We got back from an epic NYC sojourn. We’re still in recovery.
Melissa and I went to a memorial service for a NYC mentor of mine.
We shared in a celebration for my college voice teacher and founder of Elon’s musical theatre program, Cathy McNeela. (Daniel Watts and I shared a sung-and-tapped “Anyone Can Whistle.”)
The boys adventured in Brooklyn. (Thanks to former student and perpetual badass Parker Jennings.)
I rolled my ankle and executed a full wipe-out schlepping luggage and garbage down the brownstone stairs where we stayed.
We pretended to be the Statue of Liberty from Red Hook.
We languished in BQE gridlock and dodged the Five Boroughs’ finest drivers while one child had to poop, a dashboard warning light came on, and our AC went all funky.
We made it to a Bronx McDonalds. Phew.
Adrenaline wore off, and my ankle swelled, so Melissa took over the driving in Connecticut.
The other kid had to poop.
I got COVID.
We made it.
Now that you’re caught up, I want to talk to you about smells.
What does your nose expect when you walk in your favorite bookstore?
Your favorite coffee shop?
You got a perfume you’re okay if you never whiff again?
Mowed grass–where does that send you? Wood smoke? Gasoline?
My nose got a little angry at NYC this last go-round.
You see, I got sense memory expectations in the City.
If it’s warm, bring on the Subway grease, sewer wafts, uncollected garbage, sidewalk piss. Fine. I’m ready.
What I can’t adjust my sniffer to, though, is the skunky weed punching every midtown block.
I mean, I work at Berklee, so I can’t walk to the Dunkies on Mass Ave without three involuntary contact highs. Y’all do y’all, seriously.
But, there was something about the doob fumes in NYC that disoriented my olfactory GPS.
I’d already waved bye bye to the extinct shops form my old hood. The cheese store that sold the best coffee beans where the owner’s cat sat in the window is a trendy tapas bar, and the fluff and fold where the owner and I talked about singing is a Japanese fast food spot.
But that thing about smells —
the odor of a school cafeteria can whiz you back to laughs or abject junior high terror; library stacks can make you cozy or constrained.
Notice when you imagine a camp fire — where does that smell memory go in your body? How about sour milk?
What if you were to hum while imagining those smells?
Different kinds of sounds, right?
Lately, I’ve been playing with the ways your body’s built-in smarts affect the sounds you make.
Your body is brilliant.
When you add up who you are, what you believe, and what you’re saying, you have a world and its sound ready to go.
Working this way, students’ faces look like, “Wait, how’d that happen? How’d that sound come out?”
It’s magical. Vocal technique can’t live if there’s no story. The story makes your sounds breathe.
So, as you’re working, take a sec to ask yourself — Who am I? What’s happening? What am I saying?
A lil experiment for you:🎵 Hum a 5-note scale (sol fa mi re do) while chewing.
🍨 Pretend it’s something delicious — pie and ice cream.
🥬 Then pretend it’s something healthy yet not so tasty — raw kale.
🤢 Then pretend it’s something you don’t enjoy that you’re eating to be polite.
Did your sound change?
Three different stories change your body, therefore, your sound.
One other way to think about it–
💔 You’re Adele asking your ex, “Why don’t you remembeeeer the reason you loved me beeefore?”
👏 You’re Billy Crystal telling your kid, “Great job!”
🦄 You’re Moira Rose warning someone, “Your wig! It’s coming loose!”
❤️🔥 You’re Bruce Springsteen saying, “Can’t start a fire without a spark.”
1️⃣ Identity. 2️⃣ What’s happening. 3️⃣ Need to tell somebody.
Who you are, what’s going on, and you gotta say something — you know these things? Then, your singular and unique body-brain can do most of the work on its own.
So, I’ll commit to you — the next time I’m working my way down 8th Avenue through a bracing cloud of second hand skunk, I’ll try this out.
I’ll be Joe Pesci doing his best Robert DeNiro and shout to the haze, “Hey I’m breathin’ here! What’s a guy gotta do to get a good whiff of a burned soft pretzel?”
You can practice your voices, too.
If you’re in NYC, the good news is you can be as loud as you want, and no one will likely hear or care.
When I fell off those brownstone stairs, cans clattered, my suitcase handle smacked the pavement, and I moaned like a wounded moose. The woman waiting for her Uber 10 feet away didn’t even turn around. See? The world’s your playground.
In the meantime, remember! There’s only one you, and folks DO need to hear the story only you can sing.
ps It’s so good to email you again. I missed you.
pps I have to report, though, that I witnessed many instances of folks looking out for each other in NYC — people giving up their subway seats, helping carry strollers on stairs, and some terrific exchanges among Crown Heights residents in the discount store — checking on family and such. We’re all doing our best.
⭐️ppps If you’re in or near NYC, I’m starting a monthly thing.⭐️
🎹 1 3-hour class of 7 folks. Story and vocal how-to with an MD and me in one class learning from and supporting each other.
2 group Zoom check-ins, work on your material, encouragement and love.
🎵 And me on-call for 20-minute trouble shooting to help you with your priority vocal needs.
I wanna provide you something that’ll
🤝 join your story muscles with your technique neurons,
👀 give you a chance to absorb and learn from your cohort and build a support crew
✅ prioritize and target what you need vocally
all for less than what you’d invest for 2 lessons with a good voice teacher in the City. ($235/month)
You wanna join me? Email me, and I’ll make sure you know when we start, and you can hear me bitch about weed smoke like an old man in person. 💙