How can you accelerate the speed, accuracy, and quality of learning songs for performance situations?

On this blog I share my 'learning adventures' as I continue to improve my performance as a singer.

I share web resources I find helpful, and reflect on my experience using various technologies and ideas.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

BHAGs for 2009 - Setting your audacious goals

What are your music performance goals for 2009? Are they last years goals plus a little bit more? Have you written them down? Are your goals placed in a visible spot so you will be reminded of them each day? On your shaving or makeup mirror? On your computer's screen saver? ON YOUR BLOG??!

There is a school of thought that writing down succinct, over-ambitious goals is an excellent method to stimulate creativity and superlative performance. In my trade as a strategist, the term BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goals is used.

Key features of BHAGs are that
  1. You make your BHAG's 'public' ... to some degree beyond your inner consciousness
  2. They are excessively beyond your current and normal expectations of achievement
  3. You don't expect to achieve them
  4. You can imagine vividly the benefits of having achieved the BHAG
My BHAGs are in the early stages of evolution. They cover these areas:
  1. Gaining commissions to sing in solos, duets, and small groups.... as a basis for doing what I love to do before an appreciative audience, and earning an income
  2. Success in competitions ... as a basis for improving my performance quality
  3. Sharing my experience as a 'reflective practitioner' of performing arts to those who would gain value from my progress ... learners, teachers, coaches.
  4. Building my influence and impact as an innovation-focused director and leader in the field of performing and screen arts.
In a later posting, I will elaborate these themes into BHAGs. For example, under the theme of competition, one element of my BHAG is to win the NZ Aria Competition in 2009. However, I will be well-satisfied this year if I gain a position in the finals of the composition (10 positions). This BHAG is a stretch for me, as I require to prepare two Aria roles that are well-matched to my capabilities and compare strongly with the capabilities of young, ambitious, and well-trained full time singing students!

Well, it's time to go into recluse for a couple of weeks. Off-grid so far as the internet is concerned. Time for some mountain trecking, sailing, reading .... and commencing the track towards achieving my BHAGs!

Not Mordor and Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings. This is Mt Ngaruhoe viewed from Mt Ruapehu. These are active volcanoes across which I will be guiding a small group of visitors: the UNESCO World Heritage Tongariro Crossing.

(The location was used for filming some aspects of LOR.)


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Finding a singing teacher in New Zealand: NEWZATS

NEWZATS is the New Zealand Association of Teachers of Singing. The site gives guidance on what questions to ask your prospective teacher. And the reasons a teacher is valuable for developing your singing.

The NEWZATS site provides resources for both singers and singing teachers. Competitions in New Zealand are identified
clipped from www.newzats.org.nz

Find A Singing Teacher

Why are lessons important?
If you are serious about becoming a really good singer nothing can replace the one -to-one exchange that occurs in actual voice lessons
A good singing teacher can help you in many ways.
Regularly scheduled lessons.
Someone to hear you.
Expansion of your repertoire.
Networking with other singers and muscians.
Development of other musical skills.
Resource for further study

Questions to ask a Voice Teacher

What is your professional singing experience?
What is your teaching experience?
Did you study how to teach and if so, where?
What kind of musical styles do you teach?
What is a typical lesson like?
What kind of practice should I expect?
How often will we have lessons?
What other learning experiences can you provide - such as group classes,keyboard training,theory skills?
clipped from www.newzats.org.nz
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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ladyblogger: Not another music blogger...

Example of a constructively critical musician afficiando....

I can see the challenge of developing a blog is to define a finely crafted niche of value to a select group of followers.... I'm in the early stage of learning.

Not another music blogger...

My opinions, like 'em or lump 'em.

Inspired by the great work of many, I've decided to add my voice to the world of the classical music blog.
I'm in my mid-twenties, with a fair bit more life experience than my age would suggest. Musician by calling. I know what I like, and I know what I don't like, and I'm not afraid to say it. That said, I'm a big softie and get very excited by new talent!
Why blog? Because I can, and because I love being able to share my passion for music with those who want to read about it.
Hesperion XXI live is an experience I will never forget. I've been a fan for some time, but I wasn't expecting quite the level of sublimity that was bestowed upon we, the lucky audience in the City Recital Hall last night. If I could stay a little longer, I would be there for the second concert on Saturday night - different program. That being impossible, however, I shall simply bask in the lasting afterglow of a supreme musical experience.
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Directory of singing industry resources in NZ

Here is a sample from the NZSearch directory. Individual singers, singing teachers, performance groups.

Not comprehensive by any means ... where are my choirs: ShowWest, Bach Choir of Wellington, Renaissance Singers, Auckland Welsh Choir.... you have to register your organisation on NZ Search!
clipped from www.nzsearch.co.nz
NZSearch web directory
DownloadsNews1. Sweet Adelines New Zealand - barbershop singing for womenOfficial Site
7. Singing Rainbows
10. Kathi Craig
DownloadsNews4. Nz Choral federationOfficial Site

New Zealand Choral Federation. NZCF choirs performing choral music, vision, self confidence for the art of group singing
clipped from www.nzsearch.co.nz
15. Fusion a capella quartet

Fusion are a hot young quartet based in Wellington, New Zealand. Conceived in 2002, this quartet is already making a reputation for themselves as an up and coming group. Their distinctive sound and youthful exuberance rub off on all the audiences they perform for.
clipped from www.nzsearch.co.nz
DownloadsAudio or Video25. Official Hayley Westenra WebsiteOfficial Site

Official Universal website of Hayley Westenra, NZ's multi-platinum selling teenage singing phenomenon. Her number 1 album of Operatic and Musical classics on Universal NZ has become one of the fastest selling NZ albums ever
DownloadsAudio or VideoNews27. People2View
for people who want to be discovered and get work
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Yahoo Answers: Singing tips from an expert to a novice

The response to the asker's question seems very comprehensive and succinct.

Note that Yahoo Answers has a whole section devoted to music and a subsection devoted to singing.
clipped from answers.yahoo.com
Anybody got any singing tips?
im looking for some tiips on singing. i know the basics but i need some help on using my 'chest or stomach' voice because i always sing from my nose apparently

It is possibe to sing nasally in any vocal register. Using the chest voice will not necessarily get rid of the nasal sound. This is a resonance issue that can be fixed, but I have some explaining to do before I can get to that.

Glad you know the 'basics', but I don't really know what you mean by basics so I'm putting it all down. You can just skim over what you already know.

Singing is cummulative--all parts effect all other parts. In other words you resonace can be thrown off if you aren't using proper posture or breath support, or vocal instrument placement.

Before singing one should make it habit to stretch all of the body to release tension and to warm up the vocal instrument. Any tension can and will cause vocal strain and eventually damage.
Nothing should be stiff. Loosen up.
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Stars in their Eyes (NZ) - Request for applications

I think I can.... I know I can!
clipped from tvnz.co.nz
Stars in Their Eyes Applications open

Would you like to be part of this hit show! Can you sing and
look like your favourite star? Whether you're a complete
amateur, keen on the Karaoke or a professional singer we'd love to
hear from you.*

We're looking for contestants aged 18+ to appear on this TV
ONE primetime entertainment extravaganza.

You'll be given coaching on voice technique, timing, style,
stage presence - everything it takes to become your Star!

Register to become part of this great competition to be
named best in the land.
To enter print off the application
, include a DVD or VHS of your performance and send it
Simon Barnett
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Stars in my eyes (UK) - Talent agency for amateur and professionals

StarsInMyEyes claims it should be the FIRST place you visit if you're looking for information on film castings, movie castings, dance auditions, tv auditions, tv castings and tv extras; perhaps you're looking for information on audience participation and want free tickets? or maybe you're trying to find where people are advertising things like 'musicians wanted' or 'models wanted'?

You can browse the thousands of profiles in our online talent directory or search for specific profiles using our advanced search facility

Stars In My Eyes has audition listings for singers, dancers, tv & movie castings & extra work, reality tv, modelling and lots, lots more! From major movie & tv opportunities to tv game shows and audience participation in many major tv productions, StarsInMyEyes is the place you want to be to launch your career!
Are you an established professional looking for a one-stop place to find the latest

Or perhaps you're a talented 'wannabe' trying to get on the ladder to stardom?

