I Love A Piano

You should always play to your strengths in an audition.  You can pick your repertoire, hair style and shoes.  You can control these aspects of your appearance and strategize your performance in the audition.  If you are going out for a musical, you cannot avoid singing with a piano.

Sounds obvious?  As an accompanist for numerous auditions, there have been a handful of auditioning actors who try to sing a cappella.  I cannot stress this enough: bad idea.

I played for a round of auditions recently and an actor came in to sing.  No music.  Just singing without the piano.  Afterwards the casting director and I spoke about it; the casting director made it very clear he must dismiss any actor who does this.  Why?

It shows a lack of preparation.  It shows an unwillingness to work with the accompanist, whether that is intended or not.  The casting director cannot invite the actor back to sing for the director.  It’s a rookie mistake made by many seasoned actors, and I wish they wouldn’t make it.

When you audition, we need to see your abilities.  We need to know you can sing along with a piano, which in turn tells us if you can sing along to an orchestra.  When an actor comes to the piano with their music in hand, how they converse with me about their selection tells me volumes about them.  Are they prepared?  Are they musical?

I’m amazed by the number of actors who come in and say to me, “I don’t know how this sounds with the accompaniment,” or “I’ve never sung this with the accompaniment.”  Do yourself a favor and hire a pianist to play through the music before the audition.  You’re investing in your success.

I strongly encourage actors to have a game plan when they walk in the room.  Know the people you’re auditioning for, and anything else you can about the character and show.  Choosing not to sing with the accompaniment is ridiculous.  Keep in mind, the accompanist is paid to be there whether they play or not.  Might as well use him.

My Service Will Explain

Before the age of internet, emailing, tweeting, facebooking and instagram, there were phone services.  As it was explained to me, you would call the phone service to see if you had any messages waiting for you.  It was easy enough, and the one and only place you could receive messages.

There is no excuse for missing a message today.  We have hundreds of ways to contact one another, yet I still hear the excuse, “Oh, I didn’t get your message.”  Or “I meant to get back to you.”  I’m guilty of it as well.  If we don’t want to deal with something or someone, most of us push it aside, ignoring the issue.

Recently I had an encounter such as this.  The majority of the work I do is freelancing; and like all freelancing entrepreneurs, returning messages and responding in a timely manner is part of my business.  When I coach performers privately, the work is scheduled, with a price and location agreed upon.  When someone doesn’t show, or cancel, it’s hard to enforce payment for the time scheduled for that person; trying to get people to pay in advance for a one-off coaching is hard.

This rarely happens, but no-shows happened.  Some people have an attitude that it’s acceptable to simply not show up for a coaching or lesson.  As someone who counts on the income from said lessons, it is infuriating when students and clients don’t understand the importance of timely communication.

Is there an appropriate response?  I want to sit those people down and explain why ignoring a scheduled lesson is inappropriate.  The person in my recent encounter was young and inexperienced.  Unfortunately disrespect and ignorance are not traits only possessed by the young.  We all lead busy lives, with conflicts in schedules and last-minute emergencies.  Telling someone you didn’t get a message, or missed the message is a weak response.  Account for yourself when things don’t work out; respect the time allotted.

Interview With An Artist

Although I might bemoan the fact many jobs within the arts are not advertised or auditioned for, I equally drag my feet when an interview is possible.  When that happens, there’s no more excuses.  I’ve said it before: musicians don’t always get the chance to audition.  An employer, be it a producer or contractor, hears you play, gets to know your work, and calls you, not the other way around.  But when there is an interview possible, my able skills of self-promotion are put to the test.

It’s easy to make excuses.  There wasn’t an audition.  They didn’t like me.  Whatever.  I’ve had a handful of interviews in recent memory; some went better than others.  There were some jobs I knew were a long-shot for me, but I did them anyway.  Always take the interview, even if you’re the underdog.  In that particular long-shot interview, I think I was the young pup.

It’s hard to list accomplishments without a cheat-sheet in hand.  Once you get rolling, on all the wonderful things you done, concerts you’ve played, it then becomes hard not to sound boastful.  That’s been my experience; once I pick up steam, it’s the Micah-train all the way.  Ain’t nobody gonna stop me.  Then I remember I’m in an interview, and the prospective-employer might be losing interest.  Did I talk for too long?  Is he suddenly getting bored with me?

Then I also remember: they don’t know me like I do.  I forget to mention something, or overlook a program I did, a show I worked on, and if I’m not careful I can undersell myself. They don’t know you like you do; even if you’re colleagues with the interviewer, or friends, be thorough.  Now’s the chance to tell us about you.

Resumes are necessary.  They are also a snapshot, focusing on the best of the best work.  Once I was interviewing, realizing there was so much I couldn’t fit on my resume.  No, it’s not that I’m that wonderful; the specifications of the position were more than what my resume was geared toward.  And we are greater than then sum of our resumes.  The resume is like a bullet-point list; a picture in a coloring book, yet to be filled by all the other parts of your life that make you you.  While you might be filled with soft-spoken confidence in life and work, speak up at the interview.  It’s your chance.

