For Good

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Duet from “Wicked” with Emily Starnes Charleton!

My dear friend Emily is visiting NYC right now and we managed to squeeze in an impromptu duet!! And such a special one to celebrate a decade of friendship! 💗 Today’s #WeeklyWednesday is “For Good” from Stephen Schwartz’s “Wicked” ☺️ 

It meant a lot to get to sing with Emily again! She’s a big reason I’m at NYU right now (she’s an alumna of the program)! We were planning to get together today and decided to sing this! I hope you enjoy it, even though we didn’t have time to polish it (we literally ran through it once and then recorded this one take 😉). 

I hope this finds you well, and thank you for watching!

#AshleyWagnerArts

Si mes vers avaient des ailes

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My first year of grad school at #NYU is done :-0  While I’m ready for a rest, I’m also sad for most of my courses to be over! My voice jury was yesterday (it went well!) and I began it with this piece, which I hope you enjoy hearing!

Music is by Reynaldo Hahn, poetry by Victor Hugo, and my accompaniment is from Free Pianist. You can also download my version for free 🙂 

One trick with art songs/poetic lyrics is that you don’t have outside context and often the lyrics aren’t the way you would naturally speak – so interpretation can be harder than with something from a book musical or opera.

I decided to base my story/circumstance for this piece on the Héloise and Abelard love story (if you’re not familiar with that, here’s a nice synopsis). I imagined Héloise may have sung it after she and Pierre were separated and before she decided to continue their forbidden relationship through correspondence (and that this song is what ultimately spurred her to write to him). I hope you enjoy that take!

Here's a great translation by Richard Stokes:
My verses would flee, sweet and frail,
To your garden so fair,
If my verses had wings,
Like a bird.

They would fly, like sparks,
To your smiling hearth,
If my verses had wings,
Like the mind.

Pure and faithful, to your side
They’d hasten night and day,
If my verses had wings,
Like love!

Thank you, as always, for watching this #WeeklyWednesday! I hope it finds you well – and I look forward to seeing you next week 🙂

#AshleyWagnerArts

“Like Other Girls”

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It’s my last #WeeklyWednesday of the #NYU semester! I hope you enjoy this really sweet song from the musical “Daddy Long Legs,” with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book by John Caird, based on the charming 1912 novel by Jean Webster!

You can sing along to the accompaniment I used here: https://youtu.be/VB0bWun_Vbk  Thanks to MusicalPracticeTracks for the great track!

Thank you for watching, and see you next week!#AshleyWagnerArts

They’ll Know We Are [Human] by our LOVE

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“They’ll Know We Are Christians” by Peter Scholtes; arranged, performed, and produced by Ashley Wagner. The initial sound clip is from the documentary “Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison,” recorded in March 1966 by Pete, Toshi, and Daniel Seeger, and Bruce Jackson. The inmates are from the Ellis Unit at a Huntsville, Texas, prison.

The political, social, and emotional turbulence I felt during the fall of 2016 is what brought this (highly personal) arrangement into existence. I altered the lyrics (particularly from “Christians” to “Human”) because I wanted to convey a universal message.

I appreciate your letting me share some of my experience with you this way. Please know this was produced with only the best intentions. We are all equal and valuable human beings, and I hope that by each person working to treat others well, we can make a difference.

Other notes:
This video was filmed during a family vacation in New Zealand at the natural hot springs in the Maori village of Whakarewarewa. We had just been touring the area, but were overwhelmed by the unusual landscape – and so, decided to try filming there and hope it turned out. I traded some hiking gear for the black jacket and did my best to (quietly) lip sync to the recording, which I played on my phone in my pocket 😉 Special thanks to my wonderful boyfriend, Christopher Wesson, who was my cameraman and director! Though I had imagined a different direction with the video (e.g., footage of people mirroring the lyrics), I’m pleased to finally be able to share something; and the scenery certainly is worth experiencing.

A technical note for “discerning ears” – I recorded most of the audio with my old equipment (primarily, a USB mic). Most of the way through working on the arrangement, I upgraded my equipment (including my mic and interface) and learned more about reverb (but was unable to alter this on my tracks without re-recording). I decided not to re-record most of the tracks because I felt the heart of the song was in the emotion expressed at the moment when I initially recorded – and that’s what I wanted to share.

