Onstage, singers get all the attention.
They make the audience comfortable and keep them engaged. They’re often the ones most sought after for interviews to explain their art and intentions. Their voices define the music they make, whether they’re solo artists or part of a band.
But offstage, singers remain a mystery. We know very little about what makes them tick, and while researchers have delved into the brains of many types of musicians (piano players, drummers, those who have taken general music lessons), they have not gone nearly as deeply into the how singing impacts the development of the brain.
The few studies that have, however, have revealed some incredible findings: Singers develop strikingly different minds and bodies than instrumentalists do. In many ways, they are neurologically better suited to handle the pressures that come along with being the center of attention than others.
Fitter, happier, more productive: Many people can attest to singing being an absolute joy, and the full-bodied release it provides can help singers manage the stress of performing.
Much of this comes from the fact that singing stimulates the production of oxytocin, a chemical involved in happiness and bonding. Surveys of individuals who sing regularly report sustained high levels of emotional stability and well-being. Even professional singers, whose singing literally determines whether they’ll be eating or not in the future, still experience a sense of relaxation and energy after singing.
In addition to emotional wellness, singing can also impact one’s physical health. Studies have found that people who sing regularly exhibit increased levels of secretory immunoglobulin A, an antibody critical for the health of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Studies comparing the bodies of amateur and professional singers found professional singers exhibit greater cardiovascular fitness while singing than amateurs. This is why not just anyone can take the stage every single night on an aggressive touring schedule and belt for a full hour and a half, like Beyoncé or Freddie Mercury.
Singing also sharpens cognitive abilities. As one might guess, considering that singing relies on lyrics, semantics and syntax, singers have exceptional linguistic abilities. A 2009 study found that the language processing centers responsible for grammar and comprehension develop “earlier and more strongly” in young, highly trained male singers than in other children.
For those that continue their training, another 2009 study found that classically trained and opera singers develop a number of other cognitive faculties. Trained singers develop better verbal working memory and show higher activation in the basal ganglia than laypeople (ie. medical students), “resulting in more efficient information processing and implicit motor control,” according to the study’s authors. Singers also show increased activation in portions of the prefrontal cortex for maintaining goal-directed attention through changing sensory information.
These skill obviously help in a big way while singers are onstage. While training their voices, singers also train their minds to block out distractions and keep focused on the task at hand.
Beyond developing a sweeping range and expressive style with their training, singers derive a number of neurological, emotional and cognitive benefits from their craft. Even amateurs can get a good deal of emotional release from letting their vocal cords loose. The benefits people can get from finding their voice and using it to bring beauty into the world are too good to pass up, and it seems we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of all there is to know. Make more music.
By MICHAEL COOPER
April 26, 2014,
THE NEW YORK TIMES
There was a time, early in the 20th Century, when programs at the Metropolitan Opera warned fanatical opera buffs, in capital letters, “POSITIVELY NO ENCORES ALLOWED.”
The rule has since been relaxed only a handful of times in recent decades. But on Friday night the Mexican tenor Javier Camarena joined the small coterie of opera singers who have literally stopped the show at the Met when he got such a thunderous ovation in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” that he was compelled to give an encore of his bravura aria “Si, ritrovarla io guiro.”
The only other two singers to have sung encores during Met performances in more than half a century, by the opera house’s count, were Luciano Pavarotti, who sang one during a performance of Puccini’s “Tosca” in 1994, and the man Mr. Camarena was filling in for on Friday night: the star bel canto tenor Juan Diego Flórez, who sang an encore in a 2008 performance of “La Fille du Régiment” and in a 2012 performance of “L’Elisir d’Amore.”
“My God, it’s so exciting,” a beaming Mr. Camerena said, slightly out of breath, in a brief interview backstage after the performance ended. “To feel this reaction from the public — it was like a big mountain of roars and bravos and applause. It’s really overwhelming. Fantastic.”
It was quite a feat for a stand-in. His role, playing the the prince opposite Joyce DiDonato’s star turn as Cinderella, was originally to have been sung by Mr. Flórez, who announced earlier this month that he would withdraw from the first few performances due to illness. Mr. Camarena, who had just had a triumph at the Met in Bellini’s “La Sonnambula,” agreed to step in.
