Tag Archives: contemporary

Music Scholarship

Music as a Passion and a College Path

The following was written by our Office Manager and voice and piano teacher, Lina, who was the recipient of a $13,000 music scholarship.

As a senior in high school, you always hear the dreaded question: “what are you going to do with your life?” When I was there over four years ago, I didn’t have a clue. I had always loved music, but I never saw that as anything more than a hobby. After all, people didn’t make money being musicians, right?

As I prepared to choose my university, I looked into possible scholarship opportunities. When my mom told me my college had a music scholarship, I was hesitant to believe her. A scholarship… for MUSIC? I thought. Why in the world would they have that? Is music a sport now? Despite my hesitation, I decided to give it a shot.

Arriving on campus to audition for the music scholarship, I felt a mixture of excitement, nerves, and disbelief. I prepared the required three songs, including an aria, a classical piece, and a contemporary song. The faculty warned me I would be doing a bit of sight reading during the audition, something I wasn’t too excited for. I walked into the brightly lit classroom and met a panel of four professors, who would later become my beloved mentors. I sang each song almost on autopilot, and fumbled my way through the sight reading portion of the audition. Afterwards, the faculty asked about my experience as a singer, and my goals for college and beyond.

I left the audition room completely dazed. I didn’t anticipate much would come out of that audition, so I congratulated myself for getting through it and resigned myself to focus my efforts on other possible paths in college. After all, you don’t hear very much about opportunities within the music field beyond the rare rise of a rock star or pop sensation.

A few weeks later, I received a call from the music department; they congratulated me, the recipient of a $13,000 music scholarship. I could barely contain my joy and, if I’m honest, my shock. Only months before, I had had no idea there was such a thing as “music scholarship.” Now I was the recipient of that scholarship! I never imagined that I would receive anything in return for my arts, but this experience changed my perspective.

As part of my scholarship, I studied music theory and learned the theory behind the music that had always been a part of my life. I became a member of a choir which granted me endless opportunities to travel to beautiful countries like Austria and Hungary. I got the chance to perform on countless stages, and even win money in a professional singing competition! The professors that had previously been panel members at my audition were now confidants, with whom I would share my college experiences and learn more about myself.

I always imagined music as a time-consuming hobby, not an actual career choice. I am forever grateful that I allowed myself the opportunity to grow as a musician, and as an individual, by pursuing something that seemed impossible.

There is a cultural narrative within the US that tells young artists their passions are not viable in the long-term. Many artists give up their passions because they’re not “practical” and they fear they’ll never make a living. For all you soon-to-be college students out there, pursue your passions! You never know what opportunities life will present you with, and you don’t want to miss out on them.

Should You Use a Microphone for Vocal Practice

Should You Use a Microphone for Vocal Practice

Voice teachers often have strong feelings about whether or not you should use a microphone for vocal practice. In other words, when you sing with a voice teacher or go through your practice sessions at home, should you amplify yourself or just sing acoustically? One camp, often made up classically trained singers and teachers, tends to almost never use amplification for practice sessions. Another camp tends to use amplification for practice whenever possible, particularly during voice lessons. So where is each group coming from, and what’s my stance on it? If you’ve worked with me or read any of my other articles, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’m a proponent of practicing both ways.

The Case for No Amplification

The case for practicing without mics is that amplification can give you a false sense of how much power you’re using. Important vocal techniques, like support and frontal resonance can be falsely replaced with cranking up the volume on the mixing board or getting closer to the mic. It’s important to have an adequate sense of what your voice sounds like acoustically so that you don’t get a false impression of how much your voice will carry over a piano or orchestra.

In the case of classical training, rehearsing acoustically is even more imperative. Opera performances tend to be acoustic, with the vocalists being expected to make their voices carry over an orchestra or, at the very least, piano. Voice lessons and practice sessions should prepare you for this challenge.

