for people who break into song in real life

Category: Audition Advice (Page 1 of 3)

Pizza Box Solution — and breakfast tricks for your singing AND 🍳 poached eggs

You know those “before” parts of infomercials where the person is having an existential crisis?

They’re trying to hang their trousers in their cluttered closet, and they trip over a stray belt and crumple into an anguish heap on the bedroom floor.

Or they’re incinerating a grilled cheese in an aluminum pan over a red-hot electric stove, coughing as they’re enveloped in smoke and clasping their ears as the alarm screams?

I found this one, too. This gent’s physical comedy skills are top notch. I give him a full Sham-wow.



We’ve all lived the problem stage before the low-laryngeal baritone voiceover says, “Introduuuuciiiing…..

That’s a joke in our house when we’re struggle-bussing in plain view.

We say, “I’m an infomercial over here.”

That was me a couple mornings ago.

Even while it was happening, I said to Melissa, “I’m going to write about this.”

Then, later that afternoon, I said, “What was that thing that happened this morning when I said I was an infomercial?”

Neither of us could remember.

I clearly missed the one-time-offer for the memory supplement.

So, I decided I’d share three useful, unrelated tips that I DID remember this week that I thought would make your life (artistically and otherwise) better.

I mean, some of these are even directly related to singing and auditioning.

🎥 Self-Tape Pizza Box Confidence and Freedom Booster

It’s very clear — the self tape is here to stay. I did one this very week.

I like to be off-book for an audition because, you know, looking up and acting and stuff.

But this week proved prohibitive in the grey matter department.

I wasn’t quite showtime ready, so I used my trusty cue-card sides trick.

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more people share this. Or maybe I’m not reading the right Broadway World online community chats.

This is what you do —

Type up your sides in bullshit-bullshit-MY-LINE-MY-LINE format. Make your lines super easily readable

Leave a gap in the middle of the page.

Print.

Dig that Amazon Prime box out of your recycling, cut out a paper-sized rectangle, and glue your sides to the cardboard.

Cut or Exacto knife a rectangle in the middle or side of your pages that’s bigger than your camera/phone lens.

Clip these to your phone or tripod in whatever creative way that allows your eye line to be just off camera to your scene partner. A strategically placed music stand can also save you rigging headaches here.

And hit record.

And don’t do too many takes. I find the second one is almost always the best one. You peak, and then it’s downhill a lot of the time.

If you’re a visual learner, this is what my last round looked like. And I didn’t need the cuts after all. I used a music stand.



🎵 Audition Song What-Did-You-Have-for-Breakfast Trick

Your song coach told you that time to come up with an imaginary scene partner, pick a spot on the wall, pretend that was their face, and go.

Thing is, you and I have all seen the singers who get stuck on that spot and end up singing “On the Street Where You Live” like a stalker who finally cornered their stalkée.

In real life, our eyeballs move because our thoughts move.

So, here’s the tip to get you feeling more like a human when you sing.

Think about what you had for breakfast.

Now think about what you had for breakfast and notice where your eyeballs move.

That’s your memory spot, one of the places where your eyes move when you go into your internal brain space.

When you do that, I’m all like, “What’re you thinking in there?”

We go in there all the time to pull out memories, grab that word we can’t quite bring up in the rolodex, or to ruminate over that awkward interaction we had with the woman at the grocery store.

(Seriously, though, Melissa almost saw fisticuffs in the Market Basket produce department yesterday. Someone papaya-blocked somebody, I guess. I don’t have to tell you people done lost they mind these days.)

Back to your breakfast.

Yeah, make your memory eyeball spot a frequently visited friend.

Another cheap trick aspect of this — if you haven’t had time to do proper homework on your material (or you’ve practiced professional procrastination), this is a good way to allow some specifics from your subconscious to populate your storytelling.

Just be prepared for random thoughts about pop tarts or second-day T-shirts with suspect pit smell to emerge from the mind sea. 

🍁🍁🍁 Sometimes you gotta pick up two handfuls of dead leaves and throw them back.

I took the boys to the town forest yesterday to search for the witches’ caves.

I think they’re cute.



Noah discovered the joy of picking up dirt and leaves and throwing them at Daddy.

Usually down the back of my cargo camos when I was bending down to pick Jude up from his latest rock-trip.

“Noah, stop!” my humorless, tired morning self said.

He couldn’t stop laughing. And throwing more leaves.

So…

I remembered my days as a kid when we turned the tobacco field behind our house into a GI Joe war zone and had dirt clod fights. The furrows made good trenches, and we’d hurl dried clumps of red clay at each other hoping there wasn’t too sharp a rock hiding inside.

It was good, dirty fun.

And a laundry nightmare for my mom.

But I remembered. And it was on.

We ran our way out of the woods hurling leaves at each other and laughing all the way.

Well, except for the time Noah kept throwing dirt down my pants, and I got angry that he wouldn’t stop, took a wrong turn, panicked a little, told everybody to just hush for a second, and had to get out my phone to figure out which way south was.

Other than that, it was a blast. And there was a lot of dirt to scrub out of heads at bath time.

The moral — when would a good ole yes-and serve the situation?

Later that day, Noah said, “Daddy, I loved it when you started playing with the leaves with us. Daddy, why’d you do that?”

Note to self— maybe check for more opportunities to chill out and have a lil basic fun.

There you go.

Next time you’re feeling all

Take some time to

🤣 chuckle at self

📦✂️ organize your self-tape supply closet

🧠 practice thinking about what you had for breakfast

and

🍁 be on the lookout for quality leaf fight opportunities

And in the meantime, remember there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the song only you can sing.

