This Is A Voice

Authenticity in singing & teaching CCM singers - with Dr Marisa Lee Naismith

December 05, 2022 Jeremy Fisher and Dr Gillyanne Kayes with Dr Marisa Lee Naismith Season 6 Episode 14
This Is A Voice
Authenticity in singing & teaching CCM singers - with Dr Marisa Lee Naismith
Show Notes Transcript

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith is back talking to Gillyanne & Jeremy, and we get a bit heated!

  • How to work with authenticity in singing and finding a student's "mode" (1.00). 
  • Our own reactions to witnessing authenticity in our classes (we're all different - 4.50)
  • Marisa takes us step by step through a lesson with a CCM (contemporary commercial music) singer plus what to listen for and what to ignore (9.25)
  • Why Jeremy thinks there's an expert on the song in the room (and it's not us - 13.20)
  • The thing that singing teachers may do in a CCM lesson that Marisa thinks there is no excuse for (16.28)
  • And why Jeremy thinks the music, performance and rules of teaching need to change when moving from teaching classical to contemporary commercial or contemporary musical theatre singers (17.25)

It's a fascinating discussion between three expert vocal trainers - with insights, rants and laughs. 

Not to be missed.

 

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Jeremy:

This is a Voice, a podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher. This is a voice. Hello and welcome to, this is a Voice. Season six, episode 14,

Gillyanne:

the podcast where we get Vocal about voice. I'm Jeremy Fisher. And I'm Dr. Gillyanne Kayes.

Jeremy:

And she's back. Marisa

Marisa:

just when you thought it was safe to leave the house.

Gillyanne:

Thank you for joining us again.

Jeremy:

We had such a great episode last time. We have brought you back.

Marisa:

Thank you. I had so much fun and it's always a joy spending time with you both, so thank you so much for having me back.

Jeremy:

This is what, I've got a question right back at you, Marisa What is authentic?

Gillyanne:

Okay. Fair enough.

Marisa:

Okay. Okay. Authentic. You know how I can tell when someone's authentic or not?

Jeremy:

Go on.

Marisa:

I can see it in their eyes. Okay. Because your eyes are the windows to your soul. And I can tell if a student is thinking about what they're going to have for lunch, I can tell if they're in their own heads about their voices and what they sound like. You can, audiences can tell, how can they tell if something is authentic or not? Because when someone is being authentic, they're being honest. And you can actually hear the emotion in the sound. You can see it in their eyes and you can feel it in your body.

Jeremy:

Okay. I'm gonna play devil's advocate on this.

Gillyanne:

Yes. Okay. I think we're talking about something very, very interesting here.

Jeremy:

Me too. Okay. I'd love to get into this. Um, but does that not put you in the teacher apprentice mode where you say that's authentic and not, or not?

Marisa:

That's my experience. I'm not saying I'm right or wrong actually, but my experience of that, that piece of music was where I felt I, you know, I didn't, they were shut down. They closed off I think

Gillyanne:

I can do,

Jeremy:

I'm loving your answer. I'm just, immediately I'm thinking, okay, what would happen if you put them on close camera? Because the close camera, like the, the movie, because there's, it's like, there's a difference between playing in a stadium, playing on a theater stage, playing for television and playing for movie, and it's, the camera goes in and in and in and in. And it would be really interesting to see if somebody who appears closed off on a stage actually looks amazing on a movie.

Gillyanne:

But then that's about, that's about

Marisa:

That's a different medium.

Gillyanne:

Finding their mode. That's similar to, um, what Marisa's been talking about rather beautifully, I think of, the job of a teacher as a guide. Mm. Okay.

Jeremy:

Love that.

Gillyanne:

So you're talking about guiding, guiding people to explore in their first year and then

Marisa:

Absolutely.

Gillyanne:

Guiding them a little bit more towards, um, performance choices in their second year and in their third year guiding the artist. So part of that role is, like you said, well, you know, maybe this kind of music is really resonating with you and I'm just backtracking to what you said, Jeremy, which is you kind of, as a guide, you get used to hearing what does feel authentic for someone. You can

Marisa:

Oh, absolutely.

