summer musical theater camp

Why Rising Stars?

If you’re the parent of a theater-loving kid or teen, you probably already know there’s a TON of summer theater programs to choose from.  There are companies that produce full shows; others where teens can intern behind-the-scenes; still others where you can learn the ins and outs of the tech world.  Whatever it is you want, greater Boston has you covered!

Here at Rising Stars Productions, however, we believe that ours is truly one of the most unique summer theater programs around.

So why Rising Stars?

Performance Experience and Skill-Building

Here at Rising Stars, we put the “performing” in “performing arts.”  That means we’re dedicated to two things: a high-quality production, and skill-building.  Over the course of the week, your child will gain not just the confidence he or she needs to shine, but also skills that he or she can take to the next performing venture.

Our program is a musical revue, which means it consists of selections from a wide variety of shows.  This enables us to feature more students than we could in a single show with a fixed cast.  It also exposes the students to a wider range of musical styles, and gives them a starting point from which to explore certain shows further if they want.

We are also dedicated to featuring kids who want to be in the spotlight: if your kid wants a solo, they will get their chance in the limelight.  If they’d rather just be in the ensemble, then that’s perfectly okay too.  But whether your child wants to be a star or just be in the background, he or she will receive the unique attention he or she needs to be a skilled and confident performer.

Unique, Thorough Audition Process

Our auditions are non-competitive, and conducted one-on-one with your child.  This allows us to get to know their voice and personality, and consider what songs might suit them best.  We’re very sensitive to audition nerves, and strive to make the process as un-intimidating as possible!

The song selections are chosen based on the auditions each year.  The result is a unique program custom-made to your child’s needs and talents.

Top-Notch, Professional Staff

Our carefully-vetted staff are all industry professionals with extensive performance experience in their respective fields.  Furthermore, they are all experienced, passionate educators dedicated to helping your child succeed.

Small Program Sizes and Individualized Attention

We keep our camp sizes to 20-25 students.  This allows us to work with them individually or in small groups, giving them the attention they need to build both skill and confidence.  This is very different from many summer theater programs, where your child is just one among dozens.  At Rising Stars Productions, your child is not simply a number in a huge cast; he or she is a key player and will be treated as such.

We also believe that the small sizes help the social dynamic of each camp.  We make it our mission to ensure that every child feels included and valued, both on and off the stage.

 

Open to Students of All Levels

Our summer theater programs are open to all levels, including beginners!  In fact, many students have their first theatrical experience with us.

However, we’ve also had older, more experienced students use our program as a training ground for community theater productions, and even college auditions.  Whether your child is venturing onstage for the first time or is a seasoned performer, they will learn a lot in our program!

Intensive, Immersive Learning Experience

Our students take an entire program from page to stage in just one week!  The rehearsals are very fast-paced, but don’t worry – we go to great lengths to make sure everyone is on the same page (literally and figuratively!).  Our staff are always happy to provide extra help.

Register Now!

Registration is open for all three of our summer programs: June 11-15 in Beverly ($250); June 25-29 in Gardner ($225), and July 23-27 in North Reading ($300).  Our summer theater programs run Monday-Friday from 9:00 am-2:00 pm, with the final performance on Friday at 7:00 pm (7:30 pm in Beverly).  Tuition includes a non-refundable $50 deposit, due at registration.

Click here to start your registration today, or contact us with any questions.  We’re looking forward to a spectacular season!

goals

Back to Basics, Part 2: Vocal Warm-ups

We’ve all done them, or at the very least, heard them before: the endless patterns, scales, and weird noises that singers use as vocal warm-ups. While, to the untrained ear, we may sound like dying cats or like we’re screaming bloody murder, any experienced singer will tell you that warm ups are absolutely essential to a good practice session or performance.

This is true, of course. But why? 

