Blog

It took me 24 hours to bake a pie

In our house, we have recently taken up pie baking. 

I’ve perfected cookies, we’ve kept our sourdough starter alive since April, clocked in tens of hours watching Great British Bake-Off. Now, It was time to take our baking up a notch. 

Two weeks ago Jordan and I stumbled across Erin McDowell on YouTube, teaching the masses the surprisingly complicated and beautiful intricacies of pie making. An hour and a half of tutorials later, we were hooked. 

The next week, we rushed out to buy her newly released cookbook, loaded our fridge with butter, and declared ourselves PIE MAKERS. 

Here’s how it started: Confidently!

Here’s how it ended: disappointed, confused, and an entire 24 hours later.

Oh, and I nearly burnt the apartment building to the ground. 

It took 24 hours from start to finish because I ruined the first crust in the oven as all the butter leaked out and smoked up our entire kitchen. So I started again, this time resting the dough overnight in the fridge. When I had finally cooked a successful crust the next day (or so I thought), I waited for it to cool, then baked it all with it’s tasty pumpkin filling. 

After hours of cooling time, we were ready to eat our creation!

But alas! The pie was (practically) raw when we cut into it and the bottom crust was decidedly soggy. We ended up BAKING IT AGAIN, which did set the center but turned the bottom crust into rubber. 

Did we still eat it? Sure did. 

Would I call it a success? No, no I wouldn’t. 

Here’s the thing: watching an hour and a half worth of instructional videos on YouTube does not make you an expert.

It doesn’t even mean you have a SINGLE CLUE about the thing you’re trying to learn. 

It is a start, and we all have to start somewhere. 

If you too are a bit underwhelmed by the progress you’ve made by only watching YouTube or TikTok instructional videos… why not get some personalized help in a lesson?

Or, get on my waitlist for my soon-to-be released Warm-Up Series. These guided vocal warm-up recordings feel like I’m there with you- holding your hand the whole time. 

Ah, it started so confidently. At right: before we cut into the pie to find out it was soup.

Thanksgiving is only a week away and I am NOT GIVING UP ON MY PIE MAKING DREAMS! (also, what else am I supposed to do all winter?!)

But, going into my next pie, I am going to follow the instructions carefully, take it slow, and keep my expectations reasonable. I’m not going to be good at this for a while, and that’s ok. For now, I’m going to take alllllll the expert help I can get.

Anyone have any pointers?!

One Take Wonder: Thoughts on Perfection

My friend Stephanie asked me to record a video performance of me singing any song of my choice for a virtual fall benefit program. I’m a mentor in her awesome organization, Women’s Artistic Leadership Initiative (womensali.org), and I was honored she asked me to perform. 

I chose a song I’ve sung a lot in the past, “How Could I Ever Know” from THE SECRET GARDEN (a musical composed by two women, so it seemed fitting). The day Jordan and I were set to record the song (wow ya’ll, the perks of being married to a killer accompanist), I thoroughly warmed up and we rehearsed it a few times before hitting the record button. 

In the past, I’ve spent hours on a self-tape project like this. It’s so easy to be hyper-critical of every sound and expression and want to record take after take in hopes of reaching perfection!

In my experience- perfection is never reached. Instead, what you get is diminishing returns. After a few good takes, each one after that gets a little worse as your voice wears out and your energy wanes. 

In the case of my “How Could I Ever Know” self-tape- we ended up doing only two takes. And… we kept and submitted the first one

What a breeze!

Don’t get me wrong- this is largely because I’ve spent years training, practicing and performing– even performing this exact piece. Without that kind of experience, I may not have had such a confident go of it right out of the gate. 

But also – and here’s the point – I’ve learned to let go of my idea of perfection. 

Should we always strive to do our best? Yes!

Doing your best is not reaching perfection. It’s doing your best in this moment under these circumstances. It’s not worth it to play the comparison game, particularly when you’re comparing yourself to a standard that doesn’t exist. 

Here’s the final video if you’re interested in watching.

As a side note- I thought my performance was better in the second take, but the audio recording didn’t turn out as good. And to that I say, c’est la vie!

77 Days ⏰

For a year that seemed to drag on and on and on, can you believe there are just 77 days left in 2020? 

