for people who break into song in real life

Tag: family

What’d I step on? 🐙 Ack! wooop $*@# BLUUURG — I’m okaaaaay

Noah and I explored the bracing waters of Nantucket Sound this week.

We examined seaweed samples, spied horseshoe crabs, and spotted shiny shells saying heeeeey from under the sparkly water.

It was one of those supersaturated perfection moments.

–where the self-conscious part of you wishes there were a photographer so you could prove to you friends, “No, really, this was the perfect New England Beach Day.”

This lil PB and J snacker’ll give you a clue.

Check that posture! He’s always calling out my slump.

While we waded, I was feeling the squishy sand through my toesies and pointing out a sailboat when my heel encountered something that was not seaweed.

Something springy, slimy, and vigorous writhed its way under the arch of my foot as if to say, “Hey! I’m LIVIN’ here!”

I acknowledged its communication with a falsetto WOOOP and a splashy hitch kick.

“Daddy! What’s wrong?” Noah asked.

“I stepped on something!” I explained.

“Daddy, why are we walking out of the water?”

“I need a lil break.”

“Daddy, what did you step on?”

“I don’t know, buddy.”

“What did it look like?”

“I didn’t stay close enough to look.”

As we toweled off on the beach, Noah was trying to work out why I hadn’t paused to observe the offended sea creature.

He repeated, “Daddy, what was that?” and “Daddy, were you scared?”

“Yes, buddy, I was startled. I didn’t know what I’d stepped on.”

I could see brain jigsaws interlock as he added, “Oh, Daddy’s scared of some things,” and “There’s stuff Daddy doesn’t know,” to his file labeled “The Way Things Are.” (Remember that from Babe?)

The ocean is unabsorbably beautiful, reminds you how teeny you are, and hosts all kinds of beings most human feet don’t wanna touch.

What you can’t see can be scawwy.

Like vocal technique.


It’s not straightforward like, “You put your left foot in, “ or “Press these two keys to start ‘Chopsticks.'” 

It’s your whole body asking several muscle groups in your torso to play nice with largely involuntary muscles in and around your throat collaborating with more interdependent functions than you knew existed from your throat to your lips.

Your tongue alone has 8 different muscles.

Craysssy. 

And it’s not like you can just look down and check if you’re doing it right.

The good news, though, is that there are indicators you can rely on, and there are things your body already knows how to do.

You wanna try an experiment and see?

(inspired by a terrific thesis by one of the MFA grads I got to advise. Thanks, Evan Rees.)

Here you go. (May wanna do this alone or on a busy street/train platform where no one will likely hear or care.)

  1. 🐣 Pretend you’re holding a lil baby or a sweet animal, and sing a lullaby or a scale on [u]/oooo.
  2. 🎵 Sing it in different keys, and notice that your voice naturally knows how to soothe this sweet lil being.
  3. 🦹🏻‍♂️ Now pretend that a malevolent person tries to hurt your beebee.
  4. 🗯 Call out, “Hey!”
  5. 🎼🗯 Follow that impulse again, and slide ‘Heeey” on an interval, a fourth or a fifth.

What’d you notice?

Your voice is built-in ready when you’re meeting an unfolding sitch.

Your neurons know how to soothe a scared puppy and how to repel an invader.

This intel is crucial for theatre singers because the circumstances you’re imagining change the shape of your vocal tract.

Now, can you tell me something?

What is your number one vocal/storytelling question right now?

Because if you email me back and ask me, I can help you out. 

I mean it. Hit reply and atst — vibrato, breathing, unmanageable stage farting. I’ve heard it all. 

or

If you could make up a magical class or voice lesson, what problem would it solve for you?

It can be an impossible ask like, “I want my class to earn me a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism.” I mean, I can’t help you with that, but I do wanna know what your perfect class would do for you (or any singing storyteller you care about.)

Email me back and tell me.

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

Love much,

Dan

ps We’re heading back to regular land life today, so I’ll have some lesson avail. If you wanna sing freer, love what you’re doing, and bring joy to the room, email me back, and we’ll get to work. 

pps Have you watched Joe Papp in Five Acts on PBS yet? I haven’t, but I plan to because all my snobby theayter friends say it’s terrific. 

ppps This was clearly a working vacation since I also shot a series of looks for an upcoming fragrance they’ve asked me to promote. 🙃 They’re still focus-grouping, but I think it’s gonna be called Panic at the Seashore.  

The Thing that Meant the Most — stories, one-liners, and little league baseball advice

My dad’s memorial service was last Saturday, and it was the first time my two brothers and I got to be in the same place since 2019.

