Best Laid Plans

I find it hard to talk about planing for my future because things never turn out the way you expect them too. I would like to say that after college I will start auditioning a get hired by some production or company and live on my art, but I know that is rare and unlikely. Many people don’t hit a break until later in their life, or even at all. None the less, performing is something that I would love to do for a living and I hope it is what I end up doing. But I am open to pursuing other career opportunities.
In school I am working on my degree in Vocal Performance but also plan to pursue a couple minors that will help me find work if I am not performing. I am starting a minor in Songwriting which could help me find work in music publishing firms or as a free lance songwriter. I am planning on applying to the BMI Music Theater Workshop in New York probably after I am done with college. The BMI Workshop brings together musical theater composers and lyricists into a two year writing class. Great composers like Robert Lopez (Book of Mormon, Avenue Q), Adam Guettel (Light In The Piazza) and Jeff Blumenkrantz have been involved with the workshop and it would be a good place to learn more about writing for music theater. This would also relate to my second intended minor of Music Theater. I have always loved performing in musicals and it is something I want to do potentially as a career option. Meanwhile, the classes I’m taking and the training I’m getting from the wonderful staff at SMU is preparing me to be equiped for when I graduate.
After graduation I have considered moving to several cities that would be good to start my career in music and performance art. New York is an obvious choice. But also places like Las Vegas, which has good performance opportunities as well as being in reasonable driving distance from LA, would be a viable option. I would love to be on a national tour of a show or in a company, which would give me the chance to travel. If I do not get any work as a performer I have also considered being a vocal coach. I am a competent pianist and I like talking about singing techniques, so vocal coaching would be a good fit. I would probably like to coach older high school and college level students.Also, with my minor in Songwriting it would be good to explore all that songwriting has to offer. While I don’t think I’ll be pumping Broadway shows anytime soon, small work as a songwriter would be fun. And its a good way to make money, something every artist will eventually need.
Where I stand, I am flexible with career desires. I want to do as many things as I can and explore every aspect of music and performance art. I don’t agree with people who are so steadfast in their goals that they fail to take opportunities and chances when they arise just because its not part of their grand plan. As in the Burn’s poem “The best laid plans of mice and men Go often awry.” Whatever the future holds for me, I plan to approach it with vigor and excitement.

Video Elevator Pitch

Heres the link to my video Elevator Pitch for FACE Class. Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/5ZJ0dotsCPk

Skillz

I’ve always found it awkward to watch people read my resume. Watching people read of list of everything you can do and have done, seeing their eyebrows jump at certain sections or a sly smile grow at others makes me feel like I am already being reviewed and judged before I ever open my mouth to sing. That’s why I have tried to pad and grow my skills since I’ve started performing. “Skillz” is a popular term that UrbanDictionary.com describes in two different ways. As “Proficiency at a given activity” or “What your friend says after performing a task that requires no skill at all.” I think I have a cross-section of both.

The majority of my skills are music related. My top skill is singing; it is the one I have worked the most at and it’s the one that excites me the most. I have also worked to become skillful at piano, guitar and ukulele in order to arrange songs and write songs. Harmonica and saxophone are also on my list, but they are not quite as important to me as piano or guitar. I have also worked a lot on honing my acting and theater skills, mostly through doing shows that challenge me. Spring Awakening, which I have mentioned before, challenged me a great deal because of the content of the piece. Directing is something I’ve found I enjoy and have been told I’m pretty good at. These things would be listed under the first category of “Skillz”, they are challenging activities that I have worked to become better at.

The second category of “Skillz” are a little more generic. I have “skillz” in taking off socks without using my hands, making beautiful deserts in Umph or being able to change every article of clothing while driving. These, however, are not things I put on my resume.

While at SMU, I have been working to grow my skills and add some new ones that I haven’t really worked at much before. Ear training is something I have never been very good at, but it is a skill that is needed by the professional musician so I have been working to build up my aural skills. I am also trying to get more technical with my piano skill set. I am mostly used to playing accompaniment for myself and others and have never really ventured into just solo piano, which is often much more difficult. So, in order to grow I have been working on things like correct fingerings and transposition to try and become a better pianist. In tandem with these newly-found facilities I am always working toward my main focus of vocal performance.

I have also been working on learning how to ballroom dance as a side project, which I have found I really enjoy. There is the old criteria of the being either an actor, a singer or a dancer first, (now a days though, especially on Broadway, being an instrumentalist might make its way into that list) and allowing the other two to slip by the way-side. I try to balance all three as much as I can but I must admit that dancing is the weakest of the three for me. But, with ballroom and possibly taking dance classes next year I hope to level that out as much as I can.

