Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer-“Cattle Call”

This was probably the worst idea she had ever had. Initially, she thought it would be a good opportunity to get exposure. She knew she had a good voice, but maybe she just wasn’t cut out for this kind of thing.

She had been standing in a long line since seven o’clock that morning, her mom by her side and a piece of paper with a number printed on it on her chest. It was starting to get really hot, and feelings of self-doubt and anxiousness were starting to take over.

“This could be it. The big break you’ve been waiting for,” her mom whispered in her ear.

She looked around. People were dressed in outlandish outfits, playing guitars, and dancing around. “I don’t know, Mom, they’re saying that there’s over 5,000 people here,” she said, worried. Everyone wanted their fifteen minutes of fame. A lot of them had probably worked and sacrificed to get there. Why should she be the lucky one to get picked for a slot on the show?

Everyone was being filtered into a large stadium. Cameras were everywhere, but all she wanted to do was crawl in a ball and hide. What the heck was she doing here? This wasn’t her. Security guards were directing the crowds onto the field and making performers line up in rows of five.

She looked back at her mom. “You’re going to do great. I’m proud of you no matter what. I’ll be waiting right here,” her mom said, reassuringly.

She looked around as she walked up to her line. There were individual tents with three judges sitting at a table underneath each tent. Performers would walk up in groups of five, standing next to each other, and each would sing an excerpt of a song. Many of the performers that were being picked to move on to the next round had extravagant outfits or were physically attractive, but she didn’t hear anything substantial coming from their mouths. This isn’t real, she thought. This isn’t music.

She was next in line to sing. She watched the judge’s faces as the group of performers each sang. They were all clearly bored, looking, but not really listening. The performers finished and left. She walked up to face the judges along with four other singers.

She looked around. Each one of the girls standing there with her looked terrified. She felt nervous, but she couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed. The judges were too busy jotting down notes on paper, so much so that they didn’t even notice when it came time for her to sing. Screw this, she thought. They’re going to pay attention to me. She picked the one part of the song she prepared where she knew she would belt the melody. She had a deep, powerful voice. She was damn good at belting. The other singers around her looked up when she let the sound escape from her lips. She let herself feel every note in that moment, forgetting what happened before and what might come after. She knew her voice carried, so her mom had to hear what everyone else was hearing. What the judges were trying to ignore.

One of the judges held up her hand, cutting her off halfway through the second line of the verse she was singing. “That’s enough. Thank you.” The woman adjusted her glasses, a fake smile thinly spread across her face. “Unfortunately, you aren’t what we’re looking for. Better luck next time.”

Her insides felt empty, as she walked out of the stadium. She was physically and emotionally exhausted. She felt as though she had taken everything inside and laid it on the table for those judges, completely exposing who she was. And for what?

“That girl was ridiculously good. I don’t know why they didn’t pick her to move onto the next round,” a girl said directly to her right that was pointing at her.

She smiled back at the girl, but when she saw her mom, the smile disappeared. She struggled to hold back tears as she mom hugged her, but she had never felt so insignificant. Her talent, her years of training and experience had meant absolutely nothing here. She felt as though everything she knew about music didn’t matter. She had wasted a day waiting to perform for people who didn’t care if she succeeded or if she had real talent. She would be less willing (if at all) in the future to put herself in a position where her talents weren’t truly appreciated and where her time was of little value.

“I could hear you all the way across the stadium,” her mom said as they walked to the car. “You sounded amazing. I’m proud of you.”

 

 

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Grand Performances: A Great Live Performance Venue

I am all for utilizing social media to interact and network with others when creating art. However, live music performances are the life blood of music. CDs, MP3s, music streaming services allow you to play music whenever and wherever you want, but who doesn’t want to see their favorite band, singer or even a new group play live?

That’s why I absolutely love Grand Performances in Downtown Los Angeles. Grand Performances is a free, summer-long concert series that takes place at the open-air California Plaza II in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles. Audience members can come bring picnic meals and drinks, sitting almost anywhere around the stage. There is reserve seating for those who wish to pay, but really any seat in the plaza is a great seat because of the sound system, acoustics, and multiple television monitors placed throughout the area. Grand Performances makes it a point to celebrate cultural diversity, booking groups and solo acts from all over the world (I, myself, recently went to watch L’Orchestre Afrisa International & Ricardo Lemvo, hailing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

I have written posts encouraging people to go experience live music before, but really, everyone should go to a show during the Grand Performances summer series. By offering free access to world performance events, they are building and inspiring our community to become a part of the bigger cultural picture, educating the public through art; especially music. The artists that perform also are able to sell their merchandise, should anyone choose to bring these cultural experiences home to explore more (which they should). The staff that work these events are always polite and extremely helpful, and the welcoming atmosphere keeps people coming back every summer.

