Well, I have something disturbing to report in the music industry. CeeLo Green performed at our Riverbend Festival on Saturday evening and News Channel 3 reported this morning and they said "It is safe to say that he will never be invited back to Riverbend again." This is a family festival and people have told me he was 45 minutes late, that he used foul language throughout his performance, no one could understand what he was singing, he was drunk and he mooned the crowd at the end of the performance. Now I ask you, should this person have the honor of being a judge on one of our most popular shows on television -- THE VOICE?? Is this a person we should respect and emulate?
Monday, June 10, 2013
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The following is an article explaining exactly how I feel about what American Idol and the other singing contests have done to change music of today. As a singer, I can identify with Harry Connick, Jr. I am 66 years old and someone who sings the standards all the time. Singing has gotten so complicated with all the runs and riffs added, and there is no longer a simple melody sung. The words and feelings are lost among all the added notes. Let me know what you think about the following article.
Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and '60s got to constantly hear — on radio, TV and vinyl — the Great American Songbook sung by the likes of Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Sarah Vaughan. ... The list goes on. These were singers who belonged to our parents more than to us. Still, they set a high bar for crooners, even if we didn’t fully appreciate it when we were kids. Besides having intonation, perfect pitch and beautiful voices, these artists respected a song, its melody and lyrics.
They made singing sound easy, which it isn’t.
My favorite singer as of this week is Harry Connick Jr., but not for his vocal talent. As a guest mentor on Wednesday's American Idol, he did something I’d never seen done on that show — and it was long overdue. He made it clear why, despite the impressive vocal abilities of the four finalists — Candice Glover, Angie Miller, Amber Holcomb and Kree Harrison — they probably will never be truly great singers in the mode of those who came before, like Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone and Billy Eckstine. Again, the list goes on.
Idol's theme on Wednesday was “Then and Now.” Each contestant was asked in the first hour of the show to perform a current hit song. They chose newly released tunes by Pink, Bruno Mars, Rihanna and Carrie Underwood, who won American Idol in 2005. In the second half, they were asked to sing a classic from the Great American Songbook.
During the mentoring sessions, Connick would listen to the singers perform the songs they had chosen and advise them how to do it better. He was a kindly coach throughout the "Now" portion of the show, teasing, praising and hugging the contestants. But when it came to the “Then” segment, the joking stopped. His demeanor changed.
Songs of the past are an essential part of Connick's repertoire. He loves, respects and understands their exquisite craftsmanship. He knows how to make them sound “now” without losing what they were "then."
As Amber started to sing Rodgers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” Connick stopped her. He asked her what the song is about. "What does it mean, 'Your looks are laughable?'" he asked her, or "'Is your figure less than Greek?'" Amber looked blank — she had no idea. She struggled for words. He told her to go do some research on the lyricist, Lorenz Hart, a physically diminutive, closeted homosexual who died of alcoholism at age 48. Before singing the song, Connick sternly told Amber, you need to understand what Hart was writing.
Kree also got stopped shortly after she launched into Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather.” She was singing in a loose, bluesy manner, like she said she'd heard Etta James do the song. But for Kree to do those fancy runs, Connick said, were diluting the meaning of the lyrics. The woman in this song, he explained, is sad and depressed; she's lost her man. “You don’t sound depressed,” Connick observed. He wanted Kree to do it more like Lena Horne, who introduced the song in 1940. No frills needed.
Not one of the contestants took Connick's "Then" advice when they got on stage. Substance was thrown out the window for pyrotechnic vocal tricks. Angie sang Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” an ode to vulnerability, in full-power voice. She hardly came off as “a little lamb who’s lost in the wood,” as the lyric says. More like a John Deere tree cutter.
The judges loved Candice’s version of Billie Holiday’s “You’ve Changed,” giving her a standing O. Not Connick, whose tip to "Keep it simple" went completely over her head. “One of the worst things that can happen in a relationship is when the other person starts to drift away from you,” Connick told Candice. She needed to express that feeling. Her blaring version had no poignancy.
Connick squirmed in his front-row seat during the “Then” performances. I haven’t seen such facial contortions since Linda Blair got anointed with holy water in The Exorcist.
His breaking point came when Randy Jackson implied that Connick's advice had hindered Kree’s vacuous rendition of "Stormy Weather," which none of the judges liked. He thought she should have sung it more like Etta James, as she had wanted to do. As it turned out, her rendition was neither Etta nor Lena, nor even Kree. It lacked any personality or feeling. You could see Connick about to pop his cork. That's when Keith Urban went into the audience, took Connick by the hand and brought him to the judge’s table. Taking a seat, Connick proceeded to school a very defensive Jackson in the art of singing standards. The point Connick tried to make, which Jackson didn't want to hear, was that the show’s contestants didn't know these classic songs well enough to take liberties with their melodies and lyrics. In doing so, they were murdering the music.