Gillyanne:

You can share that with them. Yes. And they can choose to say, well, actually no. In which case, I do think you have to take it on board. But I have certainly switched genres with students when they brought something in a bit, you know, out of the box. And I've suddenly thought, you know what? This is really working for you. I can see your body connecting with this. You're loving the phrasing. Your voice resonates that way. Have you ever thought that this might really suit you? And you know, your persona, it's the persona as well. This has to be handled very delicately and in conversation with a student. It's not about being

Marisa:

so much,

Gillyanne:

prescriptive, um, it's not about being judgemental or anything like that. I mean, this is where we dig deep into psychology, I think,

Marisa:

and we're not psychologists, no. And sometimes it is a very thin line, and, and it's very hard. Our students can make it very difficult for us to stay on one side of that, that, that line. But I, I have actually been in a situation a number of times in a lesson where I've like just burst into tears. By the beauty, not of sound, but the beauty of performance where it was so raw. It was so honest. The student was so vulnerable that I just. And my students are used to it. I, I'm very open, like, you know, me dancing at the start of the, when the theme song was playing, I actually dance in a lesson if the students really getting into something and it's like, I, I can't keep still. So I'll bust out into all those moves while I'm teaching and they don't even turn up. Like they're just ignore me because they're so used to it. But then, you know, it's when you are moved yourself as a teacher, you know that that's, that's gotta be real.

Jeremy:

That's so interesting because it's like, you see the person, you see the person behind the voice, you see the person behind the music and that, that is when you know that someone has brought themself to the song.

Gillyanne:

For me, it's when the hairs are raised on my arm. Oh.

Jeremy:

Oh, that's an automatic reaction. Yes. I love that.

Gillyanne:

If that happens, I go, oh my God, that was so amazing. Did you know that? And I think

Marisa:

being Italian, it's the hairs on my mustache.

Gillyanne:

Let's, let's not go there. Let's know, another, um, and I think, I mean, we are both resonating very much with what you're saying actually. And we're kind of just pushing the conversation.

Jeremy:

We're prodding,

Marisa:

I love it.

Gillyanne:

I suppose we all need an awareness of our own emotional responses that we bring with us from, um, our, our life journeys, from our musical cultures. And to know that, well, first of all, music is an emotional experience. We can't get away from that. That's what it is. But to know that some of those emotional responses are our own subjective journey and having an awareness of that when we have the conversation with the student.

Jeremy:

Yeah. It's like, that works for me. I mean that's what's so fascinating and I love that phrase. It's like, wow, that works for me.

Gillyanne:

I mean, we did something in a masterclass online, didn't we? Do you remember? For Choice for Voice? And we took the decision with that student to change the way she was doing the song because we had this feeling if we're talking about authenticity, that she had made the decision for various training reasons to do it in a particular way. And we thought, because we spoke to her, we listened to her speaking voice and her energy and we thought, that's not you.

Jeremy:

Those rules do not work for you.

Gillyanne:

We don't see you in this song. And so the choices that we made, if you like, that would've appeared to be more technique-based choices, actually brought her into the song.

Jeremy:

Yeah.

Gillyanne:

So suddenly we could see her.

Jeremy:

And ironically, she ended up doing something that was very similar to what she wanted to do, but in her head she was singing in a completely different style. Yeah.

Marisa:

Wow. It was really fascinating. I think it's interesting to ask students why they choose a particular song. Yes. And it's very interesting when they come back with, oh, cause it has high notes and I think I sing high notes really well. Or, oh, I just like Jason Derulo, or whatever it is. But it's got nothing to do with the actual meaning of the song and, and if you ask them, well, what's the song about? How often they don't know what a song is about.

Gillyanne:

Okay, cool. This is such a great area to go to right now, Marisa which is, um, given that so many of us now are working with these multiple CCM genres and our students come in, you know, with K-Pop, this is what our teachers are reporting about. Yes, K-Pop, J-Pop. Songs on video games, and they like the song.

Marisa:

And TikTok.

Gillyanne:

Yes. And then how do we guide the student in that situation? Tell us more about how you would advise a teacher of CCM to guide their students.

