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Getting it Right and Wrong with Musicians


“Four unexpected lessons with musicians that have been great learning points in my career” –says Beth Trollan

1. The Jazz Whisperer

He pointed to his ear after we ended the tune, smiled, and said to me in a low, cigarette smoothed voice, ¨Listen¨.

I had just sung over the pianist’s quirky rhythm.

The sax player, being the great master and sensitive player that he is, felt it. I understood from his eyes that I had needed to fit into the trio instead of ride on top of it musically.

I adjusted my ears and internal sensitivity knob to better hear everyone in the group in the next tune.

Many times as singers, we have honed the performance of our songs in rehearsals by ourselves.

GetItRight_Text01When working with musicians it is important to remember that each time you perform a song it will be unique and different from the last – for everyone in the group.

This will keep it interesting for the musicians and help you to grow or challenge your skill set as a singer.

By the next tune my sax colleague yelped ¨Yeah, Beth!¨ and we were cooking!

2. Section 3a subsection 9b:

We wound up running out of tunes at the most importune moment! A new musician in my ad hoc band (all hired musicians) offered to print the set list for everyone.

Sounds dreamy, but he´d made changes in the keys without mentioning this to me. This meant that we had to gobble up precious rehearsal time sorting the issue out.

But that’s not all. When we reached our very last tune on the night of the performance, the event organizer asked me for more music to impress the party organizer (who was late to the event).

We didn’t have any more to play – because we had used up all of that rehearsal time on getting the keys right. I wasn’t feeling confident with the group, otherwise, we could have played some standards or well known tunes on the fly.

This was less than impressive to the powers that be. I was at the helm with the event people and I took the sword.

Lesson: be as prepared as possible before entering a rehearsal with recordings of the repertoire for everyone in advance with song keys, charts, music sheets, lyrics, and set lists printed by YOU, as insurance for yourself.

3. Singing does Feel Good, Mostly…

¨It’s ‘I Feel Good’. It is a simple song!¨ he scoffed.

I was just starting out as a professional singer and it was my first house band gig. I had a great repertoire, was well-rehearsed and was confident.

I just wasn’t ready for that request in the middle of the gig! I felt a bit crushed and suddenly insecure.

I was thrown a curve ball and did not respond with a base hit.

GetItRight_Text02If you encounter a situation like this stay calm and be ready to bunt if you can´t hit one out of the park. Offer up another song suggestion and/or respond quickly with your willingness to learn it asap.

In this way you get on base and win with the musicians for being on your game all around. Now I can call that song, and ¨I Feel Good¨ actually does feel good!

When in Rome…

A star singer invited me down to her hotel room to talk about working together in the future as her back up vocalist.

There were musicians sitting all about in the little suite. I was thinking quickly about how to present myself when suddenly we were all ushered out of the room through different way than we´d entered.

To my utter surprise, we walked out onto a stage and onto live television! Lights, camera…

I did my best to seem part of the band.

That unexpected TV-surprise led to an arena performance as a back up singer with that star. She even gave me a solo song at the concert.

Moreover, it was a great learning experience that gave me amazing insight into the life of stardom and what it takes to be a celebrated female singer.

The memory of singing to a sea of people who are singing along to your songs is truly one of a kind.

So when in Rome do as the Romans do and be willing to open the doors to new and exciting things!

-Beth Trollan

Beth Trollan is a Brooklyn born singer/actress from New York. She is a published songstress and collaborative lyricist. One can see her hit the big screen this year in Grand Piano in the supporting role of Emma’s Publicist, a thriller that finds itself where the worlds of Hitchcock and and Speed collide. It stars… Read More About Beth Trollan