“Ringing” the House Down

“I’ve spent my whole career trying to stay out of any box that anyone could put me in. ‘I’m going to do a play now.’ ‘Now I’ll do a musical.’ That was my instinct. So I don’t feel boxed in. But ‘African-American woman’ is part of my identity. I don’t want to relinquish that – especially as a mother, helping my daughter find her identity.”

Audra McDonald

This week, we’re diving right into an entirely different genre of music: musical theatre. Tony aaudra mcdonaldward winning singer/actress Audra McDonald, has made quite a name for herself. From broadway, to television, to film, McDonald has truly done it all. But let’s take a closer look at how she got where she is today. She has taken her classical music background and become a multi-dimensional performer. One of her earlier albums called How Glory Goes shows the true diversity of her repertoire, and truly foreshadows her success. After listening to her album, I truly believe that musical theater should aspire to the standards of classical music, rather than the awful “nasal” sound we so often hear in this genre.

My initial thoughts when hearing this album was that I enjoy Audra’s vocal technique that she includesaudra 2.jpeg in her repertoire. In classical voice, a big factor in projecting sound is to elongate vowels (and boy, do I love a good vowel). In an article from Musical Theatre Resources, they go on to explain this as “legit” singing and use examples such as Julie Andrews.  This is very unlike current day broadway, where consonants are emphasized. By really taking her time on those beautiful vowel sounds, she creates a vibrato that has a full, ringing sound. A great highlight would definitely be her rendition of  Summertime from Porgy and Bess. Right when she holds out that high B at the end, I literally get chills. Technically, this is an American opera, but this piece expressed such an easy free-ness to the voice that I had to include this piece as a highlight. In most broadway productions, high notes are belted and may sound nice, but can easily put strain on the voice. Therefore, Audra’s method could prove to be more beneficial to the singer. Maybe it’s just the lowkey classical music snob in me, but I enjoy her incorporation of this style of singing throughout her album, and it genuinely made me enjoy musical theater more. This series of songs proves classical voice training could be incorporated in any genre. However, what about the actual song pieces? So far we’ve discussed the voice, but the context of the actual pieces leaves a creative void that the album fails to fill.

The problem I have with this album is the lack of diversity in repertoire. I always look for contrasting pieces that really give layers to the listener. However, most of the pieces sounded so similar that it was hard to discern many differences. For example I Won’t Mind, and Come Down From the Tree. Don’t get me wrong, these are both emotional, moving pieces and individually sound great. It’s just that almost every song has the same narrative. Each song her telling a story to another character about overcoming something for love. While this is a great narrative, it isn’t great when you hear it 8 times in a row. I think Audra could’ve had a better repertoire selection. While the individual tracks had a story arch, the album as a whole maintain one note with no climax or surprise. Maybe that is the fault of music theater itself.

All in all, I enjoy Audra McDonald as an artist and listeners can expect to hear a calamity and warm inviting tone to her voice. I might not enjoy the song selection, but I do enjoy this style of singing being brought back into popular songs on broadway. She really doesn’t let herself be limited to a certain style of singing and I really respect that as a fellow African-American singer. So many times it’s expected for black singers to be limited to chest voice. McDonald will always be the standard I hold up to musical theater. Keep bringing the house down with that resonance.

Mac Miller: Gone but Not Forgotten

In honor of the late Mac Miller, I’ve decided to write this first post about one of his most recent songs, Come Back to Earth. I will be honest: before he died, I knew nothing about him except that he was a rapper and that he dated Ariana Grande for a while. It was only after he died that I saw a flood of fans showing grief online, especially on Twitter. What really sparked my interest in his music is how much his death affected people. In Miller’s later pieces, I definitely get a sense that instead of it being corny trap music that is, as I like

mac millerto say, “radio friendly” or about “hoes” and getting money, I’m getting a taste of Mac Miller’s personal life/ struggles. I firmly believe that Come Back to Earth was actually a reflection of his addictive lifestyle, and was a cry out for help.

When first listening to this track, the first thing I immediately noticed was the spacey slow beat of the piano. The piano rolls a lot of notes and gives the sense as though time around Mac is slowing down. It really make me relate this to drugs as a form of escapism and that he was using the music as a way to illustrate what it’s like when he is high. He says in one verse, “In my own way just feel like living some alternate reality.” This line really spoke to me as his way of coping with depression. He doesn’t make the entire song a dark reflection. He does discuss a theme of no longer “drowning” but now “swimming.” Some may believe that this was showing a more positive outlook (Rolling Stone), but I believe it was the numbness from drugs that helped to not feel emotional pain. Swimming doesn’t necessarily mean being emotionally sound. All he is essentially doing is staying afloat. In order to feel free, he could’ve said something about getting out of the water.

Overall, Mac Miller’s music really started to take a dark turn from 2013 on. It seems like his music actually preluded to his death. On a sad, ironic note, the Vulture posted an interview with Mac Miller a day before his death. Miller talked about how he’d want his fans to honor him:

“The people that have the best chance of knowing me, that would like to” the late 26-year-old rapper said, “would just be by listening to my music.” And while his later music developed an alchemy of complicated sorrow and clear-headed descriptions of substance abuse, one does need not look too deep into his catalog to hear the sweetness that characterized the Pittsburgh rapper’s career.

-Rolling Stone

I’m sad I didn’t get to know this artist’s music before he died, but I’m grateful to be able to still have access to his albums, and get to know him through the legacy he left behind. I will be listening to more of his music in the future. In the meanwhile, rest easy Mac.