He got rave reviews. Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times singled out his singing of the second act aria, writing that Mr. Camarena “dispatched the aria’s impetuous runs — capped by thrilling top notes, including an effortless high D — finally finishing with a glorious high C that he seemed almost reluctant to cut off.” He wrote that the opening night ovation lasted so long that he expected Mr. Camarena to return for a bow, but he did not.
On Friday night, the ovation was again tumultuous, with several members of the audience jumping to their feet – which is unusual, mid-performance.
Mr. Camarena, who had exited the stage as the ovation continued, said: “I was waiting, because last time, there was very long applause, and I was behind the stage and was trying to think, what do I do? Do I come back, or stay? What’s going to happen?”
This time, he came out again, and not only bowed but repeated the second part of the aria, hitting another high D.
Now, given Mr. Camarena’s reception, there may be suspense about whether Mr. Flórez will return, as scheduled, to sing the three final performances of the opera, including a May 10 matinee that will be transmitted to movie theaters around the world as part of the Met’s “Live in HD” series.
photo:Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
BY TOM HUIZENGA
In much of the country it still feels like summer is a long way off, but it’s not too early to plan on hitting the road and hearing great music. From bucolic college campuses in New England to musical rafting trips down the Colorado, these are 10 of the most intriguing classical festivals. And below them is a listing, by region, of many of the best fests. Been to one we missed? Pass along your own advice in the comments section or via or .
June 26-Aug. 17, Aspen, Colo.
In many ways, the Aspen Music Festival is the Cadillac of summer classical music fests, in terms of its unparalleled roster of guest musicians and its extensive student training program. This year, the 65-year-old festival explores the idea of the New Romantics. Violinist Joshua Bell takes up the old school sound of Bruch, while Robert McDuffie finds the contemporary Romantic in Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2, “The American Four Seasons.” There’s Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, but also Lowell Liebermann’s recent operatic take on The Picture of Dorian Gray. Seven world premieres are scheduled — from the likes of Mason Bates, Matthias Pintscher and others — amid more than 300 events. Need more than classical? Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell makes an appearance, as do Tony Bennett and Rufus Wainwright.
June 27-Aug. 17, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.
Celebrating its 25th year, the adventurous Bard Music Festival picks a single composer and creates an immersive experience including music from contemporaries, plus film, dance, drama and lectures. Schubert and His World is the theme this year, with concerts following the stages of the composer’s short but fertile career. Schubert’s songs come into sharp focus in performances throughout the festival by Paul Appleby, Susanna Phillips and Nicholas Phan. And there’s an opportunity to hear Schubert’s opera Fierrabras and Carl Maria von Weber’s Euryanthe, both rarely performed. Leon Botstein conducts several of Schubert’s symphonies and Luciano Berio’s fascinating Rendering, a reworking of fragments Schubert’s unfinished Tenth Symphony.
June 27-Aug. 2, Vail, Colo.
If musical heaven is overdosing on orchestras, Bravo! Vail is the place to be. The New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Dallas Symphony are the headliners. Alan Gilbert leads the New Yorkers in music by Richard Strauss and Pulitzer winner Christopher Rouse, including the former’s Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel and the latter’s Oboe Concerto. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Philadelphians in Beethoven’s “Eroica” and pianist Hélène Grimaud joins them for the Brahms First Piano Concerto. Jaap van Zweden and the Dallas musicians offer Beethoven’s Ninth, Copland’s Third and Barber’s Violin Concerto with James Ehnes. And, to scale down a bit, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, the Calder Quartet and others are on hand for chamber music from Steve Reich and Bartok to Bach and Vivaldi.
June 21-Aug. 3, Katonah, N.Y.
Opera mavens flock to Caramoor, as the festival often gives plum roles to important young singers. In 2010, when soprano Angela Meade sang her first Norma there, critics gushed and many others discovered an amazing voice for the first time. She’s back this year in the title role of Donizetti’s hair-raising Lucrezia Borgia. Verdi’s Rigoletto stars Stephen Powell and Georgia Jarman. Cellist Alisa Weilerstein is Caramoor’s artist-in-residence; she’ll give a solo recital, join the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in Elgar’s brooding Cello Concerto and team up with the Ariel Quartet for chamber music by Schubert and Arensky.
June 11-Aug. 16, Chicago, Ill.
