My Story ~ by Peggy Weston
Peggy Weston created VocalistNews and is the sole contributing writer, except for the quotes within the guest artist interviews. Her journey spans decades, singing a variety of genres of music in a diversity of performance settings in the U.S. and internationally. She expanded her vocal and acting skills to work in recordings, radio, television, and film. She continued her performing arts career, and in 1985 Peggy started her own company adding consultant, educator and writer to her creative endeavors.
“I find joy while singing. It’s that simple. Music and lyrics provide me with the ideal language for communicating a realm of emotions and connecting with people. I believe in the value, beauty and power of music in the universe and in our lives.
When VocalistNews was a blog, it was sincerely gratifying and fun to read your comments from all over the world. Thank you for your support. Thank you for taking the time in your lives to visit VocalistNews. I will continue adding to this page, however I need to focus on completing and publishing my first book. It will be about singing.
I invite you to explore the blog archives here and revisit this page for new featured articles and my book news. My hope is that you can benefit in some way, and leave smiling…”
“Let’s fill the world with song.”
~ Peggy Weston
Property of Peggy Weston, Publisher and Author of VocalistNews, © 2009 – 2018.
Songfire Press, a division of Weston World Productions, LLC,
It is my desire that this will provide for serious vocalists - and those who want a glimpse into our world - an opportunity to learn and to share knowledge and experiences.
VocalistNews will provide interviews with notable vocalists, to include their valuable tips on vocal techniques and performance, recording studio and business guidelines, and in contrast explore the poetry and wonder of song.
What makes you want to sing? For me, it is like coming home. A unique joy is found in the creative process of singing. It touches the core of my soul. My spirit, my mind, my body are in rhythm, expressing and communicating. I feel like I've taken flight.
Studio Chat Behind the Glass with Mark Hood
If the recording studio is unknown territory for you as a vocalist, here is an interview that will give you great insight.
Mark Hood, of Echo Park Recording, has been a recording engineer and producer for thirty plus years. He has worked with many great and very talented artists including James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Herman, Helen Merrill, Singers Unlimited, Ritchie Haven, Sandy Patti, John Mellencamp, and many others.
Peggy Weston: "What kind of music (or other) education and training is really necessary for a successful studio vocalist?"
Mark Hood: "I strongly encourage every aspiring studio vocalist to practice every day on all the tools of the trade - excellent pitch, ease with rhythm and syncopation, sight-singing both pitches and rhythms, transposition, diction, support, breath control - all the things your teachers have been on you to pursue. It's wonderful when you begin to discover the style and genre that really suits you best and you can begin to find a unique identity as a performer, but so many vocalists stop practicing the basics at that point and just zero in on their particular 'schtik'. You can never be too in tune, or too in the groove or sight-read too well. Developing these skills will make you a better performer both inside and outside of your individual vocal style. And, of course, you need people skills. In the intense pressure of a session, it's easy to regress into frightened behavior or its opposite, arrogance. Give it a rest, just be an adult. The people on the other side of the glass are your co-collaborators in making a great musical moment. Trust them, even if they can't articulate clearly what it is they want from you (they may be regressing, too!) And trust yourself that your instincts are correct and that your talent and training have prepared you for this moment."
PW: "Mark, vocalists often get a bad rap from 'educated' musicians who think generally vocalists are not decent musicians. Is this attitude often seen or heard a lot around the studios, or do you think the session singer is shown more respect, because it is demonstrated that she or he has studied music theory and sight-reading and can read well?"
MH: "There may be some truth to your assertion that vocalists are not afforded the same respect as instrumental session musicians at times. I believe that some of this is due to producers and engineers not knowing how to pick the vocalist with the correct skills and style for the job at hand. But I also think that it is unfortunately true that vocalists are not generally as versatile and capable of sight-reading as some instrumentalists. I don't necessarily think that this indicates a lack of training or dedication on the part of the vocalists, it's just part of the nature of your instrument, and it's not entirely unique to vocalists."
"For example, when a producer hires a studio sax player, it is reasonable (in my opinion) that he be able to sight-read very rapidly, sound great in all ranges of the instrument, play other related instruments (other saxes, clarinets, flutes) with equal facility, be comfortable in jazz, rock, soul, and even classical styles, be able to sight-transpose into any key, improvise fluidly over chord changes, and play very in-tune and with excellent rhythm."
"When hiring a guitar player, however, it is much rarer that all of these features are available in every package. It is understood that great rock session guitarists may not necessarily read or play jazz."
"Thus, it is with vocalists; producers need to hire carefully to find the artist that is most likely to have the tools required to fit the job."
PW: "Is there an unspoken professional etiquette that vocalists new to the studio really need to be aware of? What are the DO's and DON'T's?"
MH: "You must assume that the producer is acting in the best interests of the piece he is working on. If he/she is gruff, uncommunicative, contradictory, whatever, it's just because music is not an exact science, it's more like magic. Sometimes the logical choices and the logical approaches yield mediocre results, and that's not what producers are looking for. And, if the producer tells you that 'it's just not working', and they hire someone else for the part, don't let it give you a bad attitude towards producers, engineers or studio work in general. Give them the benefit of the doubt - that they have the ultimate best interest of their musical opus in mind. You must go on to your next session with an open mind and be mentally prepared to create magic on the next project."
Published September 9, 2009 in VocalistNews
Be Smart: Learn the Laws of the Biz
During an interview with Eric Easter, Executive Director of Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts, Easter expressed WALA's desire to impress upon artists their need to receive legal training as part of their training in their craft.
WALA is a non-profit corporation serving as the primary legal resource for the creative community in MD-Washington DC-VA. Legal Services, resolution services, as well as entertainment and arts education programs are provided for members. Easter said, in 2002, that there are approximately twenty similar organizations to WALA in the United States. He suggested seeking them through the state Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.
Artists need to educate themselves and develop business savvy to protect themselves from persons who may not have their best interest at heart. "Don't wait until someone hands you a contract to sign," Easter strongly stated, "get a third party to look at it, not your manager or agent." Anyone who can directly profit from your contract is not the one to consult with. "Seek legal advice," he said.
Easter advised that if an artist has made a recording, the artist should know who owns the rights to the recording, where the master is stored, who has copies and where they are kept, and inquire about distribution and intellectual properties?
He stated simply, "most things that happen to artists happen legally. You (the artist) just need to educate yourself before you enter a meeting." The way it plays is "the one who has the most money and is best prepared with information," he frankly remarked, "succeeds in getting what they want.
"But remember," Eric Easter added, "your talent has power. So, don't underestimate yourself." They obviously are interested in what you have to offer. Do your homework.
Published September 9, 2009 in VocalistNews
Too Funny for Singing
Working in the performing arts inevitably brings unique, unexpected surprises and challenges. Sudden equipment problems, severe weather issues, sick but singing, and more...
However, I never anticipated what I was about to experience on my opening-night performance of a three-month contract at The Brussels Jazz Club, Brussels, Belgium. Prior to the performance was a photo shoot, a press interview, and a brief rehearsal with my Belgium trio, whom I had never met. Then it was 10 pm, performance time; the sophisticated club was packed with that opening-night energy, the lights dimmed, except for a spotlight on center stage. The band began the intro to my first song, and as I entered the stage I heard Rene, the announcer/lighting and sound engineer, introducing me in a heavy French accent. "Monsieur and Madame....The Bruzzels Jazz Club iz proud to prezent Miz Piggy Veston!"
Well, in spite of several years performing professionally in all kinds of places, many elegant and hip, this moment was too much for this American gal. This was too outrageously funny to let slide. They applauded me as I entered, I smiled, walked to the center of the stage, then in my best high school French, I said, "Merci beaucoup, mais je m'appelle 'Peggy,' pas Piggy. (Thank you very much, but my name is 'Peggy,' not Piggy). Not Ms. Piggy from The Muppet Show. You know the Muppet Show?!" I posed my petite 108-pound figure. The audience shouted "Oui!," and roared with laughter (thank goodness)!
I knew that after hearing Rene's introduction, I would not be able to sing without a good laugh first. It was a wonderful way, actually, to begin a tremendously, rewarding experience. And, by the second night, Rene humorously said my name with his best American accent. A fun memory and one of my favorite performance stories.
Published July 14, 2015 in VocalistNews
Thomas Moser: an artist in tune with his craft
Tenor Thomas Moser was principal Mozart singer at the Vienna State Opera during the late Seventies and Eighties. In 1988 he was awarded title of Viennese Kammersanger. Moser has performed opera and recitals from La Scala to the Salzburg Festival to the Metropolitan Opera. He has recently returned to the United States to pursue new projects.
Peggy Weston: "Tom, of all the things you might have considered doing with your life, why do you choose to sing? How do you deal with depending on something as fragile as singing to support yourself?"
Tom Moser: "Music was my 'language' and singing my 'dialect'. I had to sing in order to express myself. In order to be 'complete.' So, there was no choice. Of course, if it hadn't worked out, I would have found something else to do. But, as I did, I didn't have to cross that bridge!"
PW: "When you are 'beat' from your schedule or the 'pipes' are not up to par, how do you physically and mentally prepare yourself for your performance?"
TM: "There are certainly times when I am very fatigued from a heavy schedule. Then, there is no choice but to sacrifice private life and take the rest necessary to get through the rough spot. If the problem is illness, then one has to sense whether one can cope without the assistance of a physician. If not, then one must get the necessary help. If the performance can be done with no great risk to the vocal apparatus, then one does one's best. If not, there is no choice but to cancel."
PW: "Do you have favorite vocal, breathing or performance warm-up exercises? Do they differ greatly from 'live' performances to recording studio?"
TM: "My 'warm-ups' are today the very same ones I received from my teacher almost thirty years ago. Nothing changes when one goes from the 'live' performance to the recording studio. Even if the result is a 'conserved' one, the performance before the mic was live."
PW: "What musical education or particular training contributed most to your success and why?"
TM: "There is no part of my education which has become part and partial of my career as a vocalist. Strictly speaking, I suppose it would be the voice lessons with a Maestro who could offer me the benefit of forty years of his experience. Also, piano instruction with a fantastic lady who every utterance was a pearl of wisdom, and could be applied not only to piano, but to every other instrument, including the human voice."
PW: "Have you experienced singing other genres of music or have you always known which you would be focusing on and recording? What made you decide on your choice?"
TM: "I have sung musical, operetta and popular music, but my choice is opera and classical or 'serious music', because it best expresses me."
PW: "Name a vocalist(s) who influenced your vocal style, your musicianship, your performance style."
TM: "Nicolai Gedda, Franco Corelli, Mirella Freni, Martial Singher, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau."
PW: "What qualities do you think are important for a vocalist to have to survive in the arts."
TM: "The qualities needed to survive as a vocal artist reads like a list of contradictions. One must be overly sensitive but have the hide of an elephant. One must have the inner knowledge that one has something valuable to offer. Without the courage of his convictions, a singer can't survive the world in which he wishes to take a place. One must be able to take criticism, even when it injures, but be able to discern which criticism is valid, and which is not. I would say that one must have talent, but that is not necessarily synonymous with having a 'voice'. There are great voices. It also is important to note that an artist must always perform to satisfy his own need to express himself. Only in this way can he hope to please or reach anyone else."
Published September 10, 2009 in VocalistNews
Singing for Joy for a Lifetime
Finding joy in singing is not limited to age. Discovering this joy and sustaining it for a lifetime is sweet...so sweet.
I have a new voice student, Reeva; she is ten and will soon begin 5th grade. Her energy and imagination have been bountiful during many months of her creative writing and public speaking lessons with me. Recognizing her artistic potential and keen interest in the performing arts, her parents requested voice lessons, too. I asked Reeva to write about why she enjoys singing. She wrote: "Singing is a 'law' for me to do (something she must do). That's how much I love singing. I can't wait to know about everything in (improving) singing." So, we began her study.
In previous posts, I have mentioned Charlie, who has studied voice with me for approximately three years. He says he has benefitted a great deal, and our beautiful friendship is precious. Charlie will be 91 in October. The quality of his tenor voice is still lovely, along with his musical skills and his versatility in expression. He continues to find great joy when singing, and regularly participates in a large, excellent Barbershop Chorus.