So, those are my list of “skillz” as it were and the aspects I hope to grow through study. I always hope one day I will be stopped on the street by some random person and he will say to me “Hey man, I saw your Vaughn Williams concert last night. You got some skillz.”

A Bird Without Wings

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings” – Salvador Dali

I love that quote. I have a poster of it that hangs above my bed so I can look at it before I go to bed. It motivates me.

I always have the need to practice or write right after I am exposed to truly great art. That is when I have the most drive to accomplish work because I want my work to be as good and make as much of an impact on others as the art I just saw did on me. The continuance of great art is what motivates me.

There are specific artists, composers and writers that I consistently go to motivate me to work. The filmed version of the stage musical Passing Strange has always been and will probably always be a great source of inspiration for me. As well, Stephen Sondheim’s music and the poetry of Neruda, Thomas and Milton I have always found very motivating. I marvel at what these men have achieved in their lifetimes and it makes me want to create even more. I love philosophy and find it to be a great source of inspiration and motivation. In particular I enjoy Diogenes. Art begets art. There are those who are afraid to listen to or study great art in the fear that their work will reflexively copy or steal from what they have seen or heard. I don’t understand that because I have always found great art to be motivational. It makes me want to achieve the same. If you lock yourself away in some guarded practice room in hopes of creating something new then you lose connection to human nature and therefore can’t create things that connect to human nature. Art Garfunkel once mused “We [human beings] are either so much alike, so virtually identical in the inner workings of our emotions that we actually feel the same things in the exact same way or we are so completely different – even alien to each other – that we have not the slightest inkling of what another feels when he, for instance, pricks himself with a thorn.”

When working on things that aren’t to intellectually difficult (busy work) I listen to music. I enjoy and respect all forms of music, (I prefer some kinds over others, but I wouldn’t label a genre as bad) so I can listen to anything from Mozart to Movits ( a Swedish hip-hop/jazz band. Absolutely amazing).  Music helps motivate uninteresting tasks for me.

As I’ve said before, I get most of my idea late at night, before I go to sleep. There is a great story about Victor Herbert writing “Kiss Me Again” in which it is said he woke up tin the middle of the night and wrote the melody which he had been dreaming about on a piece of paper on his night stand and then went back to sleep. In the morning he had forgotten he had written it at all but it was there, ready to be completed. I believe motivation can strike at any time and we must be ready for it.

My motivation comes from the need to be something different. I want to work enough to where I know all the rules well enough to break them. I want to break something one day. So I am motivated by those who have broken things and gotten away with it.

I Will Sing Along

Before I discuss my values I would like to share a poem I wrote (if that doesn’t sound too much like a brooding artist). I have never really written poetry aside from the poetry you write in high school English classes. I made a poem about Christmas once, shaped like a Christmas tree… it was awesome. But I digress. Here is a poem called I Will Sing Along.

I want a girl who sings.

A girl who takes the time to feed the rhyme

Of a Mozart aria or a Verdi line.

A girl who trills on high As and Bs

And handles Handel with grace and ease.

 

Find me a girl who lives in song

And I will sing along.

 

I want a girl who sings

And not just the classics.

One who belts out Beatles and loves a Dylan rhyme,

Who revels in the simplicity of I-IV-V.

I want a girl who has Bach for breakfast

Lunches on Lennon and in the evening,

Dines on Bernstein.

 

Find me a girl who breathes in song

And I will sing along.

 

I want a girl who shyly sings a sunrise sonata

Or hums a hymn as she holds my hand.

A girl who holds a fermata for way too long

Just to hear the music go on.

A girl who cannot get enough

Of Stravinsky or Rachmaninoff

A girl who hears a fugue rise over her head

Who naturally comes down, but melodically ascends.

 

I want a girl who sings.

Who summons Sondheim to send in the sounds

Who conducts an absent symphony as the bass drum pounds.

Who would rather parade Porter than anything prose

Who loves the feeling of piano pedals beneath her toes.

 

Find me a girl who lives and breathes in song

And I will sing along.

 

Its no Thomas but what are you going to do. This poem did have a point I suppose in concerns of my values. I value people who value music. Not to say that if you don’t perform or know everything there is to know about music that you are any less of a valuable person. Far from it. Anyone who simply enjoys music I feel is a good person. Music has the ability to stretch beyond knowledge. Someone who knows vast amounts of music theory and history could have just as much fun listening to Bernstein as someone who can’t a breve from a bar line. That is why I love music.

But back to my original assignment. My values. Well I suppose that values could encompass many things. Principles, work habits, drive, passion. I definitely value hard work. You can tell when a singer has put in hours of work on a song as opposed to running through it a couple times to get the gist. There is a deeper connection to art when you have worked on it to make it the best. And that could mean intense work in a short period of time, but it is passionate work none the less.