The case for Amplification

Voice teachers, especially ones focused on CCM styles, often like using mics at their lessons for a variety of reasons. First, it can make recording the lesson easier, and it’s important that students have lesson recordings as practice tools. Secondly, it makes it easier to hear a student and pinpoint nuances that they can work on that might be less obvious without amplification. Thirdly, using a mic can help beginning vocal students avoid the tendency to over-push. Often, when your tendency as a singer is to get shouty in order to be heard instead of using breath support, the initial stages of working on support can actually cause you to sing more softly at first (I’m sure you’ve all heard the adage about getting worse before you get better). Working with a microphone can help combat the natural inclination to start pushing harder when you’re having a hard time hearing yourself.

For more advanced vocalists, especially in the pop and rock world, practicing with amplification is absolutely imperative because you’ll usually be performing with amplification. You don’t want the first time you’ve worked with a mic to be at your rock performance. Certain techniques, like indie-pop breathiness are also much safer to practice with a microphone, because if you’re using a lot of air, you don’t want to couple that with pushing hard to be heard.

So Should You Use a Mic For Vocal Practice?

Yes. And also no. Regardless of style, it’s important to practice singing in a variety of ways. If you’re a classical singer, by all means, spend most of your practice sessions singing acoustically, but grab a mic once in a while as well. There will probably come a time when you’re performing in concert and are expected to use amplification. Or you may be interested in one day crossing over into performing other genres, or even into recording, in which case, you’ll most definitely use a mic at some point. I don’t necessarily think your practice sessions should be 50/50, but you should once in a while work with amplification.

If you aren’t a classical singer, I encourage you to be even more balanced in your practice sessions. It’s very likely that there’ll come a time that you need to at least audition without a mic, and you should be prepared to make your voice carry without the use of amplification. I was one of those singers who always took my voice lessons as a teenager with a microphone, and I remember finding it constantly jarring when I’d attend an audition, realize I wasn’t as loud as I remembered, and start pushing too hard and losing control of my voice. I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen to my own students. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also practice with a mic. Not only will you get used to performing with one, you’ll also learn what nuances your voice is capable of when turned way up.

Happy practicing!

Teacher Feature: Lina M.

Teacher Feature: Lina M.

Our newest voice and piano teacher, Lina, has performed all over the world, including the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, and a wide variety of other venues in both America and throughout Europe. She won first and second place in two separate NATS competitions, one for contemporary music and the other for musical theatre. She won the contemporary music category conquering the infamously difficult “Chandelier” and “Stone Cold,” and for that has our undying respect! We’re so excited to have her as part of our team.

MM: What instruments do you play, how did you get started with each one, and how long have you played them?

LM: I am a vocalist and play the piano. I started singing in church choir when I was four years old, and I’ve been singing ever since! I started teaching myself to play the piano during college and have fallen in love with the instrument.

MM: Who has inspired you musically?

LM: As an artist, my main motivation is to speak to my own experiences and connect with others who resonate with the sentiments expressed in my music. For this reason, I find my biggest inspiration is artists who aren’t afraid to be vulnerable in their music. Twenty One Pilots and Sia are two artists whose vulnerability inspires me. They both fearlessly address their struggles with mental illness and use their music as a platform to reach others struggling through similar experiences. As a creator, I hope to find the same strength in vulnerability with my own music.

MM: What are your favorite musical genres, and why?

LM: Some of my ultimate favorite genres are soul, gospel R&B, alternative, hip hop, atmospheric rock, modern orchestral, musical theatre and dance music. I love each of these genres for unique reasons, but they all share a deep emotional expression in the music. I also love music that lends itself towards dancing, as I’m a choreographer.

MM: What are your current musical projects?

LM: I’m currently writing and producing my own music. I’m working on expanding my musical knowledge by learning to play more instruments (guitar, drums, and more) and reinforcing my musical theory background.

MM: How do you practice, and how do you balance music with some of your other life goals? How do you help your students practice?

