Jazz Hands and Park and Honk

Jazz Hands and Park and Honk
Late Friday/early Saturday musings...

My colleague and friend, the great and inspirational Sheri Sanders,  who is THE rock/pop music coach and is coming out with a book via Hal Leonard 'Rock the Audition'  just did an amazing video interview and it and SHE raised great points that I believe are crucial to ALL singers in ALL genres.

In music theatre, we have become so obsessed with typing, mimicking, sounding like, looking like - that we have gotten away from finding out what truly makes us unique as artists and developing artists.  The whole "jazz hands" blank look and never connecting to what we sing just to have a book of 16 bar cuts and sound like...(fill in the blank) has started to turn.  At least I hope so.

As a teacher it is an uphill battle when I hear singers who know nothing about their instrument just try to mimic someone they think they are "like" in order to call themselves an artist or performer and simply refuse to believe that they could actually learn about era, genre, style in the music they choose after they find the uniqueness of their own instruments.  I believe (I truly am an optimist you know) that we are turning a corner in our business.  I believe the more we can walk into the room knowing who we are,  what we sing well, how we sing it, how we connect to it,  we begin to announce "I am here, this is what I do well"  and there simply doesn't need to be a need to hide behind typing/vacancy/mimicking.

I want to believe that.  I will continue to fight for that.  The artists that stand for something, connect to their music, to the craft, to their technical behavior is EVERY genre believe that too.

A singer came into my studio not long ago and said she needed to sound a certain way.  I challenged her - perhaps she couldn't sound that way and that what would happen if she learned what SHE could do and how SHE could sound.  She refused to acknowledge that as a possibility.  And she wonders why she's not working.  Hmmm....

Sheri talks about the simple CONNECTION TO THE MUSIC.  The "business" of the 16 bar audition has certainly taken that connection away.  However, we've allowed that to happen.  How many of you think you can learn something well enough to connect to it the night before?  Wrong.  Terribly wrong. And terribly sad.

Music needs time - of all kinds.  It needs to be given time to nurture, to settle, to sink in.  It needs time to gestate, to gather itself.  It needs experience,  it needs discovery, it needs motivation, it needs narrative.  It needs understanding: stylistic understanding, traditional respect and realization of the time and genre it comes from.  The composer needs relevance;  the performance practice and attitudes need careful scrutiny and decisions need to be made.  You cannot do that the night before.

When you assume you can, you assume incorrectly.  You disrespect the craft, the tradition and the music.  And guess what?  You come across as disconnected, unconnected, vacant, mimicking, pretending and the stereotypical "jazz hands" that theatre people are accused of.

The "Park and Honk" in opera is the same.  "Voice first" is all well and good, but if there is only noise, and there is no real connection to a character, to a narrative, to an understanding of conversation with the music,  with the breath, with the composer's intentions,  noise it remains.

Some of the culprits are simply the size of the halls we have to sing in - just making ENOUGH noise to be heard is often all we can do.  What a disservice to the art form, to the artist, to the composer, to the craft.

The park/honk and bigger is better simply doesn't serve the music.  Do you know your voice? Truly?  Have you worked through it - learned to roll over, sit up, stand up, crawl, walk and then run?  If all you are trying to do in an audition or even in rehearsal or heaven forbid (!) performance (sigh) is to make more noise,  what are you doing?!  Why are you there?  What has been lost???

Sheri's passion in her work and this video she has made can translate to the music theatre world and to the opera world.  Pay attention.  It's about passion,  and it's about study.  It's about KNOWLEDGE - of your instrument, what it does, what makes you unique.  It's about DISCOVERING the repertoire through knowledge of era, style, genre and putting into your body.  It's about LIVING it and BREATHING it and not becoming vacant and disconnected.  It's about daring to take risks in order to create something larger than yourself - not about dialing it in.

It isn't about how big your voice is.  Truly it's not.  It isn't about you parking and barking as loudly as you can.  This is hiding in plain sight.  Opera IS theatre.  Music theatre IS theatre.  Theatre is conversation, and interaction,  and conflict, and emotion, and mind, and thought, and reflection, and discovery through music.  It is about connecting to it and through it to have something to say.

If you have nothing to say that is uniquely yours,  why are you there?

Thanks Sheri for inspiring me.

Thanks for listening so late into the night...sweet dreams...

Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking. 

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