rockin' out, well as much as you can on The Eagles' songs. And he was given plenty of time to jam out on the guitar. I love watching rock musicians on stage. They are doing what they love and I don't know if I have seen happier people than musicians who are up there in their element, in front of a screaming audience, making a living doing what they are most passionate about. That positive energy is felt throughout the crowd. 

Then Foreigner came onstage. Holy Cow! So entertaining! Granted Mick Jones is the only original band member still in the current band, but the 'new guys' are still well into their 50's. Many of them were replacements joining the band from the mid-1990's to the mid-2000's. I was particularly impressed with the lead singer, Kelly Hansen, and Thom Gimbel who played everything from rock flute and saxophone to rhythm guitar and keyboards. These guys had so much energy and put on a fantastic show. One of the highlights, hands down, was 'Jukebox Hero'. Unfortunately, Mick Jones was not in attendance but members of our high school choir, Cottonwood High, made an appearance to sing back up on 'I Wanna Know What Love Is'.

Then STYX came out. I was so excited! Tommy Shaw had already made an appearance earlier in the night with Don Felder to play and sing on 'Hotel California' and I stood right up and almost fell down I was so happy to see him. My sister had the Paradise Theater album when I was growing up and I loved to listen to it. And had a bit of a crush on old Tommy Shaw. I turned to Roger and said, "My sisters are going to be so jealous!" I was looking forward to STYX all night, but after the fun energy of Foreigner I have to admit, STYX was a bit of a let down. I mean, they were good and Tommy still has amazing rock vocals, but I missed Dennis DeYoung and seriously how many guitar jam sessions can one band have? Lawrence Gowan who replaced Dennis did a great job and his section of the show where it was just him at the keyboard and the audience singing classic rock tunes was a highlight, but Dennis' unique vocals have been burnt on my brain over the years and it is hard to completely buy into someone who sounds almost like him. 

All in all it was a fun night. I haven't been to too many concerts in my life so it is always an exciting adventure. Overall, Foreigner rocks and Tommy Shaw is still a "babe". (pun intended)

Here are the stars themselves on a Fox News show a few months ago to give you a flavor of what we experienced (sans Mick Jones):

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Recording in the Studio

I went into the recording studio this past week to make a CD for Christmas presents to family and close friends. I don't have much studio experience but I sure enjoy the time spent there and I learn so much. This time was extra special because I got to work in my friend Jay's studio up in Logan. Jay and I have known each other for many, many years (going back to my college days) and is very professional and knows his stuff. We have a great rapport and he is such a talented musician that I trust his judgement and second ear completely.

I am covering songs that have a variety in vocal styling and genres. They all carry the simple theme of "love" in all its' stages and forms. My favorite day was having my husband and kids there to record a duet with my daughter and a group song with all of them. Even my two boys who have nice voices, but don't normally sing for anyone, got involved and I feel so blessed that they conquered any reservations or fears and did this for their mom.

Here are some pics of that day:

 It was a great experience and even though most of my close friends and family know what they are getting for Christmas now, I didn't say what songs so that will still be a surprise. :)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Janelle Monae: The Power of a Woman

This past weekend Roger and I attended the Janelle Monae concert at Red Butte Garden Amphitheater. It was so much fun. At her first entrance, I was surprised at how tiny she was. But, it didn't take long to realize that this woman had 'star power' packed into her 5 foot tall frame. Her voice, her dance talent, her charisma and did I mention her voice?! Effortless, lyrical, expressive and dynamic. I was enjoying myself so much and then about a quarter of the way through the concert I realized that her fashion choices made an impact but unlike many other female singers today she dressed...dare I say it?...modestly. She is a beautiful woman but she wasn't using her body in the provocative way that I am (unfortunately) accustomed to in popular female artists. She wasn't an object, she was a vibrant, whole human being. She was still sexy, but the music came first, her talent came first and because she wasn't putting it all out there (so to speak) she seemed to me even more powerful than someone who uses sex as their primary way of gaining fame, notoriety, *cough* respect, and attention. I guess it says something about me and maybe society in general, when I expected her to come out with a shirt cut down to her belly button, wearing no pants with wedged gladiator sandals. But, after this concert, I can honestly say to all the women who feel they have to wear very little to receive the validation they seek for their talent, their bodies, their attractiveness or whatever, "You can wear clothes and still be the brightest star in the room. You can be powerful, beautiful and magnetic!" I know that now, I have seen it first hand and I am happy that women have an option. Look, I don't get out to many concerts and I am sure there are other artists who don't dress up in just hot pants and a scarf, but this was eye opening for me being mostly subject to mainstream TV and internet where the headlines are all about those artists who dress in the aforementioned alluring manner. Sure, they get a lot of attention, but at the end of the day, what do they always say? "I want to be known for my music, it is about the music." Well, with Janelle, it is about the music, period. I left that concert dancing my way out the door: inspired, uplifted, and happy!