Lost In Translation

When you’re right, you’re right. If something’s not Baroque, don’t fix it. A poor joke at best, but true. We love being right and hate being wrong; playing to our strengths in artistic mediums we know well, allows us to shine. When we cross into other mediums it’s another story.

A colleague worked on a show recently. This show was once a concert that was very successful. The writers refused to change a single word or note of music; why change it if it worked before? Because you’re changing mediums.

Concerts and musicals are both on stage with audiences, but the intent and focus can be very different. A concert can be presentational, with minimal sets or props. There’s not as much storytelling in the surrounding components as there is in a musical.

In a musical setting there are different expectations. We expect songs to further the plot; the storytelling is in both the book scenes and the song moments. We can argue the finer points of what songs fit what moments and why, but in the traditional sense, a musical is a cohesive story with songs connected to that story and its characters. It’s not simply a collection of songs at a concert performed by an artist.

My friend did everything he could to make the concert show translate to the stage. It was like fitting a square peg in a round hole. The project suffered because the writers didn’t see the need to adapt to the theatrical stage.

Likewise I’ve noticed an onslaught of film and TV creative artists trying their hand at live theatre. They bring a screenplay and want to immediately make it a performance for live theatre. Having worked with some groups, it makes me wonder: do people think theatre is simply easier than the concert stage or the TV/film world? Traveling into a new medium is like trekking through a foreign jungle: hire a guide, step where he steps, and listen to what he says.

The Whole Song, And Nothing But The Song

We preach and praise the 16 bar cut.  It is everything to anyone in musical theatre.  If you want to audition, get your cut ready.  But there are those times, those rare occasions, when the people behind the desk will ask for the full song.  Auditionees beware: it’s a gamble you do not want to make.

I’ve been known to cut corners from time to time.  No judging.  Although I try, I find myself caught in the act, and then return to thought: nothing worth doing happens quickly, or by cutting corners.  But when you’re pressed for time, anxious to get something done, it’s tempting to figure out how quickly (and cheaply) a task can be completed.  Like learning a cut of a song, rather than the whole song.

I was working on transposing a song recently for a concert.  It had to be done by a deadline.  I probably spent a few hours trying to connect my computer to my MIDI keyboard, hoping to play the song transposed and be done with it (If there are any MIDI gurus out there, please contact me, should you wish to be a Good Samaritan, and help this poor, technologically challenged musician).

Nothing is ever wasted.  I needed to figure out my computer, but I was also under a deadline to play a transposed version of the song.  Then I thought: what if I only recorded part of the song?  Surely that would suffice?  Immediately after recording the snippet, I realized I was wrong.  I couldn’t get by the deadline’s demands without recording the whole song.  And I didn’t need to rely on technology (although it would have been easier), rather I relied on my transposition skills as a musician.

I know I’m not alone in trying to cut corners, or work on part of a song.  There are more actors out there than musicians recording transposed charts, perhaps.  And I’ve seen it countless times in an audition; the actor comes in, sings the 16 bar cut successfully, then retreats.  But before they can, the director asks, “can you sing the rest of the song?”  The look of horror grows on their face; they never thought they’d need to know the entire song.  Make no excuses and learn the whole song, or in my case, record the whole song.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Networking is the worst and best aspect to business.  We can meet up at the cocktail hour, schmooze with the muckity-mucks at conventions and gatherings, or rub shoulders with the who’s-who.  It’s easy if you have an ‘in’ with the crowd.  It’s tough when you have to make a cold call to introduce yourself to professionals in the business.

First off, try saying ‘cold call’ at least five times fast.  Saying that is as difficult as making the call.  When I was in college I grew increasingly frustrated as my graduation date approached; I was gaining all the knowledge I could about music, but nothing about working in the music business.  In my case, theatre, to be exact.  A friend then suggested I could make a cold call to a friend of his.  It’s terrifying the first time you have to pick up the phone.  Nowadays it is more appropriate to give a cold email, but those get easily ignored, or misinterpreted for spam.

The more connections you make in your line of work, the easier it becomes to network, and the less cold calls you have to make.  Usually, but not always.  I recently wanted to contact another professional in the theatre world.  Even with all the ways to contact other people on social media, I’m well aware that a Facebook message, or a tweet does not a good ‘cold call’ make.  Word to the wise: consider how you contact someone as much as what you say when first meeting them.

Fortunately, I explored other means of communication.  If I contact someone on their professional website, or other promotional connections, they might mistake me for a fan or not consider me a fellow professional.  I cannot say that for everyone, but better safe than sorry.  I was able to find another friend who knew this professional.  My friend, a professional as well, reminded me of this entire situation.  My friend offered to make an introduction on my behalf, to make a better connection.

It takes guts to call someone cold.  And we all need to start somewhere.  If you need to make a contact, and have no other way to do it, don’t be afraid to give them a call.  If you can find a friend who might know them, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they can introduce you two.

It Ain’t Necessarily So

Great art is great.  Why?  Because so many people throughout time tell you it is?  Maybe.  There are certain intrinsic values to great art: proportion, technique, aesthetic, and historical context that informs us of past civilizations.