This week, Charlie decided to not continue his weekly voice lessons. What usually confronts vocalists in mature years...and certainly in one's nineties, is control of and stamina in breathing, whether during a lesson or performance. Singing requires a level of energy in breath control, to meet the demands of the chosen repertoire. There are 'tricks' to try in altering style, phrasing differently, or shortening sustained notes. These are useful and sometimes necessary options when fatigued, sick or elderly.
Charlie's bright spirit shines when he sings. He still contributes to the chorus, and during lessons he sure did 'swing' and scat, and he moved me deeply when he sang ballads, like September Song and This Nearly Was Mine (from South Pacific). Of my many years in teaching voice, I have never had a student so interested in learning, so open to exploring their voice and music, as Charlie.
It is a privilege knowing him, and it has been an honor to be his voice teacher. For a lifetime, Charlie has embraced a love for singing. I wonder if his Italian heritage has anything to do with that? He is greatly aware of the value music has brought and continues to bring into his life.
Published August 16, 2005 in VocalistNews
*UPDATE: Charlie celebrated his 94th in October 2018 and he is still singing!!!
It Takes More Than Talent
Peggy Weston: “Mark, you have worked in the studio with many great artists. But, who really impressed you with the way they handled themselves, and why?”
Mark Hood: “Lots of people have amazing talent, and it’s awesome to be part of the team with them. But the ones that really stand out in my mind are the gifted stars that also have the knack of being appreciative of everyone else’s contributions to the project at hand. They function as team leaders with their talent shining a bright beacon, but they make room for the talents of others to augment their own. Then you can actually get a finished whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
PW: “Other than arriving on time for the session call, what is the sequence of events that a session vocalist should do before it is time to enter their designated studio and be aware that ‘time equals cost’ to the producer? (i.e. warm-up voice and body, use bathroom, turn off cell phone).”
MH: “The things you mention are exactly right, but I would add a discipline of mental attitude preparation: to open your mind to the range of possibilities in the session ahead. Will the song be wonderful? Can I sing it well? Will the producer be a great collaborator? etc.”
“I have two old boring proverbs that I like to bear in mind. First: success equals preparation plus opportunity. If you constantly practice and enlarge your skills, if you prepare yourself physically and mentally for the upcoming musical encounter, AND if said encounter is really a great song with a great producer, and it fits your skill set perfectly, then magic can happen. Any one element missing from this equation, ESPECIALLY your attitude preparation, can result in a missed opportunity.”
“And, the second saying is: if you want to get struck by lightning, you’ve got to go out in a lot of thunderstorms. I take it to mean this: staying at home guarantees that you will never participate in a wonderful studio session experience. But going into the studio may result in repeated disappointments, embarrassments, humiliations, failures, hurt feelings, etc., etc. So, you may have all these good reasons in your mind why you think all producers are insensitive, unmusical jerks and all engineers make you sound bad and so on, but unless you suck it up and go back out there and try some more, you have no chance of breaking through the prevailing weather and BANG! Hit a home run, sing on a hit, meet a producer that can’t wait to use on everything and tell all his friends about you. If you really want the chance, you must keep going back out there, and you must go back with a good attitude for the possibility of creating magical music.”
Published May 14, 2011 in VocalistNews
Kevin Lettau ~ from the heart of a jazz singer
American jazz recording artist, Kevyn Lettau, has also worked as the department head of vocal studies at a private school in LA. She brings a diversity of experience in the performing arts to this discussion.
Kevyn Lettau: "I studied ballet and modern dance, but it was a difficult road and I started dance at an older age than most do. Singing was so soothing, healing, comforting. Singing saved my life. If I hadn't been a singer, I would have been a therapist."
PW: "How have you dealt emotionally with depending on singing for your income?"
KL: "Well, I have been really, really fortunate in that I love to teach, too, and I love to teach singing. And so, I supplemented my income with teaching singing. I am very fortunate that I have the ability to earn a living combined with singing and with teaching. Teaching is kind of an extension of singing. It's basically sharing my knowledge, what works and what doesn't work. When I was much younger I had that feeling, 'Oh my God, how am I going to earn a living doing this?' But I have been so lucky that I haven't had to deal with that at all."
PW: "When you are really beat with your schedule, or you don't feel your pipes are 'up to par', so to speak, how do you physically and mentally prepare yourself for your performance?"
KL: "Well, first of all I try to never to get myself so beat up that it gets to that point. I am very health conscious. When I am on the road I become quite the hermit. I'll go to sound check, do interviews, do the gig, meet and greet the audience and then I'll go back to the hotel. I'll shut-up, and then I don't talk again until sound checks or another warmup. I try to prevent that burnout that you are talking about."
PW: "You are very disciplined."
KL: "I am extremely, to the point of being boring." (she chuckles) "I really enjoy singing with a healthy instrument, so I do whatever I can to try and keep it that way all the times."
More from my interview with Kevyn Lettau in the future! Meanwhile check out her site www.kevynlettau.com
Published May 14, 2011 in VocalistNews
Managing Performance Nerves
It is not unusual for a vocalist or speaker to be nervous in anticipation of, or during, a presentation of any kind. It is important to first recognize this fact, and feel comforted in knowing many people experience this feeling. How we cope with this challenge is the next step.
Whether you are a student with an upcoming class presentation, a sales executive, lawyer, an actor at an audition, or a singer stepping onstage before thousands, there are preparation steps and tools you can use to make the experience a positive one.
So much of singing and performance is mental. When I work with students on presentation, there are many valuable tools that I share with them. We discuss preparation: knowing their material well, physical check list - rest, eating right, exercising, appropriate wardrobe, and those oh, so important vocal warmups, and breathing exercises to calm them, and to help them engage in a rhythm within their speaking or singing. The depth of the discussion and exercises can be extensive depending on the previous experience and discipline of the individual.
Having some awareness of the venue setting, and where and when you will be onstage is always helpful to know in advance in managing the unknown. Use visualization: picture yourself in that setting, see and hear your strong, successful performance. Recall and focus intensely on the best performances that you have had, how you felt, and go there within yourself to recapture the positive energy, and bring it to this performance.
When you step onto your mark to deliver your performance, you should focus on the purpose of you being there. What is the message you are seeking to share within your music, the lyric, or your presentation? That's what you focus on. Not your hair, your tight shoes, your sweaty palms, the little rivers of perspiration running down your valleys, or the person in the front row who is texting during your ballad.
One long, slow deep breath, and let them hear your message.
Confidence comes with experience. Each challenge is an opportunity to be creative. Each presentation is an opportunity to grow.
Give it as a gift.
Published September 22, 2011 in VocalistNews
Accompanying a Vocalist with Bill Boublitz
Throughout my years of singing, I have experienced working with a wide variety of music accompanists with various instruments, degrees of music talent and experience, and different personalities.
Music accompanying is a craft within itself. An accompanist may embrace your lyrics, or leave you no space for phrasing and creativity; some are sensitive to your expression, others play too loudly on everything, or are too reserved and lack passion and dynamics; some interact musically with you, while others lead all of the time and assume you don't know musically what to do, or think it's a competition and their egos shadow the music. It can be a wonderful, magical, loving, creative experience, or just...okay, or painful to get through the gig.
Like every vocalist, I have my favorites for the right reasons, and they remain memorable. Some pushed me musically and I stretched vocally and learned. Together we knew it was about the music in the moment.
Accomplished keyboard artist and composer, Bill Boublitz was asked what makes a good accompanist?
“I usually laugh to myself because when asked ‘How do you accompany a vocalist?’ My answer is a simple one...One Word; L-I-S-T-E-N. So simple, but how easy musicians forget. To Listen is the key. All else flows from that. The task is to create, support and enhance dialog. Music is a language.
You can't engage in meaningful dialog if you're not listening. 'Talk' musically with the vocalist. In other words, wait for the 'holes', the space between phrases. There is where you play, and what you play needs to create, support and enhance the melodic line as well as the color of the voice. Think in language. It may be chords or notes, but they function such that they can 'comment' on a previous phrase, 'ask a question' to set up the next phrase, on and on...the analogies can flow forever.
Once you can establish this kind of dialog, it can grow to more complex levels, where you might play under the phrase to support the curve or shape of the melodic line, even over the phrase (higher in pitch). Once you've established a rhythmic syntax, you can then spread your concept to other areas, like color. I might play dense block chords behind a robust alto, but those textures would be out of place with a thin texture soprano voice. What you play all depends on the match, the relationship, the dialog. Anything is possible as long as you're listening. When the listening stops the music (or lack thereof) becomes like listening to a noisy crowd in a restaurant. Everyone is in their own world talking and it's hard to hear above the din.
Too many pianists are concerned with ego; being heard, showing off. There is no music there. I'm reminded of a documentary I watched on Ella Fitzgerald's life, made shortly after her death. They were interviewing Tommy Flanagan... no slouch there (!). Tommy could play enough notes for Coltrane. But he was also one of the most reserved accompanists, playing only what was needed, asked for by the music. He told this marvelous story about the first night he worked behind Ella. He was young, all pumped up and excited for the opportunity. The first tune was counted off and he just jumped right on it. He talked about how he played all his hottest ideas and gave it everything to impress with each note. After the first tune was over, Ella turned around and stared right at him. 'Well, if that's the way it's gonna' be, I'm quittin' this business!,' she glared. The way Tommy told it was priceless. He said, 'That was my music lesson and boy, did I ever get it together after that one.'
Photo Credit: Roy Cox
Published September 22, 2011
Manhattan Transfer Clinic Provides Soulful Harmony
In November 2011, the celebrated vocalese quartet Manhattan Transfer provided a vocal clinic, as part of the Jazz Master Class Series at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C. I attended this ticketed event, in a rather intimate setting, which added to the afternoon experience. As my eyes swept the audience, I wondered about the attendees, and what motivated them to be present. Obviously, they were fans of Manhattan Transfer and jazz, but who, I wondered, were fellow vocalists or music educators? Some were student age, but the majority, I guessed were mid-thirties to seventies. Very attentive and responsive.
Manhattan Transfer consists of two men, Tim Hauser and Alan Paul, and two women, Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne. The long history of this remarkable group, their awards, hits, and discography can be explored at www.manhattantransfer.net.
Vocalese is the style of music that arranges vocal music to earlier recorded jazz instrumental pieces.
A music clinic provides an opportunity for students to perform and be constructively critiqued by professional musicians or music educators. Within the clinic, professionals often work with individuals or groups on improving technique and performance skills. On this occasion, two vocal groups of college students performed a cappella on a raised platform stage, and were critiqued by members of Manhattan Transfer. One group was called Afro Blue from Howard University, whom you might have seen competing on the television show, The Sing Off. The larger group was The University of North Texas Jazz Singers, who made their debut on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. All of the students, except one, were music majors in jazz studies.
Each group performed several selections, then joined together to perform Too Marvelous for Words. Manhattan Transfer members were very complimentary and supportive of the strengths of each group, certain individuals, the unique arrangements, and their conductors.
Comments included within Manhattan Transfer's excellent suggestions were: encouraging students to ‘look at each other (during some selections), because the connection is happening in the music, so look at each other and the energy will elevate’. Also, make the background vocals snap!
The perspective and valuable guidance from Manhattan Transfer, in both music and performance skills, was priceless for these young students. Janis concluded, saying “the future of jazz is in good hands.”
I especially enjoyed the amazing and clever arrangement titled The American Standards Medley, performed by The University of North Texas Jazz Singers. And, Afro Blues rendition of My Heart Stood Still, with a male student, John, playing, that is, singing the bass line as he mimes playing an upright bass. The performances were beautiful and polished.
An open Q&A was next on the program, and Manhattan Transfer responded with these comments.
What are the elements that you have found are most valuable in this vocal experience with Manhattan Transfer?
Janis answered, “Having a knowledge of the whole arrangement; a commonality in the emotion of the song when using dynamics; and a soulfulness.” Tim added, “hitting the groove, a rhythm in the groove.”
It was agreed that mastering the ‘subtleties of breathing and vibrato’ are extremely important in a small vocal ensemble. ‘Vibrato must be used sparingly in harmony singing, due to the challenges and the difficulty in matching vibratos,' Cheryl noted.
