Britain’s Got Talent – Shaheen Jafargholi

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVU4IkzMNIo

12 year old Shaheen auditions for the judges on Britains Got Talent 2009 singing Whose Loving You by Michael Jackson.

There’s a great lesson in this video clip. There’s a tendency to think of artists as having a certain talent level – like someone has great talent or mediocre. It all depends on the application; artists that excel in one area may be weak in another.

So the secret lesson for artists is this: Identify your strengths and weaknesses and try to place yourself in the area you shine most. Of course, you can also choose to be in the one that is most satisfying rather than the one where the bulk of your talent lies.

Being a musician my entire life I’ve had the unfortunate experience of doing performances that were not to my optimum level. I imagine every trade has that same experience. But with artists the mindset is so important to garner the vision and drive needed to push each project to success.

Proper selection is paramount. Go to where you are drawn to, where life is sweet. It will give you unimaginable strength to reach for the next plateau. And there is always another plateau available if you desire it.  🙂

Q&A: How to Prepare for a Cirque Audition

Email question received:

Hi Conrad,

I stumbled across your website when researching Cirque composers. I  am a student at Musicians Institute LA, and i have been invited to audition with cirque here in LA next tuesday. I am a keyboardist and guitarist (acc/elect) and was wondering whether you had any tips regarding how to make the best impression at the audition. I have picked 2 pieces on keys and one of guitar, as well as a piece of my choice.

I love the cirques music, feeling and message and i dearly hope to give the best performance that i can possibly give at the audition.

thanks
(name edited)

Continue reading “Q&A: How to Prepare for a Cirque Audition”

German Drinking Songs

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbLl2C3ChYY

“DRINK! DRINK” from THE STUDENT PRINCE with Mario Lanza.
Book & Lyrics by DOROTHY DONNELLY Music by SIGMUND ROMBERG
Originally Staged by J.C. HUFFMAN
First produced at the Jolson Theatre on December 2, 1924, with Ilse Marvenga as “Kathie” and Howard Marsh as “Prince Karl Franz”.

German drinking songs follow:

Continue reading “German Drinking Songs”

Fiddler on the Roof Character Motives

Recently I’ve been watching quite a few Broadway musicals to see elements that I like and dislike in each. My co-workers have enjoyed very much watching me go into video stores in China and say “Excuse me, where are you musicals?” And everytime they bring me CD’s of Western pop artists. In fact, a local guide has told me there is no way to explain “Broadway musical” to a video shop owner here in China – they don’t understand what it is.

So my friends say “Broadway musicals? Why don’t you ask them where the Barbara Streisand section is?” Yeah, very funny guys. I’ve got a friend back home who says “I hate musicals. They don’t make any sense. I like plays, they’re more real.” Then he asks me, “Do you like musicals?” And my reply is, “I HAVE to like musicals. After all, I’m a musician, I need to work!” But truth is, I love the cheeziness of musicals. I think it’s a kick.

Continue reading “Fiddler on the Roof Character Motives”

Q&A – What is the best tempo for a song?

UPDATE: “Getting the Tempo Right” – additional info at:
http://www.conradaskland.com/blog/2007/09/finding-the-right-tempo/

Email received:
I am an artist from Adelaide, Australia and am curious to know how top producers/engineers detremine what tempo a particlar song should be played at.

Much of my songwriting stems from a vocal melody, and when everything seems to be “built” around that, the overall song tends to somewhat drag a little.

Is there anything I should go by in order to get the perfect tempo (slow down vocal or riffs)?
I hope you can be of some assistance and thank you immensely for you time.
Kind regards
Michael G

************

Hi Michael,

What an incredibly fantastic question! As usual I busy myself with complicated things thinking I am making a difference in the world. You know, I have never addressed this question online – So here you go.

Your fast answer is this: There is no correct tempo for any song.

