Friday, September 21, 2018

2018 Bios

Two bios for the price of one:

This one was first published in Portland Symphonic Choir's "Movie Madness" concert program in 2010.

Composer Gary Shannon

Voice coach, singer, actor, pianist, and composer, Gary Shannon is the tenor section leader for the Portland Symphonic Choir. He arranged the brilliant finale for our 2010 concert, That's Entertainment, “Movie Madness” finale

Gary received his Bachelor of Music in Composition and Education from San Jose State University with great distinction, writing two musicals and an opera before graduating. Moving to Portland in 1979, he served as musical director for Group At Hand, The Musical Company, and Cabaret Magnifique, as well as music director and arranger for The Dickens Carolers, guest director and arranger for The Oregon Repertory Singers, and vocalist and counter-tenor soloist with the internationally recognized Choral Cross-Ties. Mr. Shannon performed tenor and counter-tenor solos for Oregon Symphony Orchestra, Bravo Vancouver, and Cascade Music Festival concerts of Bernstein's Mass, Chichester Psalms, West Side Story, and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

A talented actor,Gary held the highest score ever awarded by the Association of Community Theaters for his “Judas” in Jesus Christ, Superstar, his record broken two years later by Henry Fonda On Golden Pond. Currently, Gary works as the music director for The Rose City Timberliners men's chorus and as the choir director and organist for St Timothy's Lutheran Church. He teaches music and singing online at Voice-Mentor.com.


Here's a 2018 bio focusing  on vocal coaching and accompanying for a private recital program for Yi Triplett.


    Gary Shannon is an influential musician, rehearsal pianist, vocal coach, choral director, classically trained tenor and composer in Portland, Oregon, from Santa Cruz, California.
      San Jose State University of California awarded his Bachelor of Arts in Music Education with Great Distinction with associate degrees in keyboards, vocal performance, theater arts and music composition under Drs. Charlene Archibeque, Tikey Zes, Lou Harrison, and Allen Strange in 1979. He co-founded Portland, Oregon's "Group at Hand" Theater Company with Carole Lowden in 1980, producing, directing, and performing musicals, operas, and plays until her unexpected retirement in 1984. Freelancing, Gary sang, directed, accompanied, coached, and composed music for The Portland Dickens Carolers, Oregon Repertory Singers for Gil Seeley, Oregon Symphony Pops under Norman Leyden, Choral Cross-Ties and Portland State University with Bruce Browne , Marylhurst University for Justin Smith, and varied local churches. Mr. Shannon won top prizes in the 1984 Yamaha Electone Organ national competition performing an original excerpt from his Organ Sonata in E.
      Gary currently leads the Portland Symphonic Choir tenor section, directs the Rose City Timberliners Barbershop Chorus, serves as pianist and choir director for St. Timothy Lutheran Church, and provides online and in-person accompanist and vocal coach services through his own company, Voice-Mentor.com. His upcoming project is preparing his portfolio of recordings, compositions, and arrangements for online publication.
     He and his wife share a cozy home in southeast Portland with their two adult children, a pair of persnickety cats, and a pampered bunny.




Saturday, August 25, 2018

Daily Warmup


 The purpose of a warm-up is to remind yourself how to sing what you need to sing today.  A warm-up will not improve your singing much - you use a workout to do that - but it gets you ready for singing well today.

Here is one warm-up technique that covers everything in few as 2 minutes when you're in good voice and health to 20 minutes when you're ill with vocal trouble.   Do a warm-up everyday, whether you are doing a performance, rehearsal, practice, or nothing at all that day.

The Daily 7-Minute Vocal Warmup


WARNING:  DO NOT USE THIS WARM-UP WHILE DRIVING.  You safety depends on your attention to the road - do not distract yourself.   Do this when you can concentrate on it without putting yourself in danger, please.

Part One:  Stretches.

If you've already been active today and feel limber and relaxed, skip these physical stretches. 