Marisa:

All right, so let's, let's have a hypothetical here. Let, let's just do a little hypothetical. So student comes in with a song and I ask them to sing the song. Well, there's a few things. First up, I'm going to look at how appropriate the song is for the student in terms of key, does it sit in their tessitura, mainly in their tessitura? Might have a couple of high notes that are little bit high for them. I'm not gonna worry about those because we can improvise those if we have to. Does the, does the style work for the student, but they love the song, but how that actual recording of the song may not be one that works for them and their voice. Is it too fast? Is it, are there a lot of very quick phrases in there? I mean, I just do the whole diagnosis. If they really want to sing that song, I will then. , see what I can do to make it work for them to how can, how, what can I do to help guide them into finding a pathway into making that song accessible? We may look at different versions.

Gillyanne:

So now I want to say something because this makes me very happy, what you've said.

Marisa:

Oh, good!

Gillyanne:

And I want to backtrack to something that I said earlier, which is singing teachers who come from more of a classical music background, whether they've trained as Western lyric singers or not. Being in the position where they're, they're saying, well, what shall I teach. Anyone with ears? Mm-hmm. and eyes and an open mind, you can do this. Marisa is simply talking about what is thought of as technique and musicianship and, um, having an awareness of the singer as an individual, we can do this, people, this is not difficult.

Marisa:

We can, we can, yeah. It, it just takes a little bit of time and energy, but hey, we are being paid for that in a lesson, aren't we? Yeah. At the end of the day, they're paying us for that, so we're not giving it away. And you can, and you are actually, when, when you are researching what it, what are the options for the student? You are learning things yourself. There's artists that you come across, like for example, there are a lot of male songs that particular female singers cover and a lot, when Louis Capaldi was big, a lot of my female singers wanted to sing Louis Capaldi and I found an artist who covered, a female artist who covered his work beautifully. And then there are a lot of say like Lady Gaga songs that are disco songs that are, are not suitable for some singers. Then there are some beautiful cover artists that slow them down and create acoustic versions of those songs.

Jeremy:

Yeah.

Gillyanne:

So do your homework. Do your homework is what you're saying.

Marisa:

But do it with the students. Yes. And the students love it. Yeah. They go, wow, we've never heard of this person. Oh wow. We never thought of singing the song this way. So it becomes something that you share together. It's a, it's, it's, it's a great moment to have as a teacher and a student working together to make things work for them.

Jeremy:

There's something else. I mean, just based on that, there's something else, which is the student is the expert in that genre. This is where it gets really interesting. The student loves that song. That's why they've brought it. The student loves that song and therefore will understand all sorts of things about it. And actually, if you bring the student into the discussion and go, well, for instance, sing that song again, you know, how would, and my, one of my favorite things is, how would that singer, this recording artist sing a different song. Sing me a different song, like you would that, and that's when you start to hear some of the style features. And this is using your ears in your brain.

Gillyanne:

Mm-hmm.

Marisa:

Exactly.

Jeremy:

Even if you don't know that style.

Gillyanne:

And we always advise our teachers to, you know, if the student comes in in this situation and they bring a song that maybe it's not in the right key for them, or there's something about it that's not working or, so it's not entirely suited to them yet, that they should go off and find five versions of that song.

Marisa:

Exactly.

Gillyanne:

And in fact, for them to do that homework is good and then bring it back into their lesson is fantastic.

Marisa:

Yes. And to know how to use music editing programs.

Jeremy:

Mm-hmm.

Marisa:

You must know how to edit music as a teacher and then teach your students and know the apps that are available. Some of the extensions on Google Chrome, you can transpose music on YouTube in real time by adding a Chrome extension. You can create backing tracks using apps on your phone. All you need to do is have the song downloaded on your phone via Spotify or Apple Music, and it virtually changes the key or, or removes the vocals very effectively within seconds. So know the technology that's out there.

Gillyanne:

Have you written in the book, Marisa? Because I know there was a chapter right at the end.

Marisa:

No.

Gillyanne:

Okay.

Jeremy:

We need that information.

Gillyanne:

We need that information.

Jeremy:

The listeners need the information.

Gillyanne:

I mean, people, sorry, I know I interrupted you. People do share this information. You know, obviously in particularly on social media and between each other, a lot of our teachers do this. And especially during the pandemic, there was a whole explosion of, of, um, sharing of information about this, which I think was fantastic. But I mean, it would be wonderful to have some kind of resource, uh, that was put together that said, okay, use this, you know, this Google extension use this, this, this. Particularly maybe for those singing teachers who don't come from that background, but can do a little bit of work to help their students sing the song in an appropriate key rather than what, you know, a singing teacher might do, which is instinctively know that song isn't working for that singer in that key.