I know, not very helpful. Try this: The environment a musical piece is performed is what will dictate the “proper” tempo. Quick proof of this is to think of all the song remixes out there. A fusion jazz group may take a standard and play it at lightning speed. Or a choir may take a faster song and slow it down for a more reverent a capella presentation. (Or as a recent auditioner called it: “All Compalla”)

That is the aesthetic side of tempo, now let’s go back in history a bit:

The declaration of tempos and phrasing has becoming more specific over time. In early music composers would not notate tempos (or phrasing for that matter). It was assumed that any musician was trained enough to just “know” the correct tempo. As you can imagine, many pieces sounded different than we hear them today due to varying tempos. Even up to the Baroque Period (1685-1750) tempo markings were virtually non-existent. In my manuscripts of Bach there are not tempos or phrase markings. Editors have added these, usually in lighter print, to indicate how the piece is USUALLY played.

As a composer I cannot even describe the pain to hear someone play your own piece incorrectly. I once wrote a book of progressive etudes for piano. The book graduated in difficulty for serious piano students. I had to listen to a university professor play my pieces entirely wrong. I still hold a grudge over that and I hope that an eternity of fire awaits him for his transgression. Back to tempo…….

Over time composers have realized if they want a piece played a certain way they are obligated to mark it so. A hundred and fifty years ago songs might include tempo markings like “Allegro”, “Andante”, etc. Then more info like “Allegro non troppo” or “Moderato con anima”. In modern music it’s common to see specific metronome markings like MM=116 – which usually means the quarter note is going to be 116 beats in a minute (depending on your time signature, blah blah blah).

All of that to let you know this: I would suggest you mark a specific tempo in your music with a definate metronome marking of beats per minute. Example: MM=120 or simply write: 120bpm.

HOW TO SET TEMPOS
In hip hop music I’ve found artists don’t like to push the beats, so I set tempos on the slower side for rap. If an artist says it “feels right” at 92bpm, then I’ll click it to 90bpm. Rock bands like to push things a bit, so if I’m setting a grid and the band says it feels right around 112, I might click it to 115 or so.

In general I’ve found the tempos I set during production need to be bumped a bit for the final. If I write a song at 120, it’s just a habit to start bumping it up to 124 as I work on pre-production.

THE REAL TEST – Don’t settle on a tempo until you’ve heard it several ways. Keep bumping up a tempo until you’re absolutely sure it could not go any faster. Then take it so slow that you’re absolutely sure it can’t go any slower. This starting point gives you your window. Want to know how I learned that? By clients who knew little about music telling me to bump it up. I can think of several songs that I had started to work on around 120bpm and ended up being in the 150’s. When the client told me to bump it up I would roll my eyes at them – but you know what – sometimes it works. Experiences like that make me very humble, and I have to always remind myself that the most genius ideas can come from anybody at any time.

SETTING SONG TEMPOS
Finally to your real answer – most songs just have a groove where they feel right. Once you’ve identified the window, don’t settle on a tempo until it feels like “ah…….that’s it”. To me, it quite literally feels like you finally settled down into a bean bag chair. It will just feel right, and you’ll know it. During preproduction I absolutely OBSESS over the tempo and key, and it’s not uncommon for me to change either several times before laying real audio tracks. Sometimes I’ll even give songs a bump of two or three BPM’s during the final mix.

Some genres have fairly defined tempos – Euro Dance is almost always 130bpm. An example of Euro Dance would be “Barbie World”. 60-70bpm is a good tempo for healing music and audio therapy, many people like the purity of the clean 60bpm. I’ve done a lot of rap soundtracks in the 68-86BPM range. It always feels too slow at first, but the artists lock it down if their rap is seasoned.

Have confidence in your tempos. It is one part of what makes your productions have “your” sound. And remember, they are hiring YOU for your sound, so you need to do what YOU hear. Stick to what YOU hear, and you will never have to second guess how things should be. The next producer will set it at a different tempo according to their ears. My biggest suggestion, don’t settle on a tempo until you feel in your gut that it’s right.

