Youtube Voice Lessons–Pros and Cons

Thanks to the wonders of the Web, there are millions of people in all businesses peddling their wares, including voice teachers. Since I’ve been teaching singing privately and in workshops for a long time, I’ve watched this form of education and advertising mushroom over the years. Part of me is fascinated by the ease that many people have in front of the camera, and part of me hears what’s being said and watches anyway, like someone who is not able to look away from a horrible train wreck.

Recently I began cold-contacting some video voice teachers who have many subscribers to their Youtube channels to ask questions. This is consistent with my history–if many people in my field are doing something, and I seem to be missing “why,” I ask “what do you get out of this?” Most of them were gracious with their time and honest in their answers, but some reminded me of “the olden days,” when voice teachers closely guarded their trade secrets.

There are some good voice teachers on the web, but in my opinion, they are few and far between. It is a great deal of work to make and produce a video voice lesson series, and most of the teachers I interviewed admitted that they have not seen much financial return for that work. They spend a great deal of time answering questions in the comments’ section, or get a Skype lesson or two out of it, but regular recurring students are a rarity. It seems to take about two to five years of making video lessons part of their regular work day, to start to get private students on Skype. My impression was that the number of students seeking Skype lessons does increase, which keeps income steady, although the retention rate is dismal.

I would venture to say that voice teachers who are already teaching accomplished singers or professional singers are not teaching video voice lessons on Youtube.

For some teachers, the advertising revenues from Google are greater than income from teaching. A mid-20’s instrumental musician/teacher I interviewed says that he has made about $600–$700 from Google in the ten years he has sporadically posted video teaching lessons. He reminded me of something I have read consistently–that the key for getting students or increasing advertising income is to post regular and inspiring video content. More experienced video lesson teachers taper off making the videos after they have the work they want, and let their old video lessons continue to pull in students.

Some are making video lessons because they have a burning need to be famous or have true narcissistic issues, which can usually be spotted a mile away.

From what I have observed, creating video lessons makes sense if you are trying to sell a book, educational material or fill a webinar, but it does not translate to more students unless they are Skype lessons.

There are two issues I have with many video voice teachers. And the fact that I have not made videos (yet) is not wasted on me….I get it. Those who have not done something easily cast stones. I know that things are different than when I began teaching singing 35 years ago and know that it is harder to navigate the market place. Or is it? After talking with video lesson teachers, I think that the same skill sets of ingenuity, creativity and hard work were necessary a generation ago as they are today. The difference is that academia is graduating many more musicians whose inbred qualities do not include those three attributes. Read Colvin’s Talent is Overrated

Yet there are two things that are often missing in most video voice teachers that I feel are the foundation of being a good teacher of singing.

1. Knowledge of how the voice is supposed to work is only a PREREQUISITE for all good teachers of singing. And now, thanks to voice science and the evolution of the species called “the voice teacher,” we have voice teachers who know the science of how the body is supposed to work in the production of sound.

YET in spite of this progress we still have voice teachers talking about doing something with nasal resonance, nasal cavities, support from the diaphragm and forward placement, all of which are SENSATIONS due to something happening efficiently elsewhere in the body, larynx, throat and mouth. I hear many video voice teachers talking science but it is often not accurate. (Kind of like using “facts” in a political debate–you never know what is accurate and what is not. Thankfully, voice science is pretty straight forward.) But the unsuspecting public gets pulled in.

And, if you happen to get your scientific facts straight, just because you know the accurate science behind how the larynx works, or just because you have figured out how it works in your own body and come up with your own terminology, it does not mean you know how to work with others because singing is such an individual act. You also need to be able to observe, sense and diagnose how and what is not working in another singer, much like a body worker or physical therapist. You need to understand a basic physics’ principal that where a tension is released, it must be picked up somewhere else in the body. Which means you need to observe and hear fine muscle movements with an eagle eye and ear. You need to understand how emotion (fear, anger, sadness, just to name a few emotions,) can be stored in the body and affect singing. And then know how to work with muscle groupings and the mind to help slowly release dysfunction and build up vocal function. And on top of all that, you must be, or have been, a good musician and/or singer yourself.