Please check out a show at Grand Performances soon! This is definitely one of the best musical experiences that you could have in Los Angeles. You won’t be disappointed.

The link to their main page can be found below for your reference:

http://www.grandperformances.org

 

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#OnRepeat: Ricardo Lemvo’s “Mambo Yo Yo”

This week, I’ve had Ricardo Lemvo’s “Mambo Yo Yo” #OnRepeat. I have been listening to Lemvo’s music for awhile, but recently have become somewhat obsessed since watching him perform live at Grand Performances in Downtown Los Angeles this past weekend.

Ricardo Lemvo is a singer born in Angola, but was raised in Kishasa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he was first introduced to Cuban music. Ricardo formed the band, Makina Loca, back in 1990, blending influences from African Soukous, Kizomba, Samba, and Cuban Salsa music. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California, but travels internationally frequently for concerts, festivals, private events. Some of his most well-known songs are “Yiri Yiri Bon,” “Malambo,” “Mama Kiyele,” “Birin Birin,” and “Tata Masamba.”

“Mambo Yo Yo” is an upbeat song that sounds almost like an Afro-Cuban salsa song if you didn’t listen closely to the lyrics, which are both in Spanish and mix in words from different African languages. Ricardo’s voice brings a unique color to the music because of his nasal-like, raspy yet vibrant timbre. His melodic phrasing seems to float on top of the other instruments and his rhythmic timing keeps you on your feet dancing.

Take a listen below:

I know that Ricardo is able to sing in several different languages, however, I’m not quite sure which African language he is singing in here. If anyone has an accurate translation of his lyrics, or can point me in the right direction, please feel free to leave a comment below. Please check out more of Ricardo Lemvo’s music, both online and live performances!

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#OnRepeat: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”

This week, I’ve had Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”#OnRepeat. I grew up listening to this song repeatedly, but didn’t really quite appreciate it until recently.

Queen is a rick band from London, England that was popular during the 1970s and 1980s. The band was lead by vocalist and pianist, Freddy Mercury (famously known for sliding effortlessly up and down his five-octave range), writing music that blended Pop, Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, and Classical music. They were known for experimenting heavily with sound and live stage performance techniques. Some of their most well-known songs are “We Will Rock You,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “Somebody to Love.”

“Bohemian Rhapsody” was a song written by Freddy Mercury that became one of the most iconic Pop songs in the last several decades. Nearly six minutes in length, the song was written in the format of a suite, with changes in style and tempo, moving from a Ballad section to an “Operatic” section, to an aggressive Hard Rock. Mercury’s virtuosic voice is prominent throughout with an incredibly powerful, piercing upper range that he utilizes while belting. He demonstrates ridiculous efficiency in diction and rhythm, and he was able to slide from subtle and sweet to brash and energetic almost seamlessly. Having grown up listening to Queen, and then training as a vocalist myself, I have gained a whole new level of respect for this song, Freddy Mercury, and the band as a whole.

Take a listen below:

What do you think? What is your favorite Queen song? Let us know in the comments below!

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Musings-Bill Evans

 

[pic: jazzdagama.com]

“To imitate someone is to insult them.” – Bill Evans

When I came across this quote, it seemed so one-sided to me that I had to respond. I try my best to look at both sides of a situation or opinion, but to me, this statement seems extremely reductive because of the fact that many musicians start out their musical careers imitating someone else.

As a matter of fact, I have always told people to learn what others have done before them (their melismas, phrasing, breathing techniques, etc.) as a tool for practice. Once you have become comfortable enough and know that melodic line or vocal lick like the back of your hand, then you can start to experiment with it, adding or taking away parts, or coming up with something entirely different so that it becomes your own. For this reason, imitation is a key step in the learning process.

I wouldn’t imitate vocalists or musicians (horn players’ horn lines are great practicing tools too)if I didn’t like or respect some aspect of their playing. If I truly think something sounds slick or interesting, I’ll want to figure it out and practice singing it until I can perform it all my own because I want that idea or performance aspect as part of my musical vocabulary. That idea will be in my subconscious for the rest of my life. How could that be insulting?

