You are a very busy voice teacher in New York City; can you tell us about your studio in Brooklyn and your work at NYU?
My private studio is very diverse. Of course I have the usual high school students who want better roles in their school productions, many of whom go on to college vocal performance or musical theatre programs. I have some professional working actors who are constantly auditioning and then getting booked, leaving glorious holes in my schedule! Each student presents unique challenges and I’m very grateful that Somatic Voicework™ has given me a template to meet them where they are and help them.
At NYU Tisch where I teach musical theatre majors at the New Studio on Broadway, I have weekly lessons with some of the most talented, passionate, creative and motivated students I’ve ever known. They still need solid vocal technique and development, though, so that’s where I come in. They have repertoire classes covering EVERY kind of music – not just MT – so we are on the cutting edge of training for the current profession. They are expected to sing jazz, blues, different eras of pop and rock and folk as well as legit MT and belt. Not to mention dance their tushes off and acting training.
As a seasoned performer, having worked professionally in Musical Theatre in New York City, on national tours, internationally, etc., what do you think the important keys to success emerging artists must consider before embarking on a career?
If you listen to musical theatre singers of the past, they had very unique and recognizable voices. They may not have had technically perfect instruments or in some cases any vocal training, but they could inhabit a song, some quite beautifully. I worry about the graduates of all the hundreds of musical theatre programs across the country now. They may sing well, but in this highly competitive market, what is individual and special about them that will make them stand out? They are all beginning to sound the same – are we training the individuality right out of them?
The other thing MT performers need to know is: acting first. Unless you are an astonishing dancer or a good dancer who’s content to stay in the ensemble, what performers on Broadway have always been and continue to be are actors first and foremost. If you’re being sent in for an agent submission or going to an Equity call, they just ASSUME you can sing (and you’d better be able to!), but they are looking beyond that for strong acting and personalization of the work you bring in.
You’ve also sung Opera professionally; do you find it challenging to keep your voice flexible to sing the demands of both CCM and operatic literature?
It IS very challenging! But it can be done, unless you really want to sing opera at the biggest houses and you have that level talent, then you should probably just focus on that. Similarly if you want to be a world-class high belter like Idina Menzel, you’re not going to cross-train with classical singing (though if I were her teacher, I’d definitely have her work her head register to keep her high belt healthy). Other than those extremes, I find that cross-training actually keeps my voice supple and healthy. My belting (which is not extreme and is done judiciously) has helped my classical singing and vice-versa. I’m always balancing what technical work I do on any given day, informed by what singing gigs I have coming up.
As someone working in New York City, what advice do you have for people wanting to pursue a career in the arts in NYC?
Have a trust fund!! No, seriously, it takes money to just exist here, let alone keep up with your lessons, coachings, dance classes, etc. Be willing to have many roommates! Take a “day” job but don’t get sucked in – you must be willing to let it go when you get booked for that national tour!
Also, be persistent in pursing your goals but also flexible. If someone asks you to sing with their jazz trio but that’s not what you really do, try it! Take any and all performing work even if it’s off the beaten path because it will increase what you have to offer.
Also important, develop a circle of colleagues who support one another, share information, etc. Start with your peers from college and increase out from there. It can be lonely and the rejection can be demoralizing. Years ago some friends and I formed a singer support group which met once a month at rotating apartments where we hired a pianist, sang for each other and gave constructive feedback.
You have been a faculty member of Somatic Voicework™ for a long time, what keeps bringing you back to the work?
What brings me back again and again is the tremendous well-spring of sound principles – both pedagogical and philosophical. It is the opposite of a rigid system, but constantly allows for new input and output. Every time I am exposed to Jeanie whether through a voice lesson, teacher support groups or at the Institute, I come away with a deeper and deeper understanding. It’s endless – like Poland Spring!
The future of Somatic Voicework™ seems very exciting right now, especially with younger people coming on board who are so tech savvy. We hope to reach a wider and wider audience, while not allowing the work to become diluted, which is a tough balance.
What are you looking forward to at this summer’s LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™?
I look forward to it all year! (And we are working towards it all year as well.) Getting to see colleagues from around the world is such a treat. Plus meeting new ones. We get PhDs, SLPs college professors, successful jazz artists and classical divas plus some curious singers who are not yet teaching. Most people who are attracted to Jeanie’s work have a certain world-view in common, even though we may disagree on any given specific. And that world-view, if I may say, is one of healing and service through music.
Please Check Out More From Michelle Rosen: