I had the pleasure of meeting opera singer Renée Fleming at the NATS Conference in Chicago last month. Ok, it was definitely more than a pleasure – it was more like a fangirl moment!
I think every singer, no matter what genre, has heard of her. After all she is a very public figure from singing at the Olympics in 2009 to singing the National Anthem at the 2014 NFL Superbowl. She is a regular at the Metropolitan opera and other world stages. In short to quote from her website: “One of the most beloved and celebrated musical ambassadors of our time, soprano Renée Fleming captivates audiences with her sumptuous voice, consummate artistry, and compelling stage presence.” If you want to know more about her and her extraordinary accomplishments visit her website here.
At the conference Ms. Fleming conducted a masterclass with aspiring singers, answered many questions at a Q&A and performed for us in concert. I would have really liked to have an in-depth interview with her, but all I managed was a few questions while she signed an autograph and we posed for a picture together. (And it’s a horrible picture of me – I look like a deer stuck in headlights. Maybe I was that starstruck?)
Anyway, through all these events I did glean some of her views on wellness and advice for young singers.
On the need for fitness for singers:
Ms. Fleming’s own performance day rituals:
On protecting your voice while traveling:
Favourite straw vocalization (to find out about straw exercises go here):
Favourite form of exercise:
Recent fitness adventure:
Dietary habit/way of eating:
And finally a bit of advice to young singers:
During our photo op I explained, that I missed out asking her questions at the Q&A by one person. They cut off the questions just as it was my turn at the mic. I told her that I had this little blog, The Fit Singer, she replied to me, “Well you certainly look fit”. I asked my questions and she said that it was too bad that I didn’t get to the mic because they were great questions worthy of discussion.
If you are looking to get the whole skill set, which includes being fit for the physical demands of the stage, taking preventative care of your voice and maintaining your image, then join me for the Total Singer Challenge starting September 5. Click here.
I’ve already been back a couple of weeks from the NATS Conference in Chicago and so many things are still ringing in my head!
First of all, a big thank you to NATS for accepting my proposal to present. I believe there were over 300 proposals sent in and less than 50 accepted. Wow! I truly am honoured.
The conference took place in downtown Chicago at the Magnificent Mile Marriot hotel. There were over 1300 attendees. This is the biggest NATS conference yet! When I started going about 10 years ago there were only about 500 attendees.
There are so many sessions to choose from, so many competitions and masterclasses, recitals, poster sessions, publisher showcases. It can all get pretty overwhelming. And you just can’t see it all. I look forward to re-viewing the sessions and catching some of the ones I missed when NATS puts them up online for attendees.
Well here goes with highlights of my conference experience.
So my experience began with the opening ceremonies. We all sing the American and Canadian National anthems (very pleased that they sing both the English and French for the Canadian) followed by the unofficial NATS anthem, Schubert’s An die Musik.
This was immediately followed by a masterclass with Stephen Smith. Such wonderful insight! He talked about Art as a personal expression that impacts those around you. That we shouldn’t sing for affirmation, as this can suck the energy out of an audience, but rather to give our soul.
The evening of day one, a couple of Winnipeg friends and I went to see the musical “War Paint” with Patti Lupone and Christina Ebersole. It’s a brand new musical that had just opened. What a pleasure to see these two icons of musical theatre perform! The power in their voices has not diminished with age. It’s the story of two strong women who were presidents of their own companies in a time when women were still relegated to the status of house-wife and mother. These cosmetic company magnates were none other than Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein. Thouroughly engaging!
The next session I chose was about Semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises. These kinds of excercises increase the intraglottal pressure, which lessens collision stress of the vocal folds. Straws, lip trills and buzzes constitute SOVT exercises. The straw is hot now. Every conference attendee even got a straw in our swag bag. If you haven’t tried it you should. Click here.
Even Renee Fleming was saying how she uses straw glides. The two big plenary sessions featured Ms. Fleming. First we had a masterclass. She worked on breathing and singing with the whole body. Her advice to singers was that the “vocal demands placed on an opera singer today are so physical and athletic” you must stay in excellent shape. “Working on your voice is a lifetime effort”.
