Vocal Performance: The Eyes Have It, Pt. 2 — Maintain An Even Plane

Now that you have practiced your points of focus: start Center, look Left, look Center, look Right, look Center, etc. (always coming back to center between Left & Right), you want to make sure that you “maintain an even plane.”
In other words, don’t let your eyes go over the audience’s head and don’t let your eyes look down at their shoes, either.   In an audition, you might have three people sitting at a table.  Not a problem.  When you perform, don’t look your auditioners right in the eyes, that can be fairly uncomfortable for everybody.  Better yet, create/imagine a friendly face right next to the face of the person in the middle.  Imagine your new friend sitting at that table.  Look them in the eyes.  This will be your center focus.
Now imagine a friendly face just next to the face of the person on the left at the table.  Left Focus.
Now imagine a friendly face just next to the face of the person on the right at the table.  Right Focus.
There you have it.  Three simple points of focus that don’t invade the casting people’s space, but that share the same eye plane for all to see and feel your vocal performance.
This works for all singers from the stage whether it be Pop, Rock, Cabaret or Broadway.
Another issue for those of us watching you; if you close your eyes to show us how moved you are by your own performance, you’ve lost us.
Next: WHEN to change your point of focus.    

Vocal Performance: The Eyes Have It, Pt. 1 — Points of Focus

The eyes do have it.  While your voice can fill a room with energy, it is the eyes that bring it all into focus.

Points of Focus (Left/Center/Right) are crucial in vocal performance; in sharing your eyes or line of sight with the audience.

Some people read lips.  Everybody reads eyes.

Simplest approach (for now) is to:
1) Stretch out your arms in a “V” in front of you.  It should look like you’re about to hug someone. Eyes are already at Center.  Pick a point about 15 feet in front of you and “see” it.  Really see it.
2) Turn Eyes and Face (just your eyes and your face, not the whole body) left along the left arm.  Don’t go beyond the left arm.  Let the eyes lead the face, don’t go all robot on us…Pick a point about 15 feet in front of you on the left and “see” it.
3) Back to center.  Eyes first, face follows.  Center Point of Focus.
4) Eyes lead face to right along right arm.  Pick Right Point of Focus (15 ft., etc.)
5) Back to center.  Eyes lead the face.

That’s the start of it.  More tomorrow…

Being Present

I talk about this all the time….

But it does bear repeating.

In an audition, many things are out of our control.  We usually don’t control who our scene partner is when we get paired up to read for a musical.  Today’s economics pretty much dictate that we don’t hire and bring our own accompanist to a musical audition anymore. We certainly can’t control whether or not a production team sees us as having the right look or image for the characters and matchups they have in mind (even if we do wear an original sailor’s outfit from Dames At Sea to the first audition — btw, don’t do that…).

But we can certainly control whether or not we are “present” when we audition.  “Present” means simply being there.  When you walk in the audition room, be there.  If they say hello, say hello back. Don’t prepare a speech or a witty line for when you first walk in — that moment of inspiration is long past and you might not have their immediate attention if and when you do say it; you may unwittingly appear controlling or just loud and obnoxious, possibly interrupting their conversation about the singer who auditioned just prior.

We flip the switch when we are asked to perform.  At that point, we must let go of all self-observation as it is most important that we are present and focused on not just how we sound, but what we are saying, who we are saying it to, why we are saying it and thinking all the thoughts that go along with the freedom of being present.

When you can walk away from a vocal audition and honestly say, “I felt present when I sang,” then you truly did your work as an artist.

Musical Theatre Prescription

One of my favorite people told me last night that she was considering going back to college to get her degree in Musical Theatre….

Uh…okay, “yipes!”

I mean, don’t get me wrong, musical theatre is fun and all and if you know how to save money when on the road, it’s even better….

But when colleges do so many things right (science, poli-sci, environmental science, business, law, accounting, history, chemistry, literature, phys ed, marketing) why go through the expense of something they continually do so wrong like musical theatre?

And no, I’m not talking about EVERY college — just 99% of them.

In my one year of college, I flunked Intro To Theatre (was busy rehearsing and having fun instead of reading the book). 13 years later, I won the L.A. Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best Production.

In theatre, you don’t need a degree. You need guts and a willingness to learn about everything in your theatrical environment.

Which ain’t always in L.A.

But, if you’re “stuck” in L.A. and you ultimately want to do musical theatre in N.Y., here’s my best prescription for proactive, positive growth and development:

1. Focus on getting commercials: The pay’s good and you can become a familiar face throughout the world;

2. Focus on getting in front of the camera: Any instance where you say words with your clothes on is a learning experience, so get started — you can become a familiar face throughout the world;

3. Study acting with a teacher who has trained people who are currently working in front of a camera: Makes sense, doesn’t it?;

4. Study voice with a teacher (like me) who has trained singers who are currently working on the stage;

5. Take a dance class at least once a week: It’s good for you.

6. Every audition is a chance to create a positive relationship with a producer, director, casting director, musical director…GO TO EVERY AUDITION. NO EXCUSES.

You can work and you can train at the same time. Don’t worry about the money. Budget accordingly, but PRACTICE YOUR STUFF.

Love on ya!

Why We Don’t Recommend Parallel Motion In Vocal Performance….

One hand at a time, folks, one hand at a time…

…uh, and don’t let that hand come up above your waist unless you know how you’re going to get it back down…

Points of focus (where do I look?!) are way too wide and all over the place.

In other words, this presentation is so lacking we barely hear her singing, which, oh…

Maybe they planned it that way.

The Five Octave Range Myth

Uhm, did I miss something in my college music theory class? If I read one more time that pop star #1 or voice teacher #2 has a five-octave range, I’m gonna start holding protest rallies in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

If you’re a singer, don’t buy into it. It’s a publicist’s claim for more ink in the Calendar section, not a claim rooted in music reality.

First, claiming five octaves doesn’t mean one is a “better” singer.

“Circus freak” comes to mind, but not better.

There have been hundreds of female belters in pop, jazz and Broadway recordings who did groundbreaking work within an 11 or 12-note range. Think (old school) Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee… I never heard anything about those gals having a 40-note/five octave range! My female belters work from a low F (in the traditional alto range) up to a high Ab (about a 16 or 17-note range or two-plus octaves) which is more than plenty for a true pop/Broadway belt song. Elphaba in “Wicked” belts about a two-octave range. Perhaps Stephen Schwartz didn’t know what to do with the other three octaves? For us guys, even Luciano Pavarotti in his prime probably had a 20-note range (about two and a half octaves). Sure, I didn’t count his falsetto which could have given him maybe another octave — maybe — but I guess that, like Stephen Schwartz, Verdi and Puccini didn’t know what to do with those two extra octaves either.

Really, composers simply don’t write five octave songs.

Burt Bacharach wrote some range-y tunes (“Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” comes to mind), but a five-octave song would have been professional suicide (and think of poor Dionne Warwick!).

No one person could sing the material — and if one person could, probably only dogs and whales would want to hear it anyway…..

Imagine your favorite karaoke bar then…

The most popular melodies of all time have well under a two-octave range. That’s because the public, the untrained singers out there, likes to sing along, too.

The best dancers don’t have the biggest feet, nor do the greatest singers have the highest or lowest voices.

In singing performance, it definitely helps to have a solid, flexible range with some excitement or “heat” in the voice complemented, more importantly, by knowing what to do with a lyric — how to interpret a song.

But great singers don’t need to “brag” about their range because, frankly, that’s not what made them great singers in the first place.

By the way, from the very bottom to the very top, a four-part choir sings in about a five-octave range.