Not to be confused with Chicago’s huge, multi-genre (running concurrently), the Grant Park Music Festival, now in its 80th year, focuses on classical music. Best of all, it’s all free (if you don’t mind picnicking on the lawn or sitting in seats near the rear). Pulitzer-winning composer William Bolcom’s week-long residency includes the premiere of his Concerto for Orchestra. Festival artistic director Carlos Kalmar, known for his creative programming, leads performances of Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Northern Lights and Piston’s Suite from The Incredible Flutist. Guest artists include Leonard Slatkin leading Shostakovich and David Robertson conducting Britten’s Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham.
Aug. 28-Sept. 8, Moab, Utah
It’s tough to beat the scenery at the Moab Music Festival. The organizers like to think of their festival as “music in concert with the landscape.” Where else can you hear chamber music in a red rock grotto amid immaculate wilderness or take a four-day, three-night musical rafting trip down the Colorado River? This year, a few geographical themes emerge, including a nod to England with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial By Jury and Britten’s English Folk Songs and a Polish/Russian exploration of music by Chopin, Mieczysław Weinberg and the excellent but little known Grażyna Bacewicz. Mercurial Colombian jazz harpist Edmar Castañeda makes the trek with his quartet.
July 25-Aug. 23, New York, N.Y.
Naturally, large doses of Mozart are on offer at this Lincoln Center festival. High points will likely include pianist Richard Goode’s performance of the Piano Concerto No. 23 on opening night and the Requiem that ends the festival. In between, conductor Osmo Vänskä teams up with pianist Yuja Wang in a concerto by Shostakovich, and the in-demand-everywhere conductor Gianandrea Noseda leads a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth. Another top draw this year is the Mark Morris Dance Group with three performances of Handel’s Acis and Galatea (arranged by Mozart). Some of the festival’s most popular events are the hour-long late night concerts in the Kaplan Penthouse overlooking the city. Richard Goode, clarinetist Martin Fröst, violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and pianist Steven Osborne are on the roster for these 10 p.m. shows.
June 12-June 15 Ojai, Calif.
What the Ojai Festival may lack in terms of its length it makes up with a concentrated supply of intriguing concerts in both early morning (Brooklyn Rider playing Glass at 8 a.m.) and late night (Uri Caine’s Sextet with Gershwin at 10:30 p.m.). Perhaps the most anticipated work on tap this year is the world premiere of The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts), a chamber opera based on pianist and pedagogue Charles Rosen’s book The Classical Style by festival music director and pianist Jeremy Denk and Pulitzer-winning composer Steven Stucky. Crafty young pianist/composer Timo Andres teams up with The Knights chamber orchestra in music by Andrew Norman, and Pink Martini singer Storm Large stars in Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins.
May 23-June 8, Charleston, S.C.
Churches, theaters and parks in historic Charleston play host to Spoleto Festival concerts. Three performances of the oratorio El Niño by John Adams headline a broad variety of events this year, which include operas by Janáček (Kát’a Kabanová) and Michael Nyman (Facing Goya), lunchtime chamber music, orchestra performances and a pair of concerts by the Westminster Choir.
June 27-Aug. 30, Lenox, Mass.
The summer home of the Boston Symphony will be buzzing this year as Andris Nelsons, the orchestra’s new music director, is poised to take over. He’ll lead the orchestra in four concerts including an all-Dvorak program with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, Brahms’ Third Symphony and excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier. Soprano Renée Fleming opens the festival, which includes concert performances of Leonard Bernstein’s opera Candide, Handel’s Teseo and a new chamber version of Jack Beeson’s gripping Lizzie Borden. The list of A-list guest artists, as usual, is long.
Are you tired of success? Do you feel like you’ve had enough? Are mediocrity and failure what you’re after now? Or, do you simply want to stall your career and keep success at bay for a while? Well, you’re in luck! I sat around thinking about that, and came up with seven tips that are sure to set you on the path toward failure. Together, they offer the perfect formula for existential and artistic death. Here’s what you can do starting today, if you absolutely want to fail in the arts:
1. Sit around and wait for approval, permission, and authorization to be what you dream of being and do what you want to do. It doesn’t matter that the greatest artists of all time were daring, fearless visionaries who boldly took matters into their own hands with whatever resources they had. Don’t you do the same!
2. Follow the rules and follow the crowd. Play it safe! Don’t think outside of the box, don’t be different, audacious, or brave ever, unless you’ve been given permission or approval as stated above. Disregard the fact that humanity needs the artist to dream big, take risks, and bust through conventions. It must not be you who does this. Wait for someone else to do it first.
