Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Songs I Love to Sing: Crazy

I wish I still had the Annie Oakley costume you see to the right. My mother-in-law and I made it when I was in Annie Get Your Gun and it would have been perfect to wear as an early Patsy Cline get up for the recording of this song. Patsy went from costumes like this to more simple, sophisticated fashion as she got more established in the music industry. But, no matter what she wore, her voice, her phrasing, her relationship with the audience, and charisma were all anyone was really paying attention to. I love singing her songs. I love seeing if I can capture some of her essence in a truthful way and not as a parody. If I ever get the chance to play her in "Always, Patsy Cline", that is what I will strive for. No one has her voice. But, if I can just capture that essence, that is all that will matter. I love bringing a bit of myself to this song as well. You have to if it is to come across in an honest way. I also have a higher timber to my voice so, when I sing her songs in a recital or for a recording I usually sing her songs first so I know my chest voice is in full swing. Often if I am singing in my mix or head voice for too long and then I try and get that rich tone, I can't quite accomplish it as well. Isn't it interesting that most singers plan their set list in an order that is conducive to how their voice works as it warms up and is used? I know this may be slightly different for every singer, but there is a technical logic behind set lists. I hope you enjoy this song. It was written by another country legend, Willie Nelson. When I sing it, I am carried away in the emotion. The best is singing it on stage, with just a spot light on you, mic in hand, and a small band backing you up. I have had that pleasure in the past and the result was pretty magical. A moment I won't forget.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Songs I Love to Sing: You and I

I decided to go back into the archives and dust off this little gem that my family and I sang at my vocal recital in 2011. Ingrid Michaelson's, "You and I". This is one of my favorite memories, singing this song with my crew. When we first got Ingrid's album this song would be on repeat during family trips. The kid's love it. I performed it in my recital and then we went into the studio and recorded it. The simplicity, the sweet message, and of course the stomping and clapping of the finale are irresistible. If you will notice in the video, Chester really gets into it. He feels the same way about Queen's, "We Will Rock You." Stomping and clapping = loads of primitive fun! So, sit back and enjoy my family's cover of, You and I.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Songs I Love to Sing: Both Sides Now

Joni Mitchell. I can think of very few songwriters that have the ability to be unabashedly vulnerable, and set their life experience down on paper as she is able to do. So personal and yet, so universal. Incredible. This song never fails to bring me into its grasp as I sing it. Even just a simple warm up run through will bring me to tears. Personally, I do have a lot of life's questions answered, but there are always those trials that pop up that throw you for a loop. There is always that person you meet that comes in like a whirlwind and you are not sure how you feel after they leave. There is always that storm you didn't see coming when everything was so lovely, sunny, and calm. I guess that is the tapestry of life, and how we choose to deal with each trial, person, and storm determines the outcome in the end. So many things go through my mind as I sing this song. The universality of this song holds true depending on the day and what I have going on in my life. It sometimes feels like a great therapy session and by the time I am done singing I can have a good cry, make some resolutions, and move on. So, please enjoy my cover of, Both Sides Now:

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Songs I Love to Sing: Last Name

 "Last Name" sung by Carrie Underwood is the most contemporary song I performed for my recital. I grew up listening to John Denver, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Crystal Gayle, The Mandrell Sisters, and Dolly Parton. The country stars that were on TV and the radio, the more mainstream 1970's stuff. So, when I think of country music, those are the artists that come to mind. That is country music to me. So, when preparing for this recital I had to explore other decades to see what was out there. I had already become a devoted fan of Patsy Cline in my early 30's, but I hadn't found too many country artists beyond the 1980's that resonated with me. Even when it comes to rock and pop music I am an old soul. But, I found a track that was an acoustic version of "Last Name". I like Carrie's voice and thought it would be fun to try it out. And it turned out to be a real showstopper. One bit of trivia, I don't think this track was meant to be a vocal track. If you notice in the first verse just before the chorus I have to elongate my phrasing to fit the lyrics in. The guitarist added some extra counts in there, but I found my way around it. Again, the main reason I chose this arrangement is because my voice is very different from Carrie's and I didn't want people to automatically associate this version with hers. That is a tip when doing covers, find an arrangement that veers from the original or come up with your own arrangement and then it becomes more about your interpretation and hopefully the audience will not continually compare you to the original artist while you are singing. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall??

