Eden Casteel Music Studio

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Eden Casteel Music Studio: Learn more about Eden, her teaching, her students, and how to book lessons.

Filtering by Category: Musicals

What I'm doing now

As of June 17, 2016, I am: 

Celebrating my son's high school graduation . . .  (I got all verklempt) . . .

John Paul Simmons, Class of 2016

 . . jamming with my family band . . . (that's my dad Ron and my brother in law Robert) . . 

 . . .and rehearsing with Jason Shealy for our June 25 concert! Broadway, Disney, and gospel! . . . . click here for info! 

Unaccompanied minors

"They want me to sing sixteen bars a cappella," the student says as we start to prepare her for the audition. "What?" I ask. "No pianist?"

"No music at all, just me singing," she says.

What I'm thinking: "But you're auditioning for Fiona from Shrek! In the show you will have to belt high D-flats. How will they know you can do it? As your voice teacher, I know that having the musical score underneath helps you nail those notes. Unless the music director has perfect pitch or has a tuner handy, they won't know if you (or any other singer) can sing the notes the score requires you to sing. This is stupid. I can't believe you're expected to audition a cappella for a show that will have a full orchestra in the pit. That's like signing a baseball player to the team after he walks the bases, or telling McDonald's to cook your Quarter Pounder medium rare.

So they don't want to pay a pianist for auditions, or they don't have access to a piano in the audition room. Okay. You mean to tell me that no one in your drama organization can figure out how to provide you with a karaoke track to give you at least a little support? Well here, I took 25 seconds and found it on YouTube, and now I'm playing it on my phone at high volume. You can do this at the audition, if they'll let you. Or at least listen to it right before you go in. Definitely buy the Cleartune app, which can give you your starting pitch.

I don't blame you, student. I blame American Idol and Pitch Perfect, which have made a cappella auditions seem cool. In fact, a cappella auditions are often terrible and they make iffy and nervous singers sound horrid. Even professional singers can sound slightly unsupported and shaky in an a cappella format, without the bass line and melody of the score to balance out the voice. Most amateur singers don't know how to edit a song for a cappella performance. The singer continues to "hear" the melody of the accompaniment in their heads and they unwittingly include it, but the auditioners only hear awkward silence, and that ruins the energy of an otherwise good audition. Who thought this was a great idea for less experienced kids and teen singers?

I can't believe that in addition to teaching notes and rhythms and performance skills, I now have to teach you how to sing an accompanied song unaccompanied, just because someone thought it would be "easier." I just have to cross my fingers and hope that you sing the correct pitches in your audition. It stinks because I know that pitch accuracy matters, every time you open your mouth. Ultimately you will be singing with accompaniment, so you have to sing what's written. But your auditioners won't know if you're accurate or not (or if anyone else is, either). You could be vocally perfect for this part and sing a flawless audition, but you could easily lose out to someone who actually can't sing the role at performance time. GREAT IDEA, A CAPPELLA."

What I say: "Okay, here's your starting note. Go."

 

 

 

My Sunken Chest

All of my voice students spend part of each lesson warming up the head voice register and the chest voice register. I learned this as part of my Somatic VoiceWork training. It's not optional, it's mandatory. A strong, flexible voice includes a healthy head voice (think of angelic high "ooh" sounds) and a healthy chest voice (think of Santa saying a deep "Ho Ho Ho."). Relying on one register while disregarding the other is a recipe for frustration. I know, because for the first decades of my life, that's exactly what I did. I took traditional classical voice lessons from the age of 13, and I developed a great stratospheric head voice -- my natural range and easy for me to use. But, whenever the melody descended towards middle C, it got difficult for me. I noticed it when I sang solos and when I sang in my school choir. I just couldn’t figure out how to move from head voice to chest, let alone how to get back up. I carried my head voice down too far, and ended up with a tiny breathy low sound at the bottom of the staff. No one talked about it with me when they heard it, and I didn't know enough to ask.