2. The greatest musicians and teachers are HUMBLE in the face of their art and the traditions from which they come. No voice teacher or musician or entertainer ever exists in a vacuum, however much they think they do. Many video voice teachers as a whole are not communicating anything other than that they have the answers and learned the answers themselves so they are the experts.

We live in a culture of Personality Worship. The problem is our cultural understanding of Humility. Sometimes the word is synonymous with being a door mat or mild-mannered. Humility, as an expert, comes from understanding you are where you are because of the work of others. It comes from knowing that the things you have “discovered” are indeed, worthy, but not because you have originated the idea. You might be the One to take an idea to the next level, but we are part of a web that reaches further than the internet, further than we can fathom. Becoming humble means you are in service to something Greater than Yourself and you are there to serve the student. How can one teacher be of service to everyone on the Web? It doesn’t work that way.

Video voice lessons are a great way for people to find out more about their own singing but the truth is, you learn to sing by singing. Which means that just about any video voice “tip” will be of help if it gets you singing or starting to practice more consciously.

I’ve found a few web voice teachers who are accurate, knowledgable, great singers, humble and have a great sense of humor. But let the buyer beware….they are few and far between.

Chamber Music for Soprano

cfn_82506_DSC6033In the 27 years I worked as a classical singer, I was incredibly lucky to sing a great deal of chamber music.

Chamber music fed my heart as a musician and collaborator.  In addition to performing standard chamber music repertoire such as “The Shepherd on the Rock” of Franz Schubert at the Goethe Institute in DC, and Bach’s solo arias with obligato instruments with The Washington Bach Consort, I worked for many years for the former American Women Composers, premiering numerous American works in 8 languages throughout the Mid-Atlantic and on the West Coast of the US. Eventually AWC absorbed into The International Alliance of Women in Music.

If you are looking for chamber music repertoire, here’s a partial list from those performing years. Back in the day, I had to go into downtown Washington,DC and the Library of Congress to research this stuff. Some of it may be hard to find, but it is worth a little sleuthing.

G.F. Handel–“No se emendera jamais,” Spanish Cantata, soprano, continuo (keyboard and cello)

Albert Rouseel–“Deux Poems de Ronsard,” soprano and flute

Johann Christian Bach–“Semplicetto, an cor…” (from the opera Endimoione) soprano, flute and piano

Arnold Cooke–“Three Songs of Innocence,” soprano, clarinet and piano

Aaron Copland–“As it Fell Upon the Day,” soprano, flute and clarinet

Gustav Holst–“Four Songs for Voice and Violin”

Virgil Thompson–“Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon,” soprano and percussion

Lynn Steele–“Breviario,” soprano and harp

Clare Shore–“Four Vocalises” for soprano and mandolin

Nancy Carrol–“Songs from the Heart of a Child,” Soprano, mandolin and guitar

W.A. Mozart–“Komm, Liebe Zither, Komm,” K 351 soprano and mandolin
“Die Zufriedenheit,K 349 soprano and mandolin (this makes a nice mini-set)

Herman Berlinski–“Psalm 23″ Soprano and Flute

Clara Lyle Boone–“Slumber Song” voice and mandolin

Winifred Hyson–“Love and Beyond” for soprano, flute and Japanese koto (I sang this with Lori Laitman, flute, before she became a well-known American composer!)

H. Villa-Lobos–“Suite for Voice and Violin” for voice and violin, and
“Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5,” for soprano and 8 celli

Franz Lachner–“Frauenlieben und Leben” soprano, french horn and piano. Franz Lachner had two brothers, Ignaz and Vinzenz, who also wrote chamber music for high voice.

Granados–“La Majo Doloroso” soprano, english horn and piano (I’ve also done this with a french horn playing the english horn part.)

Chamber Operas:

A Game of Chance by Seymour Barab

A Hand of Bridge by Samual Barber

Green Eggs and Ham, by Robert Kapilow (listen to an excerpt here, although this performance used a piano reduction of the chamber music score.)

Birthday of the Infanta by Ron Nelson

There’s so much out there! If you are planning a recital or program, explore some chamber music.