Heart pounding with anticipation. You are ready for this, you have put in the work for weeks. You practiced your monologue every day from a half hour to an hour. Vocalized and rehearsed your song for an hour every day. You are wearing your favorite power suit that will signify the character and your hair was cooperative...well, my hair never lets me down, let's be honest. Not too much make-up. Subtle, yet enough so I don't look pale. Focus. Fill out the form...stupid fly, why is there a fly in here and why does it seem to be highly attracted to me? I am not wearing perfume. Must be the hairspray. Form is filled out...where is the conflict sheet? Oh, well. I only have one conflict and I can inform them if I get a call back...WHEN I get a call back. Think positive. Focus. Breathe. I am so ready for this. I was born to play this role. You got this! Heart pumping out of my chest. Breathe. "They are ready for you." Yes! Act casual, not too eager. Confident. It is all about confidence. Breathe. Enter the room, friendly faces greet and make me feel at ease. Accompanist seems capable. Great! See taped "X" on the floor, hit my mark. "Hello, my name is..." There is a huge mirror right behind them. This is a dance studio so that would make sense. Don't panic. But, where am I going to look? "I will be doing..." If I look up at that plant hook reflected in the mirror, maybe... "I will be singing..." My gaze won't be too high. I feel like my chin is up in the air. Why is she playing my song, wait, what? "Oops!...No, I will be doing my monologue first." "Oh, Sorry. I can't hear in this room." Great, the accompanist just said she can't hear me and where should I look? I don't want to look at myself in the mirror, that will be weird. The hook, I will look at the hook. This character is supposed to be regal. If my chin is up a bit, it will add to the character, right? "Ibsen, Ibsen, Ibsen..." Man, this monologue is not quite how I rehearsed it. Get it together, Dunbar! Focus! Be the character, stop acting...you are acting. Is that hook white or gray? "Ibsen, Ibsen, Ibsen..." Almost done and I just can't...I need to look at myself, I need to put my chin down, aaaaand there I am. I can't seem to find a focal point besides my own eyes in this mirror. I look lost. What is my last line? Ah, yes..."Ibsen!" Hopefully the song will redeem me. It is the last impression. Here we go. Try to look more to the side of yourself than right at yourself. I feel I am drifting back.... Oh, who cares, just look at yourself. Sing to yourself. That will look normal, right? "Singing sad song, Singing sad song, Singing sad song..." I am having an outer body experience. I feel my spirit leaving my body, I am so...this is so weird! I don't want to look at myself! Whew, it is hot in here. Am I too young for hot flashes? Yes, I am too young. Breathe. "Singing sad song, Singing sad song..." Last note is coming make it great. "Singing. Sad. Song." Not terrible. But, I honestly can't recall. All I know is that there is a mirror right behind the people I am supposed to impress and win over and I don't remember anything except what I look like when I am distractedly performing an Ibsen monologue and singing a very sad song. Smile. Say my thanks, get my music, bump into the fly on the way out. Ugh! Drink some water. Take a deep breath. Walk slowly away in a confused haze.

Stupid mirror.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Songs I Love To Sing: To Make You Feel My Love

To Make You Feel My Love was written by Bob Dylan. I think most of us are more familiar with the covers of this song than the original. Mr. Dylan's voice can be an acquired taste, but there is no doubt of his talent as a songwriter. This song alone has been covered by countless artists. Some of my favorites include Adele, Billy Joel, and Garth Brooks. I decided to do the Adele arrangement. It was intimidating, Adele is an original and it is hard to fill her shoes in any way. But, the key was perfect for me and my intention was not to sing this song like her, but do my own thing. Since my recital had a country/folk theme I gave it a little of those flavors. One thing I love about this song is that is open for interpretation. Sure, it could be about a lover or a new relationship, but it could also be sung to someone we love who is struggling, or in my case, when I sing this song I focus on my oldest son who has Autism. I feel like this fierce mama bear who would do anything to make him feel safe, valued, and loved. Here is my rendition of this song. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Devil Makes Three and Garrison Keillor

