Monday, February 13, 2012

Opera Singer Critiques the Grammy's, KC Lyric Opera Audition, & COOL NEW GIG

Hello, America. Why do you enjoy singers yelling so much?  Seriously, this isn't just my opinion - technically these singers are yelling and belting all the time, even to the point of hoarseness!  My overall impression from the Grammy's this year is that I'm astonished that people aren't bored with people yelling all the dang time.  Leave the musical genres out of the picture; the pop singers, country singers, rock singers all have the same technique.  You should expect more from your favorite singers.

So let's take a technical look at the talent.  Remember, my profession analyzes the technical skills of singers; that does not mean the entertainment value.  I must first mention that it is nearly pointless to do this, because popular music is intended to feed off of raw emotion.  Needless to say, presenting awards in music is equally ridiculous - it's personal and individual for everyone.  BUT, in the music biz, there are technical standards that we are judged by and that is what my life is from dawn to dusk.

This idea of belting/yelling has damaged our nation's singing culture.  Why?  It is exciting isn't it?  You do get all emotional with Adele's music don't you?  Don't you love Whitney Houston's high notes?  You are right; they are exciting, but it is very damaging and painful.  Essentially, our culture will be raising singers in this style and they will be so inept in cultivating a healthy and artistic voice that they will all fall silent with vocal injuries at very young ages.  Too, we are pushing our ideas of beauty and perfection.  Just as people criticize unhealthy, super-skinny models as ruining our self-perception of physical beauty, so too is this belting technique - surely we can find a more healthy and less strident sound than belting and yelling to call beautiful.  When did it become a bad thing to sing with freedom and good technique?  Why would we rather be child prodigies with "natural talent" and not want to be a hard worker or a great student?  I can't change our culture, but I certainly can observe it - and how backwards it can be.

Back to the topic, the big Grammy winner of the night just recovered from vocal surgery several months ago because she sang her way into vocal damage.  This is actually very common.  That singer, Adele, is only 23 years old! She is lucky that she will get another shot at it, but many singers never fully recover - like Whitney Houston.  With that said, everyone loves Adele's music, even I do, but as to her singing technique, it is the perfect example of the yeller/belter...where did the singers go?



I was fascinated that as the singers went by, they all had nearly identical techniques: Bruno Mars even screamed into a megaphone holding it in front of the microphone, Kelly Clarkson yelled the highest note she could over and over slowly going hoarse.

Some tried singing in other styles than what they were used to.  Alicia Keys couldn't get through the first 20 seconds of her Etta James tribute before she painfully wrenched up to the highest note of the melody.  This pop singing style inhibits singers' ability to relax enough to sing even the simplest melody - there is a reason why so many sing so poorly on Christmas Albums and National Anthems. This is stuff that your grandmother could sing better - probably because her culture growing up actually sang instead of screamed.

Nevertheless, there were some great performances.  The best vocal performance of the night was certainly Jennifer Hudson's Whitney Houston tribute.  It was sung, and sung beautifully and emotionally.  She had a Whitney-like belt on the high notes, but kept it free the rest of the time.  The softest parts were the best.  Young singers should pay attention to that.



Foster the People sang the Beach Boys better than the Beach Boys ever did.  They sang with ease, clarity, and great technique - the complete opposite of Adam Levine, who butchered his rendition looking scared and in pain.

Of course, Paul McCartney was great.  I think his new Valentines song would better suit an R&B singer, but he certainly sang better than many of his younger counterparts on the Grammy stage.  I expect that most of these young singers will have long since ruined their voices by the time they're Paul's age.

One of the most charming parts was Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood singing "It Had to Be You".  Bennett's timeless voice was easier to listen to than Underwood, but even though they had completely different voices, they both were committed to singing with freedom and dare I say, intelligence.  It was brilliantly simple and gorgeous.

On the other hand, The Civil Wars, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and the Foo Fighters continued the shouting match, clearly showing why we love our entertainment and the thrill of a good beat and a spectacular production.  Even the song writing was horrid (Perry in particular) - so monotonous and nagging, you might as well speak to me the book of Leviticus on a single pitch to the beat of my alarm clock going off.  I was sad that even the country singers fell into this trap, this infectious addiction to belting.

It may sound harsh, but technique and entertainment are two separate things.  I certainly love the big show and emotions and everything else that everyone else enjoys in music and concerts.  I just hope that we will go back to singing well, as a culture.  It wasn't too long ago that little Michael Jackson in the Jackson Five was singing lights out, that Elvis was King, and the Beatles showed how many styles one could sing in AND sing well AND change the world.

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Last Saturday, I had an audition for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.  I arrived at about 7:00, and the door monitor recognized me and greeted me by name!  I appreciated that.  I waited around, paced back and forth, getting drinks from the drinking fountain, trying not to listen to the other singers.  Finally, the singer before me went in and didn't do so well with her first aria.  I waited to see if they would ask her to sing another one, otherwise I would be going in.  They asked her to sing a showtune.  So, I went to get another drink down the hall.  By the time I got back, the door moderator and people in the lobby were calling their family, all nearly hysterical.  Whitney Houston died - and news had just reached the opera house.  Of course, I had to enter and sing at the moment that they all found out about Whitney.  I sang Lenski's Aria and Dalla sua pace.  I did ok, I thought.  I just hope that I am remembered and not overlooked because of the Whitney Houston hysteria.  But, I definitely will never forget when and where I was when Whitney Houston died.

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I recently got a new gig, and I was very honored to receive it.  The NAIA has asked me to sing the National Anthem at the Men's Basketball Division I National Championship Game!  Here's the email:
"I just listened to your rendition of God Bless America, and I am highly impressed. In addition to being very good, your timing is really good. We have every session scheduled for a National Anthem singer…..except our marquee game --- the National Championship game of the 75th Anniversary. We were looking for a Kansas Citian that is truly special….if you would like to sing at that game, it’s Tuesday, March 20, at 7:00 p.m."
I am very honored and appreciate the nice comments.  In addition to that, I will be singing with the Conservatory's production of Carmina Burana at the Kauffman Center on the 20th.  And, on the 25th, I will have a solo recital to commemorate the 70th  Anniversary of the Soviet Genocide of the Volga Germans - White Recital Hall, UMKC, Kansas City, MO at 7:30.  I will have a lot of information about it starting next week!

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