#AshleyWagnerArts #WeeklyWednesday

“The Fear” (Lily Allen cover)

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I recorded today’s #WeeklyWednesday a little over a year ago when I needed a pop song for an audition. Finally sharing it (on this stressful/emotional/sore throat kind of day). I think the cultural messaging is important to consider.

“The Fear” was released on Lily Allen’s album “It’s Not Me, It’s You” and was written by Allen and Greg Kurstin. My accompaniment is on YouTube and you can also get my version free.

Thank you for continuing to support my channel and me as an artist – I hope this finds you well 😊 

#AshleyWagnerArts

Happy Working Song! (Disney’s “Enchanted”)

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Springtime is finally here in the Northeast!! School is busy, so for this #WeeklyWednesday, I’m throwing it back to a performance I had so much fun doing at the National Cherry Blossom Festival! Washington, DC, is particularly beautiful when the cherry blossoms are blooming!

“Happy Working Song” is from the Disney movie “Enchanted,” with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Giselle sings this piece à la Snow White, but with some slightly less cuddly helpers 😉

My version here is only a cut of the song, as I sang it as part of a medley (and the other songs from that medley are already online) – someday I’ll do a full version of this adorable piece!

Thank you for taking the time to watch, and I hope you’re having a good week!

#AshleyWagnerArts

“Thank You for the Music”

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I resonate strongly with the sentiment in this ABBA song and hope I’ve adequately communicated the joy and honor it is to me to be able to make music. Thank you for the role you play in helping me – I very much appreciate your support and your taking the time to watch my videos!

“Thank You for the Music” was written by ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and included in the “Mamma Mia” stage and screen musicals (and if you haven’t seen those, check them out! They’re a lot of fun, with poignant moments, too).

Thank you to breinie17xq for this beautiful accompaniment! You can sing along here: https://youtu.be/hx1K9P-Kw_A

Looking forward to seeing you next #WeeklyWednesday 😊 
#AshleyWagnerArts

“What Does He Want of Me?”

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Today’s #WeeklyWednesday is from a story I love… to me it symbolizes the conflict we all face between idealism and reality. The musical “Man of La Mancha” is based on the life of Miguel de Cervantes and his beloved novel Don Quixote. 

Aldonza sings “What Does He Want of Me” in response to “Don Quixote”’s way of viewing the world and treating her with dignity, respect, and honor – possibly the first time in her life someone has shown her such love. I think she sings it with a mixture of disbelief and hope that the world could be different from the way it seems to be. 

Thank you for your support and for watching this video! 💜 
#AshleyWagnerArts

“Stay With Me”

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Today’s #WeeklyWednesday video comes from Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” and focuses on parental love. In the stories of most characters in this show, we see the complications of decisions, viewpoints, and our own familial histories. I believe the Witch deeply loves and wants the best for Rapunzel, and tries to protect her in a way the Witch’s own mother never did.

I hope you enjoy my rendition of “Stay with Me”! I really enjoyed coaching this piece in my NYU Song Analysis class last semester and found insights into the character I had never before considered. Thank you very much for watching and supporting me – and I hope this finds you well 💜

My accompaniment is from the Disney movie version of “Into the Woods” through the Universal Music Group and is available on YouTube here 🙂

Linguistic Anthropology: Speech Community

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“A Description and Analysis of the Crossover Classical Vocalist Speech Community”

University of California, Irvine, 2017

[Assignment prompt: using only your personal experience as a source, identify, document, and analyze a speech community that you participate in as a part of your daily life, per John J. Gumperz’s 1968 article “The Speech Community,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.  New York: Macmillan, pp. 381-6.]

“eeeeEEE ooOOO!  Whoop!  Whoop!  Bzzzzz…  Zuh!  roAR!”

Newcomers are often surprised by the cacophony of vocalizations that greet them upon entering one of my community’s primary domains.  While strolling through orderly rows of small, semi-soundproofed, glass-fronted enclosures, visitors may observe a single subject lying on the floor, flopped in half like a ragdoll, standing, arms raised in victory, or possibly manipulating the face: nose pinched, tongue sticking out, cheeks smushed…  This description clearly orients us in the jungle of a musical community – specifically, a college practice room hall, filled with budding singers.