3. Care deeply about what people think. If someone doesn’t like your performance or your headshot or your play or whatever, go home and cry, and seriously question your talent.
4. Actively seek out the opinions of others, especially those who have never taken any risks on behalf of a dream or created any art of their own, and then change your work according to their advice, which they are usually happy to share at length.
5. Do some more waiting around for permission and approval. It’s the best use of your time, so get comfy and cozy. Do not, by any means, create your own circumstances, opportunities, and marketing materials with the free tools available to you such as the Internet, social media, YouTube, and Vimeo.
6. At all times, try to please everyone and be sure to live with a paralyzing fear of rejection. This will keep you on your toes and far from any artistic risk-taking and growth.
7. Allow others to define you, industry professionals and laypeople alike. It’s important that you really know who you are, so always allow them to determine your worth and whether or not you’ve got a future in the arts. Do not follow your heart. Do not look within and trust your own inner guidance.
I hope you’ll find these tips helpful on your journey. Remember to practice them daily if you want to give away your personal power, feel insecure, uninspired, and ruled by fear. Failure is right around the corner!
As you build up a repertoire of audition songs for yourself, it’s a good idea to look at the kind of pieces you have in your book. While it is important to have tunes from different genres and time periods, I also find it useful to consider some other elements as well. Here are five categories of songs that are worth looking for in your audition package:
1. A song that shows range. You will often see some variation of this phrase in audition breakdowns. The main mistake that actors make when readingthis term is assuming it means “sing as high and/or low as you can.” Yes, there are some roles where singing well at the extremes of the range are essential, but just as often, that is not necessary. So, if you have a killer high C, by all means, show it off. But if that is not where your vocal strength lies, there are many other ways to show range. Some options include: dynamics (loud/soft), spoken vs. sung sounds, vocal textures and colors, physicality, and emotional arc. A song will feel rangy if these types of elements are employed thoughtfully.
2. A “teeny-tiny song.” This is a term that Victoria Clark taught me many years ago, and it’s always stayed with me. To me, a teeny-tiny song is one where the melody and musical shape is simple enough to allow us to see you as an actor without a lot of bells and whistles. This kind of piece makes a great second song when you’ve done your big personality number first. It also is a chance to showcase your ability to be still and poised. Some favorites in this category include: “What’ll I Do?” by Irving Berlin, “What Makes Me Love Him?” from “The Apple Tree,” and “County Fair” from “Das Barbecü.”
3. A song of hope, joy, or optimism. In a day of auditions, it can be a real breath of fresh air when someone expresses a genuinely joyful feeling. Remembering that auditions are job interviews, songs like this can help me think of you as someone whom I will enjoy working with. Examples include: “Nothing Can Stop Me Now” from “The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd,” “The Usher from the Mezzanine” from “Fade Out – Fade In,” and “It’s Amazing the Things That Float” from “The Flood.”
4. A song that has an emotional connection. I think it is important to find a song that you feel in your guts. In other words, don’t just sing something because a teacher, coach, casting director, or friend told you it would be great for you. Only you know what will get your dramatic juices flowing, so do your research to find a piece that you feel passionately about. Other than going on YouTube, I recommend checking out www.newmusicaltheatre.com and www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com as places to start your search.
5. A song for your dream role. Most of us have a role that we long to play, and I am a believer in the power of having a song in your book that you will use to audition for that role. It may or may not be a song from the show, but it should be a piece that feels right for that character. Practice the song as if you will be playing that part soon; you never know what might happen!
By: Andrew Byrne backstage.com
by Jenni Miller
Meryl Streep is no slouch when it comes to transformative performances, but the latest legend she’s set to play will make Anna Wintour look like a pushover. Streep has signed on to star as Maria Callas in an HBO adaptation of “Master Class,” an award-winning Broadway play by Terrence McNally that takes place in 1971 at Julliard. In the story, the unforgettable diva is teaching a class while contemplating her astonishing career and dramatic life, which includes a torrid affair with Aristotle Onassis that ends when he leaves her for none other than Jackie O.
“Master Class” will reunite Streep with Mike Nichols, who worked with her on “Angels in America,” “Postcards From the Edge,” “Heartburn,” and “Silkwood.” The movie will start filming in January after Streep finishes an entirely different sort of musical performance in Jonathan Demme’s “Ricky and the Flash.” Streep, who stars as an aging rocker, has even been getting some guitar-picking tips from Neil Young for the role. No word yet on whether or not she’ll be attempting Callas’ famous bel canto.
