Go see a performance!
At the end of February, I had the immense pleasure of seeing a long-time friend and colleague, Taylor Raven, perform as the title role in “La Cenerentola” with Kentucky Opera. We were in the same voice studio in college (so we studied with the same teacher) and became fast friends. Over the years our different paths have taken us to many different places, only overlapping a couple of times (Pittsburgh, PA & Louisville, KY).
I was thrilled to get to see her in this production because not only was she singing the title role, but I haven’t heard her live in years. Her stunning, warm tone soared through her fast coloratura in this role, and it brought tears to my eyes. I remember when we were in undergrad dreaming of moments like these: when we would take the stage and be able to sing freely without overthinking about technical issues. It is also important for me as a performer to go watch other performances. I feel so inspired to create and make music when I leave the theater!
If you ever feel like you’re in a creative slump or you’ve plateaued, go seek out a live performance: a play, musical, opera, or concert! I promise you’ll leave with more inspiration and zest for life!
Maria, Taylor & Ryan (Taylor's husband) in 2014
I recently watched a TikTok where a mom asks, “What are music lessons for an 8 month old, anyway?” My first thought is, “Wow, I definitely couldn’t do what I do in my lessons with an infant.” My second thought is, “…but no 2 lessons are the same so we could probably make it work! It’s just a different set of needs.”
The video shows a group class where parents and babies are playing on the floor with musical instruments (maracas, drums, etc.) and the instructor is sitting crisscross applesauce on the floor with his guitar playing and singing a welcome song. He incorporates the children’s names into the song and it’s pretty cute. It reminded me that music is for EVERYONE, not just those who might already have a knack for it. Music is for babies who cannot even utter sounds yet, music is for the oldest adult who longs for interaction. Music is for the stressed-out parent of 3 who needs a hobby just for themself. Music is for the teenager who has big, Broadway dreams. Music is for all those people!
There doesn’t have to be some fancy agenda or lesson plan to music lessons. At its core, music is about internalizing rhythm and notes and reaping the therapeutic benefits music has on your body and brain. By listening to, and playing music we are teaching our bodies and brains to cope with life. Had a bad day? Put on your favorite blues tune and have a good cry. Won the lottery? Put on something upbeat and dance your heart out! Music meets us where we are, and so should music instruction.
Mary, did you know…
a lot of your favorite Christmas carols were actually written by Jewish composers?
Irving Berlin: White Christmas
Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn: Let it snow!
Gloria Shayne Baker: Do you hear what I hear?
George Wyle: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
Mel Torme: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Joan Javits & Phil Springer: Santa Baby
Ray Evans & Jay Livingston: Silver Bells
Johnny Marks: Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, Rockin’ around the Christmas tree, Holly Jolly Christmas, Silver & Gold
Felix Bernard & Richard B. Smith: Walkin’ in a winter wonderland
This time of year, we sing a TON of festive songs: Christmas, Hannukah, etc.
What’s your favorite carol?
Growing up in Durham, NC I was always a Durham Bulls fan. I have fond memories of going to the ballpark and I loved hearing the organ, and I always asked to get there early enough to hear the national anthem. *When I was in elementary school, I was asked to sing the National Anthem at the “old ballpark” which was the park from the movie Bull Durham!
Since the Bulls are a minor league team, I don’t have an allegiance to a professional team. My husband grew up just outside of Philadelphia and his family pulls for the Phillies, naturally! They were all so excited to see the Phillies make the World Series this year, and I’m excited to hear the National Anthem before the games!!!
Last night before Game 1, the National Anthem was sung by Eric Burton (lead singer of the Black Pumas). His tone quality was nice, but on the second verse he lost track of the lyrics. As a professional singer, my heart goes out to him; he’s singing on one of the biggest “stages” with millions of people watching. The nerves must be insane! It is not surprising that he got a little turned around with the lyrics. Messing up the Anthem is actually a pretty pervasive issue---a ton of examples can be found here from Steven Tyler to Christina Aguilera.
In my opinion, there’s no shame in showing the lyrics on the Megatron. The song is vocally challenging (picking the right key will take you forever!) and the lyrics aren’t exactly colloquial. Showing the lyrics on the Megatron would help the performer, but also perhaps encourage fans to sing along!
I’ve read other opinions that bash Eric Burton to the effect of, “He’s making so much money to do this and he’s a professional. How could he get it wrong?” No performance is ever perfect, and that’s the beauty and curse of live performance. You prepare as much as humanly possible, but nerves, distracting fans, and audio issues (hearing yourself) can be major hurdles.
What are your thoughts:
-Forgive and forget
-How could he?!?
Leave a comment below!