Most young or inexperienced singers will say that warm-ups are essential to “get your voice going.”  While this is perhaps the most basic aim of warm-up exercises, an effective warm-up routine must consist of at least these three goals: 

Goal #1: “Lining Up” the Voice

This initial part of a singer’s practice routine is usually what people are referring to when they say “get the voice going.”  However, the point is not simply to use your voice.  You must execute your exercises with thought, attention to detail, and self-awareness. 

This stage usually begins with some stretches and an alignment check, and then energizing the breath in some way.  (Check out this video for posture tips, and this one for breathing exercises!)

When you begin to sing, choose an exercise that will help to connect breath to sound right away (voiced consonants like z or v are great for this).  As you sing, you want to make sure the various parts of your mechanism are released (throat, jaw, tongue, soft palate, etc.).  Use a variety of vowels, and travel up and down your range, feeling the changes in resonance.  (For a few suggestions, check out this video!)

Goal #2: Technical Specifics

Once you’ve ensured the voice is functioning properly, start to think about specific techniques.  What technical ideas have you been working on in your lessons lately?  What problems have you been trying to fix?  Choose warm-ups that will help you work on these things – perhaps some of the same exercises you did in your most recent lessons.  The main idea here is that every exercise have a specific purpose.

 

Goal #3: Preparing for Specific Rep

What songs will you be working on that day?  If it’s something with a lot of high notes, you should make sure you stretch up there.  If your song has lots of staccato, make sure you include some in your warm-ups.  If it’s got lots of runs, long scales should be a part of your routine.

 

How Long Should I Spend on Warm-ups?

The answer to this question varies depending on the level of the student, his or her vocal abilities, the demands of his or her rep, and other considerations.  In a 30-minute practice session, I would advise spending 10-15 minutes on warm-ups, and the rest on repertoire.  In a longer practice session, 15-20 minutes is fairly standard for more advanced students.

Other Important Considerations:

Your warm-up routine should be consistent, yet evolve with your vocal needs.  In other words, have a regimen of exercises that serve your needs and goals for right now; as your technique grows, you may find that certain exercises no longer serve a purpose or are not stretching you enough.  This is completely normal.  Work with your teacher to find new exercises that will suit your needs.

You should keep your day’s voice use in mind when warming up and practicing, and monitor how your voice is feeling.  You may find, for example, that your voice gets tired on days when you have school chorus.  This means you should consider doing a lighter warm-up that day, so as not over-tax your voice.  Or, if you know you will be singing a lot in your evening production rehearsal, you may choose to scale back your practicing session to save some voice.  In these cases, the primary goal is usually to do what is necessary to get things connected and functioning properly, and then move on.  

If you find that a certain exercise just isn’t working, re-assess how you’re feeling/what’s happening and try something else.  It’s better to abandon something that doesn’t feel good than to keep going and work more tension and bad habits into your voice.  You could just be having a bad voice day.  It’s frustrating, but it happens.

You do not need to warm up to the extremes of your range every day.  You should choose one exercise to stretch your stratosphere (or your basement) a couple times a week, but you shouldn’t sing up there every day, especially if you are young/new to singing.  Singing in these areas of your range too much can be extremely demanding on the voice.  Unless you are singing rep in which these notes are required, it’s not essential to exercise them every day.

In General…

Remember – specificity is key!  It’s better to do fewer exercises – each with a specific goal – than to do more exercises without a purpose in mind.Curious to learn more?  Contact us with any questions, or, better yet – sign up for lessons!

 

voice lessons Reading MA

Back to Basics, Part 1: The Role of the Voice Teacher

 

It takes a village, as they say.

To make an artist, that is.

These days, it’s essential that young artists have their “team:” the voice teacher, the rep coach, the acting coach, the dance instructor… the list could go on.  In addition to comprising a great cheering section, each of these instructors and mentors brings a unique, distinct perspective to the table, helping to create you, the well-rounded artist.

It’s important, therefore, to know exactly what specific role of each of your instructors plays in your artistic life, and for the two of you to be mutually clear about your hopes/dreams/expectations for your professional relationship.  While there can be a bit of overlap among mentors at times, it’s important to recognize that each should have a primary purpose that is distinct from that of the others’.

