The Quest for The Great Song

Singers can open up new worlds by making great music their own –says Donna McElroy.

I heard a radio interview yesterday with Marni Nixon, a singer who made her entire career from doing the singing for the lead actresses in many of the iconic films of the twentieth century.

When Ms. Nixon got started doing her work there were so many wonderful composers and lyricists to collaborate with, it must have seemed like a dream.

Singing the melodies of Richard Rogers and Leonard Bernstein!

Hmmm, delicious work and, sadly, a lost art form.

Keep Up Your Quest

We singers are selling our voices short if we don’t go searching for those great show tunes, learn the melodies, the lyrics (some lyricists like Cole Porter wrote volumes of extra lyrics!), and build our vocal strength by actually singing.

Not to mention building our repertoire and personal range, learning which keys we sing in best and learning how to transpose these beautiful old gems into our own keys.

What a world a singer can open up for herself if she can step away from the Karaoke version and arrange her own version of a great venerable piece of musical history!

Then add a lick or a run, but know what you’re licking from and where you’re running to!

The staccato arrangement of today’s vocals is meant to accommodate the choreography that’s dominating the popular art form.

Though I simply adore Beyonce for her versatility, style, and work ethic, it does seem that she breathes in the middle of syllables and embellishments.

Now, the way she’s kickin’ it, Beyonce has a reason for needing that extra breath –what’s your excuse?

My Reactions to This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Carrie Johnson – When You Coming Home (Original)

Carrie, you have a brilliant writing skill for this style, and with some focus on warm-ups, tune-ups and scales, you will be on your way to a fabulous singing life! Warm-ups for the breathing capability to do all the runs (embellishments) you want. Tune-ups, so the notes in the runs will be right on the money. Scales, so you will have the flexibility to jump to any note at any time. One more bit of advice: leave the reverb and all the effects to the producer and engineer. They may tend to distract you from the true sound of your natural voice.

Josh Page –Lean on Me (cover)

Wow, Josh, you have an incredible instrument and it’s clear you’ve been trained to come in right on the note, and sustain the tone through the phrase beautifully and with astounding support! “Lean On Me”, though, is one of the most laid back and relaxed songs ever written. It’s not a cantata, but a consolation! Slightly delaying your entrances, singing across the downbeat a bit, will give more respect to this R&B anthem’s “groove”. Try to “talk-sing”, singing conversationally, to develop away from classical to a more contemporary vocal approach. It’s okay!!! There’s no such thing as “phrasing” police!

Mary Sarah –Don’t Stop Believing (Cover)

Mary, you have awesome stage presence; I know you really put a lot of work into building this vocal delivery! Remember to allow the sound system to help you. Let the sound man add the “edge”, and preserve some energy to interpret the song. Even “belting’, try backing off the mic slightly, like 1 & 1/2 inches, experimenting around in sound check with distance and positioning of the mic to give the technician some options in processing your sound. Also, consider wearing a wax ear plug. Range applies to dynamics as well as notes! Mezzo-forte and mezzo-piano thrive when you can hear yourself!

-Donna McElroy

Read Donna’s Exclusive Interview for VoiceCouncil

Donna McElroy is a Grammy nominated vocalist, celebrated arranger and well-loved Voice Professor at Berklee College of Music. Her contributions include arranger/background vocalist on gold and platinum releases “Why Haven’t I Heard From You?” by Reba McEntire; “We Shall Be Free” by Garth Brooks, “Addictive Love” by BeBe and CeCe Winans, and “House of Love” by Amy Grant. She’s been the recipient of a Grammy nomination for Bigger World (WB) and a Dove Award for Songs from the Loft (Reunion). Television appearances include Arsenio Hall, The Tonight Show, and The Grammy Awards.

Useful Links

Donna McElroy’s Website

Watch Donna Perform

  • Vaughnettebigford

    Thanks again Miss D. On Point as usual.

  • Neil Stewart

    I really enjoyed your comments on Voice Council. Very valuable. I love the focus on moving classically trained voices across to more modern methods. Could you explain “singing across the backbeat etc” as I’m not sure what you mean? Thanks.

  • Neil Stewart

    Also, I really like all the great comments on mic technique and good ‘effects’ usage such as reverb.

  • “One more bit of advice: leave the reverb and all the effects to the producer and engineer. They may tend to distract you from the true sound of your natural voice.”

    Guilty for doing that one time too many! Thanks for the correction, Ms. Elroy.