I was taking voice lessons with Professor Hickfang, who was a great classical teacher. But I didn’t have a clue about registers, what they were for, or how anyone actually sang anything. If any teacher gave me advice about it, I forgot it instantly. I just knew I was great at high notes and lousy at singing in chest voice and I could never unite the two. When it was a matter of musical life or death and I had to be heard, I would shout and squeeze out the lowest notes in my chest voice. It didn't feel good, and it was more difficult for me to reclaim my head voice afterwards. Like anyone else with one overdeveloped range and one underdeveloped range, I had a noticeable break. I knew my chest voice and head voice were as different as Jekyll and Hyde, and it embarrassed me. So, I gravitated to songs that showcased my high range. I embraced opera and 1940s and 1950s girl singer repertoire. George Gershwin's "Summertime" -- in the original key -- was my jam! I loved Eydie Gorme and Peggy Lee, crooners who exhaled into the microphone, did not push or strain in chest register, and rarely ascended to head voice. The chanteuse Sade had a breathy dominant chest register, a big break, and an even weaker head voice. Ironically, that made it easier for me to imitate her so I became a big Sade fan.

UnknownIn the absence of any instruction to the contrary, I convinced myself that I couldn't sing notes below a certain pitch. I might as well have admitted that I couldn’t turn left. 

I spent a frustrating year in Shillelagh, my high school's show choir. I had auditioned as a singer, but my break and breathy low range was obvious. Then I made the mistake of showing our teacher Mr. Reardon that I could play keyboards, so naturally I became the keyboard player. I watched the backs of all the beautiful girls as they sashayed through each show, doing jazz squares in sparkly red leotards and black wrap skirts. Meanwhile, I was hidden behind the Yamaha DX-7, playing the accompaniment to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and "We Got The Power," keeping my mouth shut. I loved trying out new sounds on the keyboard and jamming with the rest of my bandmates, and I loved getting out of class to play for the Christmas parties of local businesses. But I wished I could sing with them, and sing like them.

Mr. Reardon was a fan of vocal jazz, so Shillelagh performed a lot of songs originally recorded by The Manhattan Transfer. All the performing girls were invited to audition for a short alto solo in "Birdland". I begged to be allowed to try out, too, and after a lot of pleading, Mr. Reardon relented. I memorized Janis Siegel’s rendition, all expertly mixed head and chest. I thought I had done an okay job of blending the break between my registers, and making some chest sounds when required. I sang the solo, hands shaking with nerves, and I looked and sounded just like a 15 year old opera singer with an undeveloped chest voice. And so I played the keyboards for "Birdland".

Finally, I got to perform a solo on one of Shillelagh's final concerts of the year. I loved a torch song by Julie London (another breathy chesty singer), called Cry Me A River. But there was no way I could sing those low notes, even with a lot of breathiness and a microphone. So I rearranged the song to make it easy for another pianist to play, and transposed it six keys higher. (SIX keys higher??? *Smacks forehead*)

I took music theory the following year, sang Soprano 1 in choir, and someone else played the DX-7. I played Milly in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (an alto role!) who never really sang high notes and didn't have to sing beautifully in her lower range, either. I just emitted some chest voice sounds and left it at that. It could have been a golden opportunity for me to start learning how to balance my registers. Instead, I learned how to square dance.

It took me another twenty years to finally learn how to strengthen my chest voice so I could blend my registers and make all kinds of mixes, including a belt sound. Right after I learned to belt, I got an unexpected promotion from keyboard player to solo performer . . . more later.

The Seven, Vol. 4: Dansko Mystery Solved

1. You recall my Missing Danskos. Well, I accepted that they were gone, even though I wondered where they'd gone to. I bought a new pair of Kates on eBay, for $29! After I won the auction, my daughter looked at the screen and said, "Those look just like the shoes I saw outside." WHAT?!?!?

And so she led me outside, to a grassy area about 50 paces from our back door, and sure enough, there was a shred of what used to be my Danskos. My son joined us. "Oh, I wondered what those tan pieces were," he said as he found several more hiding in the lawn. Those pieces were the remains of my missing Danksos. At first we thought some fetishist coyotes snatched them from the back porch. But, we quickly realized that a powerful lawn mower probably unknowingly sucked them up, ground them up, and spit them out. . . .the kind of lawn mower that comes to our house every week or so.

Rest in Peace, Dead Danskos.

2. So . . .new Danskos!  Okay, they're not flashy. O.J. Simpson would call them "ugly-ass shoes." So, there was only one other bidder. Yippee for me. They're SO comfortable, and they're not tennis shoes! The style is called the Kate, size 38, and the color is a muddy green -- or, as Dansko calls it, "Moss." I'm wearing Kate, Moss.

