Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mix Picks 2016

Hey Guys!

I hope you all had a beautiful and restful holiday week with family, friends, booze, cookies, time to do your laundry and actually access the Netflix and Hulu accounts you pay for... everything your heart desired.  This post comes a week late but I couldn't skip a Mixie Picks post.  I hope you'll take my recommendations from 2016 into account when planning your 2017. :)

This year has been rough for many of us in different ways.  Today marks my one year anniversary of making a major career adjustment. I began a full time teaching position at a public middle school.  The kids treated me like the sub of the century in the beginning... but it's getting better and easier every day. Even though I teach theatre, a lot of my time unfortunately wasn't spent on singing this year, so you'll notice that my Mixie Picks list for 2016 is appropriately... well... a MIX of things having to do with singing and some having nothing at all to do with singing... because as closely related as I am to Maria Von Trapp, no amount of singing could help this b^*%@, so I needed some other vices.   Here are the simple pleasures that got me through to the other side.

1.  Dear Evan Hansen - This was a favorite this year, for sure, and it completely rejuvenated my excitement for new musical theatre.  Truth be told, I haven't enjoyed seeing shows lately because I can't stay up late enough anymore to watch an 8pm show, and I inevitably end up sitting next to some huge guy who breathes too loud or whose nose whistles and distracts me through the whole thing.  So I just haven't really GONE to see shows lately.  But Dear Evan Hansen, despite the loud breather next to me, was something that I LOVED.  Ben Platt is a freaking MACHINE and I can't wait for the soundtrack to come out.  It really felt like one of those unforgettable nights of theater that happens once and won't ever happen again. You could have heard a PIN DROP in the audience...(except the man who was breathing next to me) and if you like your shows LOUD/SURROUND SOUND like I do, this is for you.

2. She Loves Me - Ok. When everybody else was flipping out about Hamilton, I was flipping out about She Loves Me.  If you haven't seen this, you should watch the live taping they did for television this summer.  Too good to miss.  When I was in middle school, if I wasn't watching the Food Network I could be spotted watching the live taping of Kiss Me Kate starring Rachel York on repeat.  This would have been my next repeat obsession if I were still 12. The set alone was incredible but Gavin Creel....? I mean....

3.  Impractical Jokers and Worst Cooks Celebrity Edition - These two shows have been around for a long time but they are a must for me lately.  Impractical Jokers, a new discovery for me, is a hidden camera show on TruTV with four guys who dare each other to do crazy things in public.  These guys kind of remind me a little of my dad and uncles so maybe that's why I love it, but I have never laughed so hard.  Worst Cooks Celebrity Edition is a reality show involving celebrities who happen to be awful cooks competing for $25,000 to give to the charity of their choice.  Both of these shows have helped me wind down at night.  No drama, no tension... just really funny.

4. Cynthia Erivo on The Last Five Years - Ok, so, you know it would not be a post from me unless I somehow mentioned Sherie Rene Scott... In September Jason Robert Brown hosted a live benefit concert of The Last Five Years starring Joshua Henry and Cynthia Erivo, two of my musical theater voice crushes.  I can officially say... and while this is very difficult for me, it must be said...  I do believe that Cynthia Erivo's voice is what my adult Kathy-wannabe ears want to hear on this music. I was introduced to this show when I was 15 when my chorus teacher saw it and shared the cast recording with us the next day.  SRS's voice was what I aspired to BE from 15-present day.  But it's almost as if the musical grew up with me... and I have the sound I fell in love with when I was 15 and now the sound I feel closer to emotionally as a 29 year old.  I've never heard two cast recordings of the same show and loved two different versions for completely different reasons....  So if you haven't heard Cynthia Erivo sing this show, DO IT.


5. Numero 28 Pizzeria - Ok so... this is not the first time I've recommended a pizza in my annual picks.  Previously, I nominated Trader Joe's Gluten Free pizza as my favorite food of 2014.  We've come a long way, my friends. We've come a long way.  If you eat gluten free, you need to IMMEDIATELY find yourself a Numero 28 restaurant and order a pie.  It's a non-negotiable.  The tomato sauce is magical and the crust is not like cardboard. I'm sorry... look at that pizza. The only thing that keeps me from eating it every night is that they don't take pick-up orders over the phone. You have to order in person and sit and wait.  Ain't nobody got time for that, so Chipotle it usually is.

6. Making a Murderer - I feel badly saying this is a favorite thing of mine this year because the subject matter is very sad and disturbing, but this is a fascinating documentary and I think everybody in this COUNTRY needs to see it.