With that kind of timeline, it’s easy to say:

  • There’s no point in starting something new now (the music project you’ve been wanting to dive into for months)
  • I’ll wait until the new year to make any Big Changes (voice lessons and band practice can wait)
  • There’s not enough time to make any real progress (so why start vocalizing now?)

The Broadway community got a big update this week as well, extending the Broadway shut down until May 30, 2021. 

In a lesson with my student Jake this week- he’s in the Broadway cast of MEAN GIRLS- he shared something pretty insightful.

He said, “At the start of quarantine in March, every day was completely unknown- will we go back to the show in April? Summer? Labor Day? This most recent announcement, while it’s completely sad to think of 8 more months without theatre in New York, gives me a more concrete timeline. OK, I have at least eight months to do something different, to figure out how I’m going to fill my time.”

Something about a definite length of time makes it easier for us to plan for, obviously!

So what if you crushed the last 77 days of the year, tackling goals you just “haven’t had time for” yet? Or pursued another skill or talent that can supplement your income in the future, knowing that Broadway won’t be back until mid-2021?

Here’s a few ideas to make the most out of the next 77 days:

  • Make a list of roles/shows you want to play in the future. In lessons or on your own- learn every piece of music that character sings!
  • Revamp your audition book with material that is *actually right* for the kinds of roles and shows you want to be seen for. 
  • Now that you love your audition cuts- self-tape each and every song in your book! Compile a library of your audition material that you can send out to casting directors when auditioning resumes (and I guarantee much of it to be virtual!).
  • Make demo recordings of the songs you’ve written this year and be brave enough to share them with a few trusted friends for feedback. 
  • Reach out to the fellow songwriter you’ve always wanted to collaborate with.
  • Set up a recurring time on your calendar (set an alarm!) to vocalize for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Just do it! And be amazed at how your range and stamina improves. 
  • Are you a voice teacher? Request to observe other voice teachers teach. Book an interactive lesson where you and another co-teach a tricky student of yours that you’d love another opinion on.

How do I find the right vocal placement? And what does “placement” even mean?

“Placement.” It’s a word singers love to use. I’d say it’s right up there with “breath control” as one of the terms singers use most often!

But what is placement? And how do we actually find the “placement” we’re looking for?

Shooting hoops—what leads to good placement?

Let’s compare vocal placement to shooting a basketball. (Go with me on this!)

When an athlete is shooting hoops, you know they’ve made a decent shot if the ball goes into the basket. If the ball misses the hoop, the athlete needs to figure out what they did wrong so they can adjust their next shot for a better result.

The result of a good shot is that it lands in the hoop. But the ball landing in the hoop is just that, a result! The specific act of the ball landing in the hoop is not the work of the athlete. The athlete’s actual work happens right before the ball goes through the hoop—it’s when the player is coordinating their wrists, legs, and core to ensure the ball leaves their fingers and goes where they want it.

You can throw the ball and affect whether or not it goes in the basket, but you don’t actually put it (or place it) in the basket! (Unless you’re dunking the ball, but let’s leave that out for the sake of this analogy, since we’re talking about shooting it from a distance.)

Placement is a helpful tool of perception

For us singers, the idea of placement is similar. Talking about placement can be a useful way for singers to remember a feeling or sensation, but it’s even more important to remember the process that led you there.

Chances are, something related to the three systems of singing (breathing, phonation, and resonance) is what’s leading you to feel that a sound is “placed” in a particular spot. This may include certain exercise flows, phrasing choices, vowel shapes, or dynamics that may have resulted in that awesome feeling you experienced on a particular note.

To be clear, it’s the choices you make that affect placement; you don’t just choose placement itself. Placement is an effect of the choices you make within your airflow, phonation (how heavy or light), and vowel shapes.

So the next time you feel like a sound is “placed” somewhere that you really like or that feels awesome, remember what the process was that led you there!

Pinpointing this process is a much more effective way to increase the accuracy of your singing rather than crossing your fingers and hoping that you can place your sound in your mask—or your forehead—or your toes!

Seven and a half years in the making

My friend Carolyn is a gifted actor. She’s incredibly passionate about theatre (particularly Shakespeare) and continuing education. I’ve watched from afar (largely through social media) as she’s made career shifts as an actor and director, and as she’s auditioned for graduate acting programs for the past seven years. That’s right – seven!