To me this made an even bigger point. Since its debut in 2002, Idol has always put value on over-the-top vocal performances. Subtlety and intimacy gets you the boot. If minimalists like Peggy Lee or Billie Holiday were to compete on Idol today the judges would eat them alive.
I was friends with Hal Schaefer, a famous vocal coach who died last October. He’s credited with teaching Marilyn Monroe to sing. I once asked him what he thought of Barbra Streisand. “When she was a teenager she came to my apartment on Riverside Drive to see if I would give her vocal lessons,” said Schaefer, who was then living in New York. “I was blown away not just by her voice, but her knowledge. She knew who every composer and lyricist was. She knew the entire American songbook. I told her after she sang for me that I would not work with her. She didn’t need me. But I told her she had to promise me never to take vocal lessons from anyone, because what she did was completely right. Once in a while that kind of talent comes along.”
On a recent NPR interview Streisand talked about how, when interpreting a song, she never violates its melody or lyrics, even when putting her own distinct spin on it. That’s why she's so great. And that's why Connick got so frustrated with the Idol contestants.
He listened to them, but they wouldn't listen to him.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Today's tip: if you are working on a song and you have to go from your chest voice into your head voice ( over your break), try to sing the song the same way each time and "train" your vocal chords to deal with the break transition in the same way each time. Don't sing it one way one time, and then change to your head voice on another note the next time. The transition will become easier to deal with the more you practice it the same way. Hope this makes sense. Any questions, just ask.
(Don't forget to exercise every day. :) )
(Don't forget to exercise every day. :) )
When a student quits piano or voice for starting a sport, it makes me sad. I know athletics are important, but you can only play softball, etc. for so long. My dad is 89 years old and do you think he plays any sports? No, but he is still singing every day and still loving it! He has joined a wonderful community chorus where he lives and has a 3 hour practice every Monday night. They also perform several times a year. I also have a friend who comes to the assisted living home where I work once a month and plays the piano for the residents. She is in her 80's. Both she and the residents enjoy her concerts. And I am no "spring chicken." I am still teaching voice and piano in my retirement and will continue to as long as my fingers and vocal chords still work. :). So, you can see how performing and loving music can bring you joy all your life. What a wonderful gift God has given us. So, next time you hear a young person talk about giving up playing their instrument or singing, please show them the "big picture." Maybe they will reconsider their choices in life.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Recently, I have been working with some of my vocal students who have higher voices (i.e., sopranos) and I have found that they really don't know the difference in the FEELING of singing in their head voice vs. singing in their chest voice. Most higher voices starting singing in their head voice on the notes D and E above Middle C. An alto will go into her head voice around notes A or B. (And there is a "Middle Voice" --combining the head and chest voice--that can also be developed, but that is a whole other subject.) I actually go into my head voice on note B above Middle C. Unfortunately for sopranos, it is not popular these days to sing in their head voice. All the female pop and country singers sing mainly in their chest voices, so sopranos must figure out how to sing in their chest voices. I have several exercises I use when I work with my students, and it definitely doesn't happen overnight. It takes practice. And from lesson to lesson, my soprano students slip very easily right back into their head voices. If you have any questions about this, just let me know. Or, if you would like to be able to sing in your chest voice and easily go back and forth at will, you could take some lessons :)
Sunday, February 17, 2013
For those of you who like to sing along with the radio or your cd's, don't think that you are becoming a better singer if you are singing along with the artist. It is so sad to see these contestants try out in reality shows and think they have a great voice. Just because your friends and family say that you are a great singer doesn't mean it is so. The true test is to bring your favorite song up on YouTube and sing it with just the background music or "karaoke." Then have someone listen to you who is not partial and ask them to give you their unbiased opinion. Or, you can come to Music Instruction Studio and take your first lesson (which is "free", by the way) and I will tell you. You can then decide whether you would like to take more lessons to improve. I very rarely let my students sing with the singer--I ask them to sing it solo. That is the true test.
For my friends locally, I am posting a series of tips on our "head voice" and "chest voice." I have posted this in the past, but don't think many of you have seen it. Lately in choir practice, our director has been making a point about the sopranos using their lower voices, or chest voices, so they could have more "power and fullness" in their voices instead of a thin soft sound.
The easiest way I can explain how to sing with our chest voice (especially for sopranos) to to ask you to sing like you speak. Just say the phrase "How are you today." Now, sing that phrase like you said it but sing it on just one note. If sopranos sing that like they normally would sing it, they would be talking like Julia Child. Remember her--the forerunner of the cooking shows on TV? Don't sing it like that. Just sing it in a natural talking tone. I will be putting a video on my page to demonstrate this. I don't want to overload you with too much information, but I teach that we all have a "chest voice" and a "head voice." You have probably heard of these terms. In between these two distinct voices, we have a "break" in our voice where we transition from one voice to another. I have exercises that I will put on my page to make that transition easier, but these exercises have to be practiced frequently to train your vocal chords and muscles. So stay tuned for more. . .