7. Niagara Falls - Holy s$%&.  Just go.  And do the boat ride. It's worth it.

8.  The 2016 Microsoft Office Free Trial:  I mean... ok.  Guys, I didn't even realize but I was using Microsoft Office 2008 up until last week.  I was already pretty proud of my PowerPoint presentations but I didn't even know how many first world problems I had until I installed this new free trial.  The update is worth the cost. Do it.  In 2017, the docs are gonna fly!

9. If you are a teacher and have never used, you must.  My entire school musical was essentially donated by some complete strangers who believe in giving kids access to the arts. We are so grateful and I cannot wait until February when our show opens.  Seeing the kids' faces as they've been opening the boxes of materials we've received ... and knowing they're going to be proud of the show they put up in February... That's what I'm excited for in 2017!

Only 9 this year, folks! And that basically sums up my 2016...  too tired to give a sh^t about coming up with a 10th thing.   What were your vices this year????

Happy 2017!!!!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Precision: The Proper Stopper

Hey Guys! It's been quite a while.

I have something to ask you.  Come here... closer... closer...

Do you secretly wonder what the HELL "proper technique" is even though you've been singing for a freaking long time?

You're not alone.  I have a BFA in Musical Theatre and people trust me (for some reason) to teach THEM how to sing... and I'm not ashamed to say that even I sometimes question whether I use "proper technique..." because honestly... what's "proper" for you might not be "proper" for me or for the song I'm singing.

This video resurfaced on my newsfeed recently.  You don't have to watch the whole thing to get the point.


Look at how these people clearly know exactly what is supposed to happen in every single second of this performance.  Nothing is improvised because someone could literally die.

But what if we had this much control over our vocal performance, too? Why not?

Picture it.

You're sitting with your friend who is inevitably bitching about some casting choice that you don't necessarily agree with. "Ugh! She doesn't even have proper technique! She probably has nodes," she says.  You do the slow laugh with that deer in the headlights kind of look. She excuses herself to go to the restroom and that's when you immediately scramble for your phone.  "What... is... proper... technique...," you type as your hands shake and you keep one eye on the phone and the other on the restroom door.  There's a lot at stake here and the free wifi is failing you.  If your friend sees what you're doing, it will not only result in her telling all of your other friends that you don't know what proper technique is, but it would also mean the perpetual accusations of the presence of nodules every time you sneeze. You see the bathroom door open and your friend emerges as you begin to feel sweat dripping in places you didn't even know you had.  "Come on, come on, come on..." you say through your teeth which have been grinding so hard they are down to nubs.  Finally the page is beginning to load.

And that's when you see it.  No simple definition of "proper technique."

Upon googling "proper voice technique" you will find among the first results some blogs, a few homemade websites with very little specific instruction or clinical vocabulary....  This is sad considering how much we throw this term around as if we know what we're talking about (especially on social media and in YouTube comments. Ugh).

As a last resort, you will click a Wiki page for "Singing" (so pathetic) which contains four sentences with the key phrase "proper technique." The term "proper technique" is not clickable so it does not have some kind of subpage explaining what that is.

Clearly "proper" is a buzzword we throw around a lot when referring to singing, but what does this mean when there is no explanation?  Wikipedia DOES say:

All of these different concepts [resonance, vocal registration, vocal health] are a part of developing proper vocal technique. Not all vocal teachers have the same opinions within every topic of study which causes variations in pedagogical approaches and vocal technique.

Thinking about it, especially in terms of people who sing multiple styles, I've boiled proper technique down to these points:
  • I know what "danger zone" feels like and I know to back off when I get near it
  • I can sing for long durations without fatigue 
  • and I know somewhat (or I'm at least curious and willing to ask about) what I'm doing physiologically to create the sound I am striving for. There's no crossing fingers.  I'm hitting my marks and I would know how to hit them again.     
The rest, I believe, is STYLE or AESTHETIC and what's right FOR YOU.

Maybe singing is so mysterious because we can't see a lot of what we're doing unlike dance, but luckily we're living in the day and age when we can enlighten ourselves with technology.  We have ways of knowing, finding out and/or asking scientifically and for certain what we're ACTUALLY doing, how to replicate it consciously and stop guessing what we're doing and about to do.  

Let's face it, the use of the term "proper voice technique" may just be a way to silently express to the people around us that we are superior because we MUST know what that means if we're talking about it.  What would happen if every time we heard that phrase in conversation we stopped the speaker and asked "Yeah, what is that anyway?"  There might be some stuttering.  There might even be some fighting.  Hell might ACTUALLY freeze over.  Who knows... but maybe that person who's stopped in his tracks when you ask that question might respond with, "Thank God... I thought I was the only one!"