This paper provides a basic description and analysis of one sector of the larger musical arts and entertainment industry, which I term the Crossover Classical Vocalist Community (CCVC).  Despite close interaction with related communities, I propose that the CCVC is a distinct speech community based on specialized verbal repertoire, comprising dialectical variation (especially in the form of technical jargon to express in-group concepts) and superposed variation – namely, speech events that occur exclusively within this group.

Crossover Classical Vocalists (CCVs) are singers trained in and skilled at performing classical music as well as musical theatre and other non-classical repertoire (crossover genre).  Kristin Chenoweth is one of the best-known examples of a CCV master.  Training is essential for this group not merely to develop vocal technique; it is also the primary way singers acquire the language that makes them members of the speech community.  CCVs will continue to use this language throughout their careers in diverse speech events.

When considering shared, unique language usage and regular interaction as the basis for a speech community (Gumperz), one realizes that the CCVC also comprises members who are not CCVs (though CCVs form its core and are the focus of this paper).  Others, such as conductors, vocal coaches, and enthusiasts, may indeed have sufficient training in group concepts and language to actively use its verbal repertoire and to participate in CCVC speech events.  These members occupy different roles within the community and may have limited participation in certain speech events.  Conversely, there may be proficient singers who do not share significant linguistic features of the group (e.g., self-taught, non-classically trained), and thus would not be considered CCVC members.  Members often interact in ways that further a common goal: to develop skills that enable CCVs to perform diverse material publicly.  It is through language and practice that skill is primarily achieved.

Membership is not limited by geographical boundaries, native language, ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic conditions, though those circumstances may affect a person’s access to the community.  Geographically, CCVs are most prevalent where there is a thriving musical theatre community: namely the USA and UK (though Germany and the Netherlands also have significant musical theatre opportunities).  Musical theatre is one of the most common crossover domains, since many musical theatre styles require skill in or familiarity with classical technique (consider Phantom of the Opera, works by Sondheim or Rogers and Hammerstein).  There is also significant demand for CCVs in concert settings (including vocalists in some military bands, who are expected to deliver excellent performances in a wide range of genres, often within the same concert).

The CCVC developed to meet the changing demands of the music industry.  Membership is most defined by the training necessary to develop its specific skill set of vocal flexibility, which has resulted in a distinct dialectical language variation.  As classical music is arguably the most technically and vocally demanding, it is common for a CCV to begin training as a classical singer and then crossover to other genres.  While members are often initiated into the community in a similar way – private voice lessons in youth, followed by college and/or advanced degrees in music performance – it is possible to enter the community in other ways.  What is essential is exposure to and eventual fluency in the CCVC verbal repertoire and mastery of technical skills so that one may participate in group speech events.

With their shared foundation in classical technique, the CCVC is most closely related, especially linguistically, to the broader community of classical singers.  CCVs diverge when they acquire additional skills and language from other communities, such as those of musical theatre, jazz, and pop.  The crossover singing variety will likely have significant differences in technique and jargon, and singers must learn and adapt to these new forms, while still retaining their classical skills – and especially, be able to switch between styles and verbal repertoire quickly.  This breadth of interdisciplinary knowledge is key in differentiating CCVs from members of other groups.

Much of the CCVC’s verbal repertoire belongs to the common language, but has been appropriated to communicate something specific – often a concept non-members would find difficult to interpret without significant training, practice, and experience.  Examples are elaborated in the glossary.

The CCVC draws knowledge and terminology from various domains (a variety of musical genres and more distantly-related communities like acting and dance) to create an expansive verbal repertoire.  While some of this terminology is unique and exclusive to each source community, occasional overlap can create confusion.  Additionally, some elements of classical training may impede the understanding of certain crossover concepts, requiring an alterative semantic approach to a crossover genre from that of a singer native to the community.  This results in some conceptual modification, incorporating both classical and crossover-genre terminology.  All of these elements combine to create the CCVC dialectical variation. 

For example, “speak-singing” technique exists in both classical and musical theatre genres – but indexes a completely different meaning in each group.  In musical theatre, that direction points to a very “natural” delivery, little-to-no vibrato, sound somewhat thrown away; in a classical context, it indicates a “typical” full, supported sound, but greater flexibility for personal interpretation of timing, and minimal accompaniment (as is common in operas and oratorios in the form of recitativo and Sprechgesang).  The CCV is aware of both meanings and their associated applications.  Linguistic variation appears in the concepts used to teach each technique.  In this case, a new term is not invented; the distinctions are understood based on the context.

