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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000401.txt from 2005/08

From: Mark Charette <>
Subj: [kl] Re: Things that drive other musicians crazy
Date: Mon, 22 Aug 2005 11:48:47 -0400

Dear sensha,

I'm not quite sure how to put this, but posts like this are off-putting.
While I'm sure your female vocalists are fine, making such an issue of
their appearance (or sex appeal or whatever) is something we can do
without. Talking about some lady who's at the bar "chatting up a stud"
isn't necessary; all you have to say is that you expect professional

Your references to women come across as sexist or in some cases even
mysogynistic, and I don't think you're really meaning them to. You don't
have to specify the gender of people to talk about professionalism in
actions or appearance.

Aretha Franklin might not be much to look at, but she'll stop a crowd any

On Mon, 22 Aug 2005 wrote:

> This message was sent from: The Clarinet BBoard.
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> Sue, I know that a lot of musicians are peeved at vocalists who can't
> "read" music, but I think that it's more a function of the way that they
> are taught and learn on their own. And, they have other concurrent issues
> to deal with when performing that musicians never even dream of
> confronting.
> Think about it for a while. We all learn "push a button (combined with
> some other factors, like lip tension and so forth), get a note". Pianists
> have it so simple in that they don't worry about intonation at all;
> woodwinds get their octave/twelveth shifts relatively automatically, and
> so forth. Brass players, particularly trombonists, have it a bit more
> complicated, but once the behavior is learned, it's down pat.
> Vocalists, on the other hand, don't have a "one simple action equals one
> guaranteed result" option in their training. They learn intervals between
> notes in a relationship that's usually based upon real song performance
> (because it's so easy to fall into that trap) rather than exercises (such
> as we all practice 'til we turn blue).
> As a result, unless you get one who has been "classically trained", you're
> not likely to get a good reader along with a good voice. Why should they
> bother to learn, anyway? Once they get their lead-in from the tune and
> know that their first note is a fifth down from the quarter in the bar
> before they enter, they're set and (after that) just matching intervals
> rather than singing a series like C C# D B and so on.
> And, when you do get one who is "classically trained", very often they are
> so wooden as to not be able to adapt to "modern" music idiom. Much like a
> group of violinist trying to play "swing" rhythm (something that never
> fails to break me up when I hear it in a theater pit), most "legit"
> vocalists just don't get the connection between the delivery of lyrics and
> the timing of the note.
> From any vocalist that I've ever had power over (sounds pretty kinky, but
> there you go), I expect the following:
> 1) Be on time (both for rehearsal/performance, and for your entries).
> Worked with one once who missed half of her numbers in the set list
> because she was at the bar being chatted up by some young stud. Good
> looking or not, she got the boot. I expect the vocalist to be on their way
> up to the microphone at the appointed time when we are ready to play the
> tune, and we roll through tunes with about a twenty to thirty second
> break. They get one warning, then they're history.
> 2) Be presentable. It's great to have the good looks and figure of a young
> Marilyn Monroe along with vocal ability, but even "plain" women can do the
> right things to look great up on stage. Basics like gown choice, open toed
> shoes, no glasses, and posture go a long way. Extras like smooth movement,
> eye contact, microphone technique, and clever patter help out, and
> stunning good looks and sex appeal are the icing on the cake. But, basic
> appearance is the most important.
> Good looking guys follow a similar but slightly different path. Eye
> contact is the most important there (in my humble opinion), followed by
> good patter ability, with singing a third place item.
> 3) "Know the songs". That means no "Can you give me a pitch?" requests,
> but rather picking your note in the intro and taking your pitch from that
> (the interval style of performing music again). Ideally, I'd like for them
> to have the words down pat, but we have a lot of arrangements and that's
> asking a lot.
> In effect, this means that the thrush or crooner should understand the
> rest structure of a given arrangement, know that instrumental breaks are
> usually (but not always) for eight or twelve bars of 4/4 time, and know
> which tunes are the exceptions to the general rule, know how to set their
> entry pitch in upcoming phrases, and know the endings and how to conduct
> them.
> We had one gal who gave us the cue for downbeats in endings with a slight
> twitch of her THAT'S entertainment.
> 4) If you make a mistake, keep going and fake it. This happens a lot more
> in live performances that most folks imagine, and to the extent that a
> vocalist can pull it off in large part determines their overall success.
> In effect, it means that being free to fail has to be understood. When you
> perform perhaps ten thousand notes in a night's time, there's going to be
> errors. The important thing is that you learn from your mistakes, and for
> God's sake recover and keep going. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, no
> one but you (and me) will even notice.
> 5) Be willing to be flexible. That means you may be a soloist, but you're
> also a backup singer when needed, someone to carry messages to the other
> vocalists during the current number where you might be sitting down (or