Marisa:

Exactly.

Gillyanne:

So they give them something else.

Marisa:

Yes.

Gillyanne:

"To help develop the voice."

Marisa:

There is no excuses in CCM for singers to sing songs in the incorrect keys for them.

Jeremy:

Say it again, Marisa.

Marisa:

And there is no excuse. Absolutely no excuse. And to steer the student away from a song because of a key. or even because, alright, let's just say, as I said earlier, most of the song sits in the tessitura, but you have a couple of high notes. "Oh no, you can't sing that. It's got those high notes." Improvise the high notes. Yep. It, it's okay. Yep. It's okay.

Jeremy:

Change 'em.

Marisa:

You know, you or.

Jeremy:

Or change the sound.

Marisa:

If the second or if the second chorus is goes cra the singers going crazy, just sing it the way you did the first chorus. It's okay.

Jeremy:

But this is so fascinating because it's almost like when you, when you're in a classical, in the classical world, the, the music is key. The written notes are key. And if you come away from those written notes, you have to be very careful and within rules. Mm-hmm. With contemporary commercial music and recording artists in. It's the recording artist's version that becomes the norm. And usually, I mean, it's, it's rare that a cover will be more successful than a, than the original artist, but it does happen. Yes, but, and then everybody goes, well, this is the song. This is, and it's like, no, this is the version that shows off that recording artist's voice. So you do a version that shows off your voice. It's different.

Gillyanne:

But that's a conversation that has to be had with the student. Because you know what teachers are reporting now is that, and this is to do with pressure of social media, and the pressure of reality TV shows that, um, a student will come in with a song and because they can't sing it in "the right key" and they can't get that high note, it's sometimes quite difficult to persuade them that it's okay to do a different version. So if you take the high note away.

Marisa:

That's a male thing, sorry. No, it can happen with the girls as well. Just saying, Are you saying that men are competitive? Men have egos where, where, how? I have to sing it in the right key and, and if you like, you're taking their manlihood away by lowering it. Sorry to interrupt you.

Gillyanne:

No, it's all right. I mean, that's fine. This is how we roll.

Marisa:

You know what you do? Okay. But can I say what the solution is to that?

Jeremy:

Please!

Marisa:

There is a solution to that also. Mm-hmm. , go and play them. The live version of the song where they'll find it's. Probably

Jeremy:

Yes.

Marisa:

A third down. Yeah.

Jeremy:

Yes, absolutely. Always go for live versions.

Marisa:

You know what, what you are hearing, they don't do that live because they can't sustain it.

Jeremy:

Yep.

Marisa:

And the other thing too, sorry, there are, when, when students here recordings of songs, they think that that is how the singer sounds.

Gillyanne:

That's where I wanted you to go next. Yes, yes.

Marisa:

Oh, I'm a mind reader.

Gillyanne:

You go there. So the sound output from the recording studio is not the, um.

Jeremy:

It's not the input.

Gillyanne:

It's not the Vocal input. And this is one of the hardest things, isn't it? Because of EQ and all of that. Mm-hmm. and, um, classical singers and teachers, if you are listen, This doesn't mean that the singer can't sing.

Jeremy:

Oh, please. Okay. Can we drop that now?

Marisa:

What?

Gillyanne:

Well, yeah, but it's still out there. What it means is that there is, um, there are certain industry expectations for, uh, how the sound is manipulated, but it, that's not necessarily the input from the singer. So talk to us about that.

Jeremy:

And by the way, those expectations change every two years. So the way that things are recorded now are not the way they were recorded two years ago.

Marisa:

Mm-hmm. Yes. Well, because music now is like the fast food industry. Yeah. That's how it's become. Yeah. What's, what's in today is gone tomorrow. And if you, if you, this, this was the case when I was teaching younger students, if you brought in a song that was any more than a few months old. "Oh, that's so old." Yeah. Yeah. You, but the, the problem is, that students hear songs not so much. The ones that are a little bit educated, like the, you know, the ones that I'm teaching at that level where they're writing, recording their own music, they have an understanding of what goes on in the recording studio. But they add so many effects. They add delay, they add reverb, they add, they compress the sound. They can, they change the pitch. There are so many singers that sound the same. There is a generic sound at the moment.

