Never Stop Learning and Practicing Your Craft

Weekly Teaching Tip – Dec. 30, 2013
by Leigh McRae

Someone that I considered an old singer at the time, (although he was probably the age that I am now), told me that as a young singer.

The story that follows might be just about the most valuable lesson I’ve learned as a teacher…

Recently I decided after long contemplation that a new project or projects were required in order to bring some deeper sense of satisfaction to my life. I have been enjoying some semi-retirement if you will. I’ve cut back my teaching to 3 days per week and I have an increased amount of time to spend with my children etc and pursue other interests. One of those interests is a book about various experiences I have had in both my professional and personal life due for publication on April 2014 (stay tuned); the other was a long overdue new album, more specifically a 2 CD EP. One CD is my original material, the other Musical Theatre. I have recorded quite a lot in my life. I was a session singer for many years and I have also released a few singles and 2 albums. To say that they didn’t sell well would be an understatement. There are the traditional methods of measuring the success of such things, Platinum, Gold etc. I like to say that mine went ‘Lead’ and pretty much sank very quickly. Never the less I like them and still do (well mostly anyway).

So, I keep my voice in good shape. I vocalise every day, drink plenty of water etc and rarely does a day go by that I am not demonstrating and singing with a client by way of a duet or backing vocals. Add to this (as we all know) the incessant amount of using the voice for communication, yelling at my children etc … I don’t have any real issues except!, I am not ‘match fit’ as it were. Over the last 18 years I have gone from hundreds of shows per year to less than a handful at most. So I needed to get myself in shape for the upcoming demands of recording a number of ‘final vocals’ in one afternoon. The tunes were to be done live with a pianist only, and in 1 take. We were well aware that we might not use the 1st or 2nd take, but we would be using ‘a take’ entirely as a performance, no editing, no fixing! For me it was the only way to truly catch the moment and had worked pretty well for most of our predecessors. Some of the material was difficult including ‘Pity The Child’ from Chess, ‘Not While I’m Around’ and ‘Johanna’ from Sweeney Todd, ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Mis and so on. I allowed myself 6 weeks to get into match fitness. The studio was booked as to were the accompanist and producer so off I went in my pursuit of getting my voice in shape. I have recording facilities in my studio and after the first afternoon at home getting some scratch vocals, I sat down and buried my head in my hands. Could I even sing anymore, why had I allowed my voice to get so out of shape, and more so how come I didn’t really notice? I think I may have been even more nasty to myself at the time but being totally honest I knew that I had some real work to do. For those of you who know ‘Pity The Child’ it has a run from middle C to high C with a little turn up to the C#. My first recording of this at a performance level sounded like a banshee being strangled. So I did what I knew had worked for me before, I returned to daily vocal exercising with a focus on building through the bridges. I commenced with low larynx hootey E sounds and just got through more and more and in time dropped the affect and started to lean in bit by bit. Sometimes I went too hard and my voice let me know, ‘not yet Leigh’. I started with 3×10 minute sessions per day, and then built it to 6 and finally to 10. The next recording session approx 2 weeks after the first awful attempt, my voice was really different. My top was back and my stamina had significantly increased and I still had 3 weeks to go. With that I didn’t rest on my laurels as it were and continued my daily routine and twice weekly recording sessions. Finally the day arrived, December 21, 2013. We convened at the studio and sound checked. I told my usual bad jokes to bring some levity to the day and away we went. I sang virtually non-stop for 5 hours with a water break here and there, and not once did my voice crack or break. Most importantly we got what we came for. I’ve yet to have a thorough listen to the tracks as the producer whisked them away to be reviewed next week but what I heard will work.

So I’m not telling you this to impress you, nor to expect advanced orders for my EP. I have known a great many of you reading this for a long time. We have shared numerous amazing experiences. I know that a great many of you continue to perform etc, and could walk into a room right now and do what I just wrote about without any difficulty, however I also know that some reading this will relate to my story, and that’s the only reason I wrote it.

It is never too late to get back on the bike. The legs might not start off as they once did but they will return. I can categorically state that I am enjoying being a singer more now than at any other time of my life , and that is bringing me a confidence that I have not experienced in years. I can truly look into the eyes of my students and confirm that what I tell them to do I have had to revisit, and it works!!

To you my fellow colleagues, keep giving the gift of singing and hold on to it for yourself as well.

Take care.

Leigh McRae

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