Let’s talk about the voice teacher, shall we?

I’ve found that young students today have a wide range of expectations and goals when it comes to voice study, from improving their technique to landing more lead roles to just wanting to “sing for fun.”  And many begin their voice studies without any specific expectations at all.  

Now, to be fair, we voice teachers – especially free-lance studio teachers – do wear a lot of hats.  Our jobs are multi-functional because, let’s face it, being a singer in today’s industry is a multi-faceted career.

However, the primary purpose of a voice teacher, before anything else, is to be a vocal technician.

Meaning, her main job is to teach you how to sing.  Anything and everything else comes secondary to that.

 

This means your voice teacher should be teaching you:

  • Vocal function: How your voice works, how to use it properly, and how to keep it healthy.
  • How to practice, including specifics on what and why and how often.
  • How to choose appropriate repertoire.  In other words, guidance as to what pieces might be a good fit for you and why.
  • How to use your technique to facilitate artistry.  Want to float that high note, or having trouble singing with the appropriate registration for your song?  Your teacher will show you how.  In the process, you’ll probably also get some interpretive advice.
  • How to prepare for auditions – both from a musical/vocal standpoint, and from an etiquette/protocol standpoint.  It’s important not only that you sing well, but that you present yourself professionally.  This latter category can include things like what to wear, how to format your resume, how to work with an audition pianist, and other general do’s and dont’s.
  • Musicianship skills, especially if you’re beginner and/or have never had any musicianship/theory training.  Once you’re at the college level though, your voice teacher should not be teaching you musical basics.  Your musicianship training at this point will focus more on specific repertoire styles, with the assumption that you’ve already mastered the fundamentals.
  • Your music, if you’re a beginner, and/or have little musical background.  This is usually done both by teaching the song in the lesson, and giving you the tools/resources to help you continue learning it on your own.  Once you’re more advanced, however, your teacher should not have to spoon-feed you your songs – you should have some skills and a music-learning system in place to learn your music independently.

 

Now, let’s take a look at some of the things your teacher is NOT:

 

A human karaoke machine 

Your teacher’s job is to make you a better singer, not simply to be a live background track to which you sing your favorite songs once a week.  

But can’t I sing the songs I like? you ask.  Yes, you and your teacher can and should work together to find rep that will both help your voice grow and motivate you to practice.

However, singing through *the same songs* week after week, with little to no attention to technique or musical detail, is not going to help you become a better singer.  Instead, you have to keep introducing new rep that presents healthy, conquerable challenges for you, thoughtfully implementing the technique your teacher is teaching you.

Also, bear in mind that, while it would be ideal for everyone to sing only songs that they enjoy, you will also be asked to sing songs that you don’t really care for – both in your lessons and in the real world.

Finally, keep in mind that most voice teachers aren’t highly trained pianists, and that the degree of piano skills will vary with each teacher.  If you are looking for someone to play full accompaniments for your songs, you should seek out a vocal coach.

A trophy-giver

When you’ve conquered some technical hurdle, or met some musical goal, it’s completely appropriate to throw a mini-party in your lesson.  We’ve all been through the process and the struggle, and we know how exciting it is to finally feel like you’re doing something right.

The rest of the time, however – which will be most of the time – your teacher’s job is to address your technical problems.  

Yes, you have technical problems.  Virtually all of us do.  

And your teacher is there to to fix them – hopefully in an encouraging, supportive way.  Even if you already sound pretty good, her job is to make you sound even better, not just to keep telling you how great you are.  Her job is to make you better at singing, but it’s hard for her to do that if all you’re looking for is praise.

If you truly feel like your teacher is mean, or that her style somehow makes you uncomfortable, then that is a legitimate concern you should address with her.  However, if it’s just you being unable to handle constructive criticism, then you have some soul-searching to do.  If what you are looking for is constant affirmation and positive feedback, then you are considering the wrong field, not to mention setting yourself up for many a disappointment in other areas of life.