We hope your school year is off to a singing start! Here at Finely Tuned Voice Lessons we have had many students auditioning for select choirs, musicals, and solos already! It’s always so exciting to help folks through the process of preparing for, auditioning, and nailing a singing performance of any kind. It’s what we do best ;)
While the process is super exciting, one commonality we’ve noticed is an abundance of stage fright, audition anxiety, etc. Singing in front of people is always an adrenaline-producing event, so it’s no surprise that a singer may feel some jitters. Here are a few ways to prepare for and cope with those fears:
We hope these tips will allow the singer to trust themselves, their voice, and their artistry! Have fun auditioning, out there!
Back to school means the end of another great summer with the kids, and the start of the school year that just seems to get busier each year. Students have the option to choose from what feels like thousands of options for activities; its hard to find the perfect one for them and even harder to find time to support them in it. We might be just a bit biased, but we think voice lessons are THE BEST activity your child can add to their curriculum- especially since they can be done virtually on a busy day! Below are 5 of our favorite reasons to get kids involved in voice lessons.
Improved test scores
Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, says “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering information stored in memory.” Who knew that you could train for the SAT/ACT away from a book and desk while having fun doing it?
Encourages collaboration and communication skills
Singers rarely perform alone. Typically, they collaborate with a pianist, guitarist or another instrumentalist/vocalist. This act of collaboration practices the social skills required to communicate effectively with someone. I have seen high school students make tremendous strides in their communication and their listening ability by taking just a few private voice lessons.
It teaches discipline
They say that practice makes perfect, but I have learned that practice makes permanent. What you practice with your voice will become second nature. Practicing also requires a bit of a self-starting attitude, as sometimes it isn’t fun at first. I define Finely Tuned as "making precise adjustments for optimal performance." Once a student internalizes how to Finely Tune their voice in lessons, they can then apply these same principles to other activities in their lives. We also post some of our favorite practice exercises on our YouTube page so students can access for free whenever they would like.
It promotes self awareness
Let’s face it…what student at this age couldn’t benefit from a little bump up in their self-awareness? These can be trying years, but learning how to sing creates self-awareness by noticing and recognizing how you create specific sounds using your body.
It forces the brain to work harder
A singer must use many parts of the brain to create their art. They are constantly internalizing notes, words, and rhythms, all while trying to convey a message. This is multi-tasking at its finest! The focus required to take a private voice lesson forces a student to be engaged the whole time, as opposed to hiding in a class with 30 other people as so many high school students do in band or chorus classes. The private attention a young singer will get in a voice lesson is different than just about any other activity out there and is often highlighted by the students as their favorite part of lessons.
The Bottom line: Taking private voice lessons not only allows students to pursue a hobby, but also helps them develop habits that are applicable to everything they do in life. Voice lessons are a terrific after school activity (an added bonus of no commute if you take lessons online)! Visit our Voice Lessons page to learn more about our approach.
About Finely Tuned Voice Lessons:
Finely Tuned Voice Lessons (FTVL) is a private music studio located in Mercer County, NJ and online anywhere with internet! Our studio offers 5-star rated private voice lessons to singers of all ages and abilities, with a special emphasis on middle school and high school students. You can learn more about about our voice studio by visiting our website, sending us at an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ahhhh it’s finally summer!
Summertime offers a fantastic opportunity to get outside, spend time as a family, and enjoy some downtime without the hustle and bustle that comes with a new school year. Often that downtime turns into boredom. Here’s where your dedicated music practice comes in! During the school year if you struggle to practice several times a week, suddenly you have time! I suggest setting specific days and times to practice and block out the time. Treat it like an appointment that you wouldn’t move: a doctor’s visit, etc. Once you have your time set (30 minutes at least) you need a plan of action. A typical practice session would look like this:
Monday-Wednesday-Friday 11-11:45 am
11-11:15 warm-up *feel free to use the YouTube tracks or a previous recording of your lesson
Set an intention for your session. Ex. I would like to learn and drill the passage of moving notes and sing it up to tempo with ease OR I would like to learn the melody of my new song
11:15-11:30 Sing your song 1 time all the way through being mindful of your breath, resonance, and ease of vocal production. Mark your music for places you’d like to revisit. Spot-check those places and sing through again! Maybe you choose to sing on vowels only, lip trill, etc. What tools can you think of that might help you? What tools have we employed in lessons previously that have worked well?
11:30-11:45 Sing something else! Maybe you have another song in your repertoire, or maybe you’re practicing something for fun on your own. You could also use this time to listen to new repertoire or brainstorm a wish-list of future songs to work on.
*Jot down what you practiced and how you practiced. Write down any questions that may have come up during your independent practice to be asked in a future lesson!
I hope this method works for you! Try it out and see what you discover.
This year has been full of firsts for me: my first time singing at Carnegie Hall, first time living in Arkansas, and much more!