LOVE MUCH (I’m belting),

Dan

ps speaking of breakfast, I tried this Julia Child trick for poached eggs, and after a couple of operator errors, I’m here to report it works well.

Pro tip, use a kitchen towel to help you push the safety pin into the egg. You’ll see.

pps Here’s some history on the witches’ caves in our town forest.

ppps Remember if you need any lessoning or vocal troubleshooting this summer, I’m zoomable. Just email me back here, and we’ll set up a time for you. I’m here if you need me. 🎵

Ungoogle-ables: Train revolution revelations and YouTube. You too?

One morning this week, I woke up and tip toed (so as not to wake the bairns) my way down to the coffee maker.

I got things brewing, drank some water, and pulled my phone from the charger in the living room.

The little white arrow in the red box beckoned me, and I obediently tapped.

ummm


I scrolled through the offerings and got increasingly agitated.

None of the click bait headlines were baiting my click.

“Algorithm, why have you let me down?”
I queried.

[I’ve logged more YouTube screen time since the invasion in Ukraine. Okay, that’s a lie. My YouTube time was already ample, but recent geopolitical events have goosed my stats.]

I comb the site for a reputable news source to tell me that Vladimir Putin has been vaporized.

My searches have proven fruitless thus far.

But that morning, I took note.

I was enmeshed with and dependent on my AI frienemy.

My internal monologue: “YouTube, you know I enjoy a good “A Closer Look” with Seth Myers, but come on, the Android monitors my every word. I’d think you’d understand my viewing need nuances as I wait for the BOGO Café Verona to percolate.

Then

later that morning as I took the train into work,

I did something utterly shocking.

Revolutionary.

I looked out the window.

I knoooow. Right?

I sat in my seat, and I watched the boulders, muddy Natick backyards, bougie Wellesley boutiques, and reservoirs go by.

I wondered, “Who lives there?”

“Who dumped that vinyl couch by the tracks??”

and

“How did that graffiti artist shimmy down that bridge?”

Reminded me of when I played Philadelphia with Phantom, and I stayed with the Ledger family out in Malvern. I took the SEPTA every show day, and all I had for ocular occupation was Pillars of the Earth and the Bryn Mawr station.

But nowadaze, you know the drill.

We’re all up in our screens.

I’m looking at a screen as I type this to you right now…on the train. (Although I’m attempting to type and look out the window, too.)

See?



And what are we missing? And what mysteries are we not getting to be baffled by? Like that couch!

That morning waiting for the coffee, I realized I’d given my agency to the algorithm.

I didn’t even take the step of going to the google machine to type in, “When is Vladimir Putin scheduled to be vaporized?”

Nope, like some laboratory mammal, I let the YouTube slow-drip the control group serum to my eager limbic receptors.


[***Quick tangent*** The train conductor just said, “Wellesley Squa-ah next, no no, Wellesley Fahms next. Wellesley Fahms.”***

That’ll never get old to my silly hillbilly ears.]


But yeah—the algorithm and the train window (The title of my next musical)— They got me thinking about you.

You know how we actory singery folk get when it comes to jobs?

Who’s gonna hire me? What’s trending? What do the table people want? What Olivia Rodrigo hook should I mash up with “Poor Wandering One” and a triple pirouette?

🤯

We’re waiting around all Daisy and Violet belting, “Who will love me as I aaaaaaam???”


But here’s the good news.

You don’t got to get this job, and I’ll put money on the fact that you’re not a conjoined twin. (In-Sideshow reference from above. Sorry not sorry.)

Therefore, there is no physical constraint placed upon you that would dictate any limitation on your creative path.

I’m surrious.

The thing that scares us the most (at least me, it does) is that there is SO MUCH possibility, not an opportunity drought.

Just ask me.

I submitted a few self-tapes this spring for summer work.

I was proud of em.

Response?

🦗🦗🦗

So, I could look at that and think,

(Molto drammatico)
“There just isn’t a place for me this summer. No opportyuuuunities.”

But thing is, there is. And there are.

I can make them up.

I can make up about five right now, and that’s not even counting garage organization and tax filing.

What’s coming to mind for you right now?

What idears did you talk into your Google Keep?

What if you opened that note and talked a few more ideas underneath that?

You might come up with something crazy and fun.

It might not pay your bills. Might even cost you.

But what if it knits community and connection for you and your people?

What if it’s the thing that makes someone laugh, cry, or feel beauty and meaning?

In my experience, that transcends a project’s ability to make money.

I mean, Anyone Can Whistle closed on Broadway after five minutes, but dang I’m grateful Mr. S wrote that score. 

And if you make money, too, I’m so happy for you.

And then there’s this cray cray notion —

What if you sat and looked out the window?

I know, right?

Now, that’s the thing we’re all relentlessly fending off while gazing at these 2D configurations.

Sitting. Looking. Noticing questions that aren’t google-able.

It’s way too Rilke for most of us.

I encourage you to try it, and I’d love to hear how it goes. Maybe take a pic out your window with that phone you’re not looking at. 

In the meantime, remember, for reals— There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps Today’s our Noah Bear’s fourth birthday. I can’t even believe it. I even typed “first“ in that last sentence. Our sweet miracle Cinco de Mayo baby.


pps This is what I meant when I said “way too Rilke.” Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet



One thing that’s not a question? You’re terrific. Now go look out a window 💙.

Whose Idea WAS This?

🚂 The Commutah Rail was only runnin’ four double deckahs a couple weeks ago, so I wondered where everybody was gonna sit as the train dinged its way to the Framingham platform.

When the conductor got off the train, he confirmed my query when he smiled through his mask, “I dunno where you’re all gonna sit.”