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mixie Picks from 2015 that will stick around for 2016

Hey Guys! 2015 has come to an end and, admittedly, I didn't have the time to do my annual Mixie Picks update.  But, thanks to the three day holiday weekend, I am able to tell you all about the things that got me through 2015 and will be sticking around for my 2016!

This year, I was relieved to see so much inspirational theatre.  We went through quite a dry spell (we all remember that Tony Awards ceremony with the live commercials for the shows coming next season...).  Here are the shows that inspired ME!

The King & I:  When I find myself conversing with a tourist who asks me what I do for a living, they usually end up asking me for advice about what to see here in NY while they're here.  I tell them ALL to see The King and I.  This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen on Broadway. I even bought a poster!!! When I saw this show, I felt the 12 year old musical theatre nerd in me come back to life.  The set, the choreography, the open pit... it was thrilling to see and I can't wait to go back.  And this is my favorite Kelli O'hara performance as of yet.

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The Visit: Now, my friends think I'm crazy for this, but I really liked The Visit.  This was a one-act musical about a woman who was shamed and exiled by her hometown for being a slut, basically, but she comes back the wealthiest woman in the world decades later. She offers to save the town from extreme poverty in exchange for one thing: the life of the man who caused her shame.  The musical tells the story of how the town deals with this offer.  I thought, while it was really weird, it was an interesting story and I enjoyed the music.

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Hunchback of Notre Dame: I was at my parents' house for Easter weekend and needed some alone time, so I decided to watch a bootleg that was available on youtube of the La Jolla production.  The music is BEAUTIFUL. And I have never been more excited for an album release (January 22nd!).  Highly recommend listening and trying to find videos of this one online.
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Adele Live at Radio City:  For those who are not impressed by Adele's latest album, I implore you to watch the concert on demand.  I wasn't really fazed by the music but watched the concert and now cannot stop listening.  And for those who are not sure about how to perform pop songs, this is a good one to watch.  Adele is feeling her music and 'jamming' while telling the story (I definitely needed to see the stories to appreciate listening to the songs).  And her voice is amazing live!

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The Jinx: This summer I couldn't go anywhere without hearing, "Have you watched The Jinx yet?"  If you like murder mysteries and have HBO Go, you should try this. It's a documentary in 6 episodes.

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Will It Waffle?:  I had a student who mentioned he is the host of a vlog so I checked it out and I am now addicted to it.  The concept of the show is Jackson will take suggestions of what to put in a waffle maker to see whether it will turn into a waffle.  While some of the suggestions are obvious yeses (eggs) or no's (jam), others will have you waiting the 3+ minutes to see whether it will, in fact, create a waffle shaped solid (bananas!, a happy meal!, etc!)  If you have some time to kill, check this one out. It's really fun.

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VEEP: Here is a binge watch for you.  It's filthy, smart humor and I think it deserves every Emmy it's ever received.  They have 4 seasons available on HBO Go now, and the 5th will be coming out soon! You can get through it all in one weekend if you really wanted to because the episodes are very short.

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Ginger/Turmeric Shots: These saved my life quite a few times this year.  Feel a cold coming on? Whole Foods carries this great little line of shots to take that will boost you back to your old self.

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Whorl Inside a Loop: As usual, I have to include SOMETHING with Sherie Rene Scott, but this is not an obligatory shoutout; I really enjoyed this production.  She and Dick Scanlan wrote this play about a woman who goes into a prison to teach drama classes and learns about the prisoners (and herself) through their own writings and storytelling.  I'm waiting for this script to be published so that I can read it because, like her cabarets also co-written by Dick Scanlan, the language can sometimes be a little poetic and there is a lot of symbolism to be missed if you can't experience it more than once.

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Hand to God: Hilarious.  I was SCREAMING in the theater along with the rest of the audience. I don't think I've ever been so effected by a comedy before whether it be a movie, TV show or play. Again, it's filthy and often very inappropriate, and the subject matter is totally bizarre, but I LOVE it and can't wait to see it again.  I also love the addition of the subtitle "A New American Play" because, honestly, this show is so dysfunctional it really could only be American.

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AnyTune: This app that I just learned about is FANTASTIC for musical theatre people.  You can upload any recording and transpose into any key, and you can even slow it down or make it faster.  It's not free but it's definitely worth it!!!

So there you have it! My Mixie Picks for 2015 are here for you all to try! What were your favorites this year???