Roger and I had the pleasure this past summer to attend a couple concerts at Red Butte Garden Amphitheater. The first was this clever looking bunch, Devil Makes Three. They were tight. When I see bands that are accomplished musicians and great performers it is incredibly inspiring. I want to add the banjo and upright bass to my list of instruments I need to learn now. Or, just stick to that lifelong dream of being in a band with Roger and the kids. I could never bring myself to purchasing a drum set, well with a band like this, who needs drums? Enjoy a song by them below (it starts to really rock out at 1:19)

Then we attended a taping of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. This has been a life long dream for me. I grew up listening to this show on. Garrison is retiring this year so I got there just in the nick of time. He put on a colorful and heartfelt show. He is witty and one of the best story tellers around. He is always joined by talented musicians, and of course, Fred Newman his sound effects man. Here is a fun little gospel ditty. Enjoy! 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Songs I Love to Sing: Love Is Like a Butterfly

Dolly Parton. I love her. She is a strong woman that just oozes talent, and sweetness. Growing up I remember listening to that crystal clear voice over and over again. Her songs are personal. She is a master story teller. As I was trying to figure out which songs of hers to do for my concert Roger stayed quiet. I honed in on one of her more upbeat, tongue and cheek songs, and I just wasn't feeling it. Roger finally said, "Why don't you try 'Love Is Like a Butterfly'? I love that song." I tried it out and it fit like a glove. It is simple, poetic and a dream to sing. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Songs I Love to Sing: Blue Moon of Kentucky

As most of you know, I love Patsy Cline. I honestly don't know anyone who doesn't love Patsy Cline. She is one of those artists that transcend any genre of music and is adored unconditionally. When I watch footage of her live performances I get the sense that she was an amazing person and I'd like to think we would have been good friends had the opportunity presented itself. I do not have that deep tone quality that she has, but I sing her songs not to sing like her, but to feel the joy that they bring to my soul. I can't help imitating some of her "Patsy-ism". If there is one musical I have my eye on it is "Always Patsy Cline." If I were to do that show I would work to sound more like her, but for this recording I just did my own thing and found happiness while doing it. Patsy lived in a time where songs were written and many artists covered the same songs without a second thought. I know that many of her songs were recorded by other artists before her, but there is just something special about Patsy and her interpretation of a song that makes it special and stand out from the crowd. She was one of the greats, no doubt!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I Am One Who Must Give Light

~ "What is to Give Light Must Endure Burning" - Viktor Frankl

I have been pondering this quote in recent weeks. I feel that I am one who must give light. I love doing things for other people. I feel full of peace and goodness when I am serving and finding ways to serve. My favorite way to give light is performing on stage. I believe with all my heart that it is an act of service when one shares their talents. I know it can uplift and transform people when they see a performer and it resonates with them. I know this because I have been in the audience and have had life changing experiences while attending a musical, ballet, play, or concert. I am also deeply moved and inspired when I see a certain work of art or a building that has been achieved by a master architect. I know first hand how art can go about spreading tremendous joy to people. So, when I am given the chance to be the one that could possibly inspire and bring that kind of joy, I put my whole heart into it.

Now if we look at the second part of that phrase, "must endure burning", that's where it starts to get interesting. I find that when I fail at learning a new skill or when I face rejection and don't get cast in something. It can be frustrating. It can hurt. It can be confusing. I have felt all of those emotions and many more as I struggle to navigate the 'behind the scenes' of performing. It takes a tremendous amount of work and tenacity to succeed. I learned early on that I had to practice my skills as much as I was able. But, what motivated me to practice more than anything else was seeing other performers at an audition or on stage giving their light. One can learn much from observing. I got cast in the chorus of my first show at age 10. I wanted so badly to have gotten a speaking role. So, I was determined to observe the ones that got the speaking parts, soak everything in, and apply what I had learned.

If we use those times of disappointments to learn, take stock, practice more steadily, set goals, and push ourselves in the areas where we need improvement, we grow. We become more polished, poised, and confident. We will all go through difficult times. Times of failure. Times of injury. Times of sadness and frustration. ALL of us will. And when we do, we can decide if we are going to pick ourselves up and continue on that same path, choose a different path, or just give up. The choice can be daunting at times, especially when we are knocked down time and time again. For me, I may sit and wallow for a season, but then I get myself right back into the ring and battle for the chance to burn bright. I think just the thought of the opportunity is worth fighting for. And statistically, the more times one tries, there is a greater probability that they will succeed.