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Monday, January 5, 2009

What is Art Song?

Here on the Lotte Lehmann site is an excellent and succinct explanation of Art Song (including Lieder), and how it is distinct from Opera, folk song, Bel Canto, pop, and other musical genre.
clipped from lottelehmann.org

What is Art Song?

Art song’s brief description: a poem set to classical music, usually for trained voice and piano with a duration of about three minutes. Other names include: solo song, concert song, classical song, piano song and Lied.

But this concise definition really doesn’t touch the soul of art song. The elements comprise a quartet if you like: poet, composer, singer and pianist. These work together, each complimenting the other resulting in something much greater than the individual elements.

lyric poetry, of whatever language, has inspired composers right down to our own times to set and even enhance a poem. The composer often makes the words more accessible, highlighting elements that only music can. Lyric poetry tends to be short, concise, often deals with love, nature and other elements favored by the Romantic artists of the 18th and 19th Centuries.
it is indeed still being written, performed and recorded in our own day. In fact, this may be seen as another golden age
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Where to Buy Art Song Books, Sheet Music or CDs - Lotte Lehmann Foundation

Here is a small clip from a more substantial set of resources identified on the Lotte Lehman Foundation's site. The site contains a diverse range of materials related to singing.
clipped from lottelehmann.org

Where to Buy Art Song Books, Sheet Music or CDs

The Lehmann Foundation makes no claims for the following commercial companies. They are listed only for your convenience.

"A Singer's Guide to the American Art Song" is still available. The list price is $55.
Customer Service: custserv@rowman.com
Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
15200 NBN Way, PO Box 191, Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214
PHN: (800) 462-6420 or FAX: (800) 338-4550

Pendragon Press offers musicological and in-depth books on a wide variety of classical music, including art song.

You'll find a title such as "Concert Song As Seen-Kinesthetic Aspects of Musical Interpretation"

On this new page we offer new ideas for teaching art song, and companies that provide often rare books about classical song and art song sheet music. Please submit your ideas and resources to us at: info@lottelehmann.org

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PRACTICE - Samuel BARBER, 'Sure on this shining night'

This performance demonstrates the early stages of my learning a new song. I began learning the lyrics one week ago - before learning the tune. Currently, I am working on getting correct timing, and matching the words to the melody.

I am not concerned about interpretation emphasis, and voice quality. Those effects will come later after I have memorised the song.

Postscipt: I have received feedback on my recording that I have "jumped a step". Before matching the words to the song by singing, I should first sing the song to "ah", getting good sound quality, breathing, posture, and timing. After this step, one adds the words. That makes sense to me. I've been too impatient!!!

For an example of my singing to a "performance" standard, see this posting of "Gute Nacht".

Sound recording
In order to get maximum feedback from my voice coach, I record the voice with no equalisation or other modifications. However, I did transpose the song down five semi-tones from its original starting note of "d" ("Sure"). I learn in a lower transposition then raise the pitch as I become more confident with all elements.

I record using Garageband and an old video camera shotgun mike through a Peavey micro-mixer (PV6) into my Macintosh.

The accompaniment might sound mechanical. It is! It is produced using Smartscore after having scanned in the musical score. (Schirmer, New York, copyright 1941.). I create a midi version of the song in Smartscore, then transfer the midi version into Garageband, where I complete the transposition.

Learning to perform from other's performances
On iTunes you can find some beautiful performances of the song. I bought a version performed by Robert White & Samuel Sanders.

I listen to performance versions very, very infrequently whilst I'm learning a new song, so that I can develop my own interpretation. I might listen once towards the end of my rehearsal to note hints of things I might be missing. I usually have at least two performances that I like.

I invite you to share comments about interpretation of the song and vocal production. (....more support on the top notes - I know!)