I had a production where the director ordered me to bump tempo of all songs because the show had no energy. As a result, all of the songs lost the “pocket” feel for me, I didn’t like it at all. To me this is an incorrect use of tempo. Tempo is about groove and feel for a piece, not for pumping caffeine into a dead horse. But I always yield to the Director, it is their vision you need to feed into. They were happy with this so I did it, but with much pain. I hope you don’t find yourself in a similiar situation. Always know the pecking order, and always know who you need to answer to. Some day you’ll be the head producer, and you will really appreciate others following your lead when you have a vision for a piece.

I hope this helps. I’m happy to provide more info….but I have blathered on so long you are probably currently asleep at your keyboard with drool running down the monitor.

Conrad

keywords: tempo, finding right speed, improve groove, find speed song

Seussical the Musical – Orchestra and Musician Notes

Here’s music info for those producing Seussical the Musical. You might find these tips and tricks useful if you are a musical director, conductor, musician in Seussical the Musical – or if you are working with pit orchestras for musical theater productions. I think you’ll find many items here you can apply to many different stage musicals. My first involement with Seussical was for META Performing Arts in Skagit County, WA. Our performance run was November 3-12, 2006 at McIntyre Hall, Mount Vernon, WA.

If you’re working on music for Seussical the Musical, you already know it’s a LOT of music. The longest wait between songs is about 30 seconds. The Conductor/Piano 1 score runs over 400 pages – most musicals I’ve worked on run under 200 pages. You’ve got your work cut out for you. The music is not extremely difficult, but it has a lot of textures needed to pull off the orchestration. I think the orchestration is very good, and the charts are very clean. As conductor you will notice many errors between the conductor’s score and musician scores. Double check all your numbered repeats, fermatas and pauses – they are marked erratically from score to score. I thought I had caught most of them, but in rehearsals realized I had only caught about half the errors. There are also a small number of note errors, listen carefully to your musicians to catch them. (I should have kept better notes so I could post a listing of the errors to fix).

Here are the major problems I identified with producing the music for Seussical, and notes on how I worked around them.

1) How do you fill out the orchestra for a local production?
2) Will the show work with 5 or 6 musicians?
3) How do you find woodwind players that can each double on 4-5 instruments?
4) How do you get a professional stringe ensemble sound – without using cheezy keyboard patches or investing in a full string section?
5) How do you teach four part harmonies to grade school children, and have them remember the enormous amount of music in this show?
6) If using kids, how do you get the Wickershams to sound hip – the score is written for males who’s voice has already changed.
7) What’s more important for the Cat In The Hat – vocal ability or acting ability?
8) What to look for vocally in the different groups of Bird Girls, Who’s, Wickershams, Jungle Animals and lead characters of Mayzie, Gertrude, Sour Kangaroo, Horton the Elephant, JoJo and the General.
9) Assming you are using a majority of children in your cast, how can they project over the orchestra?

Answers to questions:

1) How do you fill out the orchestra for a local production?
I really think you need to pony up and fill out the orchestration as much as possible. Seussical is all about imagination and the different textures you orchestra brings to the show is part of pulling off that environment. I want to hear Disney, I want to hear Fantasia – that’s not going to happen with a five piece group. It will sound ok, but not inspiring. For me, I’d rather not do it unless it’s going to be ultra cool. If you’re using five or six players, then these notes won’t help you – this is about producing Seussical in a semi-pro environment (which can also mean community theater that works really, really hard!)

2) Will the show work with 5 or 6 musicians?
“Work”, yes – something I’d want to work on? No. Get donors, beg borrow and plead, get that orchestra filled out. I was fortunate to get a single donor to underwrite the entire orchestra. They were given prominent mention in the program.

3) How do you find woodwind players that can each double on 4-5 instruments?
You can’t – assuming you do not have a budget to hire session players (which really, only session or union players are going to be able to pull off all those doubles professionally) and are not near a major city with access to players like this. So split your woodwinds into as many parts as you need to cover the three parts. I found that you can skip the following parts, which are VERY small parts once the others are covered: You can cut bassoon, Flute II, clarinet II. I had players for these parts, but the parts were so small they declined to play. If you can get people for those parts great, but you probably won’t miss them.

