Johnny Flynn is maybe my favourite singer-songwriter. Along with Paul Simon. He’s a baritone and has a really lovely rich sound, I think. In addition to playing guitar, which you’ll see in this video, he plays trumpet and violin. And he’s an actor. If you like this video, you really should just go listen to a bunch of his stuff because I had a hard time picking just one song to share here.
On Saturday night, Jeremy attended a performance of Wagner’s opera Goetterdaemmerung at the Canadian Opera Company. Wagner wrote notoriously long operas (Goetterdaemmerung’s running time was 5 hours and 20 minutes, including two intermissions) and the orchestra is gigantic. Like, so many horns. You can imagine when all those brass instruments are playing at once it’s a force to be reckoned with. So now, imagine how loud a person must be able to sing in order to be heard above all of that and the stamina required to sing such a long opera. And with that in mind, allow me to introduce you (if you don’t know her already) to Christine Goerke. She sang the role of Bruennhilde and Jeremy kind of adores her voice. (I really like her too, though I’m not nearly as into Wagner as Jeremy is. And so, he’s become rather smitten with Christine Goerke.) Goerke strikes a fantastic balance of having the volume and ring to cut over a gargantuan orchestra, while always maintaining a beautiful, even tone.
We hope you enjoy her performance of “O don fatale” from Verdi’s Don Carlo.
This video dominated my Facebook newsfeed for at least a week after Aretha gave this performance last December. It’s easy to see why: she was 73 at the time and is a fantastic example of career longevity.
We often have students express trepidation at the idea of singing in German because of all the so-called “hacking” and “spluttering” that come with the language. And by hacking and spluttering, they usually are referring to the German “ich-laut” and “ach-laut”- two sounds we don’t really have in English. Never fear though! Enter: The Diction Police (what a terrific resource. SERIOUSLY.) with a short and helpful youtube tutorial on the German ich-laut and ach-laut.
Check it out: Selena Gomez’s “Good for you” and the Rise of “Indie Pop Voice” Are some singers going too far compromising their diction in an attempt to achieve an individual sound? What do you think?
The start of the school year means a renewed effort to post more regularly! This topic came up briefly with a student during a lesson today and it’s something I’ve considered before, so I thought I’d write briefly about it.
How to pick repertoire to work on during a lesson.
Preface: Sometimes a student will bring a song to us that has been a dream of theirs to learn to sing. (“And Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii will always looooooove youuuuuuuuuuuu” No? That’s just MY dream? Okay.) And we have no issue at all with helping the student work on that! Our attitude is “by all means, sing away! We’ll encourage you and help guide you so that you’re singing healthily.”
Sidebar: when I use the term “pop music” I’m referring to popular music. As in NOT “classical” music. I sometimes get puzzled looks from people when I refer to a song as pop music, even though it clearly wouldn’t be classified as “pop”, the way Britney Spears or the Spice Girls would (man, I’m clearly someone who spent a lot of time listening to the radio in the 90’s.)
Anyhow. Jeremy and I have, on occasion, run into some issues when working on pop songs with students. The main issue being, sometimes a song that is enjoyable to listen to or sing along with isn’t necessarily a really useful song to coach during a singing lesson. Some pop songs are truly terrific. I’m a big fan of some of Adele’ stuff! Others, however, lack certain characteristics that make them “meaty” enough to delve into in a lesson where we explore things such as vocal production and technique, rhythm, and musicality.
So what do I think makes a good take-to-my-voice-lesson song if you’re interested in working on pop music? Two main things:
- The melody really should be interesting. If the notes are contained within a small range and/or the singer almost chants or repeats the same few notes over and over, the tune probably isn’t going to be that interesting to work on in a lesson. A slightly larger range allows for more melodic variety, in addition to likely providing more opportunities for technical growth! But there’s really no need at all to think you can only sing stuff by Mariah Carey now… Here are some pop songs I think are examples of good study pieces for a voice lesson: “Hey, Jude” and “Yesterday” (the good old Beatles), “Sound of Silence” (my boys Simon and Garfunkel), “Skyfall” (Adele), “Stay with me” (Sam Smith, someone who I’ve gathered is quite popular among the youth these days), “Thinking out loud” (Ed Sheeran. All I know about him is he sings this song, is British, and has red hair.)
The rhythm should have some complexity to it. If you find the beat of the song is super repetitive and it feels almost like the syllables of all the words are equally spaced out, it likely won’t provide much fodder for us during your lesson as the rhythm becomes very predictable, very quickly.
There are, of course, other considerations to be made when picking music for your lessons. Is the range of this song (how low and high it goes) similar to your own vocal range? If you’re a 13 year old boy whose voice is changing (a time when the range is often smaller than usual), maybe be patient and wait for a while before deciding to tackle that Sam Smith song you really like. If you’re a young girl or a grown woman with a high soprano voice, perhaps the range of “Let it go” from Frozen is too low for you. It certainly is for me!
Now, after all that, I don’t want you to think I disapprove of all your repertoire choices. Sing what you want to sing!! But as it’s the start of the singing year for many of you, I thought I’d offer my two cents as you begin selecting songs to work on. If you want a couple examples of more useful vs less useful pop songs to bring to a lesson, feel free to ask me. In an effort to keep things positive, I chose only to list a few songs I think are good choices, rather than risk slamming someone’s all time favourite song.
Ever wonder what the harmonic series is? Here’s the clearest explanation I’ve ever come across. From one of the greatest musical educators, the famous American conductor and composer, Leonard Bernstein.
If you have the time, the whole lecture is also well worth watching.
In an effort to provide some interesting resources for my students to access between singing lessons, I have started this blog where I will share some of my thoughts about common issues that come up frequently in our voice lessons, as well as links to some great resources and anything else that I come across that I think you might find interesting. In due time I will also be posting some of my go-to vocal exercises and warm-ups for your reference. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything you’d like to see here!