Here is a sample of her charm and incredible talent:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Crossover Artists: What is the Harm?

There was an article I recently read calling Welsh mezzo-soprano crossover artist, Katherine Jenkins, a fraud. (she gets a lot of scathing reviews and criticism) The title reads, "Katherine Jenkins hasn't got the voice or technique to sing opera - so why does she pretend she can?". I am not a fan of Miss Jenkins but I felt like a case needed to be made for someone in her shoes. The aforementioned article contained video of her singing the aria, Una Voce Poco Fa.

I have included it below. No need to watch the whole thing, just start at minute 3:40

Now watch this video of Elina Garanca (trained opera singer) sing the same aria. Again, if you just start at minute 3:45 you will hear enough to see my impending point. 

Please let me know if you couldn't tell the difference, but, Elina is classically trained and has performed in staged operas. Katherine is a recording and performance artist who has not actually been in an opera, but has strong views of bringing the genre to the attention of the masses. Her intentions are good as far as I can tell. Like I said, she performs all over the world, she does a tremendous amount of charity work and was just appointed, Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services in music and charities. She is very successful and falls into the same category of Susan Boyle, Sarah Brightman, and others who sing classic works along with popular songs, musical theater pieces and hymns. 

My question is, "What is the harm in what Miss Jenkins and others like her are doing?"

The videos I posted above were side by side and you can see the dramatic difference, but if you just went to a concert given by Katherine Jenkins and she was joined on stage by Andrea Bocelli (another artist who is not technically up to par with classically trained tenors in the opera world, but still has a lucrative career in singing songs from the genre) would you be disappointed? 

Artists like Miss Jenkins cause quite a stir in the opera world. As far as I can tell she is not claiming to be an opera singer. She just sings songs from that genre. And what if we were to look at this the other way around, operatic voices singing contemporary music? How well does that go over? Here are some famous voices covering John Denver songs:

Beautiful, but do their voices truly work with the genre of country/folk music? I would have to argue with few exceptions, they do not. I think in each genre of music we have our extreme artists who sound strange trying anything else but what they are trained in or what niche they have found. And then you have those who can crossover successfully and it actually isn't too bad sounding.

The first video I posted of Katherine singing was not her strongest song choice, but I am sure there are other arias she could pull off beautifully. And she sounded quite lovely with Andrea. I think it is great that a vocalist can make a living dabbling in different genres. Yes, they may not be the best technically, but they still have something to offer the world and apparently there is a market for it. 

So, the bottom line for me, is that vocalists like Miss Jenkins shouldn't be judged so harshly. She doesn't claim to be an opera star or to have sung at the Met. She is indeed a crossover artist who markets herself well and is easy on the eyes. Let her sing. Let her put bread on the table for her family. And if you don't like her...there are PLENTY of other artists out there to choose from. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Perfect Alignment

Yesterday's Post focused on the idea that anything we create in life is valuable as long as it comes truthfully from us. Even if it has been done before, like a song or a role in a play/movie, it still has validity. And I still hold that to be true. But, I can't help but think that there are times when the stars align and we get to witness the perfect union of an artist with certain material. The performance is so aligned that those that play the part afterward or cover the song are always compared to that "one" performance, or it may seem that no one can come close to doing it as well...EVER.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section, but for me, I can think of a few performances that fall into this category. Now, before I share this, please keep in mind that other artists have and do perform these roles I am about to list today and do such an amazing job. I hope you understand that I do not discount their performance, but the list below falls into a category of that perfect alignment, where it is hard to top and hard to forget.