After months of low pandemic ridership, this sardine situation was new.

But I spotted an open seat next to a kind looking person and asked if I could park myself next to her.

By the time we reached Natick, I knew she was going in for an educational meeting for school counselors, and she knew I was going in to teach young voices to screlt at the BoCo.

I learned about her background in childhood development, her teaching for future guidance counselors, and her research in gender; and her husband was working on a musical documentary project tracing the history of suffrage in the United States. Only in Boston, right??

We had a delightful chat, so I invited her and her hubster to come to my faculty recital. She recommended several great Boston restaurants, and after all that we finally told each other our names.

It was a great morning getting to know Barb.

Then last Saturday at my recital, I spotted her and her husband on the second row in Seully Hall.

As I sang the Strauss portion of the program, I saw them wiping their cheeks in my peripheral vision, and as I tried to keep all my German images straight in my head, I also thought, “If they hadn’t run just the four double deckahs that day, I wouldn’t have met Barb.”

Here’s a shot from the action on Saturday. 🙂

We got to chat afterward, and both of them reflected on how terrific it was to be in a hall with live performance again. We’ve all been starved for these chances to hear music and heal. It’s gonna be a while in recovery, I have a feeling.

This whole week had me thinking about you, though. As my recital approached, I kept asking in my brain, “Whose idea WAS this anyway??”

Do you do that? Start a creative idea full of excitement and then about two-thirds of the way down the development or rehearsal road, you imagine loading up the El Camino and driving as fast as you can in the opposite direction?

That’s all of us.

Singing songs for folks takes a lot of practice, and you never know what’s gonna shake down in the moment of the thing. There’s trust and faith involved after all that prep.

All this to say I think you should still make stuff up and do it.

And invite all the folks to it.

You never know when you’re gonna meet Barbara on the train and give her and her husband a much-needed afternoon of healing music.

Healing. Or as Jude used to say— Heawing.

That’s the highest goal that we have as singers. We breathe in free oxygen, then we get to vibrate that back out in artfully crafted frequencies.

Keep doing that.

Listen for folks around you who inspire you and light up your soul. That’s who you’re supposed to be working with.

My incredible collaborator 🎹 for Saturday, Scott Nicholas—I heard him play master’s program auditions at school and thought to myself what is this gut-honey wizardry I’m hearing??

So, I emailed him and told him his piano playing made me feel bumble bees in my nethers, and would he wanna make music together(?). He said hell yes, and now this is the beginning of a terrific partnership.

So that’s the lesson for this week. Keep making stuff up, putting things together, and invite all the folks you can. Someone will be there wiping tears that they needed to cry out for several months.

And in these times, we all have a big reserve of those.

Most of all, remember that there’s only one of you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps Noah and Jude warming up backstage before the recital 



ps and this is the gold of getting to be a teacher — students who become your friends and take the bus form NYC to come see your recital. Love you, Justin Norwood

I’m Sorry and Other Gifts — a theatre moment I’ll never forget, and why you gotta keep singing

I’ve been working with a student on a song from High Fidelity this semester called “I’m Sorry.” Or “Laura, Laura.” I don’t know which is the official title.

The first reminds me of the dramatic strains of The Platters’ 1954 hit. That’s not the one we’re working on. But side note for your own research—The Platters recorded some great tunes.

The song I am talking about, I first heard in a staged reading of High Fidelity back in LA, geez, like 12 years ago produced by Musical Theatre Guild, the terrific company I was a member of.

You may know the film starring John Cusack which was based on a Nick Hornby novel. Musicals and their provenance, I tell you.

Aaaaanyway—By Act 2, the lead guy, vinyl record store owner Rob, has a Damascus Road experience and realizes how his constant side-glance to the bigger better thing took his gaze off of the invaluable love in front of him.

It’s a pretty rock ballad, and my student, Nick, sings it great. I keep yelling at him to take out gratuitous riffs, but if I were as good a riffer as he is, I’d put too many in, too.

I told him how I’d never forgotten this one moment at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California.

After all the boollshit this guy puts his ex-girlfriend, Laura, through, he finally sees it, looks right at her, and tells her all he’s done that hurt her and their relationship.

And this is why I’ll never forget the moment in the theatre.

Will Collyer, the actor playing Rob, and Robin DeLano, the actor playing Laura, stood downstage center. Will looked right into Robin’s face, standing profile to the audience and just sang the whole song right to her.

That was the blocking–look at her and sing the song.

I’ll never forget it.

After the lesson teaching the song that day, I had to throw up a social post reminding the director, Richard Israel, how that was such a special two-plus minutes.

It was heartwarming to read all the comments from friends who remembered that moment, too.

You got a memory like that? A sweet-savory morsel of theatre experience that arrives like a surprise chocolate box when you hear a certain song?

That’s soul medicine. It’s beauty. It’s gratitude, and it’s us recognizing us in each other.

Just imagine how things might look different if we were able to do more of that.

All this to say–what we get to do matters to folks.

More than one student has come into the studio this past week wondering how their pursuit of being a musical storyteller matters in the face of the unbelievable suffering happening in the world.

I wonder the same thing.

While we’ve learned in the last 2 years that getting to stand on a stage in front of people depends on a ton of things going well, it doesn’t mean that what we do is frivolous or a luxury.

When Will stood on the Alex stage and sang that ballad to Robin, he opened his heart and shared the deep healing that happens when we tell another human that we understand how our actions hurt them.

To stand in that place with open hands and ask another human to forgive you is a gift.