LM: When I practice, I set aside a specific amount of time each day and plan to work through a few specific tasks. For example, if I’m going to be performing a piece for a recital, I’ll plan to work through the diction of the piece for an hour one day, review the trouble spots the next day, and so on. In order to make sure my time is well-balanced, I write out my short term and long term musical goals and decide the most efficient way to work towards those while also granting time for my other time commitments.

I advise my students to treat music practice like they would studying. You shouldn’t throw out your voice practicing all in one day, but instead plan to practice consistently for shorter time periods. I also encourage students to make practice fun by incorporating it into your daily routine in unique ways–that way when it comes time to practice you’re excited for it.

MM: It looks like you’ve performed in quite a few places! Do you have any favorites (country, venue, etc.)?

LM: I’ve performed numerous wonderful places, but one of my favorites was in Vienna, Austria. My choir and I performed in a small church called St. Peterskirche. The beauty of the architecture and artwork inside of the church was unparalleled by anything I’ve ever experienced, and the acoustics and atmosphere made the performance feel ethereal.

MM: I heard you won first in the post-collegiate contemporary music category and second in the collegiate musical theatre category for the NATS competition—congratulations! Tell us about the experience! What did you sing? What was the process like? How did you prepare?

LM: I competed in the Bay Area NATS competition in the contemporary music and musical theatre categories. The experience was wonderful. After consulting with my vocal teacher, Donna Olson, I competed in the Spring and Fall competitions of 2016. I was required to select three diverse pieces to perform, fitting within the parameters of the competition’s official guidelines. After selecting my repertoire, I worked tirelessly to perfect the musicianship and performance of my pieces. Each category was performed in front of a different judge panel of 3-4 NATS members, who scored your performance based on technique, style, stage presence, and preparedness.

For the musical theatre and contemporary music categories I performed a selection including “Breathe” from In the Heights, “Stone Cold” by Demi Lovato and “Chandelier” by Sia, and “Once Upon a Time” from Brooklyn.

My first NATS I placed 1st in the Collegiate Contemporary Music Category, and at my second NATS I was lucky enough to place 1st in the Post-Collegiate Contemporary Music Category! It was an amazing experience seeing all my hard work paid off.

contemporary musical theatre songs for sopranos

10 Contemporary Musical Theatre Songs for Sopranos

Kelli O’Hara Memorial Day concert, by Tabercil, under CC BY 2.0

When you think of contemporary musical theatre singing, belting, or at least a conversational mixed voice comes to mind: a powerhouse bringing down the house with “Defying Gravity,” or a Schuyler sister rapping and speech-singing about New York City. And to be frank, it’s true that modern Broadway is mostly focused on belt and other techniques and styles closer to modern commercial music. But if you’re a soprano and enjoy doing more legit soprano singing (aside from revivals of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals) I promise, there’s still a place for you! Here are 10 contemporary musical theatre songs for sopranos that require more legit technique.

1. The Beauty Is

This gorgeous number from Light in the Piazza is one of my favorites. Every bit as nuanced and head-voice dominant as some of the older shows in Golden Age Broadway, it’s perfect for legit sopranos.

2. The Finer Things

In general, Jane Eyre the musical has a more legit sound to it, and this is especially true of Blanche Ingram’s fun little ditty, “The Finer Things” (the rare character song for a legit soprano).

3. I Believe

Here’s the lovely Erin Mackey singing “I Believe,” from the short-lived musical Amazing Grace. The song may start off fairly low, but Erin sings some beautiful high notes as the song goes.

4. Love Never Dies

It’s not surprising that this sequel to Phantom of the Opera requires legit singing. Here’s Sierra Boggess’s Christine singing the title song.

5. Falling Into You

Unusually legit for a Jason Robert Brown musical, Bridges Over Madison County has a stunning score. Here’s the great Kelli O’Hara singing “Falling Into You.” She sings some other gorgeous songs in this show as well, like “Almost Real.”

6. What Only Love Can See

This little gem from Chaplin is simple and beautiful.