The Business of Music for College Arts’ Majors

moneyThere’s a great deal of talk these days about how college music and arts’ programs need to include more matter-of-fact courses in marketing and the music business. Once again, I am probably a lone voice in the world of career singing teachers, but it seems to me that it is not so much a question of learning business skills as it is of developing 1) Creative Entrepreneurship and 2) Learning to Manage Money.  These skills are necessary even before you learn about music as business.  And those two things must be cultivated when you are growing up, BEFORE you get to college. I don’t think it is the college’s responsibility to teach these things. It is the parents’ responsibility to encourage an environment where a creative person starts to think in these ways and begins to acquire the skills.

So once again, we are blaming teachers and curriculums for things parents should be doing.

That being said, my parents did encourage my creative projects and interests, but didn’t do so well with teaching my brothers and me about money management. I can not blame them for two reasons. The first is that they were both musicians and very spiritual and religious souls in a certain era of American history who still managed to raise three kids on a church musician’s salary.  They had mom’s supplemental income but no outside help or family inheritances. They had many mixed feelings about money because of their ingrained belief that Christianity and financial security could not exist within the same life. They also had swallowed the belief that musicians needed to work as a service to the Lord, which is not a bad idea, but their beliefs translated to working their asses off for little financial return. Children will inherit attitudes modeled by their caregivers.

The second is due to my nature.  I fall in the category of creative dreamer-souls who have had to learn the hard way that learning about money is in my own best interests. It’s like I couldn’t leave the my parents’ taking care of everything, like some people insist on the child’s notion that love is nothing but romance. I couldn’t seem to grow up for a long time.

I had the Creative entrepreneurship thing down, though, and my website outlines some of what I’ve done.

But in this post, I offer you my version of Handling Money as an Artist here. Fortunately, I’ve grown up some since college.

Tax Forms
1.  al+x_________ _________ squilgy lines wack-a-doo ___________________
2. form c sized to which never (silence in brain)              ___________________
3. we will kill you unless you put a number here              ___________________
4. (this spot for doodling with cool pen)                               ___________________
TOTAL EARNED INCOME                                                         hahahahahahaha

Credit Card Debt Credit cards mean I have money and can pay for things even though I have not actually earned or obtained the money to pay. The balance due is a reflection of how much the creditor trusts me. They really trust me a lot.

Itemized Item Deductions for Self-Employment Tax

I actually have receipts by the Miracle of Lourdes but it took me over 25 years to learn to do this in a systematic way.

Sheet Music………………………….                                $ 310.45
Piano Tuning…………………………                               $ 220.00
Private Lessons and Coaching…………..              $1,000.00
Students Who Suck Life Out of Me……              $7,000.00
Psycho Parents of High School Students        $9,000.00
Corporate Administration Mindset in
the non-profit arts’ educational
institution where I work……………………….             $503,006.82
Self-Doubt as an Artist/ Educator……….             priceless

Put gas in and go

Paying Bills On Time to acquire good credit score
Wait for collection agency letter, then pay. Pay for all books, recordings and craft supplies BEFORE rent and food.

No number of college courses in marketing or business could have helped me with what are basic adult skills in a contemporary society. Those skills were (and still are) so BORING compared to the music and visions in my head and heart that I could not bear to focus on financial common sense.   Suzie Ormon herself couldn’t have persuaded me otherwise in college.

Money management starts before you go to college, and if you are not the type of person who will learn, it will catch up with you later. So learn what you can now.

I hope my little list has been of help….

Is Your Child Ready for Private Voice Lessons?

This article originally appeared in Washington Parent Magazine

Making Joyful Sounds: Is Your Child Ready for Private Voice Lessons?

by Cathryn Frazier-Neely, M.M., B.M., CERT in Somatic Voice Work: The Lovetri Method

Does your child love to sing? Is she interested in private voice lessons? This article will help you find a good voice teacher and smooth out the wrinkles often associated with formal music study.

Q: When can my child start voice lessons?

Many voice teachers say that a girl should be at least 14 years old or past puberty before starting voice lessons, and a boy should wait until after his voice changes. Until these hormonal changes occur, the larynx and vocal cords grow at different rates and they feel that voice lessons will pressure these muscles. In the meantime, these teachers advise students to sing in an ensemble, listen to good singing and/or study an instrument.