My List (in no particular order):

Mandy Patinkin (George) and Bernadette Peters (Dot) in Sunday in The Park with George

Judy Garland (Dorothy) in the Wizard of Oz

Donald O'Conner (Cosmo Brown) and Gene Kelly (Don Lockwood) in Singing in the Rain

Barbra Streisand (Fanny Brice) in Funny Girl

Julie Andrews (Maria Von Trapp) in The Sound of Music

Do you agree with this list? Who is on your list?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Let It Come From You. Then it Will Be New."

The other day as I was practicing for my recital I had the thought, "What am I doing? Am I just a glorified karaoke singer? I sing to tracks, most of the time, I cover songs instead of write them, and my background is in Musical Theater. What am I doing trying to sing these country songs?" I am sure we have all had moments in our lives when we feel like a fraud, a hack or "poser"...not the real deal. But, this bothered me. I have so many friends, people in my family and famous (or semi famous) artists who I look up to who play an instrument, and write their own songs. They are playing clubs and networking to get their original material out there. I can't tell you how much I admire that. Where do I fit in though? Can my vocal offering still be somewhat valid or even equally valid?

When I sing in church or perform a character on stage I feel close to the real deal. At church I am the vessel that is helping to bring the Spirit to the meeting through music. I am bearing testimony of what I am singing about. On Stage I have worked for months to create a character and I feel I can transform into that person and go on an intimate journey with an audience as the play unfolds. I feel like an "artist" in the sense that I created something (with the guidance of my director) from a blank slate.

But, here I am, singing a genre that I admittedly do not know much about and I am expecting people to come and sit for close to an hour listening to me whale away in my ignorance...Yet, as I have thought about this over the past few days, I have gained some confidence. True, I didn't write these songs and I will sometimes sing with a track, but these songs are coming from me. There is a phrase in the lyrics of "Move On" from Sunday in the Park with George (Sondheim) that says, "Anything you do. Let it come from you. Then it will be new. Give us more to see."

As I work on these songs, my goal is to not be a carbon copy of the original artist. (that is another talent for a different platform) I listen, learn the song, ingest it, and then let it rest in that truthful place inside me where it begins to become a part of who I am as a performer.

Everyone of us is unique and special and has something wonderful to offer the world. I have learned with a certainty that when something comes from that honest place inside ourselves, whether original work or not, that it will be beneficial. Maybe not to everyone in the crowd, but even if it touches one person and helps them become better for was worth it.

Here is the song I referred to in this post. Pay particular attention at minute: 3:15: Enjoy!! 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Challenge: Putting It Together

As I get ready for my recital I am finding the challenge of being able to play the guitar well and sing well at the same time. The artists that I admire make it look so easy that I thought it would be easy. And I know it will get easier and more natural with time, but initially, it can be frustrating. I don't want to lose the integrity of the vocals as I focus on hitting all the right chords and strums on the guitar. The songs I have chosen to play are fairly easy so I know with practice it will all work out.

The other factor is getting too nervous in front of an audience when I put the two elements together. I will try and play for my family and close friends as I go so I won't be so nervous for the final performance. The trick is to get "out of my head". When I play piano scales for my students I find that I mess up the scale when I am thinking about the scale, if I just allow my hands to do the pattern and trust that they will do what they will and I mainly focus on the student, I mess up less or not at all. The same thing will apply to the guitar and vocal performance if I just allow myself to learn it and then forget it. When the performance comes I need to focus on the more visceral experience and let everything else go. It will be interesting to see what happens, but I am up for the challenge.