I am one who must give light. I will endure the burning to give that light.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Songs I Love to Sing: The Book of Love

When I first heard this song on Peter Gabriel's album, Scratch My Back, I had to put it on repeat and just bask in it for a while. It was fun to learn that his was a cover version (the whole album is a collection of covers) of the song by The Magnetic Fields. I was gearing up to do a country/folk themed concert and felt this song could be given a "country twist". So, I figured it out on the guitar and sent it to my friend Jay Richards who made my track for me. There was a music interlude and we decided the fiddle was the best choice to again give it a more country music feel. I love the end result. Enjoy!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Theater Tips For My Daughter

My daughter has been getting more and more involved in performing lately and I can see she has caught the "bug" in such a way that I would not be surprised if she pursues theater her whole life like Roger and I have done. I was making a list of tips for her and thought they would make a great post so here we go: 

Tamari's Theater Tips!

1) First and foremost, Know Who You Are. An actor must have an inner core of morals to stand for. This will be different for most everyone so respect yourself and others for what their core is. This is important because being in the arts is like riding a boat in stormy seas. If you do not live by a code of rules, boundaries and ethics, you will be tossed about, shaken up and have the potential to lose sight of what is most important to you. Stand firm in who you are and what you believe in. No one can take that from you unless you let them.

2) This business is about Who You Know. Connections are essential. When you are starting out in a new city it is like auditioning in an empty room. Until a director takes a chance and gives you your first break, you will be facing more rejection than inclusion. Do readings and workshops, attend plays, take classes, work behind the scenes, go to as many auditions as you are able and get to know the people around you. Everyone has their way of "networking" and it may seem superficial, but it is an important step in getting cast.

3) Once you are cast Keep An Impeccable Work Ethic. I believe that even before talent, a strong work ethic is critical. Show up on time, be prepared, be kind and respectful to everyone involved. Do what you are asked to do, unless it goes against your core values (#1) and then see if a compromise can be made...if not, you may have to leave a job or learn from the experience and never repeat it.

4) The key to any art is to know that it is a continuous journey with no final destination in sight. What I mean by that is, One Can Always Improve. Be open to different acting techniques. Commit to learning and applying as much as you can and keep that knowledge in your "actor's tool bag" to pull out when needed. Eventually we reach milestones where we have the skills to perform at a professional level, but we can always get better at what we do. If your ego takes over, and you feel you have "arrived", you need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

5) Confidence is different than Conceit. To believe in yourself and your abilities is a healthy, balanced view. All actors/artists have insecurities, and the path in finding a resting place where one is confident can be a bumpy ride. But, once one is able to find that balance in confidence do not let the scale tip to the dusty trails of conceit. Conceit shuts down your capacity to learn and shuts out those around you. Two things you never want to happen in the arts.

6) Support Your fellow Actors. Your career is yours and yours alone. It is easy to compare yourself to your peers, but try to limit the trap of doing so. If someone else gets the role you wanted learn how to let go of the disappointment you may feel about a job you never had in the first place, and cheer for the ones who did get that opportunity. Why focus on being jealous of someone who in reality did not *cast themselves in the role? They were cast by someone else who has a long list of reasons why they were cast over you. And most often it has nothing to do with your ability as an actor. Everyone needs their time to bask in the limelight. Your time will come and then someone else's time will come. It ebbs and flows.

7) Be Grateful. Be grateful for your health, your family, your talents...all the things that are your foundation. Those are the things that will be a constant in your life as your career in the arts oscillates. Be grateful for every audition. It is the chance to display your take on the material and what you would bring to the table. It is an opportunity to show how you have improved and allow the director to see a side of yourself that they may not have seen before. What an amazing opportunity auditions are. Be grateful when you get cast. Some people forget this and can complain while on the job. What a blessing to land the job, and even if it may not have been the part you wanted, SO WHAT! This your time to dig in, learn, grow and create something special, so don't waste that precious time in the dark mines of murmuring.