Kate Moss would not wear Moss Kates, but I will

 

3. In a supreme expression of spousal love, I have agreed to run the Ocean's Run Half Marathon with my husband, next March. Yes, I am aware this is 13.1 miles. I am terrified. . . and also a little intrigued. Can I do it? I just ran-walked the "Get To The Point" 5-miler in Narragansett last Saturday, and the first few miles felt surprisingly easy. Then, as soon as I saw the Mile 3 marker, my legs turned to stone and I sluggishly walked most of the rest of the course. Fail. I also grabbed water out of another runner's hands by accident and she gave me the stare of death as she stumbled off. I let her beat me.

4. I use the Jeff Galloway method of running with walk breaks, so I average a tortoise-like 13 minutes per mile. No, I haven't figured out my actual walking pace vs. running pace. Yes, I will do that. But, to cover 13. 1 miles at all I will have to practice running faster and for longer. Incredibly inspirational runner-blogger Sheryl Yvette (aka BitchCakes), who is running her first New York Marathon this year, started doing some speed training with a local running club and reported improvements in pace and stamina. So, I have started incorporating a little speed training into my (short) runs. I'm slowly extending the time I run before I take a walk break (right now it's only about a mile, but previously I've been able to go for two miles and twice in my running "career" I actually ran for three straight miles). I'm occasionally doing the "Magic Mile" test where I see how fast I can just run a mile -- last Sunday I did it in exactly 12 minutes, which is GREAT for me, and I was even able to pour on some speed for the last minute or so. Progress! I have never really discussed my turtle-riffic running life with the world at large, because everyone else seems so much faster. They ARE faster! But, I believe I'll get at least a little faster than I am now, and that will make my half a least a little more enjoyable. I'm definitely one of the gals who loves the feeling when the running is OVER. That Gatorade tasted really, really good.

I don't deserve this Gatorade . . .OH YES I DO!

5. My husband (AKA The Best Photographer In The World) is running his second New York Marathon on Nov. 3. He's excited but also really ready to run it. I'm very proud of him for putting consistent effort into his training, and prouder still that he has raised over $10,000 for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, through the Fred's Team running club. My job on Nov. 3 will be to track him on my phone, and maybe show up with a snack, somewhere around Mile 16.

6. A student of mine played a lead role in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical last weekend, at a local community theater. I'm not at all objective and this is not a review, but he did do a great job! Solid performances by the entire cast, lovely voices, excellent costumes, and the audience was enthusiastic. I give an automatic standing ovation to any production that lets me drink wine and eat Snickers while I am seated. I'll offer only one criticism. Apparently, there is no room for an actual piano in the theater or in the wings. That's a tough situation, and you do the best you can with the space you have. However, the keyboard reduction and synthesized strings were a distraction for me. I'm probably more sensitive to this, than a "lay" person who has not music directed a bunch of shows. I am no fan of karaoke musicals, but I wonder if prerecorded tracks might have actually worked better here.

7. If you want to experience the best live musical sound ever, here's what you do: Sing in a choir or ensemble, and stand behind a full orchestra, in a packed house. Sonically and spiritually, there is just nothing better. Nothing. You're coming to hear The Chorus Of Westerly sing Morton Lauridsen and John Rutter on November 17, aren't you?

My Happy Apps

I am selective about my smartphone apps: No to Angry Birds or Tetris, yes to Couch to 5K. No to Minecraft, yes to Vine. I only keep apps that I really like and use frequently. These apps make me happy! My music apps. . . some of them

Pandora reminds me of the summer I sold actual physical CDs and cassettes at Camelot Music. We sat around the break room digging through the large cardboard box filled with free promotional cassettes and CDs (okay, only I did that). I scored Madonna's Immaculate Collection, which was a big deal at the time.

I'm always justifying looking for apps for music education. My hardworking ClearTune app helps singers (including moi) figure out how to make the small changes that lead to more accurate pitch, and it's a godsend for nervous new sight singers and pianists ("Was that an E flat? It wasn't? I could have sworn it was. Are you sure?").

Being from the Dark Ages, I learned music theory the traditional way, with workbooks and flashcards. Writing out the scales is always a good idea, but apps are great for drills on note names, intervals, and chords. I like Musicopoulos for straight theory and straightforward practice. If you don't have a smartphone, Theta Music Trainer is a good place to practice.

My perfect pitch made ear training very easy for me, but I have begun to recommend these two solid apps for musical mortals: PlayByEar asks you to sing or play back chords and melodies accurately. EarTrainer shows intervals being played on a piano keyboard.