Here is the instrumentation that Seussical the Musical calls for:

Bass Electric Bass
Cello
Drums Kit, Woodblock, Piccolo Snare, Cowbell, Timbale, Shaker, Bell Tree, Flexitone, Mark Tree, Triangle
Guitar 1 Acoustic Guitar and Electric Guitar
Guitar 2 Acoutic Guitar, Banjo, Electric Guitar
Keyboard 1 (Breathy-bell Synth, Pno+Perc.E.P., Cowbell + Calliope, Pno/Rhodes, Pop Piano, Piano, Elec. Pno, Calliope, Kazoo, Cheap-sounding Piano, metal Clav, MetalClav + Calliope, Poly Synth, Stackoid, Tack Piano, Glittery Synth, Buzzy Xylo, Mysterious E.P., Sweet E.P., XyloGlock, Voices, Theremin, Shimmery Stuff, Many Flutes, Rock Piano, Clarinet)

.
Keyboard 2 (Breathy Pad, Bell Synth, Harpsichord, B-3, Cricket Synth, Elephant, Orch Hit, “Doing”, Psycho Strings, Tinkly Voices, Door Slam, Kalimba, Mallet Synth, Bell/Harpsi Synth, Pedal, Log Synth, Percussive B-3, Rok B-3, Calliope, Reedy Synth, Hank-y Synth, Nose Flute, Kazoo, Birdie Whistle, Tiny Synth Voice, Horn, Pig Synth, Animal Brss, Many Tubas, Bird Honk, Bird Fart, Hard Bottle Blow, AirRaid Siren, Spooky E.P., Warm E.P., Warm Voices, Celesta, Ethereal Choir, Spooky Voices, Dark Choir, Glittery Bell Synth, D-50 Stack, 80s Pad, Breathy Bell, Toy Piano, Cathedral Organ, Squishy Bass, Small Pipe Organ, Marimba, D-50 Heaven, Mello Organ, Rock Synth, Metal Clav, Hooty Synth, Clock Sound, Icy-cold Synth, Accordian, Ravenborg, Roller Rink Organ, Kazoo Brass, Cimbalum, Funky Horn, Pizzicato Strings, Sitar, Many Trombones & Horns, Buzz Brass)

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Percussion (Crotales, Chimes, Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Congas, Tympani, Djembe, Siren Whistle, Shaker, Vibraslap, Tambourine, Bell Tree, Triangle, Finger Cymbals, Piatti, Sleigh Bells, Vibraphone, Suspended Cymbal, Mark Tree, Cork Pop, Temple Blocks, Samba Whistle, Ratchet, Bongos, Cowbell, Scraper, Rainstick, Marimba)

.
Reed 1 Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute, Piccolo
Reed 2 Bass Clarinet, Clarinet, Oboe, Tenor Saxphone
Reed 3 Baritone Saxophone, Bassoon, Clarinet, Flute
Trombone
Trumpet 1
Trumpet 2
Viola
Violin 1
Violin 2

*******************

Here’s how I covered that orchestration:

(1) Electric Bass
(1) Cello
(1) Drums Kit, Woodblock, Piccolo Snare, Cowbell, Timbale, Shaker, Bell Tree, Flexitone, Mark Tree, Triangle (Your drummer will need a cowbell)

(1) Guitar 1 Acoustic Guitar and Electric Guitar
Guitar 2 – CUT
(1) Keyboard 1 – Piano and Hammond B3 (covered by conductor, you could also have a “piano player” cover Key I)

(1) Keyboard 2 – Reduced patches to: Electric Piano (one aggressive, one mellow) , B3 rock, B3 mellow, Heaven Pad, Bell Synth, Calliope, Reed Synth (oboe-ish sound), Theremin (whistle with portamento), CyberBorg (dance synth patch), Spooky Voices, Tick Tock (from drumset sound bank),