7. No One Else

Everyone does this haunting number from Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 a little differently– some singers incorporating more belt elements in than others–but regardless, there are many legit soprano aspects to this song. It’s one of my favorites to sing because you can stylize it so many different ways and still sell it.

8. After Midnight Dies

Definitely an offbeat one for a soprano (or anyone), “After Midnight Dies” from Wild Party is a nice respite from wide-eyed love ballads.

9. Everything You Love is in New Jersey

When legit soprano is your forte, you don’t get too many opportunities at comedic songs, but this is a fun exception.

10. When I Fall in Love

Back to full-on legit soprano dreams of love, “When I Fall in Love” from Pride and Prejudice is a perfect example of a throwback to a more Golden Age-esque legit soprano ballad.

Do you love singing legit soprano? What are some of your favorites? We’d love to hear your stories in the comment section below.

Types of Musical Theatre Singing

What Are the Different Types of Musical Theatre Singing

New vocal students often envision musical theatre singing as one particular style, distinct from styles like classical and pop. The truth is though that musical theatre encompasses a wide variety of styles itself, some much closer to classical singing and others closer to rock (and nowadays, even rap). While each of those genres still has its own musical theatre flare (i.e. pop musical theatre singing is still a little stylistically different than radio-friendly pop), it’s important for musical theatre singers to both have a solid grasp of the different styles and to know when to use what. To get you started, I’ve compiled a list of a few of the main types of musical theatre singing with some examples. If you listen closely, you probably won’t have a very hard time hearing the difference in vocal production.

Legit

While there are still some stylistic differences, legit musical theatre is closely tied to the classical voice tradition. It uses rounder vowels, a high soft palate, tilted thyroid cartilage, and typically thinner vocal folds (i.e. it uses more head resonance). That may all sound complicated to you, but just think Julie Andrews, John Raitt, and Barbara Cooke. More Cosette and less Eponine. More Kristen Chenoweth here and not so much here.. You hear more legit musical theatre singing in revivals of Golden Age musicals, like Carousel, but it’s also made a comeback in neoclassical-driven shows like The Light in the Piazza. Here’s the great Audra McDonald singing “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

Character

Character songs are usually not sung in a way that we’d typically call great singing. They’re usually funny, often more nasal than is pleasing, and more driven by acting choices than singing choices. That said, character singing is its own special skill that often pulls from elements of legit and musical theatre belt. It’s rare that you find shows that are mostly character-song driven. Most have one or two character singers with others singing different styles, like legit. Think Little Red’s character song, “I Know Things Now” in Into the Woods alongside Cinderella’s legit “On the Steps of the Palace.” But occasionally, shows like Avenue Q and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown that contain pretty much all character songs come along, and it’s hard to get cast at all if you aren’t good at the style. Speaking of Kristen Chenoweth, here’s a quintessential example of a character song, “My New Philosophy.”

Traditional Musical Theatre Belt

People often associate older Broadway with more legit voices, and there’s some truth to that, but even in the Rogers and Hammerstein days, there were plenty of Broadway belters. Belting is a more chest-voice driven, thyroarytenoid dominant, brassy style of singing. Think Ethel Merman, Chita Rivera, and Patti Lupone. Traditional musical theatre belt songs, unlike more contemporary ones, tended to be lower, and brassy enough that they could fill a theater without the use of amplification. Ethel Merman was famous for this. Here she is, boys! Here she is, world!

Contemporary

Contemporary musical theatre singing can span a number of different styles, but it tends to be very speech-driven. It’s often belted, but more often than not, it uses a more speech-level mixed belt instead of the low, chesty brass of Ethel Merman’s day. Listen to the stylistic difference between this speech-like, contemporary Jason Robert Brown song and this heavier, more traditional belt Patti Lupone is doing. Even Idina Menzel, who is famous for her big belty voice, tends to use a lighter, more speech-driven mix when she isn’t approaching the top of her range. Since you guys are probably all familiar with Wicked, I’ll shake it up and throw an If/Then song out here.