Carolyn isn’t a student of mine, but she shared her story on Facebook this week and I just knew you needed to hear it (don’t worry, I asked if I could share her post here!).

“Seven and a half years ago I first started applying for graduate acting schools.

Over that time I was: rejected, gave up acting, found myself and the courage to start acting again, earned more rejections, started taking Shakespeare acting intensives at some of the best schools in the world, was hired for my first Equity Contracts, earned more rejections, gave up on graduate school and refocused on just acting professionally, had a personal awakening and realized how important graduate Shakespeare training was for me, earned even more rejections, received more Equity Contracts, continued to arrange more training with some of the best Shakespeare coaches in the world….

And then…. in March 2020 I was offered a place to train on the “MA in Classical Acting for the Professional Theatre” at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. 

It doesn’t make any logical sense to start a training program I’ve worked years to find in the middle of a pandemic, with upheavals at all levels of education and training, but I am where I’m supposed to be.  Sometimes you’re given a glimpse in life, showing you exactly where you need to be, when you need to be there. I’ve learned that IF I’m given the gift of a glimpse, I’d better trust it…even if it doesn’t make sense.  So here’s to faith in the future and a wonderful, years worked for, year of training at LAMDA.” – Carolyn H.

Sometimes, the timing of things just doesn’t make sense.

When it comes to working towards a long held goal, there are often so many factors at play, many of which are completely out of our control. 

But what is in control are our choices– do we keep pursuing? Do we take a break? Seek more training, knowledge, and skill development? Pause on one goal to work towards another?

Just because you don’t have something you really want (or have worked for, or feel like you deserve) right NOW, doesn’t mean it’s not coming.

Is it worth it to you to keep working until it does?

Spending and Saving: a Vocalist’s Guide to Thrifty Singing

You’ve arrived at the climax of the song- this is it! Here come the big, exciting notes everyone is waiting for! And…! You completely run out of steam, breath, or vocal stamina and you crack, gasp for air, or pass out (ok, hopefully not that last one).

Here’s a three-step process to give your best performance without blowing out your voice.

You have to learn the concept of saving and spending. This is an idea I teach to my professional (and aspiring professional!) singers, particularly those that are singing an athletic, acrobatic song.

You know, like “Chandelier” by SIA, “Defying Gravity” from WICKED, or anything sung by Brendon Urie, ever.

These kinds of songs require a singer to decide when to spend and when to save. Their voices, I mean.

Imagine that you are singing “Waving Through A Window” from DEAR EVAN HANSEN. You only have $1 of vocal energy to spend on that song, and once you’ve spent it- you’re done! You cannot keep singing!

First off, identify which notes are the “big spender” notes or phrases.

Probably that final “Waving! Waving! Whoa-oah!!” section is a 25 cent phrase, and that’s just the last 10 seconds of the song. What other notes or passages throughout the song require an extra dose of energy, power, stamina, or stylistic effort? Identify those passages right off the bat.

Second, be judicious on where you can save.

What are the penny notes or phrases? Not every word, phrase, or melody is equally important in your storytelling or your technical effort. So, find the places in the song where you can hold back a bit.

Lastly, sing through the whole piece and adjust your budget as necessary.

You may find that once you put the whole song together, your interpretation of the song requires certain phrases to be highlighted with more (or less) volume, power, or effort than you initially planned.

This concept also applies to entire roles you might play in a show, or your band set or concert tour.

If you are playing Evan in DEAR EVAN HANSEN, tell yourself you only have $10 to spend on the entire show! Which songs and scenes get allotted what amount of your total vocal energy?

As singers, there will always be songs, roles, or performances that require a LOT of our energy, and even for us to leave “vocal balance” for a time in order for our interpretation and stylistic choices to come through how we want. That’s ok! By allotting a vocal ‘budget’ to each song you perform, you can save your voice and stay stylistically true to the music.

Love in the Time of Corona

Have all your plans for 2020 been ripped into a million tiny pieces and then dumped into the Hudson? Yeah, mine too. 