As previously stated, training is the primary means of acquiring CCVC language, which frequently takes the form of a speech event called a private voice lesson.  The private instructor is one of the most influential figures in a singer’s growth; singers frequently receive private training throughout the entire span of their careers.  It is vital that student and teacher have compatible communication styles.

The voice cannot be approached like another instrument, which can be seen or touched.  Verbal communication is paramount to vocal development, as visual imagery is the primary means in which technique can be shared.  Nearly all singing technique is taught through expressions that guide a student to desired physical sensations. 

Variation in singing technique can be the most difficult aspect to learn without a knowledgeable instructor, though the necessary stylistic modifications are often simple to understand and produce.  The most essential cross-genre elements of technique are breath and placement (specific techniques vary).  When teaching a student how to better manage breath stamina and smoothness, an instructor may ask the student to “imagine that the breath is a very long, silk thread that you continue to pull and pull very slowly and evenly throughout the entire phrase.”  Concepts stemming from financial advice like “saving and spending” are also common: “You always want to save your breath first to make sure you have enough to last through the phrase – then at the end you can spend what’s left!  If you spend too much early on, you might not have any left later.”  In terms of placement, a CCV instructor would often refer to color variation and mouth shape – modifying the typical tall, round mouth shape desirable in classical singing to a flatter, more closed mouth for musical theatre and pop genres.  Plugging the nose can assist with this modification to accentuate forward placement. 

The above concepts and many more foundational skills are taught and reinforced in a private voice lesson.  Skills relating to CCV technique (especially the language used to convey particular instructions) are expected to be firmly grasped before a CCV engages in other types of common speech events which may be more formal in tone, including group rehearsals, private coachings, and auditions.  An opera director or choral conductor may make artistic requests for “longer phrasing” or a “brighter sound,” but would not anticipate needing to explain how to do this to the CCV (and may be unwilling or unable to do so).  Similarly, a coaching is a private session designed to work on artistic interpretation rather than technique, as the coach is not required to have vocal-specific training.

CCV auditions (somewhat similar to a job interview) are often crossover domain events: they take place in a source community (e.g., a musical theatre, opera, or acting audition) – thus, CCVs need to pay careful attention to norms and terminology of the specific community in which they are presently participating.  Norms are not always clarified on an audition posting; at a singing audition, a CCV must know the difference between singing “16 bars” and a full song, and that it is inappropriate to ask an accompanist to transpose a piece.  Additionally, it would not be acceptable to arrive at an audition involving dance without specialized footwear and clothing, or to not know the difference between “marking” and performing “full out.”  Terms from acting, including blocking and choices need to be understood and accessible.  Tech staff should not need to explain their directions surrounding microphone checking and usage to a CCV (though they may to a classical vocalist).  CCVs need to transition effortlessly between the many communities in which they participate.

The CCVC holds a unique position in the broader musical arts and entertainment industry.  Its goal is to prepare singers to perform in a demanding range of genres and contexts, and linguistic elements play a vital role in achieving this goal.

Based on all of the preceding, I assert that the CCVC is a unique speech community.  CCVC members interact frequently to perform a variety of activities, including but not limited to speech events, such as those that promote training (voice and group lessons) and those that refine music (rehearsals and coachings), culminating in performances, where content is shared publicly.  They use common language aggregated (and sometimes modified) from various source domains, to communicate group-specific concepts.  The CCVC’s verbal repertoire is distinct because those contributing domains contain subsets, but not the entirety, of the CCVC’s.

Glossary

All of the following are selections from common CCVC verbal repertoire, but as it is the skill of classical singing that unites the group, I have chosen the majority of these terms from that domain.  Terms 1-11 would frequently be used in speech events such as private voice lessons, though they may also be heard at group rehearsals for classical repertoire (e.g., operas, choral ensembles, etc.), in which another party who is well versed in vocal technique instructs or directs a singer.  It would be unusual, though possible, to hear terms 1-10 in crossover settings, such as musical theatre rehearsals.  Terms 12 and 13 would almost exclusively be heard in crossover, rather than classical, settings. 

Breath:

“You need to support it!”