Part of the joy of singing in vocal groups is being aware of when the ‘harmony locks in; you feel it, you hear it.’ Work towards making ‘each chord ring’. When you sing, you are ‘solidifying changes with lyrics’.
Alan said, “imagine you are standing by yourself, I want you to be inside of the song, so what you are singing lyrically is being projected in your performance, in your personality.”
What is your creative process in learning a new song?
Members contributed to the mix, by saying, ‘First, we learn the rhythms, and the transitions of how it feels as a unit. A new song is learned “bar by bar”, 4 bars at a time. We rehearse a cappella, starting with the melody, adding each part. Then we polish dynamics; the syllables can have emotion which is expressed through the dynamics. The breathing is synchronized. Then we bring it to the band and sing on microphones. The choice of materials, arrangements and the style of the songs is a group decision.’
Whether it was a young, aspiring vocalist, a music teacher, a seasoned performer, or a fan, I expect everyone attending this clinic learned valuable techniques about vocal music, performance and a dedication to one’s craft.
Published January 17, 2012 in VocalistNews
Vocal Instrument Preparation
When I teach voice, I encourage my students to adopt this concept: your entire body is your vocal instrument.
Utilize it, as such, when creating sounds and music. Your deep breathing and control of the air stream, the resonance of sound, the vibrations and energy that travel throughout your body to produce your unique sound ~ all play within you to create song and send your gift of music and lyric.
Respect your instrument. Take care of your health and care of your instrument, your voice, as instrumental musicians invest in and protect their instruments.
Educate yourself in music and performance areas, including dance movements and acting skills, which will expand your awareness of how your total instrument works and responds. In time, each study becomes a part of you, and potentially increases your realm of creativity.
So much of vocal performance is mental. Confidence comes with knowledge, preparation and experience.
Always, always sing from the heart.
Published July 11, 2012
Singing Makes Me Feel What?
My voice students range in age from 9 to 89. I often ask a new student how they feel when they are singing.
I wait in anticipation at their individual answers. Several say, "Free. Happy. Peaceful." One replied that life has been very rough lately, and music and singing is the only place they could go to find happiness.
Another student said that they found they enjoyed connecting with people through singing.
How does singing make you feel? Why do you sing?
Published July 11, 2012 in VocalistNews
So much of our potential sense of well-being can be discovered while engaging in deep breathing.
Those long, deep inhalations through the nose, with the lips slightly parted, feeling your diaphragm and chest fill with air, and slowly exhaling, controlling the air flow, treasuring each morsel of precious air.
Close your eyes, and take a few long, deep breaths, and as you exhale, create a sense of letting go, and focus only on your breath. The warmth of it, the rhythm of the pattern of breaths, and the knowledge of how it is nourishing your spirit, mind and body...all are interconnected. This is the zone you want to be in before you sing.
Cultivating breath control serves as a vocalist's 'powerhouse,' and is managed from the core. We learn to coordinate our breathing and use of the air stream, in order to produce good pitch, a better tone, utilize dynamics and creative phrasing, and sustain long notes. In developing our 'powerhouse,' we also increase our stamina for future performances, vocal stamina and overall physical stamina. Correct breath control, accompanied by the best placement of notes throughout the vocal range - as in avoiding pushing the sound from the throat, make the difference in protecting the voice from potential damage.
Of course, if a vocalist is overly tired, sick or feeling stressed, it often shows first in the voice. All the more reason to develop the 'powerhouse.' This investment of time and effort in training will certainly pay-off with improved singing, and developing a reservoir of strength and skill enabling you to deliver your performance during unusually challenging circumstances.
Published July 11, 2012 in VocalistNews
What's in a Song?
Engaging in the creative process of singing enables a vocalist to transcend boundaries with music and lyric.
A vocalist may discover that a particular choice of song lyrics best expresses what they would like to say. You hear a song, the lyrics and melody move you, and you feel you must sing that song.
After many years of singing, I humorously joke sometimes that there seems to be a lyric for everything in life, thus within the swells of human experience a suitable song's lyric will come to mind. I smile at myself and to myself. Songs become a part of us, especially for the vocalist who connects with the emotional context of the lyric, as an actor in a role, and revisits them for every performance, to tell a story, to share compassion.
Therefore, it is not surprising that relating to a melody and lyric may feel natural in expressing feelings, and is somewhat therapeutic. This proves true for the public, as well, who memorize songs, and become totally captivated watching and experiencing 'live' performances. Musicians provide opportunities for healing.
Of course, living entirely within a world of songs is an interesting abstract concept for an indie film, but not real. Personally, I like the 'real thing.' Open the heart and show me who you are, and I celebrate artists who give that to an audience. There's a unique beauty in that vulnerability.
The bonding with humanity through song is prevalent throughout history. We don't need to understand the spoken language of the lyric, as in hearing an Italian love song by Bocelli, in order to appreciate the beauty and depth of expression within the artist's voice, and to celebrate where the song takes us.
Published August 4, 2012 in VocalistNews
Film 'Quartet' Heartwarming for Singers
I recommend the film Quartet. Great British cast, including Maggie Smith and a wonderful cast, portraying musicians - instrumentalists and opera singers living in a retirement home for musicians in England. Very moving, real human dynamics, humorous, inspiring. Accolades to the director Dustin Hoffman.
Published February 11, 2013 in VocalistNews
A Lesson from Charlie
I enjoy teaching voice to students who are sincerely interested and committed to improving.
The last several months, I have been working with the most enthusiastic student I have ever had the pleasure of teaching ~ Charlie. He came into the lessons with good pitch, an excellent ear, music history knowledge and an appreciation for different genres, group harmony and some solo vocal experience, and a dedication to learning. This, of course, was a wonderful start.
We work on his breath support and control, and technical aspects of vocal placement. He has explored a wide variety of repertoire, including swing, ballads, Broadway show tunes, hymns, and even a couple of arias in Italian. His beautiful tenor voice shines on the arias, and he can really swing. Charlie is delighted that I have encouraged him to scat and he is fearless now in improvising and good at it! His 'moves' add to his performance. Because he has participated in an excellent large barbershop group for years, he is quite the showman, and his expressions and gestures always add spice to his upbeat songs.
He has wowed me in discovering his vocal musicianship, and I've cried while hearing and watching him express the beauty within his heart while singing a ballad. He says these weekly lessons mean so much to him; he knows he has improved, and he has such fun, too. He also feels more confident. Charlie is a joy for any teacher to work with, especially this one and I am fortunate to know such a fine human being and share this time. Charlie is 88.
Update: May 2014. Charlie continues to study with me and sings 'like a bird' as he approaches 90 years this fall. I am honored to call him a dear friend and student. He expresses how much joy he feels while singing.
May 2015. Charlie, at 90 1/2 continues studying voice with me and singing with the barbershop group.
Published March 15, 2013 in VocalistNews
ROBBIN THOMPSON: Face to the Wind
A few years ago, I had the opportunity of hearing vocalist-guitarist-songwriter, Robbin Thompson, in a solo concert in Virginia. The stage in the 200-seat theatre was dressed as Robbin had wished, in a comfortable setting as if we were visiting his home. There were several string instruments, some of international origin, which he played and discussed during his concert. It takes a strong performing artist to carry a solo concert. The concert was well produced, highlighting his impressive vocal talent, musicianship and songs, all delivered with Robbin’s relaxed, engaging presence.
Here’s a brief glimpse at some highlights he shared for VocalistNews before we talked about singing. Although with his quick humor, he added that his history is lengthy, because he's ... I like to say seasoned.
Robbin Thompson was born near Boston; his family later relocated to Florida for his dad’s job. Guitar lessons in the 5th grade launched Robbin into music, and by fourteen he was playing small gigs with other instrumentalists, and won a local talent show. He was inspired by singers he saw on television during that era, including Elvis and Ricky Nelson. Robbin became more seriously committed to music and selective of the musicians he played with in a variety of bands. At sixteen he recorded a single with the Tasmanians.
Robbin attended community college for two years in Florida, prior to his dad being transferred again; this time to Seattle, therefore Robbin was at a turning point in his young life. A contact suggested that he attend VCU in Richmond to study advertising.
During the summer he traveled the US, and witnessed the infamous music event Woodstock. On the East coast he played in bands, as Mercy Flight, then joined Steel Mill with Bruce Springsteen for a while, before returning to VCU to complete his degree.
In 1975, Robbin Thompson won the American Song Festival and later won it again. The response to his album, The Boy from Boston provided encouragement, too.
1976 brought him a recording contract with an Atlantic label subsidiary Nemperor, which carried artists who were in considerable contrast in genre and style to Robbin, “I was really out of place there, but it was a great time." During this period, he met and played with a lot of notable California musicians, making valuable contacts; he is still in touch with many today.
Once again, he returned to Virginia and music gigs. Steve Bassett and Robbin wrote the successful hit, Sweet Virginia Breeze, and recorded an album, Robbin’s second.
He combined his music and songwriting talents with his advertising knowledge - a smart match, and created jingles. All of his experience and talents led to co-owning In Your Ear production studios in Richmond, Virginia.
In the years to follow, he explored creatively, adding a parade of recording credits and performance venues. Some wonderful serendipitous opportunities arose with music legends, as David Bowie.
On the Virginia scene, Robbin was more selective, trying to avoid the bar gigs and limiting his number of performances within a month in a particular area. As a result, his music performances were appreciated more and the attendance at concerts was good.
Surprising to him, his recordings had developed a European audience, and opportunity knocked with a solo tour. Robbin annually returns to Europe to his growing fans.
Robbin knows that he is fortunate to have the opportunities he has had. “I am not the norm. I’ve been fortunate. I am not the norm; things like this don’t happen to everybody."
I asked Robbin my favorite question to artists, “How do you feel when you sing." He replied, “It is a way of communication. It’s the way I have to communicate different things that have happened either with me or with things that I have observed. It’s the art that I have. I don’t paint; I don’t draw; I don’t have any of those talents. But, over the years I have learned that I can sing. The first part of my career, in Florida actually, I did learn how to play guitar, but I ended up not playing it much; I was always the singer. I was always the singer, all the way up even when I joined Bruce’s band. The band before Steel Mill, which was Mercy Flight, I was just the singer. I never had a guitar."
Curiously I said, “Have you ever had any vocal training?"
Robbin's tone in his response tickled me.“NO! Of course not! I never had any vocal training. I don’t think that…I’m sure there’re guys in this rock ‘n roll business that do. I have to say that most, that all of the people I know who are straight singers didn’t come out of vocal school or have a vocal teacher. They may now have a vocal coach to show them how to warm up and do things."
I commented, “You have a tremendous range, too. So, you've sung and 'experienced' ('the road'), and never had any real vocal issues or problems?”
He remarked, "Oh, well, I’ve probably had some vocal problems and issues along the way, which comes with screaming and singing, probably all the wrong ways, which is what rock ‘n roll is." Here in the States, Robbin can pace his booking schedule, with days of rest between gigs. (However) "I’ve learned...especially when I was going to go to Europe. I (was scheduled to) play 18 concerts in 21 days." Robbin fearfully wondered what would happen in Europe, but what he found was “with a little bit of thought, it didn’t bother me there."
“I don’t have a routine, a warm-up, I don’t do any of that. I’m not condoning it, but I don’t do that. I might go in the bathroom and scream,” Robbin humorously added.
He then demonstrated a vocal warm-up with the tongue extended as far as possible, that he once saw a singer/friend doing, questioning his friend with “what in the hell are you doing?” His friend explained his coach gave him this warm-up. Robbin said, “Okay, that’s great. See you Gene Simmons."
Robbin added, “The people I know who have come out of vocal school have great pitch, but they can’t improvise. Most of the musicians I know who have come out of years of training are great players, but a greater percentage of them, without sheet music in front of them can’t improvise. Those things you learn out of the classroom. You make the mistakes and figure out why."
Digging a little deeper, I asked Robbin, "What has inspired you, what has kept you going through the years in music?"
“I love doing it. The second half of that is that enough people love hearing me do it, so I love doing it. It’s an outlet. It’s a way to say things that you like to say without possibly people knowing, or without having to admit, in a little sense. And, you know, it’s an outlet. It’s the form of sanity that I really am."