To hear someone say, “Yes, what you did hurt me, and I’m going to erase that from my ledger over here,” is Tiger Balm for your heart.

And when we forgive each other on stage singing beautiful melodies with stick-to-your-feels images, all that music and poetry psychs out the stubborn, cross-armed bridge troll in our brain, and we start to set our hearts a little freer.

I mean, you’re a musical theatre nerd. Haven’t you asked yourself if you woulda said you gave Valjean the sliver candlesticks like that low-voiced priest did?

This question–do we keep singing while the world burns?–also brings up our universal human need to practice comparative suffering.

I teach another student who received a challenging medical diagnosis just before starting his studies at the BoCo. When I ask, “How you doin’ today?” he’ll often respond, “Aw, could be worse. People are going through much more.”

Yes, both statements are true. 

And then I remind him that just because the guy next to me is a triple amputee doesn’t mean I don’t hit the cut on my hand with peroxide, Neosporin, and a Paw Patrol bandaid.

I’ve been trying to hold my weeping at the news footage of the Ukrainian father sobbing at the head of his 16-year-old-son’s murdered body together with the deep gratitude, guilt, and relief I feel when I tuck my boys into a safe, warm bed at night.

I can’t imagine his suffering, and looking right at it shows me that the grace my life overflows with is something I want to cherish and share.

Telling musical stories matters, and the way you tell musical stories matters. The way you show up to sing one day could be that heart and honesty morsel someone saves for a devastating day. 

Because remember, there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan
 

ps The YouTube algorithm delivered a moment of healing beauty and grace to me this week. I was about to ignore and go to the next doom news video, but it started before I could intervene. 

Take a moment to watch and listen to this Beethoven’s 9th Flash Mob in Tokyo. I may have been shoulder-bounce crying as I packed our picnic lunch yesterday.

pps You wanna learn from a really smart director like Richard Israel? You can! Here’s his website. And here’s where you can find out how to work with him. I recommend. 

ppps You know I gotta hit you with the latest New England cold-ish beach pics. We had a quick day trip out to Nantasket Beach/Hull, Mass. I love being an hour from the water–the ocean’s healing.




pppPs One more thing—I’m prepping for a faculty recital at BoCo Saturday April 9 at 2pm, so mark your calendars if you wanna catch the live stream. Or come to Boston! The school’s open to outside visitors attending performances now. It’ll be the music of Richard Strauss and Stephen Sondheim. I’ll keep you posted!

Thank You, Trauma? 🧳 Your baggage has great news for you.

Hellerrrr You Brilliant Resilient —

I’m a late processor. Late for what? I’m not sure.

I’m a take-my-time processor. That’s it.

When I was in London, 🇬🇧my voice instructor would sometimes pour us both a whiskey and ginger before a lesson (in tea mugs).

I remember the end of one session while another was beginning, she sent me to the corner off-licence for supplies. That’s when 22-year-old me learned what a Moscow Mule was.

At some lessons she was sweet as pie, and other lessons she said things to me that made my throat catch, my stomach clinch, and tears sting my eye corners.

I never knew which teacher I’d be seeing that day. And I wondered why I felt stressed biking down to Brixton every week.

A year after I’d moved to NYC, I was walking down Second Avenue when in an 8-part harmony angel choir theophany moment 🎶, I stopped in my tracks and said out loud, “Sylvia was an alcoholic!”*

I just thought all Londoners drank that much. I did bartend in a pub, so I had plenty of evidence.

But yeah. A little slow in the evidence assimilation there.

As I tell you that, a list of dodged bullets runs like a dang-that-was-close news ticker through my young adult years.

You see, for various reasons in my childhood, my mind learned to file potentially painful information in the “Process Much Later” file. 🗂

While this has caused problems (ask the active paperwork inbox in my still-unpacked studio), it’s also brought benefits.

I’ve navigated scenarios so chaotic that if you proposed them in script form to Lifetime TV, they’d tell you to bring them something realistic.

My brain created all kinds of back door exits in response to life traumas that are very handy escape hatches when I encounter crap-tastic circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong. My lil-Dan coping mechanisms have wreaked their share of havoc.

Thousands of dollars worth of therapy and credit card interest later, I’m here to tell you I’ve come to a spot where I can usually meet my psyche’s brilliant survival tactics with understanding and gratitude.

They even work in my favor sometimes.

Big emotional event?–My mind organizes the ordeal into the deal-with-later file, and I know one day I’ll let the snot and tears dribble. But today I may just have to pay bills.

What are the things that little you did to cope that keep showing up today?

Did you know that your voice tells you about these kid skills too?

👅Tongue tension, for example, is often a belief that you need to press back your expression because you might have run into negative consequences for letting out your feels.

😣Pharyngeal constriction (intense whispery/constrained feeling) can link to earning love through meeting a perfectionistic/impossible standard.

🫁And hypofunctional phonation (not enough breath energy for a vibrant sound) can shine a light on areas where you’ve judged you don’t deserve things.

I remind myself, and I tell my students that these things are all tryina help you.

Your tight tongue is protecting you from the danger your expression got you in in the past.

Your constricting pharynx is trying real hard to keep you doing the things that get you love and acceptance.

And that stingy air flow is keeping that story alive about not deserving nice things so you don’t have to grieve over the years you’ve ID-ed with the deprivation that got shellacked on you as a kid.

I’ll often ask a student to pause and meditate into the spot that’s not doing what they want it to do.

They have a little conversation with their tongue root or their pharynx, and just like when you ask anybody a genuine question with the desire to understand, those parts of the body speak up.

When we can meet the parts of ourselves that seem to be getting in the way with empathy and compassion, we learn a lot.