  • Support (verb, noun):

Refers to the breath, especially its function in creating and sustaining the voice, which is foundational to healthy singing.  Training the body to support the voice with the breath requires consistent and life-long practice.  Mastery of this technique is essential for performing classical repertoire, but also highly advantageous for crossover situations, as it promotes greater stamina and vocal longevity.

“Don’t collapse.”

  • Collapse (verb):

Also refers to the breath, particularly when sustaining a long note or singing a descending passage of notes.  One must maintain and often increase energy in the breath and tone, fighting the natural urge to relax, let go, and collapse the openness of the ribs and chest cavity.

Placement:

“Place it [higher]” or “Put it in the mask.”

  • Placement (noun; “place” and “put” are both used as verbs to indicate placement):

Refers to where a certain pitch/es should be produced in the skull for optimal resonance, ease of singing, and effect/artistry.  Since the voice is not an instrument that can be seen or touched (like a piano), much visual imagery is used to describe technique.

  • Mask (noun):

Area in the front of the face around the nose and cheekbones, where many notes should be placed, or felt.  Except for occasional artistic effect, singers strive for “forward” placement (forward, referring to being “in the mask”).

“Pay attention to how you’re attacking that.”

  • Attack (noun, verb):

The initiation of a note, or the technique employed when one begins singing a note.  This could include anatomical references (e.g., a glottal attack) or instructions regarding placement (as in pinpointing, defined below).

“Pinpoint the note.”

  • Pinpoint (verb):

Refers to a placement strategy of attacking a note, often a pitch that is high, quiet, and/or difficult to sing.  The singer imagines the note in one tiny, specific area and initiates it very softly and precisely to establish proper placement.  Once placement has been homed in, the singer can crescendo to the desired volume and more easily and efficiently produce the note.

“Don’t let it drop.”

  • (Let) Drop (verb):

Allowing the placement of a sustained note or connected passage of notes to change – particularly deteriorate (to get “lazy,” similar to collapsing, due to lack of energy or concentration to sustain the ideal placement).

Miscellaneous:

“Create a consistent timbre.”

  • Timbre (noun):

The unique sound quality of an individual’s voice (also used to describe other instruments).  One desires a consistent timbre across the entire voice (as opposed to varying degrees of development in certain areas, such as strong lower notes and under-developed higher notes).

“It’s in my passaggio.”

  • Passaggio (noun):

An area of transition between vocal registers (areas of the voice, including “chest voice” and “head voice”).  Notes that lie in a passaggio area are more difficult to produce and require additional practice to develop an even timbre.

“Connect the top and the bottom.”

  • Connect (verb):

Refers to both breath and placement technique to keep a consistent sound over a wide range of notes (particularly when there is a large interval leap between notes in the same musical phrase).

“Try coloring that differently.  Give me a [tall/flat/round/open/dark/bright] sound.”

  • Color (noun, verb) + [adjective]:

A tone’s color describes its affective quality: a “dark” sound may convey age or sadness, while “brightness” could denote youth or happiness.  Coloring relates to both artistry and placement, as variations are generally achieved by altering mouth shape.  The bracketed adjectives above are examples of imagery used to create different vocal colors (a “round” tone would sound more classical – or perhaps, pompous or proper – whereas “flat” placement, which creates additional brightness relative to the degree of flatness, would almost exclusively be used in musical theatre or other crossover performance). 

“Try that again with a different choice.”

  • Choice (noun):

An artistic approach to presenting material; the unique way a performer portrays a character.  This may apply to delivering spoken dialogue, a musical passage, or physical action.  Frequently, a director asks an actor to try contrasting approaches to see their range at auditions or experiment with a scene at a rehearsal.  One word alone (e.g., “Okay”) could be played to convey love, disgust, eagerness, or fear, based on an actor’s choice.  This particular terminology chiefly pertains to the acting community and would rarely be heard in any classical music setting (including opera).  “It was a choice” is often how actors jokingly describe an attempt that went poorly.

“From the top!  A 5, 6, 7, 8…”

  • “5, 6, 7, 8” used as a count in/cue (noun, verb):

Many performance communities use a form of counting in (or counting down) as a cue to begin some action.  The “5, 6, 7, 8” language of counting in applies exclusively to dance, as dancers often group choreography in “counts” or sections of 8.