> should that be "should be sitting down"), and ready to follow simple
> instructions to deal with emergencies.
> My vocalists are the ones who know where the circuit breakers are so if a
> breaker trips one of them is on the way in seconds rather than waiting for
> me to disencumber myself of the baritone in order to deal with it. Little
> Anissa was a whiz with the sound system, a decent jazz pianist in a pinch,
> and an administrative powerhouse with keeping the other vocalists on task.
> More's the pity that it now costs me a plane ticket as well as her share
> to use her.
> 6) (And a long way sixth, I might add): Be able to sing off of the chart
> without any help with pitch. Having an a capella capable vocalist is a
> great thing for a group, and one I've had in the past allowed me to do
> more dramatic things with her than I can with some others. But, it's far
> from essential.
> When I bring a new vocalist on, I can tell within a day or so just how
> much "reading ability" that they have. At that point, if they don't
> understand the rests and the note durations, I give them a little guide
> book that has everything listed in reference format. That's so they can
> figure out the basics on their own. I then give them a couple of weeks and
> then check their "reading comprehension" on a simple chart with some pick
> up notes and band choruses and the like. If, at that point, they still
> don't understand what a fermata is and what to do when they encounter one,
> it's time for a serious reappraisal of their vitality. Sadly, some of the
> best in other departments don't make the cut.
> There is a widespread perception among instrumentalists that vocalists
> have an easy time of it. After all, they only perform at about
> three-fifths the rate of the instrumentalists, and they do seem to be
> sitting around a lot in the interim. However, unlike certain dumpy looking
> trombonists of my acquaintance, they are "on display" every minute of the
> time that they are up front, and they are (in effect) the "personality" of
> the musical group.
> Ten days from now, the customer might have an inkling that the group
> sounded "classy" or "professional", they might recall that the lead tenor
> player (if indeed they know what a tenor is) was a hot soloist. But, they
> will, without a doubt, recall an attractive vocalist who knew her stuff
> and looked as though she was "entertaining" rather than just "singing".
> And, _that's_ what matters, at least as far as business is concerned.
> War story follows:
> A job we did last year is a great case in point. I was forced to go with
> only my backup vocalist (the lighting bolt one), who was no way as
> polished as my then-Number 1 gal (who is a sight to see and hear in all
> senses). It was a high class client and venue, the kind of client that
> could afford to spend two thousand dollars on an ice bar erected solely
> for decorative effect.
> Like we always do, a quality control recording was made of the
> performance. That performance, quite frankly, was one that I am
> embarrassed to acknowledge that we made (I have yet to share it with
> anyone). Blown entrances, poor musicianship, tuning problems, trombone
> players who must have been mentally name it and it was
> musically wrong.
> Guess what? That client was one of the most satisfied that we've had to
> date. The person who booked us was enthusiastic from the moment we started
> setting up, he got excited once we started the warm up (which we did to an
> empty room, since something downstairs hadn't started off on time (this
> was a very structured event, with lots of bells and whistles), and he made
> it a point to collar me during every break to praise what we were doing.
> My two male vocalists, both quite visible among the guests due to their
> attire, were also approached numerous times during the job itself,
> praising what we had done. And the promoter, a relatively small time but
> still first class operator, was very complementary as well.
> Now, I'm sure that part of it was based upon our organization (which is
> set up to be flexible from the get-go), some of it was no doubt due to
> people not being able to hear the "problems" that jump out at me from the
> recordings, and there were doubtless other factors as well. But, the main
> reason that I see for the success was that the vocalists were on top of
> their game that evening, and that the one female we had singing was a
> knockout both with appearance and presentation.
> That she was scared to death the whole time didn't detract from her final
> impact, and even with two shaky entries, she still was a good part of the
> reason for the ultimate success. It was her first time performing under
> lights, she was scared out of her wits with having to go on without the
> leadership of Anissa (the number one), and she was almost as blind as a
> bat due to not wearing her glasses. (I had to give her massive pep talks
> every chance that I had during the performance; not easy to do when you're
> also 33% of the operation's bass section.) But, she was gorgeous to look
> at, good enough at singing, and personality wise a smash.
> Was it a flawless performance? Hell no. Could we have done better? Well,
> in my opinion, there's always room for improvement with trombone playing,
> but there were problems overall as well. (We also had space problems in
> the venue, one more distraction made worse by the catering crew wanting to
> claim about a third of our staging area.) But, in overall terms (client
> satisfaction, future business derived) it was an unqualified success,
> plain and simple.
> It just goes to show that music has many elements, and not always the ones
> that musicians worry about matter the most...
> ----------------------------------------------------------------
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