Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I shall be returning once again to Memphis to play for the Unified Professional Theatre Auditions (UPTA), as well as heading to Knoxville to play for the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) Professional Division Auditions. This will mark my 20th(!) anniversary playing for UPTA, and my 25th(!!!) with SETC. That amounts to about 35,000 (give or take) auditions from those two conferences alone; and that is on top of the auditions I play regularly outside of those two weekends in February and March.

To mark this joint milestone, I want to pass along a couple of things I have learned over the past 25 years. Things I have learned from and about myself as an audition pianist, as a collaborator. Things I have learned from the various company reps who sit in on those auditions looking to hire Actors for their upcoming seasons. Things I have learned from the Actors – from You.

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If you’re still trying to figure out which songs and monologues you want to use for your UPTA and/or SETC audition, take a look at which Theatre Companies will be in attendance…

UPTA Companies

SETC Hiring Companies and Casting Needs

Look up their seasons to see the shows (and roles) for which you’ll be auditioning, then adjust your selection and focus(!) accordingly.

 

imsorry

“I’m sorry…”
*
“…that this page is falling out of my binder.”
“…this page is ripped.”
“…that when I copied this it cut off the bottom of the page.”
“…I didn’t erase the old markings.”
“…for not putting this in a binder. I hope it stays on the piano.”
“…I keep meaning to fix this page.”
*
“…I’ve never heard the piano part before, could you…”
“…I’m not sure this cut was marked properly, could you…”
“…I don’t know what this intro sounds like, could you…”
“…but I’m not sure this is the right key, could you…”
*
Invest the time, money, and effort – all of which would be very minimal – in order not to start your audition with an “apology” which could very well give a first impression of a lack of preparation.

frankencut

In the process of cutting down a song to a suitable length for an audition – whether that be in terms of a number of measures (16-32 bars) or a span of time (30-60-90 seconds) – I sometimes feel that the singer has not simply edited the song, but, instead, they have unintentionally rewritten it. It has turned into what has come to be known as a “Frankencut”.

This happens most frequently when a singer wants to showcase a certain part of their range, usually the upper half, their “money notes”. They pick the measures of the song that hover in that vicinity, and devise their cut accordingly. In the process, they eliminate the measures, the notes in the original melody that set up those high notes. They also edit out the words in the lyric that correspond to that phrase. The grammar of both the text and the music is altered.

To best illustrate this point in this post, I have used the classic song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. I have notated it in 2/4 for demonstration purposes.

Ex. 1 – The song proper in 24 bars.

franken1

Ex. 2 – This is a 16-bar cut of the song. It has been edited in order to highlight the higher notes of the melody, the upper part of the singer’s vocal range. Notice how the melody is altered, changed. Notice how the lyric becomes just a string of words rather than a complete thought.

franken2

While this is definitely an extreme example of a Frankencut, I have played many that have come close to this.

Ex. 3 – This is the last 16 bars of the song which would serve as a good 16-bar cut.

franken3
Keep in mind is that the song that is “new to you” is probably not new to those who will be listening to you: the company reps. (HINT: Read the copyright date.) We know how the song goes: “Why did you change it?” Some cuts do work well, but there are also cuts that can perk up our ears and raise our eyebrows, and not in a good way.

Personally, I also believe in respecting the work of the Composer and Lyricist. Some of the Frankencuts that I have played and listened to over the years have essentially thrown out and ignored the craft put into those songs by the original writers. -And when I personally know some of those writers that can add a bit of an uncomfortable je ne sais quoi to the proceedings.

Since my space is limited here, the one piece of advice I would like to give in regards to avoiding a possible Frankencut is this:

-Sing your cut for someone else besides yourself and your voice teacher and accompanist. Find a set of fresh ears.
-Better yet: Give your cut to someone else, and listen to them sing your cut.

Let the reactions and feedback guide you to your next step.

3questions

THREE QUESTIONS to take us into the weekend.

question1
question2

question3
Just some food for thought, rather some food to prompt some thought(s).

Read each question.
Answer each one for yourself.
You might end up with some more questions.

cutarts

While I have appreciated and marveled at what some people have managed to cobble together with pieces of cardboard, poster board, foam core, construction paper, decoupage glue, craft scissors, pinking shears, paper cutters, packing tape, duct tape, as well as gold stars, Hello Kitty® stickers, and multiple colors of crayons, highlighters, and/or Sharpies®, there really is no need to go to all that trouble to make your sheet music presentable.

All you really need is a good copy of your sheet music, a 3-hole punch, a few pieces of scotch tape, a 3-ring binder, and a pencil. Maybe even a Post-It® note or two.

