Journal: Davin + Missy @ NATS 2014 National Conference in Boston

JULY 29, 2014


It’s been nearly a month since our trip to Boston for the National Association of Teachers of Singing National Conference but it still seems fresh on my mind! I wanted to give a quick recap about our experience, as it was all quite special.

On Saturday, July 5th, Missy and I made our way to the airport at an ungodly hour in a post Fourth of July haze to catch a plane to the great city of Boston. I was the recipient of an Independent Teacher Fellowship from NATS, which covered my conference cost and allowed me to bring Missy along to soften the awkwardness of meeting a bunch of strangers in hotel conference rooms. For those of you who have gone to these sorts of things before, it can either be a great networking opportunity or a really strange time standing by yourself around a bunch of other people… so I was excited to have my friend and colleague along for the ride!

This was our first NATS conference and we wanted to take full advantage of the offerings, so we made got right off the plane, grabbed our hotel rooms at the Marriott Copley Place and headed right into our first session on the pop/rock voice and sound equipment. I was reminded of two things. 1) You can be an amazingly gifted singer, but if you have lousy equipment supporting you… it doesn’t matter. 2) If you are serious about singing in contemporary commercial music (CCM) you need to understand audio equipment. You need to be able to talk to your sound guy as an educated musician and not just trust that they will hook you up.

After this, we had our first introduction to two of our favorite presenters – Melissa Cross and Sheri Sanders. Melissa Cross is the woman behind The Zen of Screaming and Sheri recently released a book called Rock the Audition, which educates the modern musical theatre performer on what it means to audition for a “rock” musical. Both of these women were wacky and inspiring. I’d known of Melissa prior, but it was so great to hear her speak in person and confirm that she’s smarter than your average voice teacher. Melissa has actually worked with Doctors to understand how rock singers can add “noise” to their voice healthily. Yep, she seriously can help people scream with functional health. At the conference, she was kind of buried in some silly panels, but the few tidbits I caught from her made me want to partake in her workshops!

Sheri Sanders was on a panel and then presented, which I very much enjoyed. She actually worked with musical theatre performers on their 16 bar audition. Here were two vital takeaways:

1) When you choose an excerpt for a rock musical, know the vibe! What is it that is specific about the style of music you’re singing? When was it popular? Who sang in this style? Listen, listen, listen. Get it in your bones.

2) When you give your accompanist the tempo, give them the feel. Don’t just count off the timing and run away, but start with the hook and make sure they have the vibe you want. Tap your leg hard! Dance! Whatever you gotta do! This is so important and so easy to miss.

When Sheri worked with these singers, they were able to transport us to a time and a place and not just sing 16 bars for an audition. Wanna get a role? This is what makes that happen

That evening, Missy and I explored the neighborhood a bit and made our way to The Beehive, a student suggestion on Facebook

The next morning I made my way to a presentation on vocal acoustics and Missy took in some info on developmental principles of singing (age etc.) After, we enjoyed another highlight of trip – a concert of Sondheim tunes performed by Broadway composer (and singer??) Andrew Lippa as well as the incomparable Kate Baldwin. I actually had seen Kate here in Chicago in the musical Big Fish and remembered her voice catching my ear out of all the others in the cast. Wow! What a concert this was with tremendous voices and accomplished performing. Kate also reignited my love for the tune Losing My Mind from Follies.

Later on, Andrew conducted a master class for singers on his tunes. Singers performed from The Wild Party, The Adams Family and others. It’s rare that you get the opportunity to hear a successful composer give feedback on intentions for their music. I found his insights to be very useful, but I was more interested in his commitment to let the singer take risks and stay true to who they are. He spoke specifically to Idina Menzel improvising during her audition for The Wild Party and that securing her role. The point? It’s important to honor the composers intentions, but don’t forget to show who you are.

That night? Thomas Hampson. If you’re not into the classical voice, you probably don’t know who this guy is, but regardless, you should. Thomas Hampson performed an exquisite recital for 800+ voice teachers at Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory. So, besides his amazing voice, I just need to speak quickly to how beautiful and acoustic this space was. I was truly blown away at the detail we were able to hear from his instrument due to the space we were all occupying. Missy and I got all gussied up, knowing we were going to a beautiful recital hall, but I don’t think we knew that we were going to be in for such an aural treat. It really was a magical evening of art song and nuance. We both were a bit smitten by the whole thing.

On Tuesday, we played tourists! We walked what seemed like the whole of Boston and specifically made it to Mike’s for a cannoli. Yum. Having not spent a lot of time in this city, I have to say I found it all to be quite charming. Don’t get me wrong, Chicago is where it’s at, but Boston has some great things going for it… not to mention the overdose of American history around every corner.

Finally, Wednesday, before it was time to leave we had the sweet experience of jumping in on a voice lesson with a friend of the studio, Justin Petersen. I’m a firm believer in teachers sharing information and since Justin and I had a mutual friend who recommended we meet and Justin is certified in Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method (which I am now too, but more on that later) I knew I wanted to pick his brain about what was going on with my voice. Missy was happy to do the same, so we did and we learned a whole lot in a very short amount of time. Friends, this experience reminded me of a life principle I hold: surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, and ask them lots of questions.

After the lesson, we got on a plane and made our way back to home sweet CHICAGO! Which, happens to be the locale for the NATS 2016 conference. Hmmmm.

It was such a great trip. We learned a lot and laughed even more. We are confident that all of this overflow will trickle into the voice lesson experience and we can’t wait for you to partake.

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