I guarantee you it’s a lot more effective than shouting, “JUST RELAX!”

This week I invite you to notice the patterns little intelligent you cooked up to survive, and maybe give your baby psyche some props for their resilience brilliance.

When we invite these things to share their stories with us, they can mellow out, and they can even integrate themselves into some healthy adulting if we can partner with them in a gentle and conscious way.

And remember, beautiful you with your intricate assortment of survival skills, there’s only one of you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,
Dan

ps *re: my London story, names have been changed, and I still talk out loud to myself on city streets.

pps here’s the bar where I worked in London. The Havelock Tavern. Still there in Brook Green. I enjoyed working there, and it’s where my love of cooking started.

It’s Always a Prius 🚗 — A shoutout to the hybrids — and encouragement that it’s worth it

Hey There DMV Daredevil–

I drove to NYC this weekend to teach and see some of my former student supahstahs be fabahlahs at 54 Below.

On my way down Interstate 84 through Massachusetts’s autumnal glory🍁, I found myself in a behind-2-cars-going-similar-speeds-side-by-side situation.

When the offending left lane pokey butt finally moseyed to the right, it was like Star Wars reverse wrap speed in my little green Scion as a stream of harried New Englanders whooshed by–very eager to get to Connecticut on a Saturday morning.

The car causing all this kerfuffle? A Prius. It’s always a Prius.

I normally refrain from always and never in my moral pronouncements, but you tell me, even if you are a responsible and considerate Prius driver (and I know several), does this truth not bear out in your experience?

After the Escalades with Greenwich dealer plate frames barreled by, I scooted my lilttle electric wasabi butt around my fellow Toyota motorist and made my merry way Manhatttan-ward. 

Side note, I was excited to take a leisurely Saturday morning drive along the Merritt Parkway, but folks be cray on that road. I was like, calm down, people. Can you not see the stone bridges, 50 mph speed limit signs, and lack of shoulder? 

Prii (Pree-eye), though, they always make me think of life’s unexpected delays.

You had any of those lately?

On Saturday, I got to teach not one, but two of my dear students from LA days–back in the little blue singing cottage on Vineland Blvd.

Those were some days. I swear I encountered more wildlife in and around that building in North Hollywood than I did growing up in the cowntry in NC.

I lost one student when a mouse decided to run across a rafter mid-lesson, and there was also the possum-raccoon death match 🦝in the crawl space that I heard while updating quickbooks. The loser of that battle alerted my olfactory senses to the altercation’s outcome about four days later. (It was the possum.)

But back to my LA beebees. One I started teaching when she was 12 and her email address included the words “onbroadway,” and the other had just finished up at USC.

Saturday, my 12-year old Broadway dreamer showed up a 25-year-old performer with NYU degree in hand and tons of skill, and my USC grad recently earned their masters at ACT and is navigating this new landscape as a trans actor.  

In both lessons we looked at the shape of the industry as far as we could understand it today, and after some discussion, we shrugged our shoulders and said, “Let’s sing.”

In both conversations, I came back to the same truth–storytelling is worth it.

I looked at both of these tremendous artists that I had the privilege to share some time with on Saturday, and I saw a world of possibilities in both of them.

💛I saw collaborations with friends
🌱creating new work in small-ish rooms that would ask new questions that would have to travel to bigger rooms one day
💡new points of view that I’d never considered that these two beautiful voices would sing about. 

Yes, the industry’s a cluster. And commercial theatre is gonna make choices that make money. We know this. 

The new voices we want to hand the microphone to, that’s on you and me. And small beginnings are beginnings.

The industry might feel like the Prius going under the speed limit in the left lane. But eventually, a lane will open. Hell, you might even have to drive on the shoulder for a little while. And then there’ll be times when you just have to make your own road. 

And this brought me back to the central truth of why most of us are here. We love stories. We wanna tell them. We wanna sing them. And I’m here to tell you that it’s worth it.

You can tell them. You can sing them. And I believe you can even create ways to pay your bills doing it. 

I wrote a musical. I started working on it in 2012. It’s been percolating, plot changing, song shifting. Characters have appeared and disappeared.

To go further it has to get on its feet, and I need collaboration. 

But here’s the thing–if it doesn’t go any further, I’m so grateful I wrote it. Writing it has been precious, and living in the story has made me a better human. 

I haven’t made any money from it. Not many folks know about it or have heard the songs. 

But so far, it’s been worth it. 

What you do is worth it. By itself, it’s worth it.

So let’s take the thing and take steps to share it because chances are there are folks out who’d be touched, moved, delighted, and maybe healed by your courage to open your heart and invite them in.

No shade to hybrids, you silent shifty vehicles. You help us slow down, and maybe you even saved us from an unpleasant altercation with an Escalade from Greenwich later. Who knows?

One thing I DO KNOW–There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,
dan

⏱ You Don’t Have to Play the Game —

Today’s the Boston Marathon.

How many it’s-not-a-sprint-it’s-a-marathon 26.2 sticker clichés can you pull up?

I get the whole long-haul wisdom of the massive distance race imagery. The thing about this analogy is that it’s filled with stressful givens–

🏃🏾‍♂️There’s a slew of lean game-face runners with their numbers pinned to their shirts ready to pound you into the pavement.

⏱It’s a one-time event.

🛌There are no nights of sleep involved (or other forms of rest).

🏆There can only be one winner.

Enter your life as an artist and/or singer. You look around at all the create-y people around you, and someone said “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” and not only do you think there’s a race, but you think y’all are competing for the same finish line.