Researching the song's context and composer
I am also curious to know more about the context of lyrics poem written by James AGEE. You can find the lyrics (an a performance) on this website dedicated to Art Song: http://lottelehmann.org/artsong/bios/bio_Barber.shtml

Information about James AGEE is on the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/poet/agee.html.... According to the pbs site, Agee appears to have been a somewhat James Dean character (?): "Poet, novelist, journalist, film critic, and social activist, Agee would lead an unorthodox, hard-driving life that would result in an early death."

I'm rather intrigued by the man. Like me he has Huguenot heritage. And he died one day before I was born.

The images are from a fireworks display in Auckland, February 2006.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A reference to Chaucerian mynstrels

I chose the name 'mynstrel' for my blog on Blogger, http://mynstrel.blogspot.com/, as a play on 'minstrel'.

I had proposed many more simple blog names, like songmaker, songmaster, singer, but those blogs were already taken on Blogger.

There are quite a few other 'mynstrels' operating on the web - some are musicians, some are computer specialists. So by taking the blog name mynstrel (without checking more fully!) I add to the confusion.

But here is an entertaining and much earlier use of the word 'mynstrel' from Chaucer's times ... in response to a competition by the Spectator Newspaper.
clipped from www.spectator.co.uk
Latest issue
In Competition No 2560 you were invited to describe a visit to Glyndebourne or Glastonbury in the style of an author of your choice.
The winners, printed below, get £25 each while the extra fiver goes to Brian Murdoch for his hilarious Chaucer.

Whanne that the sumer shoures, lyke Noye’s
Turneth fayr fields of tentes to seas of mudde,
And whanne the raine still bucket-wise downfalles,
Thanne longen folke to goon to festivalles,
That they may wel disport themselves withal,
At sexe and drugges, and eke with rockenrol.
So with the yonge squires hied I me,
As whilom Arthur did, to Glastonbury,
To heare and see the famèd mynstrels playe
Upon a stage two thousand yerd awaye.
A wylde wyf ther was, Winehouse yclept,
The whiche did sing, and as she sange she lept,
Just when I came nye to her playing-place,
And so she struck her ellebowe to my face,
That I did falle, and laye ther al forlorn.
Methinks anon I shall try Glyndebourne.
Brian Murdoch/Geoffrey Chaucer

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Keeping track of your internet research: Clipmarks

As I research a new song, I find many disparate sources of information. How do you keep track of of where you found useful snippets of information? You can bookmark the website using your web browser. But then you have a fairly jumbled collection under: 'music' if you are like me.

A more elegant way of keeping track of websites is Clipmarks. Whenever you find a snippet of useful information, Clipmarks lets you 'cut and paste' the snippet into one place: a Clipmarks folder under your own account. You can also make the clips public so that other people can see them. And you can easily find them on another computer.

I have several Clipmark folders. One for 'music'. Another for 'environmental sustainability'. And several others for my 'day job'.

Click here to see my Clipmark folder full of clips about 'music'.

You can also send the Clip to other people, and post a specific clip on your own blog, as follows.

In the following example, you observe a little of my research about James Agee, who provided the poem for Samuel Barber's song 'Sure on this shining night'. At the top left, you see the source site for the clip, www.pbs.org. (The Clipmark link goes to the specific page on this site). There is also a facility to send a Clipmark clip directly to Blogger, and several other sites (but I haven't yet tried that feature succesfully.)

clipped from www.pbs.org
IHAS header


"I know I am making the choice most dangerous to an artist in valuing life above art."
James Agee acknowledged the restless journey his biography would encompass.

Poet, novelist, journalist, film critic, and social activist, Agee would lead an unorthodox, hard-driving life that would result in an early death. So voracious was he for experience that in valuing life, as he put it, he could not help but shape the penetrating, passionate, and colorful poetry and prose he produced.
Of Huguenot ancestry, James Agee was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1909, the son of a postal worker who was killed in the prime of his life in an automobile accident.
He published his first and only volume of verse, PERMIT ME VOYAGE in 1934, and in 1936 he embarked with photographer Walker Evans on an assignment to document the lives of poor Southern farmers.
He succumbed to a heart attack on his way to a doctor's appointment on May 16, 1955.
Portrait of J. Agee

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Classical Vocal Training for Singers: Warm-Up Exercises for Classical Voice Training

On YouTube you will find extensive advice on learning classical singing. For instance, this warm-up exercise is one of many vocal training trips from 'expertvillage', a sub-site for education and training. For more of the 240 postings (as of the date of this Blog), visit this community: YouTube/classical singing.