Blob Chorus by Lumply

For sheer fun, the best ear training app is The Blob Chorus. Groups of blobs sing individual pitches, then a purple King Blob repeats one of the previous pitches. Match the blobs, and King Blob gets a crown. Get it wrong, your blob explodes! This is great for singers who are learning to hear their part inside a choir.

I have loved the public radio show Music From The Hearts Of Space since I was a teenage waitress at Elby's. The program aired on WCBE every Sunday night at 10pm as I drove home from the night shift, and I would keep listening as I changed out of my 100% polyester uniform and speed-read some Faulkner for the school week ahead. I use the show's app frequently and also listen to their online archive at www.hos.com

My senior high prom date turned me on to the SomaFM website years ago, as we exchanged one or two perfunctory emails to catch up and therefore avoid meeting up at reunions. He remembered my teenage love of Hearts of Space and recommended this. It was the last I heard of him but thanks, Dean, and I bet you have the app now too! SomaFM is a collection of 15 quirky, well-curated online stations (and that's the last time I will use "curate" in a post) ranging from NASA beeps and blips to bachelor pad jazz. I always wrap presents from Santa while listening to "Xmas in Frisko," their not-safe-for-children radio station.

I just downloaded the Inception app and . . woah. Wierd and wonderful to have music played according to your own movements! When I miss Michigan or DC, I listen to the local traffic report through my iHeart Radio app and then I'm glad I don't live there anymore. I also use a couple of lolofit apps, including the 7-minute workout and Jeff Galloway's Easy 10K. They always make me feel like an Olympian, no matter how infrequently l use them. I wish the 10K app had more variations in run-walk ratios. I don't see why I can't run for one minute and walk for ten, and still have Jeff tell me "great job!" in his Southern twang.

Running is slightly easier with this app

Even on the worst day, my Random Gratitude app asks me to think of something good and type it in. The best feature of this app is that it randomly scrolls through my previous posts, reminding me of so many wonderful little things that I might have otherwise forgotten.

So, what apps should I add to my collection?

 

The Last Five Years

My website design is almost five years old. That's got to be 10,000 in cyber years. Back in the fall of 2008, I had a dormant website (a gift from my dad) and a bubbling career. I wanted to highlight my singing and libretto writing, hoping to do more of both. Alex Linebrink gave me some gorgeous custom features that we now take for granted. ("Grunge Garden" design! A blog! Widgets! Media players!) I wanted a personalized "Eden's Garden Of Ideas" theme full of flowers and music and glamour shots of me. I hired an old college buddy to photograph me cavorting in a few private Toledo gardens. He was in town for his high school reunion and squeezed me in, no charge.

Alex is now CEO of his own company in Detroit, the career is still bubbling, and I married the photographer in 2010.

"Is it normal for the photographer to chase the client? Oh, it is? Never mind then, keep going."

After five years, it's time for the website to get a little facelift. I've started the revamping process by looking at hundreds of templates. When I needed to quickly build  a site for the musical I do every summer, I chose WordPress' Bueno and it was quick and painless. I'd like my own site to be that easy to build and manage. Technology says it can be.

My decision-making style is . . . deliberate. Ask my "go ahead, pull the trigger" husband and you may get a different answer. I gather information, I ponder, I investigate. Then I go back and do it again. And again. Finally, when a deadline approaches, I make a decision. I knew four years ago that I wanted a tree in my front porch area. I was not studying the light or waiting to find the perfect specimen - I was investigating at garden stores, walking several local garden tours, and observing. I tore out other plants in the spot to make room for my tree, then left the ground bare for two years while I pondered some more and spent my tree money on things like house inspections. Then one day in April, I walked into the local garden store and made my choice. I'm very happy with it.

In the meantime, it will be a wonderfully active summer for Eden Enterprises. I'm gigging and playing organist du jour at a local church, I'm researching new scenes for the musical, I'm learning Sibelius 7 and preparing my children's cantata Francis Makes A Scene for a second performance. I'm developing a children's theater workshop, I'm writing songs for two Very Special Clients, I'm making new garden beds for the plants that seem to triple in size each summer, and I'm getting to see more of my family. As my dad says, "I'm too blessed to be stressed." I wish the same for you.

New Cleveland Pear tree on the left. It was worth the wait.

Until then. . . under construction.

Voice Lessons, Vocal Coaching, Piano Lessons, Performance Coaching, and Musical Production.

Eden Casteel Music Studio, 81 Post Road, Wakefield RI 02879. Phone: 401-932-5589.