I’m also not averse to the two sheets of paper of your two-page cut taped inside a manila folder.

And for the record: I don’t mind plastic sheet protectors, and, in some instances, they can actually come in handy. -Yes, I know this seems to be a hot topic of debate amongst some of my colleagues, but it shouldn’t be. Don’t @ me.

yourslate

Let’s start at the very beginning.

“Hello, my name is Jose Simbulan. Number 88.”

I rarely have to give, to say, to announce my full name – my first and my last name – on a regular basis. In fact, I believe the only times I ever have to do that is when I give my briefing at UPTA and SETC at the start of each day. It is then no surprise that the most common fumble at combined auditions occurs during an actor’s slate, when they state their name and number.

If you are not in the habit of announcing yourself, practice saying your name. Out loud. Don’t apologize for it. Be proud of the name your parents gave you – or the name that you have decided to bestow upon yourself for professional reasons. Don’t let hearing yourself say your own name trip you up.

Your slate is not only the start of your audition, it IS part of your audition. It is, in essence, a very, very, very short monologue. Don’t treat it like a formality. Don’t throw it away. It is an introduction, your introduction. A first impression. Use those two (or less) seconds to show the company reps a glimpse of who you are, your personality, your likability. -This is especially true at SETC when the timing of your 60-90 seconds starts with the first word out of your mouth. Then we get to witness you shift gears and acting beats as you go into your monologue or song.

And then once you’re done, you get to do it again.

“Hello, my name is Jose Simbulan. Number 88. Thank You.”

PianoKeysBass

As Audition Season has started to kick into high gear here in NYC and elsewhere – and it actually started earlier this year! – here are a few quick tips and fixes for your “book” – your physical book – from a pianist’s point of view.

NOTE: The “fixes” below are all bits of practical advice, common sense, if you will. I don’t go into the areas of song selection, acting, personal coaching. Nothing should take more than a few minutes to make right. However, these very practical bits are things that can and do end up derailing an audition for both the singer and the pianist – and they are easily fixable, preventable, and avoidable.

And, yes, I will be back at the piano for the upcoming Unified Professional Theatre Auditions (UPTA) in Memphis, TN – my 19th year! – as well as for the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) Professional Division Auditions – my 24th year! – in Mobile, AL.

***

That one favorite song that has been falling out of your binder for the past year or two (or more!) due to a worn out hole-punch and/or sheet protector: fix it NOW! Stop apologizing for the condition of your sheet music. Get thee to a copier or printer! -And if one of the rings of your 3-ring binder happens to no longer close as tightly as it used to, get a new a binder as well.

***

If you know that the copy of your sheet music is hard to read:

-it’s more “gray and white” than “black and white”
-the bass clef/left hand part of the piano is missing on every other page
-it has a bunch of old markings scribbled on it and not completely erased
-there’s a coffee stain in the middle of it

…Then just go and get a better, easily readable copy of it.

***

NO LOOSE SINGLE SHEETS!
NO.
LOOSE.
SINGLE.
SHEETS.

Put it in a binder, or mount it on a piece of cardboard or manila folder.

***

That song or cut of a song which is just two pages long – and always has been and always will be two pages long – but that you have set up in your binder as back-to-back pages thus requiring a page turn: rearrange and/or re-copy it NOW so that the pages “face” each other, thus eliminating the page turn.

***

All of those those songs that you downloaded from SheetMusicDirect, MusicNotes, OnlineSheetMusic, Scribd, etc., that have been in your binder as single-sided pieces of paper for weeks, months (or years!) after you first printed them off: spend some quality time with those pages and arrange them as if they were in a book: facing pages, complete with the occasional page turn. -And there will be less page turns now as well.

***

If something doesn’t feel right about the way you’ve cut a song to work in an audition, then tape yourself singing it, then listen to yourself. Really Listen. Does the grammar still make sense with your cut? Does the melodic and harmonic grammar still make sense? -Better yet: have someone else sing your cut so that you can hear it a bit more objectively AND subjectively. Sometimes a “Frankenstein’d cut” can indeed end up sounding monstrous.

***

Know that that copy of your favorite song from the show you just worked on that was given to you by your conductor/music director may not provide the most piano-friendly accompaniment out there. In fact, many recent shows use a piano-conductor score that is meant more for conducting from rather than playing from. All of the notes that you need and want to hear while you are singing – all the “information” that you want the pianist to play for you – may simply not be on the page. If you see a lot of small, cued notes in the “accompaniment” then that’s usually the first sign. A few of the big “offenders” in this regard are “Thoroughly Modern Millie”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “All Shook Up”.