A ridiculously talented and beauty-hearted student came to their lesson this week, and when I asked them what they were liking about school, they said, “The people.” 🙌

When I asked them what was tough, they said, “Feeling like I have to catch up.” 😥

Number one I was so grateful this student opened up and shared this with me. We took a few minutes to play around with this thought—I have to catch up.

The student was so game and willing. We took that thought–I have to catch up— and asked, “Is that true?”

It was a gift for me to watch this singer go right inside to their heart to see what the answer might be. Very quickly, I saw the student’s face open like sunshine peaking behind a cloud.

They told me there was nothing to catch up to, nothing to compete with, nothing to do but do their stuff and learn their things.

And as they imagined their peers succeeding, a bubbly joy fizzed up in the room.

Then they sang their song, and I freakin cried because their heart was so wide open and beautiful. I have the best job. 

When I compete, I contract. I compare. I look outside and ask what’s the minimum I have to do to be better than.

Competition can be really fun when there’s a game and agreed-upon rules.

But artists get really jacked up when we start to make up a rules-y game where there isn’t one.

You hear folks say, “You gotta play the game.” What game is that, exactly?

Thing is, when you show up and do your work in a way that brings you satisfaction, find the people who can help you do your work with skill and generosity, and share that work, things start to move.

People start to say thank you. And then surprises start to happen.

People you don’t know hear about you from those people who said thank you before, and they ask you if you wanna come play. And so on.

Let’s review—

👋🏽 Show up

💛 Talk to/invest in your people—coaches, teachers, collaborators

🤲🏽 Share your things in all the ways you can

⚽️ This gets rolling.

(But it’s not a game!)

It is, however, fun! And scary. And challenging. And terrific. And unfamiliar. And satisfying.

Truth is, some things (most things) take longer than we want (double marathon category), and some things show up more quickly than we feel we’re ready for.

Both things are a mercy.

I look back on the things I wanted when I was in my 20s, and if I’d had the skill and integration to get those things, I’m not convinced I had the character to sustain.

Delays in my life have been gifts.

Didn’t feel like that at the time, of course, but the look-back is instructive.

So, if you’re racing and you’re tired, I invite you to look at the reality around you. Are all these crazy folks even competing in the same event?

Maybe you can stop by one of those nice people holding the paper cones of cold water and orange slices, catch your breath, and ask yourself what kind of course you even want to be on.

Here’s permission.

And no matter what course you’re jogging down today, remember that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story on only you can sing.

Love much,
Dan

So Simple it Might Piss You Off ❤️ — how to be incomparable, love bombs, and captivating

Hey Care Bear —

Today’s a big birthday for a dear mentor, teacher and friend—One of the biggest reasons I do what I do.

I met Catherine McNeela at a singing competition when I was in high school.

I remember thinking she dressed a lot cooler than the other teachers parading their prize pupils around the halls of whatever college we were at.

She invited me to study Music Theatre at Elon College after kindly counseling me on the phone that one of Tevye’s monologues I learned for the Mount Airy High School production of Fiddler on the Roof wouldn’t be the best selection for my audition.

I followed her advice and performed an equally ill-chosen speech from Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.

After singing “Vittora mio core” and then doing my very best Alan Campbell impression of “Sunset Boulevard” –complete with jacket-over-the-shoulder cross stage right– the folks at Elon said, “He can sing. Let’s hope we can teach him to act and dance.”

I rolled up the next fall not knowing a jazz shoe from a Reebok. And you shoulda seen my face when they explained what a dance belt was.

I arrived in Cathy’s studio a very capable brain 🧠 attached to a disconnected, terrified body.

One day I sang “Anyone Can Whistle.”

I’d struggled through the rep Cathy’d assigned me that semester—unable to connect, clueless about how to move air out of my face, and singing flat a lot. Womp womp.

That day, though, I stood in the crook of the piano, Sharon LaRocco, piano goddess of the ages on the keys 🎹, looked into the corner behind Cathy’s door and sang,

“What’s hard is simple.
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me
How to let go
Lower my guard
Learn to be FREE 🦋
Maybe if you whistle…
Whistle for me.”

Cathy nodded her head and said, “You’ve thought about this.”

I had.

I let myself sing about things I believed if anyone knew I was thinking—traumas, buried secrets, my daily dance with self-loathing—a shame pit the size of Gibsonville, NC, would open and swallow me.

But no shame chasm gaped, and no one pointed and scoffed.

It was just me and two brilliant artists in the room sharing music and recognition of the truth.

I learned that day it was a little safer to feel.

I also learned that day that when you sing, people can’t see what you’re thinking about. They just know if you invited them in.

I learned to unlock the door and open it just a crack that day at Elon College.

Flanked by her illustrious LP library and her snow globe menagerie, Cathy challenged, nurtured, called out, inspired, and encouraged me. I’m one of hundreds of students who can say the same thing.

Did you know that this door to your heart is the secret to all impossible-to-compete-with sparkliness?

It’s the voice print that only you are.

It’s your diamond human soul that invites all the other diamond souls to come to your party.

You say welcome here to all my human mess, confusion, working it out, love, guffaws, sarcasm, compassion, understanding, and the occasional fart.

And the person who’s there to hear your story knows it’s a legit invitation. They can’t help but come in and have a slice of that Ina Garten chocolate cake you’re serving up.

The reason we don’t do it (invite folks in like that) is because it feels like nothing.

You didn’t make you show up on this planet with your glittering self, so letting people into that is super humbling and real real uncomf for the ego who likes working, earning, and deserving.

Yes, be excellent in your work. Give yourself your best.

Then know you’ve done your work. Feel your heart pound as you step in front of folks, raise your sternum a little bit, let a thought arise, and welcome people in.