Gillyanne:

I know.

Marisa:

You can't tell who they are, and I had to go at Ed Sheeran about this not so long ago. You can't tell Ed the Ed Sheeran of now. Okay. He, he may possibly be a better singer than what he was. He may have had some lessons now, but you can't tell me those lessons turned him into Justin Bieber. Or Bruno Mars or who, although you always know Bruno Mars, but these singers all sound the same. There are so many female artists that all sound the same, and that's because the sound is being mass produced within a recording studio. It is not their natural aesthetic, and you never see them sing live anywhere because they are there. They're pretty young females and they are there to record a song, be a one hit wonder that no one will remember next week. But all these kids have listened to the song and loved the song in that moment, but don't wanna sing it a few months later because that person has been replaced. And so you have to teach students, not only it's okay to change the keys, but you have to educate them in what is physically and humanly possible. , what can a voice truly do? What is, what is it truly capable of? If you want to make that sound, go and pay some music producer in Sweden, millions of dollars, and he'll create that sound for you.

Jeremy:

There's something very interesting that's just come up for me while you've been talking about this, which is you are also looking, and this is about your skill as a, as a musician. You're also looking at, if you take that performance and that eq balance away from that song, how good is the song?

Marisa:

It's not very, not very,

Jeremy:

but this is really interesting. Can you make that

Marisa:

It's the beat.

Jeremy:

That song good?

Marisa:

But it's, but people aren't buying the song because it's good. They're buying the song because they're, they've been programmed to listen to that, that style of music and that sound, that sound is becoming embedded in, in the consumer's ear.

Jeremy:

So they're buying the vibe.

Gillyanne:

Oh, I, I feel so strongly about this, that because of the way the sound has been compressed now for more than a decade, I think that many people simply do not know how to listen anymore. So they, they are so attuned to a certain band of frequencies that they are unable to hear some of the harmonics that make you cry and make this, you know, the hairs come up on my arms and, you know, call me old fashioned. Absolutely. I'm 66. I'm definitely old fashioned in that

Marisa:

I thought you were 21?

Gillyanne:

Darling.

Marisa:

Everyone's 21 on my show. Do you, do you mean to say, I'm not 21 on yours? I didn't sign up for that.

Gillyanne:

I couldn't possibly say.

Marisa:

I'd have to brush my hair and put my teeth back in for me to be 21!

Gillyanne:

And for me, you know, it, it's, it's like, yeah, full disclaimer. I want to hear the voice because for me that's the authenticity of the singer. And there are certain singers, um, . I mean, I'd say Lady Gaga, very individual. You can hear that sound.

Marisa:

Yes. And she can sing.

Jeremy:

And she can sing.

Marisa:

Yeah. Yeah. She can sing anything. Absolutely. Jason Mraz? Um, yeah, she sounds amazing. Live, yeah.

Jeremy:

Okay. Chill for a moment.

Gillyanne:

Sara Bareilles.

Jeremy:

Because I think we're talking about different things and I wanna make this distinction. I think it's really important. Okay. You are talking about the one hit wonder. Yeah. Um, and we are not training one hit wonders. One hit wonders can be picked up off the street any day of the week.

Marisa:

They, they probably are. Yeah.

Jeremy:

And therefore, in a way, they don't really fall into the Vocal pedagogy conversation because they can literally go, uh, and then they can be manipulated into, into singing a melody in whatever sound they want. So in a way, this is not

Gillyanne:

So that's the take, that's the takeaway version. Yeah.

Jeremy:

Yeah. That's the takeaway version. What, what we are building is people who have longevity. Yeah. And in order to have longevity,

Marisa:

100%

Jeremy:

in, in any, in any career, in any genre, you have to understand what you're doing and you also have to have a voice. Now, sometimes that voice is gonna absolutely hit what's, what's current in that moment, and sometimes it's not. But if you have a voice, and this is where we get back to authenticity, you have what you have. Now sometimes the world is not gonna like it for a couple of years, and then two years later you come into fashion and they go, everybody goes, my God. Where have you been? Um, I think we can say this, we have been out of fashion for some time, and you just go, and now we're back in again. Great. Fantastic. How lovely. You know, I have a career. I have a life. I've had 40 years of experience. That's really, really nice. Thank you. How lovely.