***

Look at exactly where you’ve written “START” and “STOP”. Are those your start and stop points? Or the pianist’s? There is usually a difference.

***

While I appreciate the service that MusicNotes provides, I still recommend going right to the two online sheet music stores that are directly aligned with the publishers:

Sheet Music Direct* which started off as the digital offshoot of Hal Leonard’s SheetMusic Plus.

Online Sheet Music which got its start as the digital home for Warner Bros. and Alfred. (Alfred does have it’s own digital shop, but I find their offerings and functionality limited.)

And because SMD and OSM have a more direct line to the publishers, their single-song price is also cheaper than it is on MN since MN licenses much of their catalog for resale from the Big Two. And due to the incestuousness nature of the music publishing biz, there is a big overlap in the catalogs of SMD, OSM, and MN. It’s worth the extra mouse-clicks and keystrokes to check all three sites for the song that you’re looking for.

*Note that SMD now offers unlimited transpositions and printouts of your purchased titles since they switched over to a PDF format. It’s also worth looking into the SMD PASS program which not only allows you to purchase single titles at a discount – usually 50% – but also grants you internet browser access to most of SMD’s digital library. The monthly or yearly fee can easily pay for itself with your first couple of discounted(!) downloads, purchases. (And you could always split the fee with a friend of two.)

***

Finally…

My two cardinal rules for audition prep – which essentially distill down all of the above:

1) I – the pianist – should never be the first one to play your sheet music for you.

2) If the first two words out of your mouth when you come up to me at the piano are, “I’m sorry…” then that’s already two strikes against you.

***

See you in the room!
Have Fun!
Be Brilliant!

Somewhere in the air between Houston and San Diego I just started giggling. There really was nothing else I could do, and there was nothing I wanted to do in a way. The past 12 hours just seemed to be “one for the record books”. Traffic on the way to the airport. A snails-paced shuttle bus from the parking garage to the terminal. A reservation that did not come up in the system. An airline employee who kept giving me and her computer screen puzzled looks. An unusually long security screening line. An eventually missed flight which led to an unplanned four hour pre-flight layover in an amenity-starved airport. Etc., etc., etc…

Of course, the giggling didn’t start until after the second half of my journey had begun. I had yet to deal with lackadaisical janitorial practices in the terminal, an inadequate air-conditioning system, and a fellow passenger with a medical emergency (which, thankfully, was not emergency enough to cause the plane to change its course mid-flight – which, according to the chatter, could have been a possibility).

For practically anyone who’s ever met me, giggling is not an uncommon state of being for me. Part informal greeting, part coping mechanism, part stress reliever, part signal of acceptance. This time, however, was a true LOL moment. As the flight attendants continued to discuss how to proceed, as passengers stood in the aisle trapped by the beverage cart, as people who were supposed to get their free beverage — myself included – wondered if they would ever get their free beverage, I just began to think about all the bumps and inconveniences of the past 12 hours. It was all out of my control (most of it anyway). There was nothing I could have done to prevent it nor remedy it. It all just happened. Not only the past 12 hours, but also the past 12 months. It all just happened. And all I could do was giggle.

Right now, I’m in the midst of a run of a show that I had absolutely no previous investment nor interest in. It was completely off of my radar. And then like magic/coincidence/happenstance/serendipity, I’m playing again. I’m working again. I’m back at a theatre I love. I’m among people I love and missed, as well as those I’m gladly getting to know better. I’m in a place both literally and figuratively I hadn’t planned or even envisioned a year ago, let alone six months ago.

I really have no idea where I’m going with this train of thought. Or even if there is a train of thought here. What I do know is that I’m still currently in the air somewhere between Houston and San Diego, and that in less than 48 hours my youngest brother will be getting married to a woman he loves. And that will be a wonderful thing to have happened.

…In the meantime, the line for the lavatory in the main cabin has grown to six people deep. And, yes, that made me giggle.

It’s Christmas Eve. And I’m spending it – and tomorrow in New York City. It will be my first Christmas not spent with my family in many years. And this song, well…

This is for my Mom and Dad. My brothers Don, Mike and Jay. My nephew, John Michael. My nieces Alexandra, Alyssa and Emily. And for Steve.

*****

I’m dreamin’ tonight of a place I love
Even more then I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams

*****

I Miss You. I Love You.

*And I’ll definitely be seeing all of you in my dreams, and, in person(!), a few days from now.

(Music & Lyrics by Buck Ram, Kim Gannon and Walter Kent)

May 2019
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