Pop/Rock

Sometimes musical theatre composers write original pop, rock (or other types of commercial music) scores–think Rent and Hedwig. Other times, this style comes in the form of jukebox musicals, where pre-written pop music is woven into a story. Mamma Mia and its Abba score is a very famous example of this, but lately we’ve seen a Green Day musical (American Idiot), a Queen one (We Will Rock You), a Four Seasons musical (Jersey Boys), a Carole King one (Beautiful), and many others. Often, these musicals still have a more Broadway-tinged sound to them than the original band did. Listen to “21 Guns” in the American Idiot musical vs. the Green Day version. Granted, the first one is a woman, but regardless, notice the more blended registers, the sweeter tone, and the purer vibrato. I think you get the idea of what this style is all about, but for your amusement, here’s “Dancing Queen”!

musical theatre songs to have in your repertoire

What Songs Should be in your Musical Theatre Audition Repertoire

“I have a musical theatre audition coming up! What song should I learn?” The short answer is, you shouldn’t if you can avoid it. Preferably, you should already have a repertoire of go-to songs that you can pull out at the last second and know they’re appropriate and polished. Of course, if the musical, workshop, or program you’re auditioning for gives you a specific song to learn for the audition, you should just use that. But if not, here’s a guide to to selecting the songs that should be in your musical theatre audition repertoire before you get that audition notice. As always, common sense audition song rules apply for these selections: don’t pick something too overdone (Wicked, Hamilton, etc.) and make sure to pick a song that you sing well and that isn’t too hard to sight read on the piano.

1. Contemporary Ballad and Uptempo

What Is It

While there’s no strict definition of what constitute each of these categories, a ballad is a slower song, often about love, and an uptempo is more upbeat song. “Contemporary” can mean any number of things, but it’s usually pretty safe to prepare something from the least twenty years or so. Sometimes the term can even refer to the 1980’s on. There are several different “types” of contemporary musical theatre songs, including legit ones like The Light in the Piazza, pop ones like The Last 5 Years, and rock ones like Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

When to Use It

First and foremost, use this one when the audition notice says, “prepare a contemporary uptempo” or “prepare a contemporary ballad.” You can also use this one to audition for contemporary shows, but just make sure that the song you choose is appropriate for the show. You would not want to be that guy showing up for a Hedwig audition with Light in the Piazza.

2. Classic Ballad and Uptempo

What Is It

Like contemporary, the word classic can have a wide range of meanings, but it’s safest to assume Golden Age Broadway, 1943 to 1959.

When to Use It

This should go without saying, but pull this one out when you see an audition asking you to prepare a “classic Broadway” or “traditional Broadway” song. You can use this to audition for older shows that are being revived (or put on locally), and it’s also a good choice when it works stylistically for a modern show you’re auditioning for (think legit songs for legit modern shows).

3. Legit Song

What Is It

A legit Broadway song is one that uses technique that’s more classically based. Think “If I Loved You” from Carousel. While you may find more of these in classic Broadway, you’ll find these songs in contemporary Broadway as well.

When to Use It

Use this one when auditioning for a legit role. This could be anything from Julie in Carousel to Christine in The Phantom of the Opera Love Never Dies.

4. A Broadway Belt

What Is It

A belt song is one that uses a more chest-dominant, brassy sound. In older shows, you’d often find belters playing the character roles, but nowadays, the romantic lead is often a belter as well.

When to Use It

Unsurprisingly, you should use this when auditioning for a character who’s predominantly a belter. This can be anything from Rose in Gypsy to Kim in Miss Saigon or Elphaba in Wicked.

5. Disney Song

What Is It

Obviously, this is a song from a Disney movie or musical. Disney songs are fairly stylistically specific. They’re often sung with very bright, forward tones.

When to Use It

Use these for a Disney audition.

6. Character Song

What Is It

Character songs are often comic and sung with less pristine-sounding vocal technique. You’ll often hear them sung nasal.