However, since these hormonal changes now occur much earlier than in previous generations, many children are ready for private lessons much earlier. With the right teacher, students can establish good vocal and musical habits and also foster an awareness of personal interpretation and beauty.

An adolescent’s rate of physical and emotional growth–and her interests and talents–determine when she is ready to start lessons. It is imperative that the voice teacher working with your child specializes in the physiology and psychology of young singers. They do not need to have academic degrees in child psychology, but should have experience and interest in working with this age group. Adolescents are not small adults. Males and females differ in vocal development as much as they differ in physical and emotional development.

Consult with two or three recommended private teachers (it is worth paying their consulting fee to save money in the long run) or ask to visit voice classes with your child to make an informed decision together. You can also ask to observe another student’s lessons, with permission from the student, her parent and the teacher.

Look for a teacher who joyfully encourages regular healthy vocal production and musicianship. That teacher should also hear your child as an individual and not try to make every voice sound the same. Ask the teacher or coach if she enjoys working with your child’s age group and gender.

Q: What is the difference between a voice teacher and a voice coach?

A voice coach helps students learn new music, plays the keyboard and guides the singer in musical selections and style. A voice teacher develops the physical, mental and emotional aspects of singing, called “vocal technique.” Both voice teachers and coaches need to be excellent musicians, although a good voice teacher does not necessarily play the piano.

Q: What is considered “healthy singing?”

Healthy singing does not make the student’s throat hurt, leave her hoarse or cause her to cry at the end of a lesson. Healthy singing normally does not make neck veins strain, the jaw thrust toward the ceiling or breath come in gasps. Healthy singing means that the student’s body is working in a well-coordinated and natural fashion. It makes her feel good and possibility a little tired, like working hard at something you love can do. It gives her the capacity to relate to beauty and to express many emotions. Healthy singing is a tool for expression, not a means to an end in itself. All voices lessons and coachings should ultimately lead to better music-making.

Q: What is meant by “chest/low voice” and “head/high voice?” My daughter sounds great on the low notes but gets wispy when she sings higher notes.

There is a 300-year old difference in opinion among voice teachers about the proper use of “chest voice” and “head voice.” Ideally they come together in a “middle voice” that is expressive and flexible.

Adolescents use one of these registrations naturally in singing, depending on a host of variables, such as the child’s basic personality, shape of her torso and head, the music and language she’s heard growing up and even the religious tradition from which she comes. (Compare the African-American gospel music tradition to the boy choir sounds of the Anglican church, for example.)

Chest voice or “chest registration” incorrectly produced is either forced or the voice “bottoms out” in a whisper. Head voice or “head registration” in its underdeveloped stage can be breathy and weak. Some teachers insist that singers use one or the other of the registrations exclusively which results in disturbing differences and “breaks” in the voice as it moves up and down the scale. Neither is complete, healthy or beautiful singing UNLESS it is a DELIBERATE choice such as in yodeling.

Learning to “sell” a song and sing well involves a sustained, coordinated activity of both registrations. This process involves physical, mental and emotional coordination that require time, patience and the “P” word—practice. This can be frustrating for an adolescent especially if she can still manage to sing the way she did as a child.

A good teacher makes it fun and interesting and knows when to develop this coordination and when to leave it alone. Singers can systematically build “one voice” which combines the best qualities of both chest and head resonances AND gives them the flexibility to chose what they need to sing in the musical styles they prefer. Each registration is meant to assist the other in developing tone, range and consistency.

However, it a appropriate for you child to feel a little frustrated occasionally. Remember the old adage, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” A good teacher can recognize when your child is feeling frustrated and communicate with her and you about the whys.

Q: My child sings along with the radio and CD’s all the time and sounds great to me. Any comments?

Imitating favorite singers is a great way for children to develop musical style, but it is not the best way to develop their own vocal instrument. Parents, students and educators should realize that:

Recordings are often the result of a sound engineer and producer electronically manipulating perfection. Even live performance these days often features an immediate electronic manipulation of sound, which is what the audience hears.