Your servant

While your teacher is there to serve your goals, in a way, she is not to be told how to do her job.  You are not to demand that she teach you according to your specifications, telling her how she should structure the lessons, what she should be addressing, and how.  

Aside from this attitude being completely discourteous in general, this is insulting to your teacher.  She has spent years practicing, studying, and honing her teaching style in order to help you grow.  She knows more than you – that’s why you are paying her, after all – so you should defer to her professional judgement in all things singing-related.

Furthermore, an entitled, demanding attitude sends your teacher the message that you will be very hard to work with.  In this field, reputation is everything.  People, including voice teachers, talk to one another.  You don’t want them to say the wrong things about you.  

And when it comes to recommendation letters for colleges, etc.?  Teachers are very honest.  So, make sure you give them good things to say.

If there is something you’d like to ask of your teacher, ask, don’t demand.  It’s better to say, “Is it okay that we do a shorter warm-up today, so that we have time to work on all three of my audition songs?” than to say “I need you to shorten the warm-up today so that we can work on my audition songs instead.”

A miracle-worker

A good teacher can do amazing things with a willing student, sometimes even in a short amount of time.  However, the key word here is willing.  The student must be open to the teacher’s instruction and practice consistently in order for improvement to be made.  And even with the best teachers, change will not happen overnight.  

It’s also important to acknowledge that, even with practice and improvement, you will still not land every role and get into every ensemble that you want.  Unless your teacher has literally no idea what she is doing, it is not her fault if you don’t get into select chorus, land the lead in the school musical, or get the solo in your a capella group.  That’s not to say it is your fault, necessarily – remember, there are approximately a million factors that determine audition outcomes.  But simply casting blame on your teacher is dishonest, shows a lack of personal responsibility, and is just plain bad form.

Remember…

Voice teachers, just like any other professionals, have gone to great lengths to cultivate their skills in order to help their clients.  It’s important to know what those skills are, and to respect the teacher’s education and experience.  Remember, voice teachers want to see you succeed, and many are happy to go above and beyond for a student who has the right attitude and work ethic.  

If you have been thinking of signing up for voice lessons but have questions about the experience, contact Kim or Ellen to find out more.  We’re happy to help, and would love to see you in the studio!

sight reading tips

Sight Reading 101

In our last post, we discussed the ins and outs of choral auditions – what to expect, how to prepare, and what directors are looking for.  We discovered that one common aspect of choral auditions is that experience that virtually all singers dread: sight-reading.

What is sight-reading?  

Sight-reading is when you are handed a piece of music you have never seen before and must sing through it then and there, without having spent any time learning it.  You’re usually given a few minutes to glance it over, which allows you to work out a handful of crucial details and gives you a general sense of what you’re up against, but not much more.   Read more

audition tips

How To Ace a Choral Audition

Congratulations – one month of school year down!  Only… 8.5 more to go?  But who’s counting.  

These past few weeks have probably either felt like a time of exciting, new beginnings, or a time of exhaustion and stress.  Or maybe both.  New classes, new teachers, new workload.

Fall is also when many school music programs hold auditions for their various choirs, choruses, and a capella groups.  Since I’ve helped many a student prepare for choral auditions, I thought it would be worth a blog post.  Even if your school’s choirs have already held auditions, remember – senior and junior district auditions are still to be had (November and January, respectively)!  And many select groups hold auditions at the end of the school year for the next academic year.  So you’ve got plenty of time to up your choral audition game, and opportunities to show it off! Read more

singing tips

In Singing, There Are No Shortcuts

Have you ever seen those sketchy-looking Internet ads that pop up on those less-than-reputable websites?  The ones that entice you with titles like, “Get rid of belly fat with this one weird trick!” or “The secret about preventing [health problem x] that doctors don’t want you to know!”