When to Use Them

Use character songs when you’re auditioning for character roles. They’re prevalent in such shows as Avenue Q, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

7. Non-Musical Theatre Songs

What Are They

This spans a wide range, everything from pop, to rock, to country, to hip hop. Learning a few different genres from a few different eras is ideal.

When to Use Them

Often, auditions will call specifically for a certain genre other than musical theater: i.e. a 90’s rock song. These are important for jukebox shows, like Beautiful, American Idiot, and We Will Rock You. They can also be pulled out for rock shows like Rent.

8. Musical Theatre Pop and Rock Song

What Are They

While it’s good to have some non-musical theatre pop and rock songs under your belt, you should also know some musical theatre ones from a variety of eras. Think Grease and Songs For a New World for pop and Rent and Hedwig for rock, just to give you an idea.

When to Use Them

Use these for pop and rock musicals, respectively, i.e. ones that are less “classic” sounding.

9. Jazz Standard

What Is It

Jazz songs from the 1920’s to the 1940’s (think George Gershwin and Cole Porter).

When to Use Them

Use these to audition for shows from the era. They can also sometimes be used for Golden Age Broadway and even more contemporary Broadway auditions as long as they’re stylistically similar.

10. A Great 16-Bar and 32-Bar Cut

This goes for any of these eras and styles, but it’s great to know in advance the 16 or 32-bar cut you’ll sound amazing on. Not every great song has a great 16-bar cut, so be selective.

This list may not cover every single audition base you’ll run across, but it’s a great start that’ll give you something to have on hand at most auditions you’ll run across.

10 Choirs for Adults in Orange County

Often, the adult singers I work with share a common complaint: they love to sing but don’t have an outlet for it outside of voice lessons. Maybe you’re an experienced singer looking for a professional-level singing organization to join, or maybe you just want a laid-back group of like-minded people to sing with. Luckily, the Orange County choirs on this list can accommodate all of these needs. From prestigious audition choirs with rigid rehearsal schedules to relaxed non-audition ones that allow members to come and go each season, there’s something for everyone. In completely random order, here are 10 choirs for adults in Orange County.

1. Choral Arts Initiative

A mixed-gender audition choir located in Irvine, the Choral Arts Initiative won the American Prize in Choral Performance in 2014.

2. Pacific Chorale

Arguably the most prestigious choir on this list, the Pacific Chorale is located in the Santa Ana/Costa Mesa area and often performs at the Segerstrom Center For the Arts.

3. Yorba Linda Gospel Ensemble

If you love singing Gospel music and live in the Yorba Linda area, this audition choir might be for you.

4. Orange County Millennial Choirs

The Millennial Choirs are made up of several different choirs. The adult one, which is an audition choir that costs $50 per semester to be a part of, is called the Grand Chorus. Rehearsals take place in Newport Beach, and the choir often performs at Segerstrom.

5. Orange County Women’s Chorus

The Orange County Women’s Chorus, which rehearses in Newport Beach, is an all-female audition choir about 40 members strong.

6. Orange Community Master Chorale

The Orange Community Master Chorale is an audition choir that rehearses in Orange.

7. South Coast Singers

The South Coast Singers is an audition choir based in Capistrano Beach. They sing in both classical and contemporary styles.

8. Meistersingers

The Meistersingers is an audition choir based in Huntington Beach that puts on educational programs for the public.

9. Orange County Classic Choral Society

For you laid-back singers out there, this one is a Garden Grove-based non-audition choir with a more flexible schedule.

*Update: This choir is currently on hiatus, and the link points to a choral society in New York.

10. San Clemente Choral Society

The San Clemente Choral Society is a San Clemente-based non-audition choir that blends classic and contemporary repertoire.

*New Additions

OC Sound Chorus

Based in Laguna Hills, this non-audition a cappella group looks like a fun place to meet new people and sing.

Have one we missed? Let us know in the comments below so that we can add it!