I can't let this post end without showing you one of the "greats" when it comes to joining the guitar and vocals as a perfect pairing. Miss Bonnie Raitt....enjoy!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger: May 3, 1919 - Jan 27, 2014

Pete Seeger died yesterday. He was a a big part of my upbringing. We learned his music in school. I have passed on his songs to my children and in that sense his legacy will not die. He was a special kind of artist who felt that folk music and sense of community were inseparable. He used his influence through music to not only entertain but to educate. He lived through the the labor movement of the 40's and 50's, the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam movement of the 60's and continued to fight through the 70's and beyond for environmental and antiwar causes. All the while with his banjo, guitar and tenor voice to express his messages of peace and seeing the bigger picture. I don't get too involved in the political side of things myself. But, I admire people who can and for me, Mr. Seeger was more than an political activist. He was a voice of my childhood. I am grateful for his music. His versions of Down by the Riverside, Michael Row the Boat Ashore, Little Boxes, This Land is Your Land, Where Have all the Flowers Gone?, If I Had a Hammer, and All Around the Kitchen, will stay with me forever.

Here is a brief interview and then a performance of Skip to My Lou. He loved singing this whenever he performed for children. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Keeping it Real While Singing

One of the challenges actors face when breaking into song during a scene is to keep the flow of truth consistent. The actor will be brilliant while speaking and then as soon as that music starts, BAM!, "now I am singing"...the honesty that was holding the audience captive has now disappeared. The singing has become a wall between actor and spectator and the moment is blown. I liken this phenomenon to amateur actors doing Shakespeare. The heightened language becomes a barrier and all the audience hears are words, words, words. Then turn the spotlight to a seasoned Shakespearean actor and the language is crystal clear. In fact, the language isn't what the audience is focusing on much at all, but the heart of the character takes hold and captivation ensues.

Here is Kristin Chenoweth talking about this very thing in an interview a few years back during her time on the series "Pushing Daisies". The show incorporated singing in a very natural way. I love what she has to say:

And here is the scene she is talking about. She is an amazing example of staying in that core of truth as she transfers back and forth from singing to dialogue:

When I work with students or am performing a song myself, I approach it much like I would a monologue. The first thing is to learn the song and get it in a strong place technically (an audience also will tune out someone who is singing out of tune, or with an unbalanced sound). Then my favorite part, breaking everything down and creating the heart behind the song. Sometimes the vocal technique may be compromised to bring the song to that place of truth, but the final result is most gratifying. If one can keep that continuity going and keep it real, the actor will feel it and the audience will feel it. The perfect match up in any art form.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Diggin' Into Bluegrass: Hazel Dickens

I have decided for my annual recital that I will turn from my normal 'musical theater and pop comfort zone' and get into new territory focusing on country, folk and bluegrass music. I have always been a fan of popular country music from the 70's (to be frank, pretty much ANY music from the 70's suits me just fine). I grew up listening to Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, John Denver, Anne Murray, The Mandrell Sisters and Linda Ronstadt. I am familiar with folk music from the 60's and 70's. I fall under the cliche category of being a Joni Mitchell fan. Can't listen to much of Bob Dylan singing, but I love his songs and prefer artists like Joan Baez doing his stuff. Pete Seeger is a staple in our home. My kids were raised on Sesame Street and good old Pete. I love his cleverness and sense of fun and leave it to banjo music to get kids up and moving. There are many more artists in the country and folk world that I will touch on in the coming months, but for today I have to admit, I do not know much about the the world of bluegrass.

This has been where most of my research resides. I am particularly interested in female artists of the genre. I had heard of most of the top male artists, but women like Hazel Dickens...where has she been all my life? Of course Emmylou Harris and Allison Krauss have been more household names in my neighborhood, the soundtrack of, Brother Where Art Thou? thrust bluegrass into the forefront of our nations conscious when it came out in 2000.

But today we need to talk about Hazel Dickens. She was known for her songs that were pro-union, and she served as an advocate for coal miners through her music. She was originally a part of the duo, Hazel and Alice. Their first album together, "Who's That Knocking," released in 1965, is considered one of the earliest bluegrass records made by women. She was a reluctant feminist role model and has said that she was originally scared to write about issues like sexism and the oppression of women.

In an interview she gave in 1999 she remembers the first time she sang 'Don't Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There', she recalled, "I was at a party standing in the middle of all these men. It was here in Washington. Bob Siggins was playing banjo, and when I got done, everyone just stood and looked at each other, and Bob said, "That's a nice song, but I won't be able to sing it." And I said, "Of course you can."

 "We were writing about our own experience, " she explained. "They were things we needed to say."

Here is a sample of Hazel Dickens. Enjoy!!