Try it out in the everyday, too. See if you don’t give a little lift to the person slinging your morning coffee. I’ll be interested to hear.

And always remember—there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps Remember I’m going to be in NYC Saturday Oct. 16 teaching at the American Opera Center studios. (They don’t care if we belt.)

There are a few times left, so just email me and let me know you wanna work together. Your heart’ll be so open you’ll be Care Bear starin’ all the way down 7th Ave.

(Rate is 150/hr, 75/half hour. Proof of vaccination is required at the Opera Center.)

pps I can’t just tell you about Ina Garten’s life-changing chocolate cake and not hook you up with the recipe. Here you go! Cathy McNeela, you deserve a slice of this today. A chorus of grateful students and I say thank you and we love you. 

Let’s Not Start at the Beginning. Do re mi and all, but sometimes you gotta work out the messy middle.

Hey Perfectly Imperfect Pupil of Pulchritude–

I was kiiiindofa perfectionistic piano lesson disastah when I was a wee boy child.

You see, I had this ear. 👂🎹

It could hear a little ditty, and I’d run over to the Baldwin upright in our living room and plunk it out. 

So when my septuagenarian sage piano teacher Mrs. Mildred Roberston played the new song of the week from my John Thompson’s Teaching Little Fingers to Play, I’d hop into the blue vinyl backseat of my mama’s Ford Fairmont station wagon with “Beautiful Dreamer” fixed firmly in my musical mind.

I faked Mrs. R out for a good year and a half until the Clementi Sonatinas came into the picture.

As I struggled through the first movement of one of these gems, Mrs. Mildred looked over at me and said, “You can’t read music, can you?”

I mean, give me four minutes to count G-B-D-F-A up the bass clef, and I might be able to identify that round dot on the third line.

Give me a little more time, and I could tell you how many beats.

But the answer was nope. I was relying on my trusty ear, and the infuriating dots and lines just needed to cooperate with MAY!

It was a child ego-imposed system fraught with much frustration.

Enter my perfectionist period. (still happening ps)

It looked like this: Little Dan would begin to play a piece. 🎹🙂

Measure thirteen, little Dan would play a wrong note. ❌😖

Little Dan would begin the piece from the beginning 🎹😬and make the same mistake on measure thirteen. ❌😤

Little Dan would begin the piece from the beginning again. 🎹😠

Little Dan got very good at the beginnings of songs.

Mrs. Robertson would all but bang her forehead against her studio upright when I’d insist on my da capo addiction.

“Just pause there and work on the part you’re having trouble with,” she admonished.

That was much too existentially painful. No thanks. From the top, people.

So when BOTH of my sons insist that they return to the top of the staircase so that they can descend on their own power instead of Daddy carrying them down halfway or wrestle with the Sisyphean futility of reunifying a broken banana, I see that my penchant for the perfect is indeed genetic.

Sorry, boys. 

Where’s your I-have-to-start-at-the-beginning-of-Für-Elise-again moment happening? 

Or do you do the other thing I do? Ignore the priority task that’s super frustrating and start making a spreadsheet to make yourself feel productive?

I know all the tricks.

When it comes to songs, how does this show up for you? A technical snag or super tricky notes and rhythms you’d rather fudge than learn?

The time period from can’t do yet to I’ve got a handle on this can be a real dooze. 

Por qué? 

Because it’s full of unknowns, and our brains HATE unknowns.

They send out danger death signals whenever we encounter something that can’t connect safe and sound to past context.

So when you’re tryina make a sound you’ve never made before, your brain is certainly gonna say “We haven’t done this! This is new! Danger! Who are you, even???” 😳

Anything in life that presents ignorance puts us in this awkward newborn fawn walk. We wobble and find our way, but eventually we’re leaping and bounding over logs and creeks. The fawn’s quicker at it, though.  

So here’s your encouragement to nestle right into measure thirteen and see what’s up there. 

Practice your hands separately. Give your brain time to connect that dot on the third line of the bass clef to your left pinky.

And trust that if you show up to your work every day and practice with smarts and wisdom, you’re gonna end up somewhere great and full of discoveries that you didn’t know you were gonna make. 

It always happens like that. That I do know.

Promise. 

No matter what, remember that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing. 

Love much,
Dan

ps Hey guess what. I have a clue about what my BoCo teaching skedge is gonna be, so if you need some help with measure 13, I’m Zoom-able to fix all your vocal probs.

pps I’m also gearing up to get a NYC workshop rolling in October. 🎃🏙

We’ll pick a song or two that sangs your unique and effortless energy. We’ll Zoom about it a couple times, then I’ll come to the Citay, work with you one-on-one. And we’ll meet as a group for some communal song magic. 

I’ve got a list of interested folk, so please email me if you wanna join me in New York, and I’ll make sure you get all the pertinents.

ppps If you read this far, you’re the best, and you get this quote dessert from brilliant artist writer human Anne Lamott, from her book Bird by Bird.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

That’s Some Colorful Lingo, Mr. Cabbie. 🤬 New stuff can make your adrenals do some dancing.

Hey You Trailblazer of the Uncharted 🗺🧭—

Noah and I went on a Daddy date to the big sandbox playground and Lowe’s this week, and I noticed I knew where I was going without the GPS.

Reminded me of touring days when I’d be a week and a half into a new city, and the (paper!) map from the rental car company’d start to seep into memory. 

I’m a map nerd. 

When I lived in London, I studied the A to Zed before bed to plan the next day’s bike route. 

It was one part deep curiosity (the same fascination that had me reading Webster’s before bedtime as a kid) and one part abject dread of being clueless.