On March 13th, I drove out of New York City and headed to Milwaukee, WI where my boyfriend Jordan lived. I expected to be away for a few weeks, max. In the meantime, I’d just move my lessons online- a format I’m extremely comfortable with since I’ve been teaching online for nearly a decade. 

Later in March, Jordan and I road tripped to Utah where we planned to quarantine with family for a time. We’re both from Utah and our parents lived just a few hours away from each other. 

Well, a few weeks turned into many weeks. The winter clothes I brought with me from New York soon proved obsolete and cumbersome as temperatures climbed to the 90’s in Southern Utah. The time we spent with family was both a huge blessing (when would we ever be able to spend this much time with them, ever?!) and also challenging. We missed our own homes, routines, and lives. 

I know you are familiar with the story I’m telling you. So many of you have lived this exact scenario over the past three months. It’s been hard. Exhausting. Frustrating, saddening, and anxiety ridden. 

And yet, it’s also been wonderful. 

On May 5, 2020, Jordan Reading and I eloped in my parent’s backyard. Our parents and grandparents were present and our siblings, nieces and nephews watched via Zoom. It was the most special and beautiful day. I feel outrageously lucky to have Jordan as my partner in life, and somehow eloping during the middle of a global pandemic seemed par for the course for our whirlwind relationship.

(Did I mention… Jordan is a world-class pianist and a pretty fantastic singer. Oh, and super handsome, kind, and he loves Musical Theatre. *I won the jackpot, folks*)

We found ourselves back in Milwaukee, figuring out what was next for us. Returning to New York was always the plan for both of our careers. However, coronavirus has put an indefinite hold on in-person lessons and we’ve made the tough decision to stay in Milwaukee through the end of the year. 

Not much will be changing for the studio- online lessons will continue! I’ve loved keeping up with so many of you via Skype/Facetime and appreciate your commitment to your craft. Whether you’ve continued with lessons during this time or not, my only hope is that you keep singing! 

My heart has been on a roller coaster ride for months- saying even a brief goodbye to New York has been incredibly difficult. But, if I’ve learned anything in the past six months (or year, or two years) it’s that life has a way of working out for our good, despite our best attempts at planning. 

I wish for you peace of mind and strength during this crazy time. I hope that you find beauty in your surroundings, whether that’s your apartment in Washington Heights or the guest room at your parent’s house. I hope you are kind to yourself and others. I hope you know that I’m thinking of you, your goals, dreams, and struggles. I hope you hold space in your heart for the hope that things will turn around. I have to believe that goodness we couldn’t have imagined is just around the corner. 

If you’ve read this novel, congratulations! And thanks for being part of my life, both personally and professionally. Truly, it means the world to me.

I’d love to hear from you – how are you? Where are you? What unexpected gift has this season brought you? 

2019: Chelsea’s Favorite Albums

Here we are again!

It was tough, but I chose 10 albums I love that defined my year. Take it all with a grain of salt- these are my (completely subjective) favorite albums of 2019.

2019 favorite albums

Top Ten Albums of 2019 (in no particular order)

THANK U, NEXT, by Ariana Grande
My 2019 could pretty easily be summed up by Ariana from Jan-June and Taylor from July-Dec. Thanks for framing my year, ladies.

Truly, this album is a masterwork. Sure, Ari’s vocals were best showcased on her earlier albums and it’s looking like we’ll never get back to that prime diva era, but she’s making muuuuusic and she has things to SAY and I’m here for it. You know the hits, now try “NASA” (the best song on the album), “in my head,” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.”

FREE SPIRIT, by Khalid
At the start of the year the words “Who is Khalid? Is this DJ Khaled’s other moniker?” escaped my lips. I’m so embarrassed. Khalid’s Free Spirit bowled me over this year and was on near constant repeat. Sensual, warm, infectiously rhythmic with deep textures I cannot get enough of. You know “Talk” from the near endless radio play, so check out “Twenty One,” “Free Spirit,” “Outta My Head” featuring John Mayer, and “Right Back.”

GIRL, by Maren Morris
We got a lot of Maren this year, including her all-female collaboration The Highwomen (which is entirely different from this solo record and a really refreshing throwback to peak Parton-era country). As Spotify recently reminded me, Maren’s debut album HERO was my top in 2016, so I was highly anticipating this release. And it delivered! Despite her forays into top-40 pop (“The Middle”), Maren gives us a true country album here and she belts her way through it with gusto. The standouts are the title track “GIRL,” “The Feels,” “Make Out With Me,” and “The Bones.”