Many of your child’s favorite popular or classical singers have studied and coached singing and continue to do so throughout their careers. Most credible teachers of pop and musical theater music insist that students master basic fundamentals of healthy singing before branching off into differences of vocal style and technique that are required for those crafts. This does not happen in a few lessons or months, but develops as the child matures, practices and has the guidance of good teachers.
There is a connection between children who are pushed to fulfill their parents’ creative aspirations and adults whose voices can not fulfill the promise of their youth. Trained teachers can hear when the voice is stressed, no matter how much acclaim a singer is getting on TV or in contests. A child singer is not an adult. You can always find voice teachers and coaches who will take your money to fulfill YOUR dreams, not is what in the best interest of the child.

Q: What is my role as a parent in helping with practice?

Be realistic about time before you commit to lessons! Practicing efficiently is a skill. It is reasonable to expect that the teacher will help your child learn to practice. Here are some hints from my dual roles a professional voice teacher and the parent of two children who are studying music privately.

I recommend recording lessons. Both student and parent can listen to the recording once, just to remind students what went on in the lesson. My children and I used to listen to practice tapes in the car, before CD players came along. Teachers need to jot down practice hints weekly in a student notebook. Beginning voice students might practice only 10-15 minutes, three or four days a week, gradually increasing practice time. Feel free to ask questions of the teacher, but please do not ask right after a lesson. Ask either at the beginning of the lesson (where is will count as part of the lesson), or send an email.

As a parent, I have learned that children view us as part of the “practice problem.” If you are a musician or have performing experience, resist the urge to correct or comment unless your child asks for help, and, even then, start by asking, “what would your teacher say about this?” Of course, you still must insist that practice does occur! Singers may be sensitive to practicing when the family is around, so make sure there is some privacy where they work. I used to set a timer for 10 minutes and then help my children say focused on the lesson plan their teachers wrote out. There were power struggles with my own children that I do not have with my students.

Even though your child may be talented and love lessons, children do not normally practice on their own. Keep in touch with the teacher about what you are hearing. Occasionally ask your child what a certain exercise does for her or how a piece of music makes her feel when she is singing. Ultimately, practicing is up to the student, but there are interim years where your guidance is necessary.

Your adolescent can blossom before your eyes and ears in the hands of a good voice teacher. Singing involves the whole person, which is why parents need to stay tuned. Happily, it’s a task that can bring joy, health and beauty to your child, to you and to many others. What a great way to live!!!!!!

Washington Parent Magazine
November, 2001

Child singers who are students of Cate Frazier-Neely include those who have sung in Broadway roles appropriate for children: Kurt in The Sound of Music, Chip the Teacup in Beauty and the Beast, and in regional theaters: Oliver in Oliver!, Young Cosette in Les Miserable and Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis. Children’s roles in opera include The Cunning Little Vixen in Washington National Opera’s The Cunning Little Vixen and singers in the Washington National Opera’s Children’s’ Chorus. Several other child singers are touring with Disney and Bella Thorne, and she recently ushered a high school gospel senior to first place in the Maryland Distinguished Scholars’ Talent-in-the-Arts’ Award.

Finding my voice through finding my voice

IMAG1631It’s been a year and a half since diagnosis of vocal fold paralysis, and I have chronicled the journey towards healing HERE. Progress feels slow, but there are little signs of continued recovery here and there. The latest reassessment by Jeanie Lovetri, the singing voice specialist who developed Somatic Voice Work tm: The Lovetri Method, is that I may be able to sing a simple classical song within another 4-5 months, assuming I continue with my exercises and stay with the other forms of therapy and healing I am using. Nothing is certain, of course, and we are truly forging new ground with this manner of working.

Sometimes I will sit still and just imagine a movie in fast motion, first showing my vocal apparatus struggling and silent and then scrolling through improvements until the function–the way the laryngeal apparatus is working–is oiled and smooth. I imagine feeling happy and centered as I sing, free of all the dysfunction that had been set up vocally over the past 10 years. I know through personal experience how important IMAGINING and VISUALIZING one’s desired outcome is towards achieving a goal. As well as doing the physical work.