Another first that I still pinch myself to believe it really happened: being in a new opera production with some of my idols! On March 18th and 20th I had the honor and joy of helping to bring to life “The Hours” by Kevin Putsin the opera chorus. This new opera is based on the Michael Cunningham novel of the same name that was turned into the movie featuring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore. The opera featured Renée Fleming, Kelli O’Hara and Jennifer Johnson-Cano as the leading ladies. Ever since I was a child I admired Renée Fleming. I bought her CDs and read her book and always dreamed of hearing her live. I never imagined that the first time I would hear her singing live we would be on the same stage! In college, Kelli O’Hara captured my interest when studying musical theater pedagogy. She’s a terrific example of a crossover artist: someone who can sing proficiently in both operatic and musical theater genres (or more generally, someone who sings in 2 different techniques: classical and contemporary, etc. ).
This production was a semi-staged production, meaning the artists were allowed to use music and the set was minimal. The chorus was placed behind the orchestra in the loft while the orchestra and soloists were on the main stage floor below. The soloists were costumed, and there were supertitles so the audience could follow along. This production is heading to the Metropolitan Opera in November where it will be fully realized and staged! I hope I will get the chance to go see it, as I have fallen in love with the music and the story.
Being able to sing and workshop a new opera with the composer was thrilling. Composer Kevin Puts came to our rehearsals and would periodically ask us to make small changes to our scores: a note, dynamic marking, or rhythm here and there. The function of the chorus is to at times narrate the action, echo a character’s inner thoughts, or serve as background “mood” music. Workshopping this opera hopefully helped illuminate what works and what doesn’t work before it moves to the Met in the fall. I hope the person who receives my score appreciates all of the markings I made for them!
Singing on the same stage as Renée Fleming and Kelli O’Hara is a memory I’ll not soon forget. Watching them work, there’s no doubt in my mind how they rose to fame. Their work ethic, calm under pressure, and rich, soaring voices captivated and inspired me. I will take these lessons into each and everything I sing from now on. I am incredibly grateful and humbled by this experience.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
The old saying is, “practice, practice, practice” but in my experience, that’s only 10% of it!
Growing up singing in North Carolina, I always dreamed of being a professional musician. I began voice lessons in middle school and never stopped. It hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine, though. There have been auditions I didn’t get and performances that were far from my best (namely the time I forgot the words to the National Anthem—I “saved” it, but how embarrassing!). The pandemic has further complicated performing with many engagements being rescheduled and cancelled.
I always knew I didn’t need to star on Broadway or sing at the Metropolitan Opera to feel like I was a successful musician. I was happy to sing smaller, local engagements and I still am! Those smaller gigs paved the way for my successful journey to Carnegie Hall on Monday 2/21/22.
Let’s take a look at some of the steps involved:
Voice lessons 16 years
Piano lessons 5 years
Guitar lessons 2 years
Hundreds of auditions (in person and virtual) and mostly hearing “No”
1 Young Artist Program
2 self-promoted concerts
10+ Professional Opera/Chorus gigs
Church choir section leader 5+ years
Bachelor of Music degree
Master of Music degree
Those are just the musical steps, without mention of the physical, mental, financial, and emotional demands of auditioning and performing!
So, what does it take to get to Carnegie Hall you ask?
Practice, perseverance, and a little bit of crazy. You must be crazy enough to actually think you can pull it off, and willing/able to sacrifice aspects of your personal life at times. I’d like to add that having a strong support system of family, friends, teachers, and colleagues has helped me through the years. If you put in the work and get a little bit lucky, you never know where you'll end up!
We *have* to talk about Bruno!
By far, the most requested songs in the studio lately have been songs from Disney’s Encanto. This delightfully animated film is full of life, color, charm, and many ear-grabbing hits by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda. You’ll recognize his name from Hamilton, Mary Poppins Returns, and the tick, tick, BOOM! movie. It seems like everything he touches turns to gold!
If you’re a parent of a child middle school aged and younger, you’re probably walking around singing and humming, “We don’t talk about Bruno,” “Surface Pressure,” “The Family Madrigal” and many more! It is amazing that “…Bruno” has stolen the #1 spot on the Billboard charts, and charts higher than Frozen’s “Let It Go!” Bet you never thought you’d get that one out of your head…
I think what makes “…Bruno” so special is that many characters have the chance to sing. It’s not meant to be a solo song, it’s for the ensemble! One of my favorite songs is “Surface Pressure.” I love seeing Disney feature a strong, female character instead of a damsel-in-distress ingenue.
If you love this movie as much as I do, drop a comment and tell me your favorite song and why!
Maria Palombo is the founder of Finely Tuned Voice Lessons, a private voice studio accessible anywhere with internet! Voice lessons are for all, regardless of age or ability!