I present this example 'as is ... where is'. I am a singer, not a vocal coach. Accordingly, I am not willing to vouch for the accuracy or reliability of the advice presented on this particular example.

For instance, on the YouTube site, someone commented about the warm up example:

Not sure if I agree 100% with what she's saying. If you're using you're voice properly and singing or speaking from your mask there is no need not to talk to keep your vocal cords "fresh." As far as when you wake up, yes your muscles are relaxed and do need to wake up too, but instead of waking up earlier and not using them, you should do some warm up vocal exercises such as humming for proper pitch placement and tone focus.
I advise that you discuss the advice with your vocal coach, and write a comment on my blog (or the YouTube site).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Searching for a foreign language song: a detective story

On New Year's Eve last night my Hungarian friend asked if I knew a duet that she proceeded to sing. She wanted me to take the role of a soldier singing a song of adoration. Unfortunately, she did not know the title or text of the song: she knew just how to sing it.

The song she believed was in Italian, and we guessed the first line was:

"Quelle mazzo l'in de fiore".

I sing a little Italian and have a better knowledge of French. Another friend in the room spoke Spanish. A quick Google search using that title found no song with the title. However, the words 'quel', 'di', and 'fiore' did appear.

Re-specifying the search with just 'quel', 'di', and 'fiore' returned the song we looked for: 'Quel mazzolin di fiori'. Both a lyrics and YouTube result.

Here are the lyrics for the first verse, from www.istrianet.org
Quel mazzolin di fiori
che vien dalla montagna
bada ben che non si bagna
chè lo voglio regalar,
bada ben che non si bagna
chè lo voglio regalar.
You'll find a melody on that site, plus the full text of the lyrics. Hint: you need to scroll down the page to find the listing for 'Quel mazzolin...'.

An audi version of the song
Here's a site from which you can obtain a free download of the song 'Quel mazzolin di fiori', from ez-tracks.com: (All the male soldiers are singing this version!). You have to sign up for this website, but it has many free downloads.... and ringtones for your phone.

You might find some other audio versions using FoxyTunes here...
Quel Mazzolin Di Fiori
via FoxyTunes
There are many productions of the song on YouTube. Here's one reasonable professional recording with some pretty pictures.

Translating and understanding the lyrics
When you intend to perform from memory a song sung in a foreign language, it is essential to understand three elements:
  1. the broad story of song,
  2. the sense and emotion phrase by phrase
  3. the literal translation phrase and word by word
Accordingly, some investment of time is required to research these elements.

I noticed the following alarming comment on YouTube as I beganb this task:
"The lyric is not in proper Italian...in fact it is sung in dialect from Trentino which is a region in the north on the border with Austria."
I enter the search request into Google: "translate 'quel mazzolin di fiori'".

I found the site All Experts Italian. On this site someone requests help with understanding a small part of the song. The response to the request from the expert reveals that the soldier is double dealing: the soldier has two lovers! But the woman in the duet so loves the soldier she will still pursue him with a bunch of flowers!

Here's a small selection from the correspondence on All Experts about the song. (My copy-editing in square [brackets])
Ciao Ken,

This song is singed [sung] by a girl that is in love with a man that is unfaithful. This man, as you understand, go[es] to see his other girlfriend Rosina instead of the singer...

Your questions are good... see below:

"how can the singer know what will happen in the future?" No, the singer know[s] that this evening his boyfriend will come to her but she know, also, that Saturday (probably yesterday) he was to meet Rosina.