It’s obvious to anyone with even a shred of common sense that these ads are total bunk.  As most intelligent people know, there is no “one trick” to losing belly fat, and doctors are not hiding valuable information about disease prevention from us.  The creators of the ads are obviously looking to make a quick buck on some weird gimmick.  Let people think they have been duped by [whatever/whomever] all along, and they will surely buy into our stuff! Read more

good performing techniques

The Mixology of a Good Performance

Have you ever sat there in the audience, listening to a singer who maybe *sounds* good enough, but whose stage presence is just… awkward?  I’m talking hapless, seemingly random gestures, a deer-in-headlights look, a wild lack of visual focus, and/or an obviously huge emotional disconnect from what they are singing about.  Yes? Read more

theater camp Beverly MA

The Ten Commandments of Rising Stars Week!

Summer is our favorite season here at Rising Stars – it means our camps and theater intensives are just around the corner! This year, we’re very excited to run THREE musical theater programs – the first, our Musical Theater Intensive for Homeschoolers, runs June 11-15 in Beverly, MA; the second, Rising Stars West, runs June 25-29 in Gardner, MA; and our traditional Rising Stars Camp runs July 23-27 in North Reading, MA.

(These two programs have different names but are essentially the same.  They just have different titles because of boring legal reasons that I won’t go into.  All you need to know is that, no matter which of our programs you are enrolled in this summer, your experience will be fun, awesome, educational, empowering, and probably – no, make that definitely – very sweaty.) Read more

choral singing tips

The Ten Commandments of Choral Singing

When it comes to choral singing, I’ve found that there are two types of singers out there: those that love it, and those that hate it with a white-hot passion.  No matter how you feel about it, though, ensemble singing is an inescapable reality of being a singer.  Virtually every vocalist finds him or herself in some kind of choir at some point in time, whether it be by force, by choice, or for money.  School chorus, a capella groups, chamber choirs, community choruses, church choirs – there is a choral ensemble virtually everywhere you turn, performing a myriad of styles and genres of music.

Personally, I think every singer should sing in some kind of chorus at some point in their lives.  Provided that the director is competent and the rehearsals well-run, it can be a very valuable experience.  Singing in a chorus can really improve your musicianship – you become a better sight-reader, develop a keener ear, and become more adept at singing harmony (yes, even the sopranos have to sing harmony sometimes!).  It’s also a good place to work on your technique, provided the director doesn’t make ridiculous vocal demands of his singers.  It also trains you to be a real team player, a trait that every musician should have (let’s face it, no one wants to work with a diva).

 

In case any of you are wondering, I really enjoy choral singing.  It has its unique challenges and rewards.  I also really enjoy choral directing – in fact, one of the aspects of my job is directing a small girls’ chamber choir.  Being on both sides of the podium has given me a pretty solid perspective over the years about what makes for a good choir and a well-run rehearsal.

So last year, as I was preparing the semester’s materials for my girls’ choir, I thought to myself: what are the cardinal rules, so to speak, of being in a choir?  What actions, traits, and attitudes are absolutely essential to building solid musicianship, good camaraderie, and ultimately, a good performance?

And so I give you: the Ten Commandments of Choral Singing.

I. Thou shalt attend every required rehearsal with a good attitude.  Regular attendance at choir rehearsals is absolutely essential.  It does not matter if there are twenty singers in your section, or two.  Every member is important.  If you miss a rehearsal, your section, and therefore the rest of the choir, is compromised.  While you are there, you must put on a positive attitude, even if you are having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day.  Negativity spreads like wildfire in a chorus.  One cranky person can totally ruin it for everyone else.  So don’t be that person.

II.  Thou shalt be attentive to and compliant with the director’s instruction.  This means that, for the love of all that is good in the world, do not talk when the director is talking.  It also means that you follow the conductor’s musical directives to the best of your ability.  This is entirely your responsibility, and there is no excuse not to do it consistently.  If he has told you to crescendo in measure 5, you must crescendo in measure 5 every single time.  It doesn’t matter if you think the directive is dumb.  You are entitled to your opinion, of course, but alas, you are not in charge, so you must keep it to yourself. 

