The Greatest Description of the application of Technique EVER!

Weekly Teaching Tip – Jan. 5, 2015
by Leigh McRae

Now that I have your attention lets be honest, all of these exercises, bubbles, trills, sirens, meows etc etc… what do they all mean? I know about cause and affect principles and I have even been silly enough to poke a fibre optic camera up my own nose to ‘see what it does when I make certain sounds’. I do believe that when I vocalise that is as close as possible to the way I use my voice when I sing, add to this that I use ‘friendly vowel sounds’ to get through the ‘lumpy’ part/s of a song. I teach with the exact same philosophy naturally relying on the sound being produced and the feedback of the student as I don’t have the benefit of knowing how it ‘feels’ for them.

Many years ago I scribbled down a rather crude drawing of what became known as the ‘Feelometer’. Now the name is a bit naff but the principle was this. All singers had a guitar jack inserted in their throat and you plugged into them from your throat and essentially downloaded their physicality to your voice… done! Imagine the possibilities. I could plug into Stevie Wonder, Pavarotti, Aretha and so on and knowing what it ‘felt like’ to produce their sound I could emulate accordingly. Now before you get overly concerned as to whether I was drinking too much in those days (which I may have been) the idea was one of curiosity, and it still is. Well the years have rolled on since my scribbling and we have a great many tools available now that we didn’t possess 20 years ago and maybe one day the ‘ Feelometer’ will be a reality. In the meantime we are left with our tried and true methods with a healthy bit of improvising.

20 years ago a great mate of mine Jeremy Secomb and I were in Les Miserable together. He used to jibe me about singing teachers taking money from people, leaning on their insecurities and making them dependent upon a teacher. His jibes were in jest although I did remind him with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek that I was playing the role of Jean Valjean and he was in the chorus. After Les Mis, Jeremy went on to tour with Phantom for many years and rose to the role of Piangi. He emigrated to London and on one of my trips there we were having lunch when he announced or more so as a way of disguising his words coughed his way around telling me that he had a …SINGING LESSON to go to. I sat back in my chair and looked at him with amazement! You I said, Mr who needs a singing teacher. Anyhow once I stopped ribbing him (after about 30 minutes) I asked the following. Why did you decide after so long to get some training? The answer…later on

Technique, technique, technique! I can still hear Seth Riggs saying to me ’no technique, no career ’, and he is right. Technique might best be described as ‘a way of doing something’. That being said if a singer has an effective way of doing something then yeeha keep going, if not then that is where we as teachers come into play. I say this in a longwinded manner because I know that we all experience the frustration of seemingly getting instant results with some and not with others, this is teaching in it’s essence. I want to encourage you my fellow associates to stay the course, ask questions and seek appropriate advice. Never be ashamed to conclude that you simply don’t know what to do. That is where this organisation is of incredible value. IVTOM have the resources to help.

So to Jeremy, he finally got the lead role of the Phantom. I called him as I was so incredibly proud of that achievement. After his contract expired he decided that 9 years in the same show on and off was plenty. He then went into a new production of Sweeney Todd playing the lead role and just last weekend received a call from the Phantom office as their main Phantom and their alternate both called in sick. With that they asked Jeremy if after his Sunday afternoon matinee of Sweeney he might be able to pop up the road and sing the Phantom role as well, which he did. I suspect that not too many of us will perform 9 shows in a week and play the lead role in 2 different musicals on the same day?

Oh yes that answer I promised…

Why are you taking lessons and working on your voice, I asked? Jeremy’s answer, ‘after doing 8 shows a week for years I wanted to know how to sing on the days that I don’t feel like it’.

That my friends is the best description of the application of technique that I can give you.

Merry Christmas and continued success in 2015

Leigh McRae
(the occasional cranky guy)

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