I can understand why some might see this as an insult though. Some musicians think that copying or imitating is lazy; that there is no effort or original thought in imitation. I would argue the contrary because many licks, phrases, or melodies that I’ve imitated during practice have been used as a springboard or starting  point to create something entirely different. The more avenues the musicians are willing to utilize for creativity, the more potential for music that can be created. Imitation has the potential to spark creative thought, leading to something newer, different, or even, better than the original idea.

 

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#OnRepeat: “Without Question” -Elton John (from the movie, The Road to El Dorado)

 

 

This week, I’ve had Elton John’s “Without Question” from the movie, The Road to El Dorado, #OnRepeat. I watched this movie the other night and I couldn’t get enough of this song, especially because of Elton’s voice.

Elton John is a singer, pianist, and composer from London, England who is one of the best-selling music artists in the world, having sold millions of albums internationally, dozens of awards (including five Grammy Awards), and several songs on the Top 40 hit list. He is a strong advocate for LGTBQ social movements and rights, and continues to raise money to help fight and raise awareness for HIV and AIDS. Elton’s music blends Pop, Rock, R&B, Gospel, Glam and Soft Rock musical influences. Some of his most well-known songs are “Candle in the Wind,” “Something About the Way You Look Tonight,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight (yes, the song from the movie, The Lion King),” and “Your Song.” This brief introduction to Elton John really doesn’t do him any justice, so please go check out more of his music (he has TONS of songs…TONS).

“Without Question” is a song written by Tim Rice and Elton John for the movie, The Road to El Dorado. The lyrics, although slightly vague, give the impression of a person who has been going through life doing whatever they want, almost carelessly, until they came across another who they fell in love with; their views and life completely gets flipped on its head. This is my interpretation of the lyrics, but other people could interpret it differently. That’s the great thing about art, and really, Elton John’s music: it’s still a beautiful song to listen to even though you don’t quite understand the message that the lyrics are trying to convey. Elton’s voice is bright and powerful; his belt voice isn’t over-bearing and his lower part of his range is as evenly balanced and piercing as his upper register. The guitar is a great addition to this arrangement as well. The version below from the movie only has the first verse of the song, but you can get a really good idea of what it sounds like.

Take a listen below:

What do you think? Do you have a favorite Elton John song? Let us know in the comments below!

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Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer – “Karaoke”

“Oh my gosh, you sing? How fun!” Dina whined. She was a friend of Sam and Natalie, and that was the only reason why she didn’t roll her eyes.

Natalie noticed the look on her face, quickly adding, “You know what might be fun? Karaoke.” She grabbed Sam’s arm. “There’s this great karaoke bar with good happy hour specials fifteen minutes from here.”

She winced. She knew how much Natalie loved karaoke because of her love for Pop music and performing, but she would rather scrape her nails on a chalkboard than sing into a cheap sound system at a bar.

“Yeah! Singers love karaoke!” Dina said, enthusiastically.

“Um, that’s not necessarily tr–” she began, but the other three were so excited that they began to talk over her. Where was it written, or agreed upon, that vocalists loved to do karaoke? She shook her head to herself as they all got into Sam’s car.

“This place has the best song selection and there’s four-dollar beers–”

“Yay! I love karaoke!”

“Can we pick teams?”

“Tiffany’s on my team–”

She began to rub her head where she felt a headache coming on. She should’ve drove her own car.

They parked and walked into the bar. There was a pungent smell of liquor in the air and several people were yelling, clearly already intoxicated.

“Just think of it this way: this is the best place to get up and sing because everyone’s so drunk, that even when you mess up, everyone will still cheer you on,” Sam jokingly said in her ear.

“You do realize everything that is wrong with the statement you just made, right?” she asked, looking sideways at Sam.

Natalie and Dina were too busy chatting away to see how uneasy she felt. She knew Sam was trying to make her feel better, but it made her feel even worse knowing that no one would care if she hit the right notes in some random Pop song, much less even remember her face. She sat back in her chair, casually sipping a beer as different people got up and mumbled into the microphone.

This was going to be an interesting night.

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#OnRepeat: Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”

This week, I’ve had Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” #OnRepeat. I remember hearing this song in one of the Shrek movies (completely serious) and I’ve loved it ever since. Interesting fact: it is incredibly hard to find and purchase this song by itself, so if anyone finds it, please send it/and or a link to it my way.