He added, “I am appreciative that people listen to me. I find it interesting that I am getting some younger audiences; I’m feeling a little like a mentor, and I enjoy that. There are some young songwriters that I am probably brutally honest with; some take it well and some don’t. I was probably someone who didn’t take it well."
"When I was with record companies or management, they would give me advise but it was slanted to me. They’d tell me ‘this is how you’re going to sell records; the people want this,' and I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted them to tell me...what about this song here, what does it mean to you?"
"I got to a point, as I told you earlier; I was able to get to that point because I did have something musically (jingle work), other than touring or releasing a record, so it allowed me to…if they said, 'these songs aren’t hits; what are we gonna do with this? It doesn’t sound like this; it doesn’t sound like that.' It gave me the ability to look at them and go ‘I don’t give a sh-- what sells and what doesn’t.' I care about what it means to me, and maybe another who has listened to it."
"I know when I go play how many people will come to hear me; I know there are a certain amount of people who will buy my records because they like what I am saying. Where there are many people out there who would freak out. ‘You’re not sounding like Madonna; you’re not sounding like the latest flavor of the week, so you need to forget about this and do something else, because we have no need for you here.' And so, earlier on than probably most people, I told all those people to get screwed and did stuff myself (my way). So, that’s the deal. I am very fortunate to be able to do that; I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody."
"John Henley, I consider a really good, a great songwriter, he said, 'Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge.' (Robbin was touched emotionally) Excuse me, while I tear up. Those kinds of things mean a lot to me. I get hit by them emotionally, you know, when I hear a great line. I’m crying and I get pissed off because I didn’t write it or that somehow it…" Robbin did not finish his line, but I got it.
Robbin balances his professional life with many personal roles, as a husband, father, and grandfather, and son. He loves sailing and the therapeutic pleasures it brings. His photography is impressive.
In pursuing his love for singing and music, Robbin has succeeded in the music business with longevity, creating and performing his music his way to fans old and new. He is completing another album, hopefully to be released this summer. His continuous work at In Your Ear studios in Richmond, and other projects keep him busy. He is a man whose strong sense of self and tenacious spirit have enabled him to continue sharing his talents, caring for his family, and meeting life's unexpected challenges head-on.
Thank you, Robbin.
For more information, including his performance schedule, visit www.robbinthompson.com.
Published March 18, 2013 in VocalistNews
Richmond Jazz Festival_August 2013
The Richmond Jazz Festival at Maymont 2013 boasted an impressive lineup of performing artists - Jill Scott, Michael McDonald, Dee Dee Bridgewater to name a few of the vocalists, along with awesome instrumentalists. August 8 - 11th. Check-out the entire list at www.jazzatmaymont.com.
I took time off from everything in life and made a weekend of it, attending Saturday's and Sunday's concerts, experiencing the whole enchilada. Each day, with chair, mini cooler, sun hat, binoculars and a bag of survival goodies - including rain gear, I claimed my spot in the field of fans.
This was a somewhat different experience for me, I must admit; I am usually either on the stage or on the event staff. My eyes and ears never rested, as I witnessed final setups, sound-checks, and observed a very well-managed festival from my perspective. There is always something to learn.
Both days opened with a few sets of local talent at the two stages, including Susan Greenbaum on Saturday, whose easy, personable style and strong, clean voice with folk influence was appreciated by the growing crowd. Due to a sudden strong storm, the park was evacuated until the weather transformed into another humid day, yet lovely evening.
I wasn't there only to hear vocalists; the majority of performances were strongly instrumental. Many years ago, I worked with Gregg Karukas in Washington, DC, so I decided to keep my spot on the green to catch Gregg's band and it was smokin'! Gregg is a recent Grammy Winner. While watching, I was greatly surprised to discover his drummer was Rodney Dunton, who played in my band for six years in the Baltimore area! After their concert, I hurried backstage to meet Rodney as he came off. Great reunion with Rodney and Gregg! The friendships you make in music are special.
In the evening, I chose to hear Arturo Sandoval, which was truly one of the most amazing musical performances I have ever enjoyed. Then the collaboration of Peter White, David Benoit and David Pack, who beautifully blended their rich talents and unique personalities for the stage's final concert of the evening. Sitting on the crest of the hill, soft breeze, a crescent moon, with all of this incredible music making one feel very much in the moment, yet transcended to everywhere. I floated - out of the park, catching songs of the poet-singer Jill Scott on the other stage - and home.
The next day, back for more, I enjoyed the variety of jazz groups and nice vibes of the local bands. Then the dynamic, classically trained Cuban group, Tiempo Libre, claimed the stage with their strong African-Cuban rhythms and moves. Their lead singer was fantastic (sorry I couldn't catch his name). The crowd loved them...and I, well.....
As the day poured into the night, it got better and better with: Dr. John & The Nite Trippers, Terence Blanchard, Chick Corea and the Vigil, and for the close to the festival...the warm, generous and beautiful singing of Michael McDonald. I left laughing and smiled for days.
Presented by Altria. Thank you for supporting 'live' jazz with this noteworthy event.
Published August 24, 2013
Tribute to the late Ann Rabson ~
A Music-Making Mama
The Music-Making Mama, Ann Rabson, played the blues on piano, guitar, zazoo and yes, vocals. Multi-time winner of the WC Handy Award as Traditional Blues Female Artist of the year, and in 1998 her premiere solo album won a nomination in Traditional and Acoustic Blues categories. Her music as a solo performer and with the outrageous group 'Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women' has been enjoyed around the world.
Several years ago, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Ann for VocalistNews - a newsletter on my website, at the time. We were neighbors, as well, so she came to the house for the interview and tea. Ann had a reserved manner and gentleness about her, like a lioness at rest, in contrast to her dynamic onstage presence and suggestive lyrics. She brought her wit and dedication to the blues to the interview. I would like to share excerpts from it for those of you who knew her, and love her and her music, and for those of you who can now discover Ann through her music.
The Interview ~
Peggy: "Ann, of all the things you might have considered doing with your life, why do you choose to sing?"
Ann: "I chose to sing so young that I can't recall my reasons. By the time I was old enough to reason, I was hooked. I consider it a challenge to sing with my voice in various conditions, good and bad. When it's really bad I play more and sing less."
Peggy: "Do you have favorite vocal, breathing or performance warm-up exercises?"
Ann: "I used to drink quite a bit of whiskey, but I had to stop that. My exercises are more mental than physical. I try to disconnect the part of my mind which is critical, so I can be free. It was easy with whiskey, but I've learned to do it sober."
Peggy: "What musical education or particular training contributed most to your success and why? What do you think is a must for young vocalists to study?"
Ann: "I listened (and still do) to a lot of other musicians. I would recommend that young vocalists and all musicians listen to lots of recordings and lots of live performances."
Peggy: "Have you experienced singing other genres of music or have you always known which you would be focusing on and recording? What made you decide?"
Ann: "When I was four I heard Big Bill Broonzy live on the radio. I knew then that I wanted to sing and play the blues and that has never changed."
Peggy: "Name a vocalist(s) who influenced your vocal style, your musicianship, or your performance style."
Ann: "Bessie Smith, Leroy Carr, Big Bill Broonzy, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Charles Brown, Little Richard, Etta James, Ruth Brown, Big Maybelle, etc."
Peggy: "Just for the fun of it, share with us what you remember as the funniest or most absurd gig in your performance history to date."
Ann: "I played with Saffire at Lorton. A very scary federal prison. Lots of guards with lots of guns. What was absurd was trying to play music in that oppressive atmosphere."
Peggy: "What qualities do you think are important for a vocalist to survive in the business?"
Ann: "A willingness to work incredibly hard and an understanding that success isn't always about money."
~ Ann passed away in January 2013. You can read about her life and credits and discover her music online.
Published August 24, 2013 in VocalistNews
Where Music Takes Us
Human beings were designed with the need to 'connect' and when compatible they form a bond. In their search, individuals explore relationships, perhaps connecting on some level emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually.
Music connects us. It is difficult to find individuals who have listened to genres of music without some sense of satisfaction, or who don’t ’go to' music to fill a need to express what they are feeling or seeking. If only to hum a tune, or add the words which mirror their heart, they sing.
People sing in their solitude. This may connect them with their true spirit, leaving them refreshed and hopefully stronger. Together people join their voices, magnifying their energy and sending it out into the world.
On a personal note, I remember the Aha Moment years ago, when I became very aware that one of the major reasons I love to sing is because of the connection I feel with people while I am singing. I love people. Amidst the melody and lyrics and my desire to connect, it's a feeling of celebration and sharing.
The unique bond between music colleagues, fans, and music students and teachers is obviously strong. We are connecting and communicating on a special level, where music takes us. And, it can take us to places of humbling awe, places of astounding beauty and truth.
Published July 24, 2013
You Call That Singing?
Recently, a music colleague sang a few bars of music over the phone relating to something we were discussing, and I expressed my delight in finally hearing him sing. I have previously admired the quality of tone and expression in his natural speaking voice, yet I had never heard him sing. His response was, with dry inflection, "You call that singing?" "Well, yes," I responded, "it's sustained speech, connecting notes," in a melody, etc. which I have read is theoretically a definition of singing, granted a very simplistic definition in the development of singing. As I recall, my friend had mentioned that he has sung in groups, so perhaps I'll hear more than a few bars at some point. No pressure (smiling). Just for the joy of it.
Why did I share this above snippet? Just to question and if possibly clarify what encompasses singing. We learn language, first exploring our voices in infancy, the highs and lows within our range; we play with sounds and change the shape of our mouths discovering vowels and consonants or the components of the native language within our home. Gradually we put the pieces together, listening, speaking, and learn associations with actions and objects while adding vocabulary.
I think it's quite amazing how we learn and use language. The melodious rhythms of international languages intrigue and mesmerize me. Singing takes it to the next step, by sustaining a diversity of sounds within words over a controlled, steady air stream. The coordinated effort and required skills to produce excellent singing is challenging for many and requires great dedication, in order to use the voice as the musical and wondrous instrument that it is.
Sadly, I have heard stories from adults of how, as children, in the process of exploring their voices and developing their musical ears, they were told by family members to stop singing, because their sounds were unpleasant. The same individuals also expressed a love for singing, but were inhibited in their adult lives to sing near anyone. Yet, when someone is beginning to play other instruments - as violin, drums, trumpet, isn't it difficult to be in proximity of them until the sounds are pleasant? Families cope with it for the right reasons.
Singing is such a natural process. It is beneficial on many levels for the singer and yes, once produced well, the music can benefit many and the environment. I call that singing.
Published July 31, 2014 on VocalistNews
Inspiring to Witness
It is beautiful to observe and hear about how people (and more) are affected by singing. All ages, from a baby responding to a mother's song to the twinkle in my 'almost ninety-year old' voice student's eyes ~ singing is powerful. It comforts us, ignites our energy and inspires us. It is valuable in many ways, practical and spiritual. More on this to come...
Meanwhile, keep singing!
Published August 22, 2014 in VocalistNews
Taking More Than Talent Onstage
It takes more than talent to succeed as a vocalist. You can invest many hours, years of study, practice technique, rehearse your selected music and presentation, take care of your health and voice, dress appropriately.... ALL of this is important. However, the success of your performance comes-down-to the moment that you step out on that stage. Are your spirit and mind 'centered' where you want to be, where you need to be to create a strong, memorable performance?
It takes tenacity to bring it all together and courage to step out on a stage and deliver at the expectation level your audience anticipates. The voice is a fragile instrument, potentially influenced by various factors as one's physical condition, the environment, stress and one's present thinking and emotions on the day of the performance. Confidence generally grows with experience and practicing 'mental muscle,' that is, an intelligent, positive attitude, and learning to cope well throughout different circumstances. You have to discover how to tap into that resource within yourself; it is there. Approach performance with a strong mental attitude, envision yourself giving the best performance you can give, and do just that, give it.
