Navigating The Waters

stormy seas
Each one of us is the captain of our own ship.
And if our crew consists of some good friends, teachers and mentors, we are likely to navigate a course utilizing a steady supply of their wisdom and experience in tandem with our own best instincts, drive, education and desire to arrive safely at our chosen destination.
Knowing that a clear course, decent weather and great determination are essential to our getting from here to there, you ask yourself the questions:
  1. “Where am I now?”
  2. “Where do I want to be?”
  3. How do I get there?”
And from there, you initiate preparations for a very long voyage.
Yet no matter how long you have prepared, on that day of departure, with even the most detailed plans for success having been decided upon, vetted and penciled out, you finally launch — only to discover that the sea has its own ideas about your path.
This is when the “deep learning” begins.
There are days and nights of no wind to fill your sails followed by days and nights of storms. There are schools of fish swimming just underneath the surface waiting to be caught by you followed by sharks just waiting to catch and eat you.
You encounter other vessels on the sea. Some have goods for trade, some are journeying to the home you just left…and some have pirates.
Your experience in the water grows as you continue to navigate your path.
At a certain point, while you may have already landed at several ports along “the way,” you begin to realize that your ideas of the importance of where “there” is and where you “want” to be have evolved.
You recognize that you may have already landed at your destination goal once or twice only to discover that it wasn’t “exactly” what you thought it was. Whereupon, without hesitation, you set new plans for a very long voyage and once again take to the sea to navigate your waters.
And this time, when the days and nights of no wind to fill your sails arrive, you take that time to rest or create or write or get a tan. When the storms arrive along with hundred foot waves, you ride the waves with the skill of a surfer knowing you have the experience to outlast them all the way to shore. You adapt. You navigate. You know how to do this.
And when you realize that you have now spent just as much time at sea as you have in port, well, then you’ve arrived.

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.

Removing The Emotional Distance….

Music has some very magical properties. Magic happens in my studio quite a bit, mostly because I push my singers to “remove the emotional distance” between themselves and the song.

We don’t ever want to fake ourselves or our audience out of the real energy that is present in our being. That would not only be inauthentic, but, ultimately, pretty boring.

Of course, we don’t need to be a serial killer barber in real life to pull off the lead in Sweeney Todd on stage, either.

Our job within the context of a song or a musical theatre role is to find the through-line of humanity and spirit, which makes all things “relate-able.” Let the sets, lights and costumes do their part. Let the orchestra do theirs. Let us choose to be the vessel of informed energy, armed with words, pitch and emotion, and, having burned said information into our DNA, let us become full energy in performance; concentrated and free, focused and present.

Paying Attention, Are We?

I have super talented students/clients/friends/pals who, sometimes, during the course of our voice training, have a tendency to not “pay attention.”

Not to me;

Not to their vocal technique;

Not to the words or music;

But, to the “detail of performance.”

If you are looking for an edge in your auditions and performances, pay attention.

When you practice, make every practice a performance with performance energy — don’t practice with your typical high school, college, community theatre, or “hey, I’m a pro, I do this all the time” energy. That only serves to make you as mediocre as the rest of the performers.

Practice Performance.

Once you get into this habit, you’re still not finished.

Pay Attention.

Keep connecting the dots of the song. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve performed a song. It’s not just a series of notes or words strung together, it is something that lives through you. A song can ONLY live through you. The more attention you pay to the song, the deeper and more complex it becomes.

In other words, “If you phone it in, we won’t call you back.”

Take Off The Blinders

Blinders don’t give you determination. Blinders don’t give you drive. Sure, they help a 1,300 lb. horse run faster in a straight line or a single direction —

But, you’ll notice, the “little guy in charge” never wears blinders….

So, which kind of artist are you?

Like a thoroughbred; tunnel-visioned, blinders on, can’t even see the crowd and spent at the end of the race?

Or like the rider; flexible, strategic, in command, ready to “see the whole field” and ride again and again?

It’s your art.

The flag is up!

The Failure Dance

Work toward your successes, don’t dance over your failures.

And, fer Pete’s sake, don’t practice catastrophes.

Gimme a second, I can explain…

Whether we are doing a vocal warm-up, learning a new song or going over repertoire, every student of mine knows that if they stop, I’ll just keep going. I’m not trying to be mean or anything. It’s just that, if you practice stopping in a song whenever things “aren’t right” or you “made a mistake” or something “was weird,” then you are “practicing a catastrophe.”

Deep inside, you know that there is no perfect venue for singing.

There is no perfect day, night, time or temperature for singing.

Thus, EVERY singing experience will be imperfect, so get used to it.

Seriously. Get used to it.

Something’s always going to be a little weird or different somewhere, so don’t stop in the middle of your song when you’re rehearsing. Why practice stopping? Why stop and then dance around about how you missed a note (with all the energy you should have used to produce the note in the first place…!). Get over yourself and get back on the pony while it’s still near you — not after it’s galloped away.

The sooner you embrace the imperfection, the sooner you may exhibit the perfection.

“I Would Eat Taco Bell For A Year…”

That’s what a Sam Ash manager told me when I asked him what the economic outlook was for his music store a few weeks back.

He told me business will be the same as it always was because “Guys like me, I would eat Taco Bell for a year so I could save enough to get the best equipment. We’ll do anything for our music.”