8) Back to auditions...this is a hard one...always be prepared and shine your brightest for the time allotted, but then you must Let It Go. Everything is out of your hands. The odds may be in your favor or not. Realize that once it is over that you need to forget about it and move forward and get ready for the next one. Do not put all of your hope into one audition. You will be sorely disappointed. This business is full of disappointment, so the faster you can get over it, the happier you will be. And if you end up getting a call back...GREAT! If you get cast...Icing on the cake!! (now refer to #3)

9) Trust Your Instincts. It is your job to create a character; to inhabit their skin. Trust yourself. Your imagination, your choices, the technique you are using to approach a particular role. All of these truths come from you and while working with a director is a collaboration, feel free to professionally voice how you feel when the chance arises. Sometimes you will be in opposition with the creative team, but at least say and try what you would like and then if it doesn't work within the director's framework you will feel it. Be okay with giving in to their ideas, but also standing up for yours. This can be done with mutual respect and very little (if any) confrontation.

10) Do Projects That You Are Passionate About. Being the "new guy" will sometimes mean you audition for things just to be seen and get directors familiar with who you are, knowing full well you probably won't be cast. But once those doors start to open, be more selective, do the material that excites you and inspires you. Hearkening back to your code of morals in #1 there may be some material you are not comfortable with. Gravitate to the material that you feel is most worthwhile. It will be more fulfilling and rewarding in the long run. Mistakes will be made, parts will be landed and secrets from certain friends and family will be kept as you figure all this out, but you will soon find what material speaks to you and what does not. Stand proud in that material and do not apologize. There is a place and an audience for all kinds of art forms so do not be ashamed to do what you are most passionate about. If you find it stimulating, then it is of value.

*on occasion you will have theater friends who do cast themselves because they run the company or have some clout within the company. I still believe the same attitude of support should apply. If you decide to run your own company some day with all those added responsibilities you will have to make the choice if this is something you will do. Understand that sometimes you have to create your own opportunities to open doors for yourself and the company. So don't judge too quickly and keep those pom poms raised high, remember what I said about connections? Friends who run theater companies aren't bad friends to have. ;-)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Songwriters Should Understand the Human Voice

Just saw this clip of Idina Menzel not quite hitting that high E flat in Let It Go. (A sad repeat of Oscar Night) I read an article where she describes her version of success as a singer is more about staying in the moment and connecting with the audience. And I totally agree with her on that...But, when it comes to those money notes, an audience expects a professional singer to be able to hit them consistently. And even though the person writing the article blames the cold night air for her sour note, there is more to it than cold air. One of the main things I want to address is that in this case, I don't solely put the responsibility on the singer. I think songwriters (and the music producers that back them up) need to get a clue when they are writing for men and women and realize where the bridges are in the voice and write songs that comply and in turn make the songs more "singer friendly" if you will. If this song was a step lower or even a half step lower, Idina, being the amazing belter that she is, would have a much easier time hitting the note on key and it would still be just as impressive given her talent to back it up.

Here is the clip:

And here is a clip of Idina singing the night after the Oscars on the Tonight Show: (she hits the note around 3:27)

In this clip, guess what? The song is a half step lower. She hits a high D. Still impressive and beautifully done. Why, didn't the songwriters just do that in the first place? By pushing belters like Miss Menzel to sing with so much presence of chest voice up there on the brink of the second bridge is just cruel. And the poor thing is left feeling like it is okay (as she said in the article) to hit 75% of the notes in a two and a half hour musical. (referring to singing in a Broadway show). When I read that, I felt bad for her and other singers in the popular music world who are singing songs that are written with unrealistic expectations. As a result they feel insecure when they perform them. Hoping that tonight all the stars will align and the note will come out strong and on pitch. That is no way to perform a song. So, here is a plea to all songwriters and music producers (I am looking at you David Foster) that I want to put out in the universe:

"PLEASE. Understand the Human Voice and how it works and write songs accordingly. Thank you, All Singers Everywhere."

*On a side note, if Idina were a classically trained singer or had a strong mix she would have an easier time negotiating those notes, BUT, the fact remains, even for a legit soprano or someone with a strong mix. A bridge is a bridge. Songwriters still need to understand and write accordingly.

**Off my soap box