Paul McCartney is a singer, songwriter, actor, multi-instrumentalist, and composer from Liverpool, England. He got his start in the internationally successful group, The Beatles, and the songwriting work that he and John Lennon did has been celebrated over multiple generations. After the band split up, Paul went on to pursue a solo career and later formed another band called Wings. Some of his most well-known songs are “Yesterday,” “Yellow Submarine,” “My Love,” and “Lady Madonna.”

“Live and Let Die” is a song written by Paul McCartney and his first wife, Linda, and performed by Paul’s band called Wings. It was the theme song of the 1973 James bond film of the same name, Live and Let Die, and was the most successful Bond theme song at the time and the band’s most successful song. The arrangement of piano and violin during the verses allows the change for the chorus to really be highlighted through the use of drums and guitar. Paul McCartney has always had the perfect voice for heartfelt, Pop-like ballads, and music filled with poignant lyrics, so this song is right up his alley. The melody is catchy and the lyrics are simple yet straightforward, making this song relatable even years later–a true testament to Paul’s song writing.

Take a listen below:

Which of Paul McCartney’s songs are your favorite, and why? Leave a comment below!

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Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer – “Hobby”

She wiped the sweat from her forehead with her towel. She had only meant to work out for thirty minutes, but she had spent too long on the treadmill. She would have to leave now if she didn’t want to be late for class. She walked over to the mirrors to stretch and cool down. As she sat down, she noticed a familiar elderly manumitting several feet away from her stretching.

They made eye contact. “Oh, you’re here early today, eh?” he called over to her, smiling.

“Yeah, I have an early class,” she said, stretching her shoulders.

He nodded. “Science? Literature?” They had always passed each other in the the large gym on campus, but never actually had a conversation.

She had always made a point to keep to herself when she exercised. She didn’t come to the gym to socialize. “It’s a music theory class. I’m a music major.”

“Oh okay! I’m one of the molecular biology professors here.”

“Oh okay,” she said. She didn’t know what else to say to add to the conversation. She shifted her legs to get ready to stand and leave.

“So, music, yeah? Do you play an instrument?”

“Yeah, I sing. I’m a vocalist.”

“Oh, singing! How fun! It’s always nice to work on your hobbies.”

She was getting up from the mat, when his statement registered in her brain. She paused and gave him a dirty look. Hobby? she thought to herself. “Have a good day,” she said, forcing a smile.

Did that guy know how much time and effort she had put into learning how to sing? Trying to master all the different aspects of vocal technique–breath control, support, posture, vowel shape–just to avoid damaging her vocal chords while trying to sound decent when she performed? Practicing songs and scales over and over until her voice gave out? She wouldn’t do that, go through all of that, if it was just a “hobby.” It stopped being a hobby more than fifteen years ago.

She wanted to blame the man’s ignorance on his age or his profession, but really, it was because of the way society viewed music, musicians, and the arts in general. It wasn’t something that was considered just for fun in other countries. Saying that it was just for fun, though, negated all the work that she had put in over the years; all the progress she made and personal goals she had attained. She realized in that moment that she would have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously as a musician and artist, no matter the number of years of training, hard work, or the talent she had.

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#OnRepeat: Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World”

This week, I’ve had Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” #OnRepeat. Even though I’m writing a post about this song this week, this song has been running through my brain for the past month or so. Yeah, it’s that good.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about Sam Cooke before–his voice and music is so soulful and iconic–but if not, Sam Cooke is a singer and songwriter who is considered to be one of the most influential vocalists of his time. His music consisted of Soul, Gospel, R&B, Swing, Jazz, and Pop music, and although he died young, his music is still considered relevant decades later. Some of his most well-known songs are “A Change is Gonna Come,” “You Send Me,” “Cupid,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away.”

“Wonderful World” was originally written by the song writing duo, Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, with Cooke tweaking the lyrics to emphasize education more. The lyrics for the song were written with the theme of love and feelings completely trumping knowledge and education. Cooke’s smooth vocal timbre and seemingly effortless delivery of the melody and the lyrics highlight the theme even more, giving you an image of someone who hasn’t got a care in the world since they have the love of another. Cooke’s voice and performance, combined with the catchy melody and child-like, lullaby lyrics make this song a classic for me; one that is perfect for playing in your car while driving by the beach on a hot summer day.

Take a listen below:

Do you have any songs or singers that you can’t stop listening to? Leave a comment below!

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