If you have browsed my previous posts you have read about my voice student, Charlie. He had his 90th birthday in October and continues to study with me weekly, and rehearse in a large local Barbershop chorus. Much to my surprise at their recent annual Christmas concert, Charlie sang a solo verse of Silent Night! He stepped from the group, walked to centerstage with confidence and grace and sang to an audience of about 425 people. He sang so well; his lovely tenor voice was full, warm and surprisingly big. Of course, as his teacher and friend, I was SO proud of him. However, as I told Charlie and our families who complimented me for my guidance...it was Charlie - who on that day, in that moment, was able to deliver that excellent performance. He brought it all together; he gave his song.
In contrast, Charlie showed his comic timing with coy moves and a boyish grin, when he suddenly popped on a blinking red nose and antlers to join the group in singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Besides Barbershop singing, Charlie sings standards from the great American Songbook. Whether tender ballads or swingin' (and he's got 'the moves'!), scatting (so glad I taught him; he's a natural!), his knowledge of repertoire continues to amaze me. He sings Italian arias well, and solos at church. Charlie is a beautiful and delightful soul, an inspiration to everyone, and everyone who loves to sing, no matter what the age. It takes more than talent, and Charlie certainly has what it takes.
Published December 15, 2014 in VocalistNews
Vocal style is influenced basically by a singer's personality, exposure to cultural and ethnic groups, and music listening choices. A trained vocalist might adopt their teacher's preference in shaping the student's style.
Even if you are dedicated to singing songs from one genre of music, as opera or jazz, it is advantageous for vocalists to listen to a variety of music genres and vocal styles, and if possible, watch related performances. This is easier today through YouTube. Choose the best! Try singing in different genres, 'stretch.' You might discover a new direction or songs to add to your repertoire. This experience is valuable for ear training, musicianship, and in using your voice as a versatile instrument. Even if you cannot sing as well as the recording artist, do the best you can, or hum the melody, move your body to the music. These moments of connecting with different types of music are valuable. It is all music.
Little by little, it is possible to adopt pieces of vocalists' styles - a color or timbre in their voice, the way they slide on some notes, 'place' a note in their upper register, scat, or phrase. You can recognize the most notable singers by their personal, unique sound and style. Learn from them, whether younger or older than you, just listen. Within your style, listeners may eventually hear the influence of your favorite artists.
When studying creative writing and any of the arts, good teachers inspire students to gradually 'find their own voice,' their individual style, and the confidence to 'own' it and deliver it in their work. Once you feel and hear your style emerging, allow yourself to continue to be open to change within the ongoing creative process. It is something that can't be pushed to occur. The stronger and courageous personalities are often more successful in defining and expressing themselves through their art.
Published May 22, 2015 in VocalistNews
Live Music Nourishes Us
I attended a diversity of 'live' music performances, and I enjoyed witnessing how the audiences were affected by the music. It struck me how hungry people appeared to be for the music. I sensed it was transcending their longings, weariness and pain; it poured over them; it vibrated through them. It was healing.
I watched dozens of veterans stand and try to suppress their tears as their American Armed Forces service songs were played for the finale by a touring show group.
College students crowded at a club on three sides of an R&B band, standing only three feet from the vocalist, while she poured her heart into every song. She even kidded with the audience that they were scaring her with their close proximity to the band. They lingered. Their faces softened as they listened to the music.
A new, young voice student of mine requested that I attend his performance with a rock band - his first performance in this area (his second public performance ever). It was very obvious that he enjoys singing and the crowd responded.
I was not surprised, but delighted, to read that the healer and the artist were often the same in early cultures. They were honored for their healing gifts.
(This is a piece from my website archives, http://www.westonproductions.com/Archive_of_Thoughts.html.
Published May 25, 2015 in VocalistNews
‘Experiencing’ Live Music
When was the last time you experienced 'live' music? Have your children attended a concert performed by professional musicians? It is vitally important for our culture - all cultures worldwide, to support 'live' music for many reasons. The benefits are numerous, and there is no real substitute for 'the real thing.'
We know the economic climate has gradually transformed the music industry and the community arts scene in many regions. It has also greatly affected the artists who perform, as many venues expect musicians to manage and pay for their own advertising and publicity, have a big fan base primarily through Social Media...as well as provide a great performance, add to the ambiance of their venue, and guarantee filling the seats.
Many musicians walk away from a gig 'in-the-red' (losing money after paying for all of the costs to perform), and questioning ultimately why they make the effort. They know why they make music, but they, too, have to make a living within their unique profession.
This dramatically and progressively will change our culture, and not for the better. It changes the morale, lifestyle and economic security of professional musicians. Yet, we all love great music, and enjoy watching and hearing musicians perform 'live.' We seek the way they make us feel, and we cannot imagine empty stages.
We need the talented, dedicated musicians to 'want to be,' to share their music, to aid us in celebrating life, to voice our thoughts and hearts, to record our history, and to connect us with each other.
Be a strong voice in your community supporting 'live' music, and the fair compensation for musicians’ talents, education, effort, and contribution to society.
Published May 325, 2015 in VocalistNews
A Tribute to Many
Professional musicians - vocalists and instrumentalists, sometimes have an opportunity of meeting notable musicians, or better yet, they may share the stage with them. Perhaps, they attend a concert and through colleagues, paths cross, they meet, and memories are created. Even in a brief moment, sometimes a notable artist becomes a teacher, in sharing their wisdom and encouragement.
We all have our stories. I love to hear my colleagues' stories about their gigs or how they 'hung out' with admired musicians. I am fortunate to have had many such opportunities through the years. I am sharing this because I recognized, in those moments, the potential value in learning from those who were working; I listened and observed. I learned something valuable about: the craft, people, the business, meeting unexpected challenges, and of course, stories of some hilarious situations. I hadn't had much formal private music training when I began singing professionally at nineteen; I worked hard at improving my singing and performance skills.
As a tribute to those whom I have met and performed with, I will be sharing some of my stories in the future. This is in no way 'name-dropping' of a contact, rather an insight into their choice of behavior, in spite of their talent and success. This is why I have never forgotten the moments that I shared with them and how it shaped me. I hope it can provide you with insight and support, if needed.
Published May 26, 2015 in VocalistNews
Dr. Connell _ A Teacher Remembered
At fourteen, I considered myself very lucky to be attending Annandale High School in Annandale, Virginia, because the vocal music classes and programs were led by Harold Connell. He was a very capable, pleasant man, and an excellent teacher who expected students to demonstrate high standards of musicianship and performance, under his guidance.
I loved to sing and soon discovered how serious I was, making the decision at fourteen that this is what I wanted to do professionally. This brought me joy.
During my freshman year I sang in the large Mixed Chorus. I was in the cast for the Spring musical Bye Bye Birdie, experiencing music with theatre arts for the first time (my brother, Dick, had the lead). I was hooked! I studied voice privately with Mr. Connell; this was my introduction to proper breath control and voice placement throughout my range. My sophomore year I was in a select small group, of students in grades 9-12, called Girls Ensemble. Elected by my peers to be the President, I led the chorus in warm-ups and rehearsing songs when Mr. Connell requested, and sometimes I directed a few numbers in concert. Attending All-State Chorus and performing in My Fair Lady were a plus. And, I enjoyed singing in the D.C. area at casual events with a female quartet we put together at school.
Mr. Connell was very thorough in teaching the important components of good, basic singing and, in addition, implementing those within choral singing and adding the skills crucial to singing within a group - blending, harmonizing, following direction, attacks and cut-offs of notes, moving in dynamics together, discipline, and performance skills. I learned so much from him during the two years at Annandale High.
In the summers for one week, I attended Massanetta Music Camp with many of my music classmates. In the natural beauty of the Virginia mountains and sprawling campus, choruses and orchestras rehearsed rigorously with guest conductors, as Roger Wagner, singing challenging arrangements, some in various languages. We presented a big concert at the end of the week open to families and the public. Oh, what a great learning experience and tons of fun!
I recall one moment during the first summer's rehearsal with the large mixed chorus, the conductor stopped and pointed to me on the first row of the sopranos (we were all seated), saying "I want everyone to look over at this young lady." Pointing at me, he said, "raise your hand." I thought, 'oh, my gosh, what did I do?' He announced, "Do you see her posture, how she is sitting, yet standing from the waist up, and holding her music? This is the correct way to sing while seated. I want everyone to sit this way." I was so relieved. "Who taught you to sing like that?" he asked. I grinned and projected loudly, "Mr. Connell of Annandale High, Annandale, Virginia!" All of the chorus members from Annandale High burst into a cheer! We appreciated and loved Mr. Connell.
During those two years at Annandale, Mr. Connell enthusiastically commented on how fortunate the music department was to have several unusually fine and talented voices in the older students. As a teacher, this thrilled him, because he could include songs to showcase them as soloists, and delight the audiences. These students were in a select Madrigal a cappella group. It was inspiring and educational to watch and listen to them perform. (My brother was a senior in the group during my freshman year. He later received a Bachelor of Music degree in Voice Performance).
In that early, yet brief chapter of my life, Mr. Connell shared so much knowledge, direction, discipline, humor, passion for singing, and support which developed the keystone of my foundation in vocal music.
Due to the population growth of the county and rezoning, I was forced - like many regional students - to leave our school and transfer to a new high school. Although I enjoyed the music activities, the director and music program were far from the standard at Annandale High. I sadly missed the opportunity to continue under the great direction of Mr. Connell. In later years, Mr. Connell became Dr. Harold Connell, yet chose to continue teaching in high school, when he could have pursued a position in a university.
Each step in my music development, each of the opportunities during those two years, I attribute to him. He shaped me for my future.
What a gift he was to all of us. Forever appreciated...I thank you, Dr. Connell.
Published May 28, 2015 in VocalistNews
Teachers Among Us...tributes continue
In an earlier post, A Tribute to Many, I spoke of notable musicians whom I have had the privilege and a great pleasure in meeting. Each made an impression on me, because they took the time to talk with me - a young singer, new to the music business. They were very busy people; they didn't have to do that; they had nothing to gain, yet maybe the satisfaction of contributing. Their warm and generous personalities and their wisdom still resound in my memories, as I reflect on those shared moments.
If we are open to this idea, I think we can look at everyone as a teacher with something unique and valuable to share from their journey, knowledge, experience, and perspective. And, this isn't limited to someone older than oneself, or with degrees, titles or material success. A heart that wants to share, to give, to help, to love...simply is. It may appear in the most unexpected places.
Some of you might be too young to know about the people in my stories, but if you choose, you can always find their biographies to fully appreciate their contributions.
An entertainer is perhaps the best way to describe Jimmy Durante, who had a very successful stage and film career. He was what 'the business' called in his era 'a triple-threat,' because he was a talented actor-singer-dancer, and gifted comedian. I grew up watching his old films, so when I read that he was going to appear at The Shoreham Blue Room in Washington, D.C., I had to see him. This was one of my music outings with my musician buddy, Rick.
We thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Durante's vivacious show! Rick knew musicians in the orchestra and arranged for us to meet Mr. Durante. We had hoped for a minute of his time. Much to our surprise, we were escorted to his suite, where he met us at the door in his terry-cloth bathrobe, smoking a cigar, and said, "Come on in, Kids!" He had one hour between shows to rest and freshen-up before he had to be onstage for the second show. Mr. Durante invited us to sit down and he opened the conversation with, "So, you want to be in show business." He proceeded in asking us what we do, and then he talked about how success takes dedication and hard work. So generous with his time, serious but upbeat, sweet and friendly. His assistant said it was time for Mr. Durante to get ready; we said our goodbyes with handshakes and hugs, and Rick and I expressed our deep gratitude to this giant of a man.
Mr. Durante's wisdom was obviously noted, however his unexpected choice of behavior demonstrated unselfishness and a genuine interest to help, which proved to be a valuable example. I love you, Mr. Durante. RIP.
Another gentleman to remember was multi-talented musician and composer (and triple-threat) Mr. Mel Torme. Rick and I ventured out to see this huge talent at The Shoreham. And after enjoying a very musical performance, orchestra friends weaved their magic and arranged for us to meet Mr. Torme backstage. He was very congenial, however he had to leave suddenly and said, 'don't go away, I'll be back.' We waited about fifteen minutes until he returned, very apologetic, then he resumed the conversation, and encouraged us to pursue our music goals. I noticed how Mr. Torme was very focused on us in that moment, studying our eyes and really listening to our thoughts. His grace and kindness are memorable.