In the afternoon we had a Q&A with Renee and her sister, Dr. Rachelle Fleming. She talked about health and performance anxiety. Treating it with behavioural thinking. She went through her performance day rituals – stay in, especially stay away from restaurants or anywhere you might be tempted to raise your voice, don’t talk. On the tolls of travel, she emphasized the need for a solid technique and hydration. She is an advocate of the benefits of music to health. And of course there was advice to the young singers: You need the whole skill set including image and personality.
After the Q&A we had a photo op. At the time of this blog the official pictures were not yet available. But I did get her autograph and had a quick chat with her on fitness and nutrition. You can read more in an upcoming post.
The final session of the day that I took in was Vocal Health on Broadway and Beyond. This focused on preventative care and treatment and how theatres in different parts of the world treat vocal health. In a nutshell – there is no safety net on Broadway or the West End. Singers are expected to sing eight shows a week. Many singers sing in a fatigued or ill state so they are not the one to cancel. There is a demonizing of vocal issues. Australia’s musical theatre scene on the other hand through the pioneering efforts of Debra Phyland is leading the way to maintain healthy voices. Some of the efforts include mandated physical and vocal warm-ups, risk assessment of the vocal demands of shows, and less demonizing of vocal issues. Yay Aussies!
The evening was spent socializing and networking with other Canadian attendees. I was pleased to make the acquaintance of people from Alberta and Ontario. It’s always good to make new friends.
I started with Voice Care Fact and Fiction. In this presentation we learned about the effects of dehydration (as little as 1-2% can affect your vocal performance). Effects of drugs (there are person to person variations) and herbs (for the purposes of this discussion they were classified as drugs) were also discussed.
Sharpening the Saw: High and Low Tech Wellness Strategies for Singers was a topic close to my heart and talked about some of the things I cover in my blog and facebook posts (make sure you’re following me so you can keep up with all the latest information on singers’ wellness).
The evening was reserved for the highly anticipated concert with Renee Fleming. She shared the stage with singers from Lyric Opera Chicago’s professional artist development program, Ryan Opera Center. Some of the singers couldn’t suppress the excitement of singing with an opera star like Ms. Fleming. And Ms. Fleming did not disappoint. Highlights included such signature pieces as The Song to the Moon and an aria from A Streetcar Named Desire. The young men came out to sing Nothing Like a Dame and brought Renee to sit on stage as they serenaded her, but changed up the lyrics to Nothing Like Renee. They had the house in hysterical fits of laughter. It truly was amazing to see her performing live. Living in Winnipeg we don’t often get to see the big opera stars unless we travel.
On the final day we had more sessions on wellness.
I started off by taking in the morning coffee chat with the Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA) and Athletes and the Arts (AATA). They stressed how there is so much research in sports medicine and performing artists have much in common with athletes. Though there are many parallels that can be applied there is a need for more research on specific issues of performing arts and singers.
Then even more on wellness with Caring for your Vocal Instrument. This was a two part session – morning and afternoon. Well-known otolaryngologist, Robert Bastian, presented this. He talked about the larynx, vocal nodules, hydration, acid reflux and vocal disorders. A very full 3 hours of information.
The final session was Rocking the Traditional Singing Boat: How to Make the Transition from Classical to Contemporary Musical Theater and Beyond. This session went into detail about the stylistic needs of different MT genres. They included: legit, musical theatre mix/belt, pop, country, rock, singer songwriter and folk, and R&B musicals. It was a very informative guide.
I also managed to get in an Architectural Cruise of Chicago along with yet another Winnipeg teacher. Such an interesting history!
And what about my sessions? First sessions of the day were mine with the Good Morning Kickstart. With so much sitting for four days, I just wanted to get people moving more and have some fun. The first day we did PiYo, second day was Zumba and the final day we did a hybrid of both. Attendees that managed to get up in the morning thoroughly enjoyed themselves. There certainly was a thread of the need for fitness and cardio exercise through many of the sessions, so I was happy to be able to reinforce that.
Stay tuned in upcoming posts where I’ll discuss some of the topic touched on during the conference in more detail.
In the meantime, if you want to get a leg up on your singer health, why not join us for the FREE Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice 5 Day Healthy Eating Challenge. To find out more and sign up click here.