Basic rules for physical stretches:   (quoting Dummies.com [with a few comments])
  • Move into each stretching position slowly. Never force yourself into a stretch by jerking or snapping into position.
  • Notice how much tension you feel. A stretch should rate anywhere from mild tension to the edge of discomfort on your pain meter. It should never cause severe or sharp pain anywhere else in your body. [Hold stretches while you relax into the stretch.] Focus on the area you’re stretching, and notice the stretch spread through these muscles.  [Relax.]
  • As you hold each position, take at least two deep breaths. Deep breathing promotes relaxation. [And breathing is the base of singing]
  • Never bounce. After you find the most comfortable stretch position, stay there or gradually deepen the stretch. Bouncing only tightens your muscle — it doesn’t loosen it. Forceful bouncing increases the risk of tearing a muscle.

1.  Torso (stretch standing or sitting):  reach both arms to the ceiling then the floor,  reach high and bend right then left, twist right then left.   Repeat all six if feeling tense.
2.   Head: (roll standing or sitting) point your chin every direction:  up, left, down, right.  Repeat.
3.   Jaw :  Open mouth and eyes wide.  Squint and make a sour face. Repeat.
4.   Shoulder:  roll up, back, down, forward.  Repeat
5.   If you like or need it, self-massage your face, jaw and throat or anywhere else you carry tension.

Part Two:  Core Sound.

Your core sound is beautiful mid-range singing, with little strain.   The more you sing, the more free and beautiful your core gets.  When ill, even the core sounds poor, but that's what you start with in a warm-up and build from there.

1.  Yawn-sigh: yawn, inhale and sing a sigh from the top of your range to the bottom, then bottom to top on "ah", easy and light.
2.  Find any Core sound, a pitch you can sing well right now, that feels easy and sounds loud and beautiful.    "mm", "oo" or "ah" are likely vowels, and most folks find a core around G or f, but it doesn't matter what pitch you find, only that you find a core sound now.
3.  Long Tone:  take a good deep, low breath and sing that core note for 15 seconds on the clock.  If you can't make 15 seconds, focus on breath technique and try again.

Part Three:  Range.

Take that core sound to the extremes you need today: high and low, loud and soft, open and closed.

1.  Sirens low and high:   Starting from your core sound, slide the note low and hold it.   Then start from core, slide it high and hold that. While doing these sirens, change as little of the vowel and placement as possible, keeping and stretching your beautiful core sound

2. Scales low and high:  Using any instrument, locate your core pitch. (If you haven't an instrument, just make your best guess and continue:)  Sing scales to the notes you need.  Here are typical ranges for choristers, and which scales to sing from typical core notes. 

Vocal part typical core low note interval down high note interval up
Bass E E' octave down d octave up
Baritone F G' octave down f octave up
Tenor G B' fifth down a octave up
Alto f F octave down e' octave up
Mezzo g A octave down g' octave up
Soprano a c fifth down a' octave up

You can and should extend or shorten the scales to match the notes you need.     If you sound easy, loud and beautiful on your scales, great.  If not, try them once or twice again.  Doing more scales than three is fine, and now they're a workout and practice.
 
3. Specials: if the music you're singing has tricky vowels, speed, diction, or dynamics, simply sing the tricky music about as well as you did it last time you sang it.   You can attempt it many times and even turn this into practice and work with any of the hundreds of vocal exercises and learning tricks that exist, but...


When you achieve the object of the warm up (remind yourself how to sing), you're ready.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Preparing Pirelli: Finishing The Hat.

Happily, I enjoy the research you have to do when writing or preparing songs, and discovering obscure surprises as you work out what's what.  While preparing to play "Pirelli" in Marylhust University's production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, I dug out my copy of Finishing the Hat, Sondheim's collected lyrics (1954-1981) with, as the author names it "attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes".

Steve writes a long comment on page 345 about avoiding the typical monolithic opera/musical chorus, where all the singers seem to have exactly the same thought at the same time.