Callas, who starred in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Medea” in 1969, is the subject of a number of projects in the works. Faye Dunaway, who starred as Callas in “Master Class” in 1997, directed and stars in a biopic about the singer that has been in limbo for years. In 2013, she told The Independent “about three quarters of the film has been shot, we are going to film the rest of it soon.” Meanwhile, Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”) announced at Cannes that she will begin production on a biopic about Callas this fall. Meanwhile, the opera singer did take a stab at acting onscreen herself; she starred as Medea in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s take on the Euripides play.
The following video is a wonderful overview of the types of soprano that exist in the world of opera. They come in all shapes and sizes, with varying timbres from bright to dark. They cover a vast vocal range and are used in operas from the 1600’s to present day. It explores what is needed to become a great soprano; demonstrating the need for the singer to be well versed in languages, stage deportment, and have a solid and flexible technique. Being a great soprano doesn’t happen over night. It takes years of schooling and waiting for the right opportunity to come your way. It has been said that “luck” is where preparation and opportunity meet.
The issue of fitness and strength are discussed quite a bit in this video. It is true, the singer is like an athlete. The muscles of the diaphragm and core are used at all times. The legs and feet must be strong enough to withstand the various sets and raked floors for hours at a time. The lungs, or “powerhouse” for the singer need to be strong, flexible, being able to expand in as little as a single second to accommodate the air needed to sing long, dramatic phrases. While it is true that singers should ovoid being overweight, the same is true for being underweight. As an adjudicator of numerous competitions and auditions, and as a private voice teacher, I have noticed a trend for the young female singer to be extremely thin. I find this quite dangerous. One is not capable of supporting the tone when one lacks strength and stamina in the body. The body is not free and flexible enough to engage the muscle system and take in the proper amount of air. I try an urge all my students to focus on strength of body, to exercise and eat properly. One doesn’t need to be model thin to be successful, however one does need to be strong and body “aware”.
The title of this video is “What makes a great soprano”? I believe the advice is wonderful for any voice type. Whether you sing opera, jazz, musical theater, country or rock, these principles will apply. Singing is extremely difficult and requires a life commitment. With proper training, dedication and of course, a beautiful and exciting voice, one should be able to enjoy many years of great singing.
By Amy Ellis Nutt: The Washington Post
Parents who have patiently sat through countless music recitals and questioned their sanity at encouraging all those trumpet or violin lessons need do so no longer. Even ear-splitting dissonance has an upside.
Music training not only helps children develop fine motor skills, but aids emotional and behavioral maturation as well, according to a new study, one of the largest to investigate the effects of playing an instrument on brain development.
Using a database produced by the National Institutes of Health Magnetic Resonance (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development, researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine analyzed the brain scans of 232 healthy children ages six to 18 specifically looking at brain development in children who play a musical instrument. (The original study did not indicate specific instruments.)
“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument,” said James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”
The cortex, or outer layer of brain, changes in thickness as a child grows and develops. Previously, Hudziak and colleagues Matthew Albaugh and Eileen Crehan found relationships between cortical thickening and thinning in various areas of the brain responsible for depression, aggression and attention problems. This research, announced last month in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, was different.
“I wanted to look at positive things, what we believe benefits child development,” Hudziak said. “What I was surprised by was the emotional regulatory regions. Everyone in our culture knows if I lift 5-pound, 10-pound, 15-pound weights, my biceps will get bigger. The same is true for the brain. We shouldn’t be surprised we can train the brain.”
Because the study’s participants were all mentally healthy children, Hudziak thinks the positive effect of music training on those who are not could be significant.
“A kid may still have ADHD,” he said. “It’s the storm around it that improves.”
Inspired by his own research, and having never learned to play an instrument, the 56-year-old Hudziak decided to take viola lessons last year.
“I had this passion for health promotion in children, it seemed silly not to do it myself,” he said.
Though music isn’t his only health-related extracurricular activity — Hudziak also engages in regular exercise and meditation — he believes the viola lessons contribute to his overall wellness. They have not, however, contributed much to his overall playing ability — at least not yet. The sanguine psychiatrist had just one word for his viola skills: