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BWW Blog: Bob Marks - Finding Music That Suits You

Just as you would build a wardrobe, with varied outfits for different occasions and temperatures, your music repertoire book needs to feature a diverse selection of pieces to show you can handle different sorts of singing demands. Not every song can (or should be) a show-stopper, full of dramatic heft and long, sustained high notes at the top of your range. Sometimes, it's more important to demonstrate naturalness and vulnerability, or show that you understand the needs of a very specific musical style. It's valuable to have many different kinds of songs in your "toolbox" to exhibit the full scope of your strengths.

A few decades ago, when music publishers were primarily editing musical theatre books for the enjoyment of amateur pianists, singers would need to search high and low to find sheet music that had even a passing resemblance to what was in the original show. Nowadays, editors have learned that singers really want original versions of theatre songs, and there are some really helpful commercial collections available. The Singer's Musical Theatre Anthology collection, published by Hal Leonard and edited by Richard Walters, has become something of an industry standard. These handy volumes are excerpted from the original vocal scores, and are easy to find online or in bookstores, categorized by voice type. Just one of these books will probably give you several months or years worth of new repertoire to experiment with.

While you are hunting for new repertoire, you should always be on the lookout for new possibilities. Attend classes, workshops, and seminars where you can hear songs that others are singing, and keep notes. Constantly ask yourself (especially with singers in your own age range and of similar "types") if the song is a good fit for the singer, and what affect the song has on you as the listener. This is also one of the best ways to know if a song is currently overdone.

A word about finding material to sing on YouTube; as in all areas of your development, the key is to exercise common sense and discretion. Unfortunately, the vast amount of audio and visual material available on the Internet has become a mixed blessing. Posted videos can be an illuminating but confusing place for source material. Students often want to imitate a certain singer or performance they saw online, but when that performance is musically unfit or technically unsound it can do more harm than good to rely on that performance as a teaching tool.

I like to remind my students that anyone can post a video, and just because they saw something online doesn't make it correct. However, sites like Vimeo and YouTube, as well as streaming services like Spotify allow you access to many different recordings of songs, even different cast recordings. Listen to as many different versions of new pieces as you can to inspire you, and to help you brainstorm your own original "take" on a piece.

Noted vocal coach Bob Marks specializes in helping singers showcase their talents to their best possible advantage. He is in the process of writing a new book (with Elizabeth Gerbi) about auditioning for musical theatre. Until the book is published, is pleased to offer weekly bits of audition advice. Please feel free to submit any specific questions you'd like to have answered in these blogs.

Bob Marks maintains a busy vocal studio in New York City, working with performers of all ages and levels of experience. He also teaches performance workshops throughout the US and Europe. He was a pianist with the original Broadway production of Annie, and spent two seasons as the Associate Conductor of the St. Louis Muny Opera. For several years, he was the host and musical director of the acclaimed Youngstars performances of professional children in New York City. His well-known clients have included cast members of almost every current musical on Broadway, and stars such as Ariana Grande, Lea Michele, Natalie Portman, Laura Bell Bundy, Constantine Maroules, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Debbie Gibson, and Sarah Jessica Parker. He holds a degree in speech pathology, and has taught at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, the Professional Development Program for the New York Singing Teachers' Association, and at Nashville's Belmont University as a special guest artist. As a vocal coach, his clientele ranges from beginners to Broadway cast members, as well as singers of cabaret and pop music. He is an expert in helping performers present themselves to their best advantage in auditions and onstage.

Elizabeth Gerbi, currently a Visiting Lecturer of Music Theater at American University in Washington D.C., is well known across the Northeast as a singing teacher, voice coach, choral conductor, and music director/pianist (150+ productions). As a singer-actor, she has appeared in regional productions ranging from Annie Get Your Gun to I Pagliacci to The Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour. Recent projects include musical directing The Chris Betz Show at Rose's Turn and The Sage Theatre in NYC, Side Show and Tommy at Westchester Broadway Theatre, The Sound of Music at the Wagon Wheel Theatre of Warsaw, Indiana, conducting Dreamgirls and Seussical at Debaun Auditorium in Hoboken, NJ, adapting Starmites 2000 with Broadway composer Barry Keating, and accompanying master classes for Broadway veterans Ken Jennings, Lindsay Mendez, and Lisa Howard. She is also a former consultant for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Music Library, and currently serves as a both New York State School Music Association Solo Adjudicator and a respondent for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. She attended Ithaca College (Bachelor's of Music in Voice Performance and Music Education) is a Level-III graduate in Somatic Voicework: The LoVetri Methodô, and completed a Master's in Music Education from Boston University.

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