I value ingenuity. I want to see something that has never been done before. That is art. In the recent production of Spring Awakening I was lucky enough to be a part of the director decided to take the show in a new fresh way by placing it in pre-Revolution 1776 South Carolina. It gave the show new life and new meaning and still placed the characters in a believable environment. New ideas are always better than old ones.

I believe that everyone is artistic. We all have feelings and therefore should have a way of expressing those feeling. Some just choose to do it in a more public manner and that is why I love arts people (if you got the Porter and Sondheim jokes in the poem then you are awesome). They are unafraid to expose themselves to the world and “hold a mirror up to nature” (I think that’s Shakespeare). I am happy to be in a place that takes the value of art seriously and does not judge people on their art. Do not be afraid to put your art out in the world. That is how art becomes alive.

Working Your Wound

“Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” This quote (from an unknown source) has made me examine how and why I work many times. I have a very distinct work habit (or ethic if you prefer, though I don’t know if I would describe it as ethical) that has made me realize how I work best and why I work the way I do.

I would describe my work routine as a short distance sprinter running cross-country.  Every once in a while a short burst of concentrated of energy (or enlightenment, if you will) will emerge and then subside until the next one hits. Even as I write this I have already gotten up to get a snack, stared around the room aimlessly and listened to some music whilst continuing to write. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not a multi-tasker. I can only focus on one thing at a time, its just that I focus on it intensely and drain the creative juices dry quickly. I’ll work hard for a few minutes then let my mind wander for a little bit, then I’ll crank out another verse or learn another section of a song.

I suppose one could describe it as picking a scab. Every once and while you will scratch at it, scraping until that glorious moment when it breaks free and the fresh, raw skin is revealed (granted, this is probably not the most elegant comparison out there, but what are you going to do…). It may be painful, but you lose track of the pain. It becomes second nature, but still engaging on a higher level.

I try to work my wound every day. Whether it be in a practice room or just listening to my rep pieces, I have to feel like I have done something beneficial. I work out times when I can go to a practice room and work on songs, or even when watching a movie I look for little acting techniques used by the actors on the screen to help improve my acting. As performers I feel that we can’t truly enjoy performances anymore. You are always working, whether you know it or not. We are always working our wound.

Correction

I have always regarded performance as a progressive art. Whether it be music, acting, dancing, art, or writing its purpose is to make something new, something that relates to life in a fresh and interesting way. In the musical Passing Strange the narrator, Stew, says “Life is a mistake that only art can correct.” I keep that idea with me whenever I perform.

I started singing because of my sister. As a kid, I tried to do everything she did; singing, dancing, acting, piano, all this came from me trying to be like my sister. She loves to tell the story of when I said “When I grow up, I want to be an actress” because I wanted to do what she did. In middle school I started lessons with my wonderful voice teacher Jeanne Grealish (again, it was the voice teacher my sister had) and I began to find my voice. Not only literally but socially. I began to come out of my shell. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at a young age so I was always different, always felt awkward and strange but on the stage I found my confidence.

About the same time I started voice lessons I also started acting in community theater in Albuquerque, my hometown. My first show was a Wizard of Oz prequel called Mayhem and Malarky (this was pre-Wicked days). I can’t remember exactly but I think I played a Mushroom. And I loved every minute of it. Soon I moved up the ranks to playing Rocks and Tigers, mostly at Albuquerque Little Theater. It allowed me to become more outgoing and comfortable with people. Performing was something I felt I could use in my life to become better. It was like hands on therapy for awkwardness. My favorite role of my pre-high school days came when I jumped at the chance to play the role of Piggy in a stage adaptation of Lord of the Flies. Over the next few years I became obsessed with theater and musicals.

As I started high school I became aware that singing and performing was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I found a home away from home in the theater and choir departments of my high school and to act and sing in community theater and voice lesson, even adding another voice teacher, the amazingly vivacious Ms. Jane Snow. High school also gave me a chance to explore other facets of the art world. I tried my hand at directing the one-act play S.P.A.R. by Stephen Gregg, which ended up winning two state one-act competitions. Show choir also gave me a chance at coaching as a dance captain and section leader.

Possibly my favorite artistic venture came when I had the chance to play Melchior Gabor in Spring Awakening, again at my alma mater of Albuquerque Little Theater. The role forced me to grow as a performer and think about things that I had never thought about. I was given the chance to show what I thought performing should be, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.

Art has corrected my life. I have loved every opportunity I have been given to perform and I am grateful to those who have given me those opportunities. My life has been exponentially better because of the people I have met through the arts, because I was given the chance to express myself through performing. Creating music and performing have been my obsession for as long as I can remember because it makes the world better. As they say, “Without art the Earth would be eh.”