DEDICATED, by Carly Rae Jepson
I am a sucker for Carly Rae Jepson. She’s…. Everything. How does she craft such perfect pop confections? HOW DOES SHE DO IT? Toggling between lovesick and lovelorn, Carly gives us a slightly more mature look at infatuation and all its accompanying side-affects. The bops abound here. Check out “No Drug Like Me,” “Now That I’ve Found You,” (the song you’ve heard on all the Target commercials) “Want You In My Room,” and “The Sound.”

DRAX PROJECT, by Drax Project
I feel like this is the guilty pleasure item on my list this year, but I need to own it and proclaim my love for it. I saw Drax Project, a pop band consisting of four young Kiwis, play a small show at Soho House this summer, and I was hooked. That night they debuted a new song they hadn’t yet recorded called “All This Time” which included a bass thumping sax solo that had my jaw on the floor (I know this sounds ridiculous- just listen to it really loud and get back to me). This debut album is a lot of fun. Other faves are “Only Us,” and “Prefer.”

BETTY, by Betty Who
I saw Betty Who in concert twice this year- and the second time she pointed and smiled at me from the stage, so basically my life is complete. I’ve never been to a more FUN concert- you must see her live. And her dancers are hot (this is a relevant point to make). 90’s pop flavored, every track on this album will make you want to dance and smile and fall in love. Faves include “Old Me,” “Do With It,” “Between You and Me,” and the N’Sync lookalike “The One.”

SUCKER PUNCH, by Sigrid
The Elle Fanning movie “Teen Spirit” first introduced me to Sigrid (have you seen this movie? Worth the watch), the 23 year old Norwegian hybrid of Robyn and Carly Rae 😍. On a road trip to Arches National Park, my brother played the whole album and I was immediately SAD I had not LISTENED TO IT EARLIER. I’ve never heard an album that delivered straight infectious bops for the first five tracks. Like, DANCE PARTY amazing for the first five. How?! Picking faves is near impossible on this album but I’m narrowing my picks to “Mine Right Now,” “Don’t Feel Like Crying,” “Never Mine,” and the piano finale, “Dynamite.”

SATURN, by Nao
This is a late 2018 entry, but I’m going to claim some kind of outrageous Grammy deadlines for this one. This album got a lot of mileage in 2019, so it counts for me.

Dang. This is the smoothest, grooviest, best make-out album I can imagine. That’s all I have to say. Check out the aching “Another Lifetime,” haunting “Orbit,” and the final luscious track, “A Life Like This.”

WASTELAND, BABY! by Hozier
I was not a huge Hozier fan before this album, but this crooning collection of rumbly baritone folk-rock (folk-rock? What is genre is this?) had me swooning. The first half of the album is the best, in my opinion. The strongest recommendation I can make to you is this: close your eyes in a quiet place and listen to “Movement” as loudly as possible. If you don’t have a physical reaction at minute 2:46, you might be dead inside. Next tracks: “Almost (Sweet Music)” and “To Noise Making (Sing).”

LOVER, by Taylor Swift
Am I a millennial white cis woman in America? Of course this album made this list. Reputation grew to be a favorite album of mine, and I was unsure if a return to sugar coated pop was something I wanted from Taylor at this point. Thankfully, I was delighted to discover Lover as nuanced, layered, beautiful, and mature. Also, I have definitely cried actual tears on more than one occasion listening to the title track. You know the radio hits, now listen to “Cruel Summer,” “The Man,” “I Think He Knows,” and “Death by A Thousand Cuts.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS- songs I cannot get enough of.

“Gone,” Charlie XCX and Christine and the Queens.
When we got to the bridge- I was sure I knew where this track was headed BUT I WAS SO WRONG!

“Call My Name,” I’m With Her
Best listened to on continuous loop.

“How Do You Sleep,” Sam Smith
The video really did me in.

“Dancing with a Stranger” Sam Smith, Normani, CHEAT CODES remix.
Will a Sam Smith 2020 album make my list next year? Yes.