(***There WAS that first day on my bike on Wesbourne Grove that involved an ill-considered right turn, a very loud horn, and a London black-cab driver shouting, “Faaahhcking Wankaaaaaahhhh!”***🚲🙈)

I wasn’t the same after that brush with physical demise, but my cross-traffic right turns were on point and double checked thereafter. 

I had huge fears around being ignorant. 

So much so that during the fall when I studied in London, I never even hopped on a plane to nearby countries where the first language wasn’t English.

While my open-container-carrying schoolmates were EasyJetting off to Amsterdam for a peak at the Anne Frank annex and ready access to cannabis, I stayed in Foggy London Town.

I told myself there was more in the UK to discover than someone could learn in five lifetimes. While I was right about that, I was also terrified of being outside the knowledge club. 

I also harbored a vow not to be like my fellow countrymen swaggering into pubs expecting table service and hog-calling place names ending in “ham” like all geographic locations were situated in central Alabama.

🚗🚙🛻 But yeah, the two-lane highways in our corner of the Boston burbs are becoming familiar, and I still encounter taut anxiety when I roll up on a new sitch.

I power-walked past an acre and a half of empty parking spaces at the commuter rail station last week because I errrked our lil green Scion into the first parking spot I saw after navigating my way through Framingham’s Byzantine one-ways. (You do say Framing-HAM here, to be fair.)

Then there was track work. 🛤

(I’d learned the hard way after being on the wrong right platform to stand on the pedestrian overpass to peep which side the train’s actually arriving on.)

All this new everything reminded me of something I tell you all the time—learning to sing is about making the unfamiliar familiar.

And the unfamiliar makes my body seize up like a possum staring into high beams on a country curve at midnight. 

It’s why I get to be a teacher. I get to teach you what I need to learn.

Your brain always wants to fill in a story. 

I’m told by science-y folk that this is because our ancient neural structures know that accurate prediction of future events equals staying alive.

😳 A twig snaps in the woods behind you? Watch your six. 

😧Sudden movement in your peripheral vision? Check your three.

😠That doodoo butt Freddy from the front desk looks at you a lil bit sideways?—Freddy, observe your twelve. 

We’re always filling in stories. 

Just ask my wifey. 

I’ll do the half-hour-later-in-the-car, “Um, so when you said ‘Can you put the milk in the fridge?’ earlier, was that just about the milk, or was that about leaving my T-shirts inside-out in the dirty clothes again?

Brené Brown teaches a great tool that she and her husband use. They say, “The story that I just made up about…”

About what you said,

About the eyebrow raise,

About the way your voice went up in pitch at the end of that phrase.

I’m the king of story. 👑

When Melissa and I engage in our more passionate discussion moments, she can say something about my behavior that’s frustrating her, and I can bust a hard Louie to, “Oh, so I guess that makes me a….” 

Fill in the mad lib with your own shame noun.

My brain can tell an entire Aristotelian three-act about what a sheet-head my wife must think I am based on hearing that she wants me to listen to and empathize with her.

My brain’s tryina find the familiar 🧠⚡️: “THAT’s what THIS means. It’s like that previous experience. And THAT one. You already know what THIS is about.”

This script is the end to all curiosity, new intel, growth, and trust.

It dismisses anything new with the astygmatized lens of the past that thinks it knows.

It skips over what’s really there in order to see what it made up.

This is familiarity. And it’s imaginary.

When I panic-parked 278 empty spaces away from the train platform, my brain said, “Just take this spot. You won’t get another CHAAANCE!”

When I didn’t get an £87 plane ticket to Charles DeGaulle in college, my brain said, “You’ll get lost, and you’ll look STUPID.” (Because French strangers care. 🥖🇫🇷)

When I decide Melissa is calling me a turd when she’s trying to tell me how she feels, my brain says, “Conflict means an attack on your identity—DEFEND!”

And you see, my brain’s being real helpful. I mean that. He’s tryina try.

He’s like Gollum telling Sméagol HE’s the one who helped them survive. 

But meanwhile you’re obsessed with the One Ring, and you’re pounding fish on rocks for afternoon snack, and you’re alone with an ever-increasing life expectancy. Oof.

Your brain may do similar things when you 

💡learn a new way to make a sound, 
📖discover a new way to find your way into a story, 
🎭play with a new way to pretend you’re somebody else so that you can sing a tale that could change someone else’s life.

When I’m on the balance train, I say to myself, “This is my chance to make the unfamiliar familiar.” 

I hug my beautifully ignorant beginner brain, and I put one unsure foot in front of the other. (This’ll be my entire first semester at the BoCo, I’m sure.)

It feels wobbly and risky, and it is. 

And it’s a terrific way to cultivate awkward openness that create the opportunities for joy and connection that only awkward openness can.

I hope this week we’ll be tuned into the tales our sweet brains weave, and I hope you’ll remember most of all that

There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,
Dan

ps Speaking of Brits shouting “Wankaaaaah!”, are you on the Ted Lasso train yet? 

Melissa and I jumped on this week, and we love.  

His character may be my spirit animal—if I were a Midwestern American football coach who took a job managing a Premier League football club in greater London. I recommend.

pps 🍁Have you noticed the stores got their autumn out already? And I’m like, y’all, it’s AUGUST. 

But I sure did get an iced coffee with a punkin swirl from Dunkies yesterday. 

One sip, I was ready to don the orange cardie, light the cinnamon candle, and get out my official basic beech scarf menagerie🧣. 

I love me some fall, and I’m gonna dive into the New England magic like a leaf pile sprinkled with toasted marshmallows.  🍂

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