Finshing the Hat cover     "The tradition of the chorus as one voice persists even today,but surely no two people in a crowd being exhorted by a seller of what is essentially snake oil have the same degree of sales resistance.   Thus the overlapping voices in the lyric above.  Every single chorus member is characterized as an individual and the director can decide how to treat each one specifically; at the very least he has something he can say to each of the performers which may help them distinguish themselves from their fellow spectators.  (When the chorus is presented as a Greek Chorus, however, commenting on the action or telling the story directly to the audience, as in the case of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," it's both justifiable and and necessary that they all sing the same lyric.)
     "The problem of writing for choruses like this is that what you gain in the realism of individuality you lose in concerted choral power, and therefore you have to find a line, or preferably lines, that they can all sing without violating the principle.  In "Pirelli's Miracle Elixer," for example, "Give us back the money" and "where is this Pirelli?" tie the garbled counterpoint on the simultaneously different musical lines together and allow for a joyful noise, which is not only expected, but welcome."

A few other surprising nuggets not in the script or the score are in Finishing the Hat:

- SPOILER ALERT - SEE THE SHOW FIRST
  • London 1849.  (The score says "Nineteenth century."  After researching "Shelley" and "Botany Bay" from the libretto,  before reading "Finishing the Hat", I'd calculated 1846.)
  • "Called an opera... a song cycle... a musical play...  'Dark operetta' is the closest I can come, but... what Sweeney Todd really is is a movie for the stage." 
  • British Playwright Peter Schaffer spotted every word of slang Steven had invented in a draft.   Producer David Land helped, but more than a few expressions are still Sondheimisms, not Cockeyisms.  
  • Steve says he's a slow reader. (Compared to whom?)
  • Toby is slang for "boy", "beer stein", "road", or "highway robbery".  "Tobias" is Hebrew for "God is Good" 
  • "Beedle" or "Beadle" (either spelling is okay) is a a minor official's title, like "aide" or "officer", not a first name.
  • Lovett's "Worst Pies in London" irregular form portrays her "a glitteringly disorganized, chatterbox,  switching moods mid-thought and thought mid-subject".  The repeated and grounding phrase "worst pies in London" are only there to relax and fool the audience...
  • "She is indeed the true villain of the piece"  (Yes, I'm surprised!)
  • A tooth pulling contest and the Judge's song were both cut in the original 1979 Broadway production to tauten Act 1.    New York City Opera's 1984 production, with the same director and sets, suffered no sag while including the Judge's song, but not with tooth-pulling.
  • Sweeney's schizophrenic breakdown in "Epiphany" alternates between rhythmic rhymed sections showing his determination, free-flowing un-rhymed sections for his grief, and even breaking the fourth wall for his true madness.  
  • Alas, no applause for the actor: the unreleased tension in the audience makes what follows explosively funny.
  • Writing in 2010, Stephen would change a dissatisfying, unnecessary and clumsy," lyric in "A Little Priest" from "Last one really sold/wasn't quite so old" to "Last one that we sold / Wasn't quite so old." 
  • Ditto, he'd change  Todd: "we'll serve anyone-" Both: "meaning anyone- and to.. " to (and did for the movie in measure 351) Todd: "we'll serve anyone-"  Lovett: "we'll serve anyone-" Both: "and to...
  • In "God, That's Good" (again a chorus of demanding, envious, freeloading, drunk, etc. individuals), the British expression for "Knock on wood" is "Touch wood", but needs three syllables to match "God, that's good".  Stephen is still open to suggestions. 
  • When Sweeney premiered in England, Stephen discovered by happy coincidence how sly a punster Lovett is in "By the Sea": "chopper" was slang for penis.
  • In the "Wigmaker/Letter Sequence", the stage directions are longer than the lyrics. 
  • Madhouses were indeed places where wig-makers got supplies.  Despite reforms and government oversight in 1816, London's Bedlam i.e.  Bethlehem Hospital  wasn't modernized until 1888.
  • Christopher Bond's 1973 play Sweeney Todd (and the basis of this 1979 operetta) has a scene where Mrs. Lovett tries to poison the Beadle, glasses get switched, and she almost poisons herself, distracted by Toby's singing. Steve wanted to write the disorganized trio, "but I never got around to it."
  • Whether the audience figures out the Beggar Woman's past from the start, in the middle, in her mad scene, or not at all, doesn't matter:  "Sweeney's reaction to the revelation is what counts, and everyone gets that at the same time."
  • John Lahr panned the show scathingly in Harpers Magazine after having read a script draft, but not hearing the show.  Sondheim wrote the critic and publisher that "he ought to see it first."   Lahr's response: "I guess you're right".
He's right.   It's bizarre, bloody, dark, idiosyncratic, and it's genius.  See the show first.