 

III. Thou shalt raise thy hand if thou hast a question.  If you don’t understand something, ask.  Just do it in a polite, orderly way.  It is better for everyone that you ask, rather than simply guess (likely incorrectly) what the conductor might mean.  Conductors have strong intuitions, but we are not mind-readers.  We may not be aware that we’ve just used a term you don’t understand, so in that case, it is your job to make us aware.  Politely.

IV.  Thou shalt watch the conductor as much as possible while singing.  We conductors are used to being ignored, but that doesn’t mean we like it.  Especially when that ignoring leads to the choir dragging or rushing the tempo, singing at the wrong dynamic levels, or a section missing a cue that was handed to them on a silver platter.  Yes, it means you have to take your eyes out of your score.  If you are singing the piece for the third, tenth, or one hundredth time, you should be able to do this easily.  I promise you the world will not come to an end if you take your eyes off your page for an instant or two (or three or ten).  You must get used to multi-tasking, and you must watch the conductor.

V.  Thou shalt do thy best to sing with good posture, and to hold thy book up high.  In addition to the basics of good singing posture, good choral posture also means holding your music up high enough so that you can look back and forth between your score and the conductor without looking like one of those bobble-head dolls.  If you hold your book too low, there is no way you can execute Commandment IV.  If you’re holding it right in front of your face, there is *also* no way you can execute Commandment IV.  (Not to mention that holding it right in front of your face completely blocks your sound.  Why would you want that.)

 This choir is breaking Commandments IV and V.  Don’t be like this choir.

VI.  Thou shalt bring thine own sheet music to every rehearsal.  Forgetting your sheet music is obviously inconvenient for you, but it’s also inconvenient for your neighbor who has to share his music with you.  Also, if you forget your music, you won’t be able to mark in any directives, which means you’ll probably end up breaking Commandment II at some point.

VII.  Thou shalt bring a pencil to every rehearsal.  If you forget a pencil, it is your responsibility to procure one at the beginning of rehearsal.  As one of my past conductors would say, “Beg, borrow, or steal.”  You are just as likely to break Commandment II by forgetting a pencil as you are by forgetting your sheet music.

VIII.  Thou shalt not point fingers at someone else’s mistake.  Oh, you can hear that the altos are singing an F-sharp in measure 52 instead of an F-natural?  Well, I applaud your ability to discern this error, but it is not your responsibility to fix it.  That means no passive-aggressive comments like, “Um, I’m hearing *a lot* of people doing Thing X instead of Thing Y” or “Can you tell us again how to pronounce Foreign Word X?  I thought you said it was [whatever] but I’m hearing a lot of people singing [whatever else].”  This kind of behavior is insulting to your fellow choristers.  It’s also insulting to the conductor, because, NEWS FLASH: We always hear the mistakes.  If we’re not addressing it, it means we’ve chosen a much more worthy battle to fight at that moment.  We will get to it later, I promise.

IX.  If thou art absent from rehearsal, it is thine own responsibility to catch up, on thine own time.  If you miss a rehearsal, you must approach the conductor or a fellow chorister and find out what was covered that day, including any directives that you should mark in your score.  Just like your teachers in school, the conductor cannot backtrack and review every time there is an absence – we would never get anything done.

X. Thou shalt review thy music at home at least once between rehearsals.  You don’t have to sing your music at home, per se, but you must at least look at it with your eyes and mentally/visually review anything that was covered at the last rehearsal, and/or any spots that you personally are having trouble with.  If everyone did this, imagine the progress the group would make.  And don’t think you can blow it off without the conductor knowing.  Just like your voice teacher knows that you haven’t practiced, the conductor will be able to tell if no one has reviewed their music at home.  She might not let on that she knows, but boy does she know.

And so there you have it.  May your choir rehearsals be efficient, productive, and harmonious – in more ways than one.