New information:

There is a relationship between thyroid function and the function of the voice. They are even located in the same part of the body! I’ve had issues with my thyroid off and on for many years, but it is not a simple case of hypo vs hyper thyroid, and I have never taken medication. Medical doctors had their chance. From 2002-2003 I went to FOUR different endochrinologists who each said my thyroid was OK after testing. Yea. I was 200 pounds, my hair was thin and falling out, and I had a 4-nodule goiter that ran the width of the thyroid. But sure, I was ok…My voice teacher, Elizabeth Daniels, was positive that some singing issues I had begun to have were thyroid related. We were both stumped.

From 2003-2007 I was able to regulate my thyroid and maintain a healthy weight as I worked closely with a multi-disciplinary alternative health care clinic that a voice student told me about. I worked with kinesiologists, nutritionists, and exercise counselors, taking massive amount of supplements and on a regiment of saliva testing for monitoring endocrine function. It worked, but it was very expensive and very time consuming. Singing was restored somewhat, but the middle register was funky and unreliable.

I drove 45 minutes around the Washington, DC Beltway and back 1-3 times a week for almost 4 years, and finally, after accruing massive debt, decided I had to stop. None of this was covered by insurance and my husband and I had entered into the college years for the kids. We just finished THAT phase of life this past May. (two kids, two college degrees.)

IMAG1597-1-1So, I this past June I decided I had to go back to trying to solve the thyroid puzzle. I started working with another alternative health care clinic where my doctor is an MD as well as an Alternative sort. His testing revealed severe mold growth throughout my system–EW!–which has suppressed the ability of the thyroid produced to be drawn into my cells. I have spent the summer tweaking supplements I am to take to kill the mold off slowly, as well as tweaking diet and upping exercise. My husband spent two weeks before starting a new job, building a drainage system in our back yard AND we are getting a new roof as there was mold detected from water damage.

We will know in another 6 weeks if this protocol is working. In the meantime, I am in touch with my regular medical doctor with lab results and what I am doing and getting his feedback and guidance.

I will be honest with anyone who is reading this who knows my medical history, which includes 8 really nasty abdominal surgeries, three with severe complications. My life has been pretty extreme in this regard. I realize that. No one is more tired of these stories and experiences than me. When I look at what I have managed to accomplish in spite of this history, it is truly Herculean. I am not sure I would have had the tenacity and courage to keep healing from these things if I wasn’t a singer.

And what I have learned has made me an exceptional teacher of singing. I am also working on a book on the subject of generational healing.

Finding my Voice through finding my voice.

(flower photographs taken while on a walk through Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.)

A Year Since Diagnosis of Vocal Fold Paralysis

IMG_0669Sometimes you look back on the passing of a year and think, “Wow, that went by fast!” But the year since the medical diagnosis and subsequent therapeutic work has felt very, very long to me.

If you’d like to read about the journey so far, medical diagnosis and what I decided to do, please read the posts listed HERE.

I’d like to reiterate that any progress that I’ve experienced (which the medical community would tell you was not possible,) is due to the extraordinary and cutting-edge expertise and care of Singing Voice Specialist Jeanette Lovetri and Healer/Therapist Dr. Robert Sykes. My own personal tenacity, courage and willingness to persevere was a pre-requisite. And my husband reminds me frequently that some of the world’s greatest athletic coaches either have never played the game or are not currently playing their sport, which lets me know he gets it, and that means a great deal to me.

The work of reestablishing neurological connection from brain to vocal folds is pain-staking and certainly doesn’t include any music-making. The mental focus of coordinating muscles and function is exhausting. Also, there is the “cha-cha” effect of two steps forward improvement, only to have one step back.

After my last session with Jeannie, via Skype, she wrote this post on her blog at The Somatic Voice Work tm: The Lovetri Method Teachers’ Association–Coaching An Injured Pro Back to Singing.

There has been tremendous improvement but this is relative.”Tremendous Improvement” actually means that I’ve been able to reestablish chest voice and head voice registration, which means I can phonate on pitch again with some tone and accurate pitch, as opposed to a strangled hiss. But it takes 25-30 minutes to find this registration via specific vocal exercises and mind/body visualizations. I started out needing an hour to find it, and had to rest frequently.