I returned to The Shoreham to see Peggy Lee perform. Her platinum style, velvety voice and sophisticated stage presence were enough to make my comedic fiancée literally slide off his chair as she made her entrance down a runway before us. She had shot him a sultry look. After her stunning show, a colleague arranged for us to meet Ms. Lee; we were invited upstairs to her suite. She opened the door, welcoming us with her charming flair and a gentle hug. A small group was there celebrating her birthday and we were delighted to be included.
Two weeks later we were in England and visited ATV Studios to watch a rehearsal for the taping of a Petula Clark television special. We unexpectedly saw Ms. Peggy Lee appearing as a guest artist! In a rehearsal 'break,' she greeted us sweetly, and we thanked her again for her kindness and hospitality in Washington, D.C. Peggy Lee was a very lovely lady and dedicated artist.
The individual artists within these stories - Jimmy Durante, Mel Torme, Peggy Lee...along with vocalist Petula Clark, vocalist-actress-dancer Ann Margaret and composer-pianist Michel Legrand - all whom we also enjoyed meeting at ATV Studios - each took their time to stop and connect. None were prima donnas, rude or indifferent to us...a couple of young musicians.
I have heard and have discovered it to be true, that often the more successful people in the arts demonstrate these similar qualities. Maybe they remember how someone along their journey stopped to listen to them, to encourage and guide them, or give them a push when needed, and how it made a difference in their own lives. Perhaps this awareness, this silent song within them, wanted to pass on the kindness, and keep the music playing...
I wish to pay them tribute by sharing these stories, and saying 'I saw who you were and what you were giving me. It was greatly appreciated.'
They were teachers among us...like so many.
Published 25, 2015 in VocalistNews
Vocalists Need to Think Like an Athlete
Vocalists need to think of their total body as their instrument. Singing is not only about opening your mouth and producing sounds, enjoying the process while it lasts, or 'riding on' any natural talent. That's easy. Serious vocalists need to think like an athlete.
Instrumentalists protect their instruments; they take care of them, and often invest a lot in purchasing and maintaining them. They honor them. And, so should the vocalist honor their health, their bodies, because physiology plays a big part in singing. A singer's instrument is not only the larynx, the voice box - the 'pipes,' as musicians affectionately refer to the voice.
Singing and performing can engage the total body in internal repetitious patterns of breath control, deep breathing, muscles contracting. Yet, to an audience, a great vocalist seems to do it all with ease, and the external body embellishes the voice with added movement and expression. Serious vocalists need to invest in a lifestyle, that will hopefully produce quality performances.
The voice is a sensitive instrument, affected by stress, a lack of sleep, poor diet, excessive use of alcohol and smoking, and the environment - as extreme temperatures, allergies, and air pollution. Obviously, we cannot always control conditions outside of our bodies, but we can individually take responsibility to do what we can to be healthy and prepare for delivering our very best at each performance. Also, by working to maintain this level, you are increasing your stamina and strengthening your immune system. You are protecting and honoring your physical instrument of expression, and investing in your overall health, which is paramount.
Ask professional vocalists about the importance and necessity in being prepared to perform well under all kinds of conditions and when sick. We all have our stories. For any musician, doing a gig when you are sick is very tough. The nature of the business does not usually provide the luxury of missing a performance, unless it is an extreme emergency. Even when instrumentalists are sick on a gig, they anticipate how their tangible instrument will respond to their playing. The challenge to perform when sick is often times greater for vocalists, at least 'lead vocalists,' who usually have to stand for 1-4 hours. Although they may have had training and years of experience, they are not absolutely sure of the quality of the singing they will produce throughout the performance.
However, they must remain standing, be dedicated, focused, demonstrate their level of musicianship, be creative, pleasant, exude energy, and interact with the audience. These experiences build strength, tenacity, and tools in managing vocal techniques and pacing yourself. Those who have studied voice have a much better chance in meeting all of these challenges physically, because breath support and vocal 'placement' are key in enabling you to do a gig decently, when sick with a cold. The resonating vibrations that occur when singing can shift the cold's position, settling in different places - as from nose to throat during the gig. Ah, such are the challenges! You have to work harder mentally and physically.
SO much of singing is mental attitude. Therefore, what you are thinking and how you use it will greatly influence your body and your performance negatively or positively.
Knowledge and how you condition and prepare yourself for performances are a wise investment. Remembering the joy that singing brings you is the driving force that helps you to work through it all.
You do have a responsibility, as well, to many people - the musicians sharing the stage, your audience, your employers...and potentially a list of people counting on you to rise to the occasion.
Focus on your strengths.
Published September 9, 2015
Singers Gotta Move...Gotta Dance
Dance. I love dance.
It is important for every vocalist to feel comfortable in adding simple expressive movements, gestures, or dance steps to their performance.
Studying dance is excellent, as well as participating in activities where people will be watching you move and dance. The more you do it, the easier it will become. Although, there is no guarantee for that, try and stick-with-it until you have the attitude of, 'Hey, this comes with the territory' of performing. So, put on the music and move! Learn. It feels so good! And, it's so good for you...it's a win-win.
Yes, I was what Americans call a 'tomboy,' who loved being outdoors more than inside, running free with the wind in my hair, and climbing high in trees and leaping into autumn's nests of leaves below. When I was barely six, I broke my ankle riding with a new friend on her bicycle, necessitating a cast from ankle to thigh when I started first grade.
I was sorry to say goodbye to my friends' autographs and drawings covering it, when it was discarded, but a hello to dance - ballet, to strengthen the leg again. I studied ballet for a few years and later as a young adult.
Ballet demands a serious discipline of the body, along with teaching posture, presence, grace, beauty and fluidity of movement. I must have relished studying ballet, because even today in the autumn of my life, when I do barre exercises, in spite of 'the burn,' I smile and recognize my deep satisfaction in what I am experiencing, and my respect for what the study of dance gave me, gives everyone - the connection of spirit, body and music. Dance is such a great way to express ourselves!
A friend of mine observed and remarked to me 'when you move, you are inside your body,' connected. I liked hearing that; I attributed it to having studied dance. A lady at a gig said I carried myself as a dancer. I was tickled. These are examples of how studying the arts can design the fiber within us.
Dad told me to stand on his feet, as he taught me basic, slow dance steps for school dances. Each time I returned to a dance studio - studying ballet, modern dance and jazz, tap, and Latin, I welcomed the variety of moves, rhythms and creativity of each.
My paternal grandmother was a polio victim her entire life. She never danced. When I dance, I dance for both of us.
Join your 'moves' with your singing...
...but avoid crashing leaps into the orchestra pit (I never mastered leaps).
September 10, 2015 in VocalistNews
A Sad Note Resounds, The Passing of Robbin Thompson
It is with a sad heart that I share this news with you. Songwriter, vocalist, guitarist, producer Robbin Thompson died earlier this month, after a fifteen-year battle with cancer. He lived with his family in the Richmond, Virginia area, and toured extensively throughout his long musical career. Recently, Sweet Virginia Breeze, written by Robbin and Virginian Steve Bassett was chosen for a Virginia state song.
You can read my blog post interview with Robbin at this link:
There were over 2,000 enthusiastic comments about Robbin's interview. That is why I am sharing this news, as many of you are international and I believe that you would like to know. Robbin spoke affectionately of his tours in Europe, and his years performing with Bruce Springsteen.
I didn't know Robbin personally, however, the two times I met him he treated me like a friend. Once, I contracted him to perform at a Virginia arts venue, and I was there to manage the production. He received accolades for his tremendous solo performance, and demonstrated great professionalism. The second time was when I interviewed him at In Your Ear studios in Richmond, where Robbin was co-owner.
In one of Robbin's newsletters prior to his interview, he had stated that he was receiving treatments again for cancer. He asked me at the interview if his news initiated my interest in interviewing him. No, it did not. I simply wanted to share his interesting life story and music with readers. At one point, he seemed to want to talk about his health battle, too. I turned the tape recorder off, listened and shared. Robbin loved sailing on his boat, The Songbird. I titled the post Face to the Wind to reflect Robbin's strength throughout his life, as he faced difficult challenges courageously, even to the last.
The music community and Robbin's fans celebrate his memory and his music.
Here is a link to The Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article about Robbin Thompson.
Published October 21, 2015 in VocalistNews
Marketing You - Keeping the Light Burning
Generally, artistic people do not enjoy marketing themselves. The tasks take precious time away from their creative work.
It also demands that they look at themselves and what they have created as a product to brand. This in itself feels uncomfortable to many, a threat to one's integrity and craft.
The switch to wearing the business hat doesn't have to be that painful. However, it is necessary, if you hope to share what you have created with an audience.
Branding is basically establishing your identity and being consistent in presenting it to whomever, the world. I dislike the term. It conjures up images of cattle being branded to identify who they belong to as they roam the fields.
Designing your marketing image to represent you and your artistry, or business, is a creative process within itself. If you approach it with that mindset, perhaps you won't procrastinate in being proactive, or in hiring someone qualified and understanding of artists to work with you. You might even enjoy the creative, designing aspects. You certainly want to be assured that it represents you and your work. You are not to change to suit someone's idea. They are to help you clarify, if needed, and present the uniqueness of 'you.'
The Internet does provide an easier, less expensive, faster way to market oneself, than years ago. An artist's website can include their bio, photographs, music samples, videos, media information, booking information, performance calendar, shopping cart for CD's and memorabilia, a blog, comments, interests, and social media links.
You want to drive people to your website. It is quite an amazing opportunity to introduce yourself, share, promote, and sell. Once you have created your brand, be consistent throughout your site in marketing 'you' and your products, as CD's. Preferably, venues and advertisers should use the same branding when promoting your music and performances. This can be stipulated in contract agreements.
I know this process takes a chunk of time and basic marketing knowledge, unless you have someone you trust and can pay to do it all for you. It doesn't need to be an overwhelming task. Once established, if managed well, marketing can run like a well-oiled machine. Be organized, create a system, follow-through, and keep good records. It is always important in business to know the basics, so you can recognize if someone you hire is really doing their job for you.
Remember, too, even after the initial marketing is launched, creating an audience, a fan base, venues who will book you, this...takes...time. You are building something here that you want to last, right? You are creating potential opportunities to share what you love. Meanwhile, use your imagination to connect with people in your community and worldwide through the Internet. Let people hear your passion for what you love to create. And do just that...create. Work.
Trust the process, feed it, and be tenacious. Good things will happen.
Published November 15, 2015 in VocalistNews
A Certain Time and Place and Music
Timing...being in a certain place at a certain time, as on a gig, or attending a concert, or stepping-up to interact with someone, each can lead to wonderful memories, lessons learned, and the beginning of a relationship. I think some of the best moments can spring from no planning at all. Call it what you will. Providence?
Musicians are sensitive and are in a position on gigs to observe a diversity of people in a variety of social environments. We see a lot. Some people, some moments enrich us; some people are unforgettable.
I have shared, in previous tribute posts, stories of notable people whom I have had the privilege of meeting through music. The meetings were usually not scheduled. Each gave me valuable insight into human behavior. Providence, perhaps?
In the late Seventies, I was working a steady gig, a piano duo, at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. As I was crossing the large, beautiful lobby one evening prior to the start of the gig, I saw a hotel desk clerk talking to a man in a wheel chair, who was alone in the middle of the bustling lobby. It was apparent that the man in the chair had an illness. The clerk, who was offering to assist the man, was having difficulty understanding the man's slurred responses to questions. I hesitated as I passed them, then paused to listen and observe in a desire to help, if I could. The clerk seemed concerned for the man's welfare, and the seemingly awkward attention from the public.
I said to the clerk that I think the man was saying that he had given-the-night-off to his assistant. Surprised he was left alone in this location, I asked the man if he liked music. He nodded yes, to which I replied, 'would you like to spend the evening in the lounge listening to jazz?' The clerk left a message for the man's assistant about his employer's whereabouts, and the clerk assisted in taking the gentleman to the lounge.