So much of what makes art great is subjective.  I once had an argument over West Side Story; is it great art?  Absolutely.  At least I think so.  And I was arguing with someone who didn’t agree with me.  Ok, you miss out in my opinion.  That show is my jam.

There have been times in my life when I think I need to enjoy a piece of art, because other people think it’s great.  Sitting through a lengthy opera, or reading a tome by an author I don’t really care for, makes me question if I really understand “great” art.

I’ve come to also realize that there’s too much art in the world to be enjoyed in one lifetime.  In a piano class, I recall learning that if you played all the piano repertoire there is for 75 years, you’d still be less than halfway through the list.  I suppose the same is true if you sat through all the piano concerts every performed.

After studying what makes art great, I can appreciate it more.  We can dissect the Mona Lisa, or West Side Story; I happen to already enjoy those works, without knowing how they were created, or what techniques were implemented.

At times I’ve felt obligated to read books that I don’t particularly want to read.  Unless you’re in a literature class, and the book is assigned, you don’t have to read it.  It’s always good to take a step out of your comfort zone; maybe check out that art exhibit that you don’t think you’ll love.  You might.  I suppose what can make art great to you, is what it says to you; if you can find value in it, then it’s worth exploring.

Beyond Compare

You can compare yourself to everyone around you. You will be, by comparison, taller, shorter, louder, quieter, thinner, wider, etc. The comparisons are endless. But nothing compares to where you were and where you are.

I finished my class of theatre students recently (the readers sigh relief; no more teacher posts). Some made enormous strides while others made small, concentrated advancements. While one student was focusing on her mix and belt, another student was just working on overcoming her stage-fright.

I had one male student, whose voice was changing. It’s unfair to compare him to another man whose voice has already changed, or to a woman with a fully developed belt.

I loved my class, in part because I did not sense there was any competition with each other. Each of them improved from where they began to where they ended up. And since I worked with them for such a short period of time, I reminded them (and myself) that this work is only a small moment compared to the long path of study and performance ahead of them.

There’s that word again: compare. I sat playing for their final presentation, noticing the students who seemed to shine  more than others. And we’ve all felt that: we take a class, and there’s that one student who everybody loves, who seems to do better than everybody else.

However we must compare in order to evaluate. I compare myself to where I am to where I was six months ago, to determine I’m six months older, and I’ve grown musically and artistically. Even if you are convinced you haven’t processed, record yourself. Listen to that recording in six months and you will hear the improvement.

Breaking Bad

Habits are hard to break.  Even when we tell ourselves not to do something, we still do it.  Bad habits become second nature to us over time, we don’t even realize we have them.

I had a student apologize in his song.  He’d start one phrase and before the next one, say, “My bad.”  To that student, thank you for the inspiration of this post, and it’s title.  However…

I was amazed at how quickly he could apologize and get the lyrics out.  Most impressive.  But rather than continuing a vocal line, or focusing on the content of the song, he’d apologize.  I wasn’t sure why; he wasn’t making egregious errors.  Taking time to apologize did weaken his performance, and put the focus on the apology, not the song.

Imagine you’re driving down a road.  Apologizing is like turning your head backwards to try to see the sign you just passed.  And when your head is turned, you miss the next sign.  So you turn again, missing the next sign, and the next; You’re apologizing over and over again.  You cannot see the road ahead if you’re always looking at the past mistakes.  Plus, those so-called ‘mistakes’ are not for you to judge.  It’s your job as a performer to sing.  Let us be the judges of the quality of your performance.

Apologizing also tells us that you don’t want to be there.  You don’t want us to listen, and no matter what you do, the performance will not be good enough.  My student was used to apologizing, he kept doing it long after I brought it to his attention.  He was so focused on scrutinizing himself for his imperfections; all the good stuff was ignored.  Don’t let your focus fall on the less-than perfect parts of your performance.

Gossip Whirl

Your audition is as much an audition for the people hiring as it is for you.  Seeing how they behave, react, and talk to you, can be clear indications of how they will behave if you work with them.

A colleague went in for an audition.  He worked with the choir director, who immediately began gossiping about other singers and conductors.  How this behavior continues after high school is baffling.  He even badmouthed his own ensemble, naming the singers who were the weaker singers of the group.  So why did he hire them?

The conductor was auditioning the singer.  Or was it the other way around?  Work is work, and even when people behave badly, you might still consider your bank account when saying ‘yes’ to the gig.  There are more singers in the world and sometimes we put up with a little gossip now and then.

There will be names of professionals with reputations in any business.  The conductor went about the audition, quizzing the singer on who he knew in the performing world, and what he thought.  The conductor was quick to dismiss other professionals he didn’t think were very good.  It was a clear case of envy; some of the professionals he dismissed are well-respected in their field.

Auditions are nerve-wracking enough, without the gossip and trash-talk.  Adding that into the situation creates tension and suspicion; how will the conductor talk about this new singer behind his back?  The conductor thought he’d appear better than his peers by insulting them.  It’s doubtful that was the result.