Evidently, we are doing some of the exercises following ideas put forth by Silverman Technique for Parkinson’s Disease, practiced by qualified speech pathologists.

Right now there is limited ability to “Sing,” as in,’string sounds together in a musical manner.’ Singing five tones together on one vowel is still very difficult. Every once in a while, a full sung note of great beauty and strength will escape and make me hop up and down with tremendous excitement.

And also every once in awhile I sing two or three phrases together that actually feel better than anything I was able to sing from 2006-2013. Jeannie thinks I may be able to sing a simple song straight through in 6 months or so. If this is successful in that way, I will become part of a team of singers, lead by Jeannie, who have gotten their voices back after the medical community said it was highly improbable, and we will present our results to the public. Cutting edge stuff!!

Students have noticed the vocal improvement, but it is still bittersweet. They do not know me as a performer. Some of them are surprised that I had 27 successful years performing as a singer of classical music since I have only a few recordings for posterity. I did not allow recordings my last 4 years performing, because I was not singing well–now I know why.

But after the past 13 months of voice therapy and counseling, I felt it was time to move forward with my work as a teacher of singing and musician. How could I best be open to Inspiration and be inspiring to others while finally letting go of my identification as a working singer?

As I moved through the emotional and psychological quagmire of the situation, I began to feel ready to work with more groups of singers on a regular basis. Seasonally, I lead choral workshops (click HERE for a list of clients) but regularly week to week, I have worked with only one group–The Maryland Women’s Chorus of Levine Music.

And, like magic, when I was truly ready to work with more groups, (and still keep my most excellent private studio!) I was appointed Conductor of all three of the Adult Programs’ Choirs at Levine Music. Even though I have conducted choirs since I was 13 years old–yes, 13 years old! the change in perspective and letting go of the old gave me joy to move into another kind of work with purpose and clarity.

If you build It, It will come. Astonishing, really!

PS. My Etsy shop, which features some of my hobby of refashioning jewelry from vintage pieces, features the last of my Earring Quartets on a Canvas Jewelry Holder. Click HERE if interested! The studs are real topaz and classic pearls.)

Opera Arias for the Twenty-Something Mezzo: Operetta and Character Roles

photo01 I have invited my dear (and very long-time friend,) mezzo-soprano Catherine Huntress-Reeve, to write a few words to young mezzos about auditioning for the companies which produce light opera and operetta.

Ms. Huntress-Reeve is a rare musician and actress because she is equally at home working as a stage director AND a music director in the Washington DC area. Companies include: The Washington Savoyards, Opera Americana, Victorian Lyric Opera Company (VLOC), Bel Contanti Opera, and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. AND she is a former Metropolitan Opera Regional Mid-Atlantic Finalist with singing credits from The Washington National Opera to DAR Constitution Hall. Our daughters grew up together, and we have worked together in many productions and concerts.

Ms. Huntress-Reeve writes:

I ask that, even if you are not a young mezzo, you keep reading this post. Almost everything I have to say is not specific to mezzos, but is worth all young singers’ knowing. In the immortal words of Mr. Gilbert, (of Gilbert and Sullivan) during the mezzo-specific material, if need be you may “allow your attention to wander.”

The first pearl of wisdom I offer is this: if you are a young singer (mezzo or otherwise,) audition with something age- appropriate. You may have sung the role of the mother-in-law in The Consul in college, but that was presumably a production with costumes and make-up. When you come in to audition, with a youthful glow and a glam headshot, “The Lullaby” will feel to us like a strange choice. We want to love your performance, not have it leave us scratching our heads; remember also, that by the time we have heard several days of auditions, it doesn’t take much for cognitive dissonance to kick in. There’s a distraction you don’t want us to have!

Trying to stay believable in auditions offers particular challenges to the mezzo – after all, our characters are the “witches, bitches, and boys.” So, my suggestion is that you focus on the bitches and the boys, and save the witches for later. A generation older than you are is fine, but two is starting to push it. (Low basses have a similar issue with characters like Sarastro; it’s hard for a very young singer to be perceived as having the gravitas necessary for these roles.)