During the evening, I sat with the man on every break. We introduced ourselves. He said he was in town to speak to Congress about the great need to improve conditions for handicapped people. At that time, there were no sidewalk ramps for crossing streets, no doorways and bathroom stalls wide enough to accommodate wheel chairs, or safety provisions. Changes needed to be made.
We talked about a variety of subjects that evening. It was very challenging to understand his speech, and difficult to watch him make the effort to communicate. The disease contorted his face, posture and hands.
He shared something that evening so poignant. He said, "You know, we really aren't that different. I am just trapped inside this body." I was deeply moved.
Years later, after staring at his face on the cover of his book, A Brief History of Time, I recognized him and put the pieces together, reflecting on the evening we had talked. I didn't realize then that he was the brilliant theoretical physicist...Stephen Hawking.
At that time, his field of science was something I held in wonderment, sensed in energy, but knew nothing about. I was fortunate, through music, to share a brief moment in time with this amazing gentleman.
I realize what he meant when saying "we really aren't that different," speaking generally of humanity and not personally about me, although since discovering his enormous gifts and contributions to science - of course, I have laughed, silly me.
It was an honor to spend an evening with this humble, pleasant man. Because of music, I was there. Because of music, I was able to decipher his words. I am grateful for being there at that time.
Learn about Stephen Hawking at http://www.hawking.org.uk/
The jazz pianist working with me, the evening of Mr. Hawking's visit, was Tony Matarrese.
Published November 13, 2015 in VocalistNews
Reflection and Gratitude
I am staring at this page, pondering which topic to write about this month. Several have entered my mind, yet exited as quickly. Worthy of sharing, I believe, however they can wait. With the holiday season and the year ending, I become particularly reflective about Life, like many people do.
So, with my cuppa of Earl Grey tea, Christmas tree lit, and the pace of work and holiday preparations finally surrendering to a welcomed calm, I am nestled down to write this post.
I'll try not to get too soppy, although I admit, even Hallmark card commercials on television during the Christmas season can choke-me-up. My kids used to smile and say, "Oh, boy, here she goes again," when I'd tear-up. I love seeing genuine warmth and kindness and affection. A celebration of Love.
The lyrics and melodies to many traditional holiday songs can either entertain you, unite you, or drive you wacko year after year. Some I never grow tired of hearing and singing. A few remind me of Christmases past with family and friends, or the wonderment in children's faces; some songs invite us to see Christmas through their young eyes again. And, some songs are companions for the lonely, dreaming of what they are missing. Music can bring all of this.
And so, my International Friends - my readers, thank you. I send you sincere wishes for a safe, delightful season, hopefully one of sharing good times, as well as moments for reflection, filled with music that makes you want to sing, or just listen to the calm...
Wishing you a gift of Love. Given without agenda or expectations, by someone who genuinely and simply sees your unique beauty, and values you and your happiness. Honor this gift of Love with gratitude; it is rare.
Published December 19, 2015
Singing Can Be More Than a Whisper of Joy
Ask yourself, "what brings me joy?" There should be no gray area in answering this. Not, "Well, I like to make ..., and sometimes I try to ..."
Simply, what brings YOU joy?
Several years ago, a friend/colleague candidly stated she recognized my passion for singing and the arts and she envied me. She was in her forties, and dismayed that she still had not discovered her passion. I did not want her to envy me, but to find her own.
I asked her, "When have you experienced real joy in Life?" She had lived and studied in Paris at nineteen for a year and enjoyed a French boyfriend. (Smiling) Need we say more? However, years later, she was still seeking her passion.
What could illuminate and reflect her soul, and drive her to expression?
Tune-in to recognizing the signs. Your senses are heightened; you feel stronger, peacefully centered, and so 'alive!' Happy. Even the struggling and challenge is delicious in the creative process. Your passion has been released. We need to listen to these feelings.
If singing brings you joy, then you know where I'm going with this - Sing! Whether it is when you are doing simple tasks, in a local choir, or singing softly to your loved one...singing brings you something you need in that moment. Like a soul vaccination, it can bring you instantaneous joy; given to protect and heal, whenever needed throughout your lifetime.
In contrast, there are those who know singing - music, will mean more in their lives than a whisper of joy. They have not chosen it, but it has chosen them, and to ignore it is dishonoring their hearts.
Their gift may not be recognized by parents and family members. Worse scenario, the important people in their lives might belittle their interest, their growing passion, their 'calling,' and redirect them, persuading them to pursue more practical endeavors and careers, perhaps to keep them safe and secure. Being an artist isn't about focusing on safe and secure. (However, adding professional business knowledge to the survival kit is wise).
Asking someone to give-up their passion - what brings them joy, is too much to ask of anyone. And, it's too much for anyone to give-up of themselves. It's tough to experience and to witness.
I hope you will not shrink - be less than you are, to make significant people in your life, or in business and social circles - feel better about themselves.
Some people may feel impressed, yet uncomfortable in your presence, due to your gifts, your success, your energy. That's unfortunate, but it is not your responsibility. You are not a threat to them. They have their own gifts to discover and growth and challenges to meet. People who cannot are sadly quick to try to discredit others. They find it easier to shoot down rare birds, than fly.
However, in order that your 'calling' is fulfilled, a teacher, mentor, or friend may step into your life and state their awareness and vision of your talents. They may provide knowledge, guidance, inspiration, and support. Take note of these.
There are also individuals, who - in spite of the indifference of those around them, still feel their passion igniting them and pulling them to where they sense they belong. If they choose to listen and make consistent effort, the energy increases, and good things can happen. It may not unfold as they anticipate, but hopefully they will trust the process and where it might take them.
Although keeping motivated can be more difficult as years pass, can you imagine Life without this joy, your joy? The beauty is - there is more to express in your music, having witnessed and survived a diversity of challenges and rewards during your journey.
If you are fortunate, you will unite with an equal partner, who shares a deep understanding of where you both exist, individually and together, within the realm of the creative world.
I'm likely not telling you something new, but if I can be a voice for encouraging you to pursue your passion, whatever it is, then...'mission accomplished.'
Published February 1, 2016 in VocalistNews
Festivals Heat Up the Music
Festival season showcasing a diversity of music genres is in full swing! What a joy to know that it is happening, providing people more opportunities to experience and support 'live' music. I look forward to attending the Richmond Jazz Festival in August. The line-up, once again is amazing, but I must say, some of my favorites are coming this year, including Al Jarreau.
Whatever the venue - outdoor, huge concert arenas, theatres, or intimate clubs, watching and hearing musicians create music 'in the moment' is very special.
Between the festivals, I seek a variety of music - vocal and purely instrumental. I believe that is important for many reasons - I'll save that for another post. Recently, I heard the Richmond Symphony and Symphony Chorus in a truly beautiful program of music by American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes' The White Peacock, and Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, and Samuel Barber's Symphony No.1. In contrast, a jazz night at Richmond's Mona's lounge showcased the artistry of The Lance Dickerson Trio. James Gates, who played sax, is Director of Jazz Studies at VA State University, which I discovered after I enjoyed sitting-in with a song. Gracious people, great players.
Upcoming next week, Saturday, June 18th, composer/songwriter Jimmy Webb will be performing his songs at The Henrico Theatre, Highland Springs (near Richmond), Virginia. I have always admired his writing and have loved singing his songs for many years, as Didn't We and MacArthur Park. Glen Campbell had several hits of Webb's songs. www.jimmywebb.com.
VocalistNews will attend selected regional performances throughout the summer season and share perspectives and interviews with artists. Many of these artists tour internationally. I hope your summer is full of good music and you will support 'live' music!
Published June 10, 2016 in VocalistNews
Such Is Life
VocalistNews took a pause for a few months earlier this year. Thank you for your incoming interest and comments. As a writer, I tend to look at life's events and changes as chapters in people's life stories. Certainly not an original idea, but the perspective works comfortably. So, I paused in an early chapter this year...and listened more to life's vibrations than speaking or writing.
First, there was a nasty virus that just didn't want to leave my body. Very sick. Not fun.
The Washington, D.C. music family lost, due to cancer, a long-time musician, dear friend and funny guy, Steve Dorman. I worked a lot with Steve over the years, in duos and trios, Steve on piano and vocals, often six nights a week, performing jazz and pop hits. We also fronted an eleven-piece R&B Soul band, Wammie music award winner, the Barely White band, with the cream of the D.C. area musicians. What a kick that was! Steve was always upbeat, sweet, supportive and as any of the guys will tell you - Steve had an endless supply of jokes to share. He gave everything he had in the moment to his singing. He was a versatile singer; he thought he favored Michael McDonald in style and loved singing Al Jarreau songs. He was like a brother to me. Enjoyed and loved by many, Steve was honored in a wonderful music memorial tribute in early spring. And, Steve was inducted into The Maryland Music Hall of Fame. His presence and music are missed.
These dramatic events in life, although 'such is life,' can give-us-pause and encourage us to reflect even more deeply on our own lives and the gift of time and how we choose to fill it. As my best friend says...Ever onward.
Published June 10, 2016 in VocalistNews
Jimmy Webb - A Memorable Man of Music
Jimmy Webb - Composer, songwriter, singer, pianist mesmerized the audience during his dynamic, outstanding solo concert in June at the Henrico Theatre, outside
Richmond, Virginia. To witness, to experience an artist performing their own music is special. Jimmy Webb spun magic with the artistry of his beautiful melodies and arrangements, poignant lyrics, sensitive, dynamic vocals, and great piano talent. SO musical. Interwoven with his music were delightful stories about his life, and how the songs were born and sung by many notable artists through the years. Charming, warm, humble, and hysterically funny - Jimmy generously carried us on his journey, hearing reflections of his soul.
He talked about his long music collaboration with Glen Campbell and their growing friendship, and how difficult it is now to see Glen declining from illness. Glen Campbell recorded 80 Jimmy Webb songs, including Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, and MacArthur Park.
I have thoroughly enjoyed and sung Jimmy Webb songs for decades. This was my first opportunity to see him perform 'live' and I am so very happy that I did. I will embrace his music even more now.
After giving his audience so much in concert, within a few minutes he was in the lobby for a Meet & Greet, seated behind a table to shake hands, sign CD's and album covers, and smile for pictures with fans. The long line formed very quickly and began moving as soon as he sat down. Although I was third in line in front of the table, as I was browsing the CD song selections, the line was directed to start at another place, so I missed a spot in the moving line that passed between Jimmy at the table and me. I stood nearby and enjoyed seeing him 'up close' and watched the scene. He was the ultimate professional. Patient, personable and he gave his handsome smile for every photograph. Remember folks - this is his solo tour, end of a long day, just gave a tremendous performance, approaching his seventieth birthday .... all very admirable and inspiring.
I noticed something else he did that told me a lot about him. During the autograph signing, as some people moved into their position to greet him they didn't make immediate eye contact with him while they pulled out their item to be autographed - Jimmy rested his eyes on each face until they looked at him. He was focusing only on that person in that moment. Beautiful.
I tried to get a photo of him looking up, but it was impossible as the people were moving shoulder to shoulder through the line. Then a lovely magical moment happened. Jimmy Webb's bodyguard, who was planted in front of the table, noticed my effort and said, "you want a photo? Come around to that spot quickly." "Really? Thank you!" I stood a few feet out from the end of the table to take a quick photo, which I did, and miraculously the next person in line had paused to choose a CD. Jimmy smiled at me. I hesitated, because I didn't want to cut-in-line, but there was that magical gift of a pause in the line, so I quickly stepped forward, leaned over, said how much I enjoyed the concert, told him I'd been singing his music for a long time, and thanked him for his music. He extended his hand to shake hands and asked me my name. It was a privilege and icing on the cake to meet him.