... [more]
A big CIAO from Italy!!
You could use the All Experts site to request a full translation. Lets' leave that to a last resort.
According to the Google search for a translation, there is a translation on the istria.org site mentioned above. But so far, it eludes me after some search. I have examined the Indexes on istria.org and found that the song was composed in 1904, and is described thus:

"Questa è una di quelle canzoni che, nate sui monti, si sono fulmineamente divulgate per tutta la Penisola. Essa è certo ora, una delle "beniamine" di tutte le brigate, montanare o no, desiderose di stare allegre anche....quando cantano una storia triste."

Canto degli alpini - Arm. A. Pedrotti Più che popolare, questo canto, si potrebbe definire universale. Nel solo Trentino sono note tre versioni assai vecchie. Versioni più musicali che poetiche, poiché il testo é pressoché identico. Meravigliosa la musica a tempo di marcia.

Please put your translation into the comments for this posting!

The musical score
As a by-product of my searching for the translation of the lyrics, I found the score here on www.istria.org

Jackpot: the lyrics, translation, score, and music all in one place.
After almost 90 minutes working on this project, I am starting to get frustrated. But then I struck a golden jackpot. In a last spot of desperation I followed the unpromising Google search result to: 'Searching for family - Cercando famiglia', and found these comments:

[S]tumbled across your site looking for the tune to "quel mazzolin di fiori". ... I spent five years (out of the ten i spent with the us army) in the tenth (mountain) division, and, perforce, I had to learn a bit about Italian military history. I just wanted to thank you for including the mp3, as well as the lyrics, on your site.
BUT WHERE IS THE SONG!? There's no link back from the comments! But the song is on the website somewhere...

I visited the Cercando famiglia home page I examined all the top line menu items, and beneath 'Current generations' I found 'songs'.... And THERE was the first song on the page: Quel mazzolin di fiori: 'Little bunch of flowers'.
Quel massolin di fiori
Che vien dalla montagna.
Quel massolin di fiori
Che vien dalla montagna.
E guarda ben che non si bagna
Ché lo voglio regalar.
E guarda ben che non si bagna
Ché lo voglio regalar.

That lil' bunch of flowers
From the mountainside.

That lil' bunch of flowers
from the mountainside.
Don't let the raindrops on it

For it's a gift I want to make.

Don't let the raindrops on it

For it's a gift I want to make!

Lo voglio regalare
Perché l'è un bel mazzetto
Lo voglio dare al mio moretto
Questa sera quando 'l vien.

A gift I want to make
For it's a pretty bunch

I want it for my dark-haired boy

This evening when he comes.

Stasera quando 'l viene
Gli fo la brutta cera
E perché sabato sera
Non l'è vegnù da me.

This evening when he comes
I want to know the why

That Saturday, that Saturday

He didn't come to me.

Non l'è vegnù da me
L'è andà dalla Rosina!
E perché mi son poverina
Mi fa piangere e sospirar.

He didn't come to me
He went to see Rosina!

And 'cause i'm but a simple maid

It makes me sob and sigh.

Mi fa piangere e sospirare
Sul letto del lamenti.
E cosa mai diran le genti
Cosa mai diran di me.

It makes me sob and sigh
Upon my bed of tears.

And now what will the people say
What will they say of me

Diràn ch'io son tradita
Tradita nell'amore!
Ed a me mi piange il core,
E per sempre plangerà!

They'll say that I've been jilted
Been jilted by my love!
Oh how, oh how my heart weeps.

And 'll weep for evermore!
Here's a site where you can upload your own translation of the song ... and hear a sung version and view the lyrics: www.lyricsmode.com. I might complete that task later, after I have thanked Cercando Famiglia.

And here you can find some images of Italian alpine flowers. The source of the image at the top of this posting is: Campanella Istriana. Loris Dilena e Giuseppe Jurzi, Fiori dell'Istria, MGS Press (Trieste, 1998)

My next tasks for this project are:
  1. Decide if I want to learn the song.
  2. Create a backing track using Smartscore.
  3. Learn the text.
But that's enough work for a while. I hope you've learned some useful detective tips for using the internet to find the lyrics and translations for songs you want to sing.

QED: Quod erat demonstrandum!