Thursday, March 29, 2012

Over easy.

I have been working for a while with a student who is preparing a major operatic role. She has been in rehearsal for a while and has told me that she has been 'Trying to avoid over singing' to save the voice. We had a discussion about this and about what she means by avoiding over singing.

If by over singing she means pushing,  then I'm all for avoiding that. But if she is what I call under singing, that may be just as big a problem. To my way of thinking, under singing is simply holding back on the voice. Holding is never a good idea. Trying to sing while holding back is like trying to drive your car up a hill while stepping on the brakes. You're not going to get very far and you're very apt to break something.

Marking is a good alternative to holding back. In marking, the singer sings everything down an octave softly, leaving all the high notes out of the possibility of being pushed. Obviously, with the repetition necessary to get the benefit of a rehearsal, one cannot sing full out the whole time without tiring the voice. But under singing, holding back one's energy will do as much damage to the voice as pushing.

I suggested that she simply sing. Sing the way she plans to perform the work. Fully and easily. Beautifully. Then upon having to repeat sections or the whole thing, MARK! This will keep the voice much healthier.

She did this at the next rehearsal and sounded and felt wonderful.

Once one has figured out the best way to sing comfortably and beautifully, just do it. Don't monkey around with almost singing. Almost singing will get you nowhere, and it may give you vocal stress.

Any rehearsal period is stressful. You are constantly changing staging or tempi until you find just the right way to do whatever it is you are doing. You must be wise as you go through this period.

So here are my rules for repeated rehearsals:
Do not push the voice.
Do not under sing. In short use your energy!
Do sing as you want to perform.
Mark when necessary.

By holding back on the voice you are stymieing your energy. Energy is a singer's best friend. Our air is our energy. Take a deep breath and use it.

If you follow these rules you should be able to sing beautifully for many years.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

It's the pits!

There was an article in today's New York Times that stated that in some Broadway theatres the orchestra for Musicals now plays from the basement of the building or even from another building blocks away, thereby divorcing it from the singers and dancers who are on stage. The conductor of one such musical,  Spiderman, said that she can't really see the actors all that well on the screen she's watching, but she hopes they have done it enough times to be in sync. Her orchestra is apparently situated in two separate rooms, the guitars and keyboards in her room and the rest of the instruments in another.

It was bad enough when Broadway singers had to be amplified to be heard. I often have trouble figuring out who it is that is actually singing if there is a large cast on stage. I am old enough to remember that when Ethel Merman was singing on 44th Street she could be heard without amplification on 42nd Street. But people could sing in those days!

This new concept takes the idea of 'live' performance to a ghastly new low. Eventually we can just do away with live performers altogether, I guess. Perhaps this will at least lower prices on Broadway.

The article said that at last year's Tony awards, the orchestra was several blocks down Broadway from the Beacon Theatre, where the awards were held. The reason Spiderman adopted this 'long-distance' method of performance was so that more 'flying' equipment could be put in the orchestra pit. Even that didn't help the show much, according to reports I have heard.

Soon, undoubtedly, the Met orchestra will be playing in a studio on 23rd Street while Aida is being performed at Lincoln Center to make room for the elephants!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hear, Hear!

There is a dinner-cinema in a town just south of Rood Hill Farm that I have enjoyed attending for a number of years. You can order a cocktail, a light supper or snack, and enjoy the film.

Recently, however, the volume of their sound system is turned up so loud that I have simply stopped going there. It is painful to me to be blasted with deafening sound coming from the speakers while trying to enjoy the movie. The last time I was there, months ago, I asked the waitress if the sound could be lowered. For about two minutes they complied and then it was blasting away again.

Yesterday I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wanted to see Meryl Streep in 'The Iron Lady', which was playing there, so in the afternoon I went to the pharmacy and bought myself a pair of ear plugs! I felt a little odd sitting there with these in my ears, but I could hear everything perfectly well without fear of losing my hearing.
         Put a plug in it!
I have had a similar problem at wedding receptions where, again, apparently everyone but me is deaf. Volume that makes my teeth ache seems to be the norm in these situations. I had to resort to stuffing bits of napkin in my ears on that occasion, which looked even funnier than the ear plugs.

It is not unusual to pass someone on the street who is using ear buds and hearing what they are hearing. When I was recently in Puerto Rico, cars would drive past my condo playing the radio so loud I couldn't hear my own television. And I was on the sixth floor on the side of the building away from the street.

Hearing is a sense that should be preserved not shattered, especially for a musician. I feel very fortunate at age 82 that my hearing is still is very good shape. I just want to keep it that way.

I think that we will have an entire generation of deaf people if this concept of louder is better continues.

So get yourselves some earplugs and go to the movies!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Email List

If you are a follower of my blog and have not been getting email notices about new ones, please feel free to send me your email address and tell me you would like to be added to the list.

My computer recently had a mental break-down and lost a lot of my email addresses.

Thanks, Herb

Sunday, March 11, 2012


After about one hundred years of listening to singers and teaching them, it is very hard for a new singer to blow me away. Until last night, that is. Kate Lindsey, a young mezzo, who has sung at the Met and various other venues, did just that. In spades!

She sang a vocal recital of French music at Smith College that was perfection in every way. Her insight into the songs was complete and her vocal technique easy and varied. The timbre of her voice and her complete involvement in everything she sang reminded me of the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberman. She has a dark rich low register which moves easily into the top of the voice. Only occasionally did she become a bit shrill up there. Afterwards I told her that I hadn't heard singing like that in a long time. And I really meant it.

Her program began with a number of songs by Claude Debussy including both the Chanson de Bilitis and Fetes Galantes cycles. The second half of the program contained songs by other French composers who lived in Debussy's Paris. The entire weekend of programs at the college entitled 'Music in Debussy's Paris' was fashioned by Jane Bryden, a Professor of Voice at Smith.

Ms. Lindsey's pianist was Craig Terry, who was equally accomplished and involved. He played several solo works of Debussy between groups of songs. This is a tradition that goes back several decades. As a young person, attending Community Concerts at the Kellogg Auditorium in Battle Creek, Michigan, I remember that whenever there was a vocal recital, it was de riguer that the pianist perform a solo group.

Today Ms. Lindsey returned to Smith to present a master class for some of the vocal students in the School of Music. She had some very good interpretive advice for these young singers. But they are young. As Auntie Mame said to Agnes Gooch, 'You've got to live, Agnes, live!' Of course after Agnes had lived, she came home pregnant. So, young singers, that is not necessary to gain experience.

I was less happy with some of the physical things she had the singers try. Often she would have another singer come forward so the performer had a live person to react with in the presentation of the text. This worked fine.

However she got very physically involved with the students as well, massaging their backs and shoulders, standing behind them with an arm around them in a sort of musical bear hug while they leaned on her to achieve the pelvic tilt she was after. Anna Hamlin, my long ago voice teacher and former head of the voice faculty at Smith, had a much easier way to achieve this pelvic tilt, if that's what you want. She simply said 'Sink in your pants, girls!' I know that were I to lay hands on a student in this way I would probably be arrested. I guess it's a 'girl on girl' thing.

Ms. Lindsey is a very talented young singer and I look forward to following her career with interest.