Second, try to find out if the show for which you’re auditioning will be done in the original language (if not English) or in translation. Bring in a piece in the language in which the operetta will be presented, so we will know if your diction is comprehensible. Much of the time American light opera companies perform in English, so it’s a good idea to have several English options as well as a French, an Italian, and a German in your binder.

The most important is requirement is, can you sing the piece well? You must be confident that the piece is well within your capabilities, and you must know it in your bones. Make sure you have tried your material out on friends, family, or colleagues, before presenting it to an opera company. This is a small business, really, and people talk. “She wasn’t prepared” or “She didn’t have the high note” isn’t what you want us to say.

Please avoid the piece that everyone else will do. At a recent set of auditions for a Gilbert and Sullivan season, I heard “Poor Wandering One” at least three dozen times. Unless yours is the finest performance we hear, this isn’t in your best interest. Look for something that will tell us what we want to know, but you’ll be the only one who sings it. You’ll stick in our minds that way. As an example, if we’re mounting Carmen in French, avoid the “Seguedilla” and the “Habenera” unless we’ve asked for one of them. A good choice might be Bizet’s art song “Ouvre ton Coeur” or one of the Ravel Five Greek songs. It’s OK to think outside the aria box for operetta. And don’t worry about singing a piece from the show – if we want one, we’ll ask ahead of time. Singing something else by the same composer can be a good strategy.

Choose a piece that you can sell dramatically. Make sure we know what kind of actor you are. If you can make us laugh, or make us cry, you’ve succeeded. (And just because it’s light opera doesn’t mean everything will be comic. Perichole, from La Perichole, must elicit tears of sympathy with the letter aria, and then turn around and cause tears of laughter with her drinking song.)

Here’s something important that is often overlooked: care and feeding of your accompanist. Make sure your selection(s) can be sight-read by the average voice teacher. Some companies are blessed with superb in-house accompanists; some are not. Also, you never know when a sub has been called in for the evening. Especially if your selection is not fairly standard, you cannot count on a pianist already knowing it, so it needs to be immediately accessible. The advantage to you is, you will hear what you expect to hear from the piano, and be supported in the way you expect. (If you desperately wish to sing a tricky piece, you could bring your own pianist, but that can get expensive.)

Have your audition materials in a binder, so pages may be turned easily. If you are working out of a score or anthology, make sure it is well broken in, and will stay flat on the piano. Be courteous to your accompanist – you do this first of all because it’s the right and professional thing to do. Secondly, you do it because some companies solicit their pianists’ input when casting, and in other situations, the music director herself could be at the keyboard. If your number gets kicked off at the wrong tempo and you can’t adjust it easily, we don’t mind you saying, “I’m sorry, may we start again?” We do mind you snapping your fingers at the pianist; he’s not a dog.

By considering and preparing your choice of audition repertoire carefully, you maximize your chances of being cast because what matters most to the panel at your audition is that we hear your best work. We are rooting for everyone who sings to be wonderful, so that we can create the finest possible production.

Some specific ideas about repertoire (this is by no means a comprehensive survey, it’s simply a tool for jump-starting your brain.)

Some ideas for comic or dramatic songs for mezzos:

French: Ah, quell diner (Perichole’s tipsy song, La Perichole, Offenbach)
Faites-lui mes aveux (Faust, Gounod)
Any of Carmen’s arias, depending on circumstances

German: Vom Jaeger Herne (Merry Wives of Windsor, Nicolai)
Ich lade gern mir Gaste ein (Orlovsky’s aria, Die Fledermaus, Strauss)

Italian: Mozart – almost any of the mezzo arias, some are harder for pianists than others

English: Were I thy bride (Yeomen of the Guard, Gilbert and Sullivan) comic
To a garden full of posies (Ruddigore,) comic opportunities, but also sad

Two arias that are acceptable for operetta auditions but are generally not wanted in operatic auditions are “Must the winter come so soon” (Ericka’s aria, Vanessa, Barber) and Bernstein’s “What a Movie!” from Trouble in Tahiti.
(The latter is very tricky for pianists.)

And don’t forget to think outside the opera aria box. Singing an art song that fits the character and shows your acting chops will help us remember you!