(1) Percussion – Keyboard 3 covers these mallet percussion parts from the percussion score: Chimes, Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Tympani, Vibraphone, Marimaba)
(1) Percussion – Live percussion player covering conga, djembe and latin percussion parts.
(1) Reed 1 – Flute, Piccolo
(1) Reed 2 – Bass Clarinet, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone
(1) Reed 3 – Baritone Saxophone, Oboe (Oboe from Reed 2 part, BariSax has priority in uptempo songs, oboe has priority in ballads)
(1) Reed 4 – Alto Saxophone (From Reed 2 score)
CUT WOODWINDS if not available: Soprano Saxophone, Bassoon, Clarinet II, Flute II

(1) Trombone
(1) Trumpet 1
(1) Trumpet 2
Viola – CUT if not available.
(2) Violin 1 – Combine real violin player with Keyboard 4 (Keyboard player playing Violin I part, will need to select patches that blend with live players and Violin II part)
(2) Violin 2 – Combine real violin player with Keyboard 5 (Keyboard player playing Violine II part)

*******

4) How do you get a professional stringe ensemble sound – without using cheezy keyboard patches or investing in a full string section?

By combing quality keyboard string samples with live players. The live players will provide the attack and bend that you need in the sound, the keyboard covers the fullness of the sound. I have seen Seussical performed live with a full string section (three players per part) but it still did not have the nice full sound of symphony strings. My experience has been it is very difficult to pull that sound off within budget and the pool of players available.

5) How do you teach four part harmonies to grade school children, and have them remember the enormous amount of music in this show?

When we had auditions, we were very careful to check for singers that could sing harmonies, and grouped them accordingly to different character types. I have the more advanced singers cover the harmony parts, and the younger singers cover the melodies. In some sections where harmonies only come in on a couple notes, I simplified into two part harmonies and eliminated some harmonies. This was dictated by our particular casting, but I would guess this to be a similiar situation for most all-kid productions.

To learn all the music parts we broke into groups at rehearsals, many times having four different rehearsals running simultaneously. Singers were often brought in before rehearsals to work on particular ensemble parts and to reaffirm harmonies.

Once harmonies were in place, I would omit the lead line and play harmony parts to make them more solid for singers.

6) If using kids, how do you get the Wickershams to sound hip – the score is written for males who’s voice has already changed.

I changed the octaves of some parts, and had Wickershams speak some of the low parts. They are just too low for young unchanged voices. We did with attitude, and the final result was very hip.
7) What’s more important for the Cat In The Hat – vocal ability or acting ability?

I think acting ability is more important. Many of the Cat in the Hat vocal lines can be performed as speech-sing.

8) What to look for vocally in the different groups of Bird Girls, Who’s, Wickershams, Jungle Animals and lead characters of Mayzie, Gertrude, Sour Kangaroo, Horton the Elephant, JoJo and the General.

I put trained vocals in the Who section, they need a very pure sound with strong harmonies. Also worked with Who’s a lot on over-enunciation to make their parts more animated. Bird Girls – need to have 3part harmonies, we used 6 bird girls so each voice doubled. Without the harmonies, the Bird Girl part doesn’t come across, needs a “Supremes” type sound. General can also be speech-sing style. Need a strong vocalist for both Mayzie and Sour Kangaroo – I don’t really see a way around this, especially the Kangaroo. Horton’s part covers such a wide range, I think you’ll find speaking some lines instead of singing will work better for this character too (for a younger voice). I have Horton under-sing a lot, seems more in character.

9) Assming you are using a majority of children in your cast, how can they project over the orchestra?
Picking our sound crew was our first priority. Field mics for different vocal ensembles and dedicated wireless mics for leads and supporting characters. We also put the orchestra behind the cast so the sound crew would have more control over the final volumes – the particular hall we were in has a very live orchestra pit that is hard to control. Also, because I use several keyboardists to cover parts, it’s important to have a sound crew with a good ear so they can mix the textures properly.

Hope that helps, if you have any questions on the show or see a way something could have been improved, please post it.