Putting it All Together

This blog is a part of www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com. Don’t sing just any song. Sing something new!

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During the month of October David and I are co-leading a series of master classes at The Kaufman Center here in New York City. We contacted area college and university musical theatre programs and asked them to send us some of their outstanding seniors. We then assigned them songs from contemporarymusicaltheatre.com, and asked them them to bravely come in and sing them for us, the writers, a panel of guest artists, and an audience.

Our guest artists all hail from different backgrounds: composers, lyricists, audition coaches and casting directors. Our goal: to help the students grow as performing artists by learning to approach a song from many different angles.

So often students learn their craft one discipline at a time, focusing on the voice during voice lessons, acting in acting class, etc… But performing a song demands a performer put all those skills together.

In our masterclasses we challenge the students to answer important questions like: Who am I singing to? What do I know about this character’s situation? Why did the writer keep repeating a particular word or phrase? What is the journey the character takes during the song? What is happening during the musical moments I’m not singing? What do I want my audience to get from my performance? When you don’t know why you’re singing, it becomes easy to sing off your breath and voice. Likewise, when you’re thinking too much about your technique, the audience can’t follow the story you’re trying to tell. Finding that balance can be tricky for young singers.

When the student and panel work together to break down the song then put it back together again, the change from first performance to last is often dramatic.

David and I have worked together frequently and I truly enjoy coaching with him. We have learned that acting and singing choices often go hand in hand. It’s exciting to watch the students realize that, when they make an technical alteration that frees them up, they suddenly have more dramatic possibilities open to them.

Guest Artists Kim Oler & Alison Hubbard during the singing of their song, "There's a World Out There"
Guest Artists Kim Oler & Alison Hubbard during the singing of their song, “There’s a World Out There”

One of the joys of performing contemporary musical theatre is the chance to actually speak to the people who wrote it. The writing team of Kim Oler & Alison Hubbard (Buddy’s Tavern, Little Women) joined us for our first masterclass and were able to share thoughts on their song “There’s A World Out There” with CAP21 student Christina Eskridge. Kim talked about the the excitement and anticipation they wrote in their song for their character of Jo. Christina was able to incorporate that. Then we added in some trepidation about this new experience she was embarking on. We asked her about the kind of vocal quality she could use to express that. That lead her to a more fully using her breath. By giving her character a journey through the song, she was able to tell a full and complete story. One that was much more engaging for the audience.

Christina Eskeridge & Pianist James Cunningham
Christina Eskeridge & Pianist James Cunningham

This week we are thrilled to be joined by guest artist Sheri Sanders. Sheri has made a career out of teaching musical theatre performers how to prepare a pop or rock song for an audition. David and I had the privilege of sitting in on one of her classes earlier this year (David even got up the nerve to sing “End of the World” by indie singer-songwriter Matt Alber). One of my favorite things Sheri teaches is to research and appreciate the time period in which the songs were originally performed. The late 50’s were cautious and restrained times, so if you’re performing a girl group song from that era you would want to contain yourself vocally and in your mannerisms. But a Vietnam-era rock song needs to reflect that era by being much bolder and unrestained.

I can’t wait to hear what Sheri has to say about the students’ performances of the contemporary pop/rock musical theatre songs we’ve chosen by Michael Cooper, Sammy Buck & Dan Acqusito, Chris Miller & Nathan Tysen and Michelle Elliott & Danny Larsen.

Our last masterclass will feature casting director Cindi Rush. Cindi casts lots of new musicals, including one David and I worked on at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) this past summer. I’m sure she will have lots of ideas about what she likes to see in a performance… and what she doesn’t.

There is never just one way to approach a song. But it is only by approaching it at many angles that can you begin to create a fully rounded performance.

If you’re in New York, please join us for our final 2 master classes.

Rock it to Me: Pop/Rock Musical Theatre
Sunday, October 19 4-6pm

Hear My Song: Contemporary Story Song
October 26 4-6pm

All masterclasses will be at The Ann Goodman Recital Hall at The Kaufman Center, 129 West 67th Street, 2nd floor.

Tickets: $10

Reservations: (212) 501-3360 or email lucymosesschool@kaufmanmusiccenter.org

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Please visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 150 contemporary musical theatre writers and 360+ songs, all searchable by voice and song type.

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