Get Used To The New

It has been announced that one of the latest pop divas is going to be doing Cinderella on Broadway. Carly Rae Jepson will take over from Laura Osnes in the leading role on Broadway. She isn’t a “legit” singer, even though the part was written for one who was. This is the direction of the future. No point in lamenting what used to be.

For the many thousands of young people who graduate every year with a degree in voice from a university offering training in “classical” vocal music, there is less and less work. Having a degree in applied voice prepares you for — who knows? There are so many ifs. If at university you have been well trained, if you have a great voice, if you can act, if you have done music theater rep the way music theater rep is currently being performed, if you have confidence, if you have a “look”, if you can get seen and heard, if you can “move well” or dance, and if you are lucky enough to get cast in anything at all, you could get started in New York as a performer, but, of course, you could come here and face the thousands of others who want the same jobs you do and get nowhere in a hurry. There are very very few classical jobs and with the demise of NY City Opera, there is almost no way to stay alive here in New York being only a classical vocalist unless you are very unusual or have family money on which to live.

Yes, people get work every day on and Off Broadway, Off/Off Broadway, on tours, in regional theater and in other venues like private parties, and many of these jobs pay. A few pay very well. There are also “showcases” that don’t pay and people find ways to produce themselves in shows of various kinds every day. Some succeed. There are far fewer openings for opera companies, orchestral gigs (usually through AGMA) and for paying church and synagogue jobs. Not too many opera singers are free-lancing at corporate parties.

If the educational system that produces singers is geared to “classical” training, and the job market is geared to various kinds of commercial styles, it only makes it harder for a new vocalist, arriving in NYC looking to be  a paid professional singer to get launched. The first kind of job they typically land is restaurant work.

Arriving in NYC without the ability to “cross over” makes it nearly impossible to succeed as a singer unless you are an emerging Pavarotti or Fleming. Most newbees last two, possibly three, years and then give up and go home or go back to school to learn new skills in a different profession. Some become directors — others try play writing.

No one, however, comes here with good solid pop chops and finds that the only way to get work is to have “classical” training and sound more “legit”. The legit sound is going away as fast as an ice cream cone melting on an August day in Times Square. While some shows or casting directors do want a “legit” sound, if you take a look at the emerging trend (Carly Rae Jepson coming in as Cinderella, Carrie Underwood as Maria in TSOM), you will see that the old is really old and that the new is here to stay. Maybe that’s fine, maybe not. That isn’t the point. You have to see the writing on the wall and get used to the new. It’s not going to turn around and be “like it was”.

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7 thoughts on “Get Used To The New”

  1. Hitting the nail on the head, as usual. This is true throughout the Industry, not even just in New York. Even here in the hinterlands, there is consistently fewer opportunities for strictly “classical” singers. Fewer opera companies and even fewer that pay, fewer church gigs, even fewer paid solo jobs with choruses and orchestras.

  2. And yet there is such an overwhelming plethora of college and university programs, young artist programs, etc., training countless aspiring young singers who truly want to sing in the classical tradition. Having sung many genres of music myself (and loving all of them), I can understand how fulfilling it is to sing with your full throat and body as classical singing requires. As an audience member, there’s nothing like it either.

    So where are the audiences who want to hear this music and this type of singing? Maybe we need to foster some cross-over in the other direction (classical voices singing pop styles)?

    Meanwhile, I wonder how David Chase (MD of Cinderella), who values voices and good singing, feels about his incoming Maria.

  3. Good points on the way things are. But playing devil’s advocate here: Maybe pop voices in Golden Age shows is not necessarily any more permanent than legit voices were. It’s a trend but as for “staying”, who knows? A few more decades and things could go yet another direction. Certainly makes cross over training a good idea forever. Thanks, Brian

  4. What I lament is that so many young people hold the dream and expectation of making a living singing and performing, in any genre, whether classical, pop, jazz, indie or the next biggest thing. Not that they shouldn’t be encouraged. They should be encouraged to be the best, most fully formed artists they can be, because that in itself is a great joy and a great accomplishment. But they should also be taught about the realities of the world we’re living in. Universities, colleges, training programs, they all take people’s money without disclosing risks and realities. This is what bothers me. Be an artist, and be fully educated about what you’re getting into.

  5. In regards to this post, I find it spot on. I don’t feel this trend will reverse as history does not indicate that it is likely to do so. I believe the point at which musical theatre merges with popular culture is where we must be focusing our attention and this point is, now, determined by the commercial market. Gone are the days when the theatre informed the popular world. It is now the other way around. MEDIA, globalization, the perception of self-curated/self-programmed entertainment consumption ie YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, and rapid technological communication are the means by which this happened.

    Additionally, I’ve heard from multiple casting directors (two from Telsey included!) that legit today is not the same as legit 50 years ago. Legit is a loose term that is redefined as the industry changes. It is a comparative term so we must consider the extreme opposite when trying to define “legit.” If Daphne Ruben Vega is rock, we don’t have to venture very far into “classical” land to find what a contemporary audience perceives as legit. So, these casting directors made the statement that, for them, legit today can be thought of more as “Disney” rather than “opera.” An old school legit singer may find the “Disney” sound to be contemporary, but if you compare this sound to the raw, guttural screams, growls, fry, and other distortion-filled sounds present in the pop rock industry (which utilize 110% leading amplification and sound manipulation technologies), it becomes evident that we are indeed in a very different place today. The contemporary (music theater) audience hears a Disney voice and thinks “classical.” They hear an operatic voice and are generally disengaged. They don’t understand it, don’t like it, and don’t care. That’s generalizing of course, but is the brutal truth and is separate from the argument of the relevance of operatic singing in concert or operatic performance, which I personally feel are severely overrepresented academically and are growing more and more irrelevant. Here, we’re discussing music theatre, which is the musical dramatic art of the people.

    So like it or not, that’s the industry when analyzed in any way: reading break downs, seeing what sound is being employed at the professional level, attending workshops, taking classes, etc. The evidence is virtually unanimous and it exists everywhere. To not see it or to think that you are participating in this movement by teaching old school virtues, one must either be disengaged from the industry or must be ignorant and biased in their perceptions- likely both. Cross training isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I argue that it isn’t necessary. I find more than likely it provides a lot of sub-par teachers with a space to live that is neither contemporary nor passé- it permits them to teach a muddy, watered down something or other pieced together from experience and rarely based on a pragmatic and focused, all encompassing pedagogy. The product: the student, is often neither legit nor pop/rock…they are this odd hybrid that we somehow define as the “MT sound” and these singers perform most frequently in cabarets and song cycle performances on YouTube. They are hyper internal as singers, constantly in their heads, with a round but pointed voice that somehow manages mobility yet is void of individuality and expressive freedom. There is an emotional limit on these voices as they are always tip toeing within the confines of the music and paradigm from which they were born. They sing and prefer contemporary material but are rarely innovators in the top tier and would be out-rocked, out-punked, out-souled, or out-sexified by any mediocre CCM artist or band. And out-sung by any professional legit singer on the other end. And out-acted by any working theatrical performer. And……okay I’ll stop there. 😉

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