Gillyanne:

I want to chip in on this, um, on behalf of the many, many singing teachers out there who are working with avocational singers, you know, with, um, developing voices. Those people are not necessarily going to be professional artists.

Marisa:

No. No.

Gillyanne:

So what we're doing by getting them to kind of, um, open up their ears and explore their voices in different ways with those possibilities that you spoke about earlier, Marisa, what we're doing maybe is what, maybe we're enhancing their musical lives, do you think?

Marisa:

Absolutely.

Jeremy:

That's nice.

Gillyanne:

But you think we can say that as a value? Because I think it's important.

Marisa:

Well, if we are making music accessible and introducing them to different versions or however we do it, but if we make a song accessible even to those singers and they feel that they've accomplished something because they can actually sing the song, that is definitely going to heighten their experience.

Gillyanne:

Yes.

Marisa:

In that lesson, they're going to leave feeling accomplished. They're not, we're not setting them up for failure, irrespective of what their long term vision is for their singing. Anyone that comes to our lessons, we want them to feel better about themselves and about their voices than when they first arrived.

Gillyanne:

Yeah.

Marisa:

And if they feel they've achieved something and all we've done is made it accessible, and that's how they, they've got that feeling of achievement, well then, It doesn't matter they don't wanna be professional singers. They still have the joy of singing. They've experienced the joy of singing and they think, well, we, we might actually be able to sing a bit here.

Jeremy:

Yep.

Gillyanne:

And we know that singing improves cognitive function, it improve, improves, um, sort of the sense of self-efficacy. It improves social inclusion. It can get people more in touch with their emotional responses. And obviously when people sing in groups, we've got the,

Marisa:

I've seen that

Gillyanne:

oxytocin, oxytocin thing,

Jeremy:

oxytocin thing.

Marisa:

Um, so it's, it's about that as much as anything else as, as 100%. Being able to sing the song in a particular way. 100%. And you, the other thing that I, I, when you were talking about the authentic voice and someone being able to make those sounds, and not those one hit wonders. But if someone wants a career and that's, they're not going to be that person that's taken off the street and had every natural timbre of their sounds stripped off them and But those singers, if they want to have a career and they want to make money, unfortunately these days you have to tour. You don't make money from sales of music these days unless you've actually composed the song, or you have millions and millions and millions of sales, you still have to tour. So you have to be healthy and you have to be sustainable. You have to be able to make those sounds.

Jeremy:

Yep. Mm-hmm. Yep. As we say, eight shows a week and two rehearsals for year.

Gillyanne:

And it can be more because if you are a CCM singer, you've got your television interviews, so you're getting up at four in the morning Yeah. For the, you know, the morning show. And you may need to sing on the morning show. Mm-hmm. Yeah. . Marisa: Exactly, we see them here. That's a whole other conversation. It's a conversation about we need to have

Jeremy:

what technique is. What is technique? I mean, one of the things that technique enables you to do is to do what you do regularly.

Marisa:

True. Yes. Yes. In a way that's Absolutely, yeah. Ab, absolutely.

Jeremy:

And now, uh, we have to wrap up. It's time to go.

Gillyanne:

Do you know what? This was so much fun.

Marisa:

It has been a hoot. It's always a hoot with you two. I don't know how we contain the laughter sometimes, . It's always, it's so cool. Thank you for having me.

Jeremy:

It's brilliant to see you. All the stuff that we've talked about will be in the show notes so people can find you. Oh, by the way, where can they find you? How can they find you?

Marisa:

On the Gold Coast in Australia?

Jeremy:

Okay. Website?

Marisa:

On, on my website www.drmarisaleenaismith.com.

Jeremy:

Excellent.

Marisa:

And A Voice And Beyond on all the usual suspect platforms. Such as Apple Music, Spotify.

Jeremy:

You have every episode of your podcast on your website as well. Yes, yes, I do. We to encourage people to go and listen to your podcast because it's so good and it's so varied. Brilliant.

Marisa:

Thank you. Thank you. Thank You'll find lots of, different topics. Bye. Bye.

Jeremy:

This is a voice, a podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher. This is a voice.