Chelsea’s Favorite Albums of 2018

Untitled design (1)

Listen to my favorite tracks from my favorite albums here:

Charlie Puth, Voicenotes. You heard it here (definitely not) first. Charlie Puth is this year’s King of Pop. My Fave tracks include “Boy,” “Empty Cups.”

Punch Brothers, All Ashore. Punch Brothers make an album =  it makes my best-of list. Fave tracks include “Just Look at This Mess,” and “It’s All Part of the Plan.”

Shawn Mendes, Shawn Mendes. If Charlie is the king, then maybe Shawn is the prince. As my friend Renee put it, Shawn is my age inappropriate crush. Fave tracks include “Lost in Japan,” “Where Were You in the Morning.”

Third Story, Cold Heart. Three-part male harmony and expertly crafted songs that makes me weak in the knees. Soulful, folk-y, pop rock, these guys don’t bother with playing the genre game and instead showcase their killer songwriting and breathtaking vocals. Fave tracks include “Searching for a Feeling,” “Still In Love,” “Only Love.”

I’m With Her, See You Around. These three insanely talented solo artists came together for this female supergroup. Three-part harmonies (do you sense a theme here?) and stringed instruments make for endless combinations of bluegrass bliss. Fave tracks include “See You Around,” “Pangea” “Game to Lose.”

Tori Kelly, Hiding Place. The gospel album the world needed. I got to see her play Riverside Church this fall and the SPIRIT WAS FELT! Fave tracks include “Psalm 42,” and “Never Alone.”

Mumford and Sons, Delta. A late in the year release and a surprising favorite. I feel like Mumford is back in the musical zeitgeist with the arena pop/rock production on this album. Fave tracks include “42,” “Guiding Light,” “Rose of Sharon.”

Panic! At The Disco, Pray For The Wicked. Been belting it out with Brendan Urie since 2005 and I’m not going to quit now. Fave tracks include “High Hopes,” “Hey Look Ma I Made It,” “Dying in LA.”

Jess Glynne, Always in Between. A boppy pop fest with (IMO) some questionable feminist messages (looking at you, “No One.”) Overall Jess brings her funky soul vibe to pick-me-up positive Brit-Pop and I am here for it. Fave tracks include “Never Let Me Go.” “All I Am,” “I’ll Be There.”

Robyn, Honey. Long awaited and really worth it. The first time I heard the title track, I cried. Pathetic? Perhaps. Fave tracks include “Honey,” “Missing U,” “Ever Again.”

What were your favorite albums of 2018? Happy listening in the new year!

Q&A: What’s up with these crackly high notes?

Question:

I’ve been practicing the trills and “MUMs” and don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong (hopefully) but sometimes when I get past like an A [5], it gets crackly and I’ve noticed my voice sometimes will ever overshoot to whistle tones (which I don’t even know how that’s possible).

Was just wondering if you had any recommendations for practicing…I really have never had a voice teacher that vocalized me this high consistently so maybe its just uncharted territory and discovering how to sing up there, but thought I’d reach out! Maybe its something I’m eating or doing? I rarely drink or smoke so I know that isn’t the problem. Do you recommend that I get scoped just for safety?

Answer:

First off, I think what you’re experiencing sounds pretty normal, especially because you are new to using this part of your voice on a regular basis. That A5 is your third passage- it’s a very common spot for things to “fall apart” for a time while you work on connecting your chest and middle voice to your true soprano head voice. I’ve worked with many women who break into their Mariah Carey notes before they get it put together. So for now, don’t fear!

There’s a few things I’d recommend trying out over the next few days. First- have you tried vocalizing through a straw? I love this because it really does require very little air flow and keeps your cords together (adducted) as you vocalize. Try blowing through a straw into a cup of water. See here, and here.

I’d also try vocalizing on an NG (like the word SINGGGG), have we done this together?

Give it another week and see how you feel. I’m a huge fan of going to get scoped, so if you have the time and $$ to do it, please do. It’s always a good idea. Here’s who I recommend:

Lucian Sulica, may be difficult to get into see on short notice:
https://voice.weill.cornell.edu/about-us/lucian-sulica-md

Paul Kwak, Laryngologist at NYU:
http://nyulangone.org/doctors/1184937914/paul-e-kwak

Keep me posted, and see you soon!