Sweeney Todd Feb 2018 poster
 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Join a choir or two!

As I say in VOICE LESSON ONE,
To improve consistently,
  • Warmup every day. Five minutes is often enough.
  • Workout thrice weekly. Forty-five minutes is enough.
  • Vocal rehearsals, lessons, and concerts count as workouts.
 The easiest method to do this is to

JOIN A CHOIR OR TWO!  

 Voice lessons are great, but singing with a choir is a simpler, friendlier and cheaper way to improve any singer.   Singing in two choirs guarantees two weekly workouts and two weekly warmups.  Often the homework to learn your music and the performances they give provide your third weekly workout.    All you need is to find one or two choirs that are right for you,  set aside a little money for dues or tuition, then sing.  Portland has this great resource that my friend and colleague Tom Hard maintains in the PDX CHORAL CALENDAR that lists dozens of singing groups you might join.

WHICH CHOIRS TO JOIN?

Of course you want a group that's near you and rehearses and performs at times you can be there. Almost all choirs allow you to miss some rehearsals and performances, so don't let a few schedule conflicts deter you:  just be honest about your conflicts when you present yourself and it will work out.

Beginning singers should find and join a "Non-Auditioned" choir (one that accepts everyone without them having to sing well first).  Most schools and churches and community centers have one or two.

Intermediate singers should audition for a auditioned choir.  The music is more difficult, the singing more exact and membership more exclusive because you have to show what you can do (often all by yourself) before you start with them..  If you don't get into one when you first audition, don't panic, just stick with your non-auditioned choir, study "HOW TO AUDITION FOR A CHOIR"  and try another selective choir.

Advanced singers should get on contact lists for professional groups and audition every time they have a chance.  Such groups often have connections to solo, recording, and contacts that will spring-board you to other groups and performances.  In the meanwhile, stay with your auditioned choirs until you have reason to stop.

WHEN TO QUIT A CHOIR


You should end off singing with your choir for two reasons:  it's too hard, or it's too easy.  You might need to cut back singing because of life barriers like family illness or job changes.  Either way, you decide what is best, communicate your decision to those that need to know about it,  then go.

A choir that's too hard for you will leave you feeling confused and nervous.  You'll feel like rehearsals are rushed and you barely know the music, even in performance.  First, before you do anything else, tell your leaders and teachers what you are feeling:  they might make changes to their teaching styles and have resources that can help you  remain in a group so you are meeting the challenges.   In the meanwhile, stick things out for another three weeks or three months and fulfill your promises to the group as best you can.  You may discover you're stepping up to the challenge, so you should stick with it.  If not, end off when it's ethical then find an easier group,

A choir that's too easy for you will leave you feeling bored and irritated.  You'll feel rehearsals are too slow and your fellow singers aren't doing well.   First, before you do anything else, stick with it and set a good example of how this singing and rehearsing should go and do an excellent job of it.   When the music doesn't challenge you, challenge yourself to be more beautiful, precise, artistic and emotionally engaged than ever before.  In the meanwhile, let your current leaders know how you're doing and let them make suggestions.  When you find and join a more expert group, end off your old group when it's acceptable to do so.

In the end, do the right thing for your choirs (don't burn your bridges by quitting like a flake or a jerk) because you might rejoin them in the future.  Even better, they might need you for something special - and they'll know they can trust you to deliver.