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Freedom From Cerebral Singing

Be free of a purely intellectual approach to your singing – the young “Michael Jackson” shows the way.

At 14 years old, Jean Mikhael Baque has taken London by storm as the young Michael Jackson.

He also has the kind of attitude that will see him flourishing as a vocalist for years to come.

His vocal coach, Leontine Hass, shares those qualities that can be beneficial for all vocalists.

What is special about Jean Mikhael’s vocal work – that rubs off on other singers?
He isn’t academic about songs—he just makes each song totally his own. Many singers are surprisingly cerebral. They are often highly complex people and get into the habit of thinking rather than feeling.

Can you give us an example of a “cerebral” approach to singing?
Singers can have all sorts of negative dialogues running in their brains and when a difficult phrase comes up, focus on this event negatively with their inner critic shouting ‘this could go wrong; people will think I sound terrible; my voice is awful; I am not up to this…’ etc.!

What sets Jean Mikhael free of this?
Singers like Jean Mikhael focus only on what they want to hear; they think of the high note in advance and their entire body instinctively prepares. They imagine what they want in such a focused way that it comes out exactly so.

How can all singers find their way into more effective connections with their songs?
I often ask my singers to do “silent” practice and coach them through songs whilst they imagine singing it perfectly—they actually make no sound at all. Apart from saving the voice this is a very effective tool. It is simply positive visualization and inner hearing! Jean Mikhael does this instinctively.

Why do you think older vocalists need this so much?
Because we all get stuck in ruts. I train many singers who want solo careers but who are currently employed in contracts as ensemble singers in fringe shows. It’s easy to get lazy when one is not pushed hard enough professionally. The industry is so tough at the moment, with the economic downturn and shows closing right, left and centre, that they can loose their edge by the time the next worthwhile audition comes up. Vocalists with these aspirations need to keep working on their solo material – which is what they do each week at my workshops. Being around a young singer who is facing challenges daily and overcoming them is a real inspiration.

What is a gifted 14 year-old singer’s attitude to working with older vocalists?
I would say that Jean Mikhael has actually helped to change the attitude of older vocalists—his sole motivation for singing in performance is to give joy to those he sings to. What a winning attitude that older singers need to be around!

But what is it like for him to be working with more seasoned vocalists?
Jean Mikhael is actually the youngest member of the Advanced Performers Studio – The Studio is a place where professional singers can come and practice their craft with the best coaches and musical directors in the industry. Usually our singers are 18 or over but we made an exception in Jean Mikhael’s case as he is such a talent. The older singers were all impressed by the fact that he’s down to earth and has his head screwed on properly. Jean Mikhael also has his religion to support him. He faces challenges, takes on criticism and just keeps moving on. ‘Erase and continue’ is a good motto in this business!

What kind of performance work is Jean Mikhael most in need of?
There often isn’t a lot of time in a West End show to receive the direction and coaching needed to refine the performance. We work together on the songs he performs in the show: on posture, issues related to on-stage connection to other performers and his facial expressions.

Facial expressions? Doesn’t this come naturally with the song?
It can be hard not to look as if you are concentrating really hard whilst trying to get your chops around a difficult song! We correct sight-lines, so that Jean Mikhael’s eyes are not flitting randomly about whilst he is doing is vocal gymnastics. We also do a lot of work on method acting and I pull in some of our wonderful coaches like Robert Fried, who specializes in the method.

But what do you do if your big break is being the young Michael Jackson and then the show ends?
You do what every vocalist needs to do: hone your craft and become an accomplished, skilled and trained musician.

You make it sound easy.
It isn’t easy – especially if you have your big break as a young teenager! In 4 years Jean Mikhael will be one of thousands of great 18 year-old vocalists to choose from. I have seen this again and again as I work with the former child stars of all the big shows – The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, etc. There comes a time for every vocalist when the interest turns away. Your luck appears to have run out. If you were a child star – this can come as a real shock.

Are you actually defining a career strategy that applies to all vocalists?
There’s that old joke: “I’m not a musician, I’m a singer.” Jean Mikhael is now working on his craft in serious ways – and this will lead him to a rich and deep musical career. I want all of my singers, whether or not they are currently successful, to learn to play the piano, the guitar – any musical instrument—take lessons, hone their craft – become great musicians.

Leontine Hass is one of London’s premier vocal coaches and Director of Associated Studios and The Word and Music Company. She has worked as a professional singer and actress and now specialises in teaching Musical Theatre/Rock/Pop/Jazz Singers and Recording Artists. She invites serious singers to audition for The Advanced Performers Studio, which offers many opportunities for professional development for singers, including weekly Singers’ Performance Workshops with eminent industry professionals from London’s West End and Broadway, as well as regular masterclasses and courses. For a list of the prestigious 2010 coaching team, see this page.

The Advanced Performers Studio is running a 6-day Summer School in Musical Theatre from 26 July – 31 July 2010, and also runs a 3-month intensive musical theatre course for 12 talented singer/actors twice a year, commencing in September and January. To audition please e-mail your CV and photo to info@associatedstudios.co.uk or call 020 82371080

Useful Links

Leontine’s Vocal Coach Column

More about Leontine Hass

London’s Associated Studios

The Word and Music Company