Time gets more and more nuts the older you get—the simultaneous slow-fast fake-out.

My brother Ben hopped on a plane from Mexico City (where he was working at the time) to Spain (where his girlfriend lived) when the pandemic began, and he’s been there since March of ’20.

They’re about to move to Mallorca 🏖☀️, so Melissa and I are dreaming up ways we can get a 3 and 4 year old to chill on a transatlantic flight. 😎

But you know what that’s like when you haven’t seen that loved one in too long, and then you see them, and it’s like you were just discussing the final season of Kimmy Schmidt over a <$3 latte.

One of my favorite things about my dad’s service, though, was seeing my little brother pull one-liners outa nowhere.

At one point, he began to well up and paused for a while. The keyboard player filled in with a few soft chords, and Ben commented, “They’re playing me off.”

Buoying grief up with laughter is one of our greatest human gifts.

We three brothers got to have a tag team story time near the end of the service.

Joel recounted Dad teaching him to dive in a motel pool in 1980 when he took him along on a rope selling trip. I’ll never forget the beautiful image of Dad treading water and urging little Joel to go for it—he was there to catch him.

Ben told everyone about the time Dad gave him the Lowe’s business card and the go-ahead to build an art studio in the old room above Dad’s warehouse office—how he made a space for him to tinker and figure things out. It paid off. There’s not much Ben can’t figure out.

And I shared the time Dad visited me in Tucson when I got to go on for Raoul in Phantom. He grabbed my shoulder after the show, and his face said, “You did the thing, son.”

But the thing I remember the most about that visit was Dad telling me the crew’s words about me meant the most to him — that they appreciated working with me. To Dad, knowing I was a kind and generous team member was a lot more important than me having more solos.

The theme I heard over and over on Saturday was this: Dad giving folks money, them trying to refuse it, and Dad saying they would be denying him the blessing of getting to give to them.

I know why one of the words I use in the studio all the time is “generous.”

I learned from my dad that giving is its own reward.

And when we sing, we get to give. That’s free air we breathe in, and the way we give it back is everything.

I got to sing a couple of songs at Dad’s service, and one was with a dear friend of his, Sylvia Lowry, whose voice is very special and straight from the heart.

As we began, I could feel the tears well up and my throat close with emotion.

Then I just heard Dad’s voice from little league before I’d step up to the plate: “You gotta breathe, youngun, and keep your eye on the ball.”

I took a breath, and there was the phrase.

I sensed a special love between Sylvia and me as I watched her sing the first verse, and when I looked in the apparently empty space, I knew in my knower Dad was there with a healing hand on each of our shoulders smiling his wide smile.

If you notice one of those free breaths in your lungs today, turn it into a phrase of a song, and give it generously wherever you are. To yourself totally counts.

I’ve noticed you can’t put a price on that.

I just read a thesis from one of my master’s students, and he concluded his work with, “The most powerful tool a performer has at their disposal is what makes them unique: the way only they can tell the story.”

See? It’s not just me who thinks so—there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps here’s a special photo of me, Joel holding Noah, Melissa holding Jude, Ben and Ainhoa, and a terrifically messy kitchen island that means we were all together. 

Sonnet About Biscuits and Bacon

Sonnet About Biscuits and Bacon

or a Lenten Meditation on Being Soft

 

I’d find it hard to name a better smell

My great-great grandma's dough bowl and rolling pin. Sitting on my great-grandma's enamel kitchen table in front of my other great-grandmother's pie safe.

My great-great grandma’s dough bowl and rolling pin. Sitting on Great-Grandma Lillie’s enamel kitchen table in front of Great-Grandma Allie’s pie safe. There was a time when I foolishly distanced myself from my heritage, so to be the caretaker of these items now is precious. P.S. the runner hand-quilted by my sweet mother-in-law, Anita Klees.  www.thequiltladyandmore.com

Than biscuits baking. Take that back. Add

Some bacon in a cast iron skillet, well,

If that don’t turn the goodest vegan bad…

 

My mama gave my wife and me a dough

Bowl turned from wormy chestnut that belonged

To her great-grandma. Must have been, I know,

A lost-count number of biscuits kneaded, sing-songed

 

From wood-burn stove to table, farmers fed

Enough to strengthen them for hours more

Of bone-tired fieldwork. Grandma often said

“Y’all don’t know real work like we did before.”

 

My great-grandfarmers plowed the field ahead.

I reap their sowing, eat their daily bread.

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