What a great legacy of music Jimmy Webb has contributed to the world. I encourage you to discover his music recordings and videos. I favor his album Jimmy Webb "Ten Easy Pieces," because it is mainly his singing and piano. Enjoy his work. Study it. To the vocalists reading this - many artists have recorded Jimmy's songs and I find it interesting, as a vocalist, to listen to their different voices and styles and phrasing of the same song choices. For instance, listen to Glen Campbell, Richard Harris and Donna Summer's different phrasing on MacArthur Park. I especially enjoyed hearing Jimmy singing his songs. I have earlier recordings of him singing, and I smiled hearing his present vocals. The feelings expressed from seasoned life experiences are so profoundly heard in the sensitivity and passion of his singing and playing. Thank you, Jimmy Webb, for being 'real' and for sharing your gifts.
www.jimmywebb.com Photo Credits to Jimmy Webb's website
Published July 7, 2016 in VocalistNews
Dreamgirls Cast of Vocalists Excelled
Singing solo in a band is one thing; singing within a cast in a musical theatrical production is a whole different animal. It demands versatile vocal talent and skills for the role of the character, acting skills and theatrical experience, often movement or dancing skills, and great stamina. This cast of Dreamgirls excelled in their individual performances and as a company. The production was presented recently by the Virginia Repertory Theatre at Richmond's November Theatre.
Dreamgirls was also performed on Broadway and in film.
The playbill's list of cast members and their bios - with impressive credits and beautiful faces could ignite any audience member with hunger for the musical prelude to begin. I am not here to critique the show or its vocalists, but to salute them as a cast, including the musicians in the pit, who worked generously and successfully together to create a strong, very musical and entertaining performance and memorable evening. I was very impressed with the vocal talent; some of the best voices and vocal artistry I have heard 'live' within this genre.
The audience was occasionally vocal, too, in their emotional response to the performances, almost in a call-and-response while witnessing the musical heart-felt testimonials of the characters.
I believe it is important to not judge a vocalist based on one solo, one performance, one role...or to judge at all. Yes, there is basic criteria that professionals must meet musically and vocally, but beyond that it is personal taste and opinion, isn't it? They may sing well, but it is in the moments when they transport you within the melody and lyric and connect with your soul that they win your heart. There were moments like that for me during this show, when the leads sang solos or duets, in particular when Desiree Roots sang, who played Effie Melody White. When a vocalist allows themselves to be emotionally transparent and goes deeply into the lyric, allowing the melody to carry them...the magic is unveiled.
The cast included: Desiree Roots, Courtney Jamison, Felicia Curry, Jerold Solomon, D. Jerome Wells, Durron Marquis Tyre, Katrinah Carol Lewis, Elijah Avraham, Anthony Cosby, Billy Dye, and an ensemble cast of eleven.
The staging and production aspects of the show in this beautifully restored historic theatre were clever and excellent, without upstaging the music and performances.
Those of us who engage in some social media for distant friendships, marketing or sharing of music videos can appreciate that I was lucky to win on Facebook two tickets to this show and a gift certificate for dinner for two. This surprising treat just happened to occur during my birthday week. Great! This was my first attendance to a Virginia Rep performance, but not my last!
Published August 31, 2016 in VocalistNews
Richmond Jazz Fest 2016_Some Like It Hot
A steamy weekend - August 13th and 14th, the jazz loving crowds began to line up early outside the gates for the 7th Annual Richmond Jazz Festival. Even at 9:30 a.m., summer in Richmond, Virginia translates hot and humid with temps in the 90's and feeling like 104 degrees. By 11 a.m., in-line, I was naming the rivers running down my front and back. As one gentleman said, 'we just go with the flow; it is worth it for the music.'
Veteran festival attendees know the routine and bring whatever they anticipate they will need to survive the day in the blazing sun and unforgiving humidity. Why do many people arrive so early? To get a good sitting spot, in the limited shade, if possible, before the growing crowd of thousands arrive.
This year's festival boasted three stages, large screens, food, merchandise and craft vendors spread throughout Maymont Park.
In anticipation of the exciting line-up of musicians to perform, everyone scattered toward a stage, as if it was an oasis to quench their thirst. I specifically attended the festival this year to see and hear individual artists whose music I love and may never have another opportunity to enjoy 'live.' These included: Al Jarreau, Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis, and Esperanza Spalding. There were others, but their scheduled appearances on different stages conflicted with these. Each brought their rich music, unique styles, performances, and dynamic bands!
Esperanza, whose music, singing and bass playing I admire, yet her festival performance resembled a strange robotic theatrical production, which I, and those around me, plainly didn't like. I was surprised, but delighted, to see Vanessa Williams on the schedule, as I don't associate her with jazz, yet she is a very versatile, multi-talented and a beautiful lady; her clear, lovely voice, her perfect diction - a tribute to lyricists, and her warm stage presence, while singing her hits won the audience. Tamia showcased her beautiful voice and excellent vocal technique.
There were less notable, yet very enjoyable, bands during the weekend, including Lucky Chops, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Chkn Grese. There seems to be an increasing mix of casualness and humor to balance the polished music performances of the groups. Nice.
The stage MC's and some artists said to the crowd, 'you're hot? We're gonna make you hotter!' with the music. Many performers mentioned the temperatures, while onstage. One humorously added it was the hottest the band had ever, ever been performing. A colleague of mine made the same statement years ago, reflecting on playing at a RVA Jazz Festival in the Nineties. He added, 'the hottest he had ever been' on or off stage. I wish the producers of the event would consider any possible options on the grounds for setting up the Virginia is for Lovers Stage and Stage 3, because the performers face the sun all day into early evening, obviously increasing their discomfort. I didn't see any side or front fans onstage either, which should be a must.
I am mentioning the extreme heat, because both as a performing artist and band leader, having worked in all kinds of conditions, and as a producer and event manager, I believe it is very important to do whatever is possible to create comfortable working conditions for performers, out of respect and so they can give their best. To see all of the festival's musical artists working through these very challenging weather conditions, visibly maintaining their energy, grace, and rapport with the audience, while still delivering their great music .... well, I love them all the more for it. Simply...they are professionals. This is one, of many reasons, why studying and working in the performing arts teaches individuals valuable lessons and builds grit and tenacity.
As my eyes spanned the diversity of ages and people in the huge audience - many I would say in their forties into seventies, I was also 'moved' to recognize how they had spent a day or two in these torturous conditions to experience the music they love. Crazy? Yes, for the music and the sweet vibes that were shared.
Published September 6, 2016 in VocalistNews
Developing Your Vocal Range of Expression
How does vocal expression influence the meaning of the lyric and musical vocal nuances?
Use the words! Whatever the diversity of your presentation, apply an actor’s approach. You want your voice - as a musical instrument to be capable of a wide range of expression, by varying pitch, timbre and colors, dynamics, and breath control. This takes practice.
Read a sentence, accenting one word at a time and hear how the expression changes the meaning of what is being communicated. Change the pitch, tempo and accented words to do this. If your voice is void of this, presentations will be dull, and you will lose the attention of your audience.
Varying of pitch and accented words can also make the meaning clearer.
Example: (try this) “I shall go.” w/positive, downward inflection = clear intention
“I shall go.” w/high-pitched shall = action in face of opposition
“I shall go.” says I, no one else, will go.
Changes in pitch mirror levels of emotion, i.e. high = fear, rage, enthusiasm, or passion, whereas low = calm, confident, sad.
Developing a sensitive ear is equally as important as your vocal technique. Pitch discrimination can usually be developed. Continue listening and singing along with recordings of good musicians/vocalists, matching their song pitches. Studying piano or voice is highly recommended. Your vocal mechanism and ear should improve. Some people have little or no problem with this, while others have to work hard to 'sing in-tune.' It is a must.
Pitch-writing is a notation of variance of pitch on a musical staff for reading a script, poem, etc. Some actors use this tool for exercising choices during rehearsal or for general vocal exercises. Dots, instead of notes are used; commas for slides. For speeches and song lyrics - mark words you want to emphasis and to accent in pitch or with dynamics.
Certain vowels are challenging to sing in the upper register, as the vowel u. The tone can be altered. There are techniques for slightly changing the enunciation of some vowels, yet making the word itself understood. Keep your vocal tract relaxed during this; do not tighten your throat. It is very important to maintain a controlled, steady air stream with the correct use of the diaphragm, because an unsteady air stream across the vocal cords can be a cause of singing 'pitchy.'
Stress/accent the correct syllable within a word for correct pronunciation. In the English language – one out of three syllables are a common pattern.
A change in the tempo of speech is important. Breath control must be maintained for fast, as well as slow passages.
Be creatively flexible in trying new approaches to enhance your work. Allowing space is an important ingredient in good delivery and phrasing. Space empowers words and thoughts. It allows what you have just said to hang in the air for the listener to ponder, to react.
Remember…although a vocalist is sharing an emotion and telling a story with the lyrics…there is a vitally important partnership between the lyrics and the music. However, learn and know your music first. Hum the melody, feel just the music. Then, say the lyrics as a poem, or as if you are telling a story. Then add the lyrics to the music...sing it. You may discover an interesting change in how you choose to interpret and sing the song. This is a valuable process in learning a new song and expressing the one and only you.
Published March 4, 2017
Be a Strong Voice Against Music Piracy by Supporting the Artist
Composers and musicians invest their individual creativity, seemingly endless hours and a large financial investment to produce an album. Sadly, some will postpone or choose not to go-the-distance in their creative journey and dreams, considering the existing illegal practice of 'music piracy.'
It is robbing musicians of the royalties that they should receive from music they created and recorded and originally released legally. Think about this. Consider how this affects the morale, the spirit of creative people. These are 'the messengers' who remind us of what is important in this growing age of indifference. They are the historians, the healers in all cultures ... who lift our spirits, move us and entertain us. We need to respect their role in society and honor their work - not take advantage of a quick, cheap method to purchase it.
People will spend $5 on a selective cup of coffee, but don't choose to spend 99 cents to download a song legally. The taste and effect of a cup of coffee last how long? However, the pleasure and effect of a song will last forever.
Music piracy has greatly impacted the music industry, causing billions to be lost annually. The music piracy sites make quick, easy money by stealing. Are we expected to just shrug it off as if it's okay? No, we have choices.
With the rapid growth of technology in so many fields, those who release new knowledge and techniques to the world have often not considered the potential negative long-term effects; we have already witnessed some. In my research on music piracy, I included watching videos, and I was very disappointed to see an administrator in education lightly dismissing the behavior of teens, in general, who regularly download music through music piracy sites. He knows it is illegal. Now what kind of message is this giving to children and teens?
Check out Tony Koenig's YouTube 'Music Piracy PSA' for well-presented facts.
Please...when you are downloading music online, choose to support the musicians you love by downloading their music directly from their sites or through legal sites. And, please be a voice to support this - to children, to everyone.
Published May 28, 2017 in VocalistNews
Peggy Weston's Songfire Press
I am happy to announce Songfire Press - my new self-publishing company has officially joined the family, as a division of Weston World Productions, L.L.C. The first book is about singing (of course!). Stay tuned for news of the book launch!
Published September 27, 2017
Peggy Weston Teaches Vocal Performance Workshop
Vocalist and creator of www.vocalistnews.com PEGGY WESTON will be hosting-teaching a Vocal Performance Workshop in Richmond, Virginia in January 2018. Go to https://www.westonproductions.com/news.html for Detailed Information.
Published December 11, 2017 in VocalistNews
Tune-In Before You Sing-Out
As my experience in teaching voice continues, I am continuously moved by the response to the question I ask each new student. 'How do you feel when you sing?' The responses are simple, unique, some similar, and that is not surprising. From seven to ninety years old, each student pauses, tuning inwardly, they thoughtfully, gently respond to my question.
"I feel happy."
"I feel free."
How does singing make you feel? Write me; I'm interested in knowing.
Singing is natural. It serves us and benefits us in many amazing ways. Be in the moment when you sing. Feel it radiate from deep inside of you and flow out into your voice.
Published February 28, 2018 in VocalistNews
VocalistNews at Peggy Weston’s website soon
Peggy Weston’s VocalistNews is moving to her website www.westonproductions.com by the end of April 2018. You will see all of the past articles/posts that she has written for her blog www.vocalistnews.com. Peggy will continue to post future articles, guidance and interviews about singing on www.westonproductions.com.
Thank you so much for the wonderful, heartwarming and supportive comments that you, the readers, have shared on the blog over the years. You have been truly inspiring. I wish you well. Be kind. Keep singing and appreciating the healing, joyful experience of song.
Love and Peace,
All Rights Reserved. Property of Peggy Weston, Publisher and Author of VocalistNews, © 2009 – 2018. Songfire Press, a division of Weston World Productions, LLC,