Happy July stagey people. This month, instead of focusing on a specific show, we’re looking at vocal tips and advice from theatre professionals. As a classical singer in training, I find hearing about other people’s vocal journeys and advice super interesting, so I hope others who are hoping to get into performing or just general theatre fans will find it interesting and fun too.
This week’s advice is brought to you by the two Frankie Vallis from the current UK tour of Jersey Boys: Michael Watson and Dayle Hodge…
What has your vocal journey been like?
Michael Watson: I always loved singing, I found my voice as a child and kind of carried on from there. As I progressed into shows, I met various teachers along the way who taught me their different ways.
Dayle Hodge: I’ve always sung from a very early age. In fact, I was probably singing before I could speak and always had Disney sing-a-long videos on at home and singing was always something that I just kind of did. I was part of the school choirs and things like that but I never went to a choir in a way of “I’m going to go to a choir, I want to be a singer”, I just sang. I started performing at a very early age, I went to theatre school when I was two and did my first professional job when I was four so I’ve always been performing.
I did have singing lessons as I got older but not really proper ones until I went to Arts Ed sixth form when I was 16. Obviously being a boy you go through your voice breaking; my voice broke when I was 13 and it took a while to get it where it needs to be and back into a place where I was comfortable singing again but in terms of the journey I just always sang.
What/who got you into music?
Michael: It was probably Michael Jackson and my mum really! She used to play a lot of music in the car and I loved that.
Dayle: Growing up I always watched so much Disney and I’m still a big Disney fan now so Disney put me in that direction. The first show that I loved and always was singing at home was Oliver! When I was a kid I wanted to be in it so that’s probably what made me want to get into performing. I’m also a huge fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury and his voice is one of, if not the best, male voices ever so he’s a real inspiration to me.
You’ve had a pretty diverse career vocally. How do you adapt to various styles/genres and when did you find your Frankie voice?
Michael: I kind of had the falsetto there already for Frankie and my singing teacher, Mark Meylan helped me hone it to be able to do it every day and to strengthen it. I think if you can keep your you voice supple enough and do enough exercises, you can sing any style really. It’s about maintaining the voice. You always want to bring your voice back to zero after you’ve sung anything so I would do a warm up and a cool down. As long as you can keep your voice around that level you’ll be good!
Dayle: It’s interesting because someone came in to do a talk with us at college and basically said “we don’t think people can be that different… If you’re in Phantom we’re not gonna see you for Mamma Mia” and I completely disagree with that, as you can see from my CV. I think you can adapt and you can change and it’s all just about knowing your voice and how to use it. Everybody’s voice is different, obviously you can be taught technique and skills but only you know what your voice can do, so you have to find your way of doing it and making it work.
The singing teacher can help you do that safely and technically correct. The best singing teachers that I’ve worked with, use exercises that they have created and developed themselves rather than using somebody else’s technique which for me is brilliant. It’s them saying, “I was struggling with this so I developed this to help with that” and I can take their advice and ideas to put that to use myself. There are some parts that I love to use and some bits that don’t work for my voice. So it’s just about knowing your voice and how you use it. Obviously some people are very much suited to one style and can’t necessarily sing others or they have a smaller range so in regards to doing different styles I think using your voice and practising different things, not just what you find easy is the best way to develop.
How do you maintain good vocal health? Do you have a tips of tricks for when you’re feeling down? Michael: I have a few things! I think the best thing any singer can do is stretch their whole body through yoga or something like that because you’ll find that tension in your voice can come from weird places in your body. You could have a bit of tension in you hip and it can affect your jaw. Or your alinement could be off so your jaw is poking forward and you didn’t realise so you’ll get fatigued quicker, so stretching is vital.
In terms of illness, I like to use day nurse. Don’t steam too much. I use a thing called accent method if I’ve got a cold which is connecting to the breathing. Don’t warm up too quickly or push the voice and also don’t try to ignore it; you want to feel as free both physically and mentally as possible. If you have something else on your mind it can distract from focussing on your voice so it’s important to be free and relaxed.
Dayle: Loads of water. Drink as much water as you can, even if it means you’re on the toilet every 5 minutes, just drink loads because it’s so good for you. If I feel my voice is getting tired I steam which puts high intensity water onto the vocal cords at a temperature that’s very hot and clears any rubbish that’s on your cords. And rest is a key thing, that’s what your voice thrives on really; the more rest it can get, the better it will be. I look after myself a lot, I don’t drink really or go out partying in loud places very often because you have to shout over the loud music and that will affect your voice.
In terms of if you’re struggling and feeling under the weather, again those things with water and steaming will help, if you do it all the time. I don’t really take anything other than before a show I take gaviscon to stop any acid reflux, but I don’t like to reply on taking pills or anything like that because to me you’re then just covering up anything that’s damaged and then you could damage it more.
What is your pre-show warm up like? Michael: So I come in, if I’m feeling a bit stiff I’ll have stretch then I’ll chill out for a bit. If I’m feeling tired I’ll do a bit of accent method which gets the breathing connected. Then I start with slow humming, some lips trills and a lot of tongue loosing exercises particularly for this role, and then some jaw loosening exercises. Then going higher into my falsetto with a lip trill, a bit more falsetto and I should be done at that point. The warm up only really takes about 10 minutes but with the stretching and stuff it’s about half an hour.
Dayle: I have a singing teacher that I see every couple of weeks and have a lot of exercises that she gives me. With singing the Frankie Valli stuff it makes your tongue very tight so I do a lot of tongue loosening exercises which get your tongue out of the way of where you sing. The more space you can create in your mouth, the easier it is to sing. The top of your mouth is a dome so if you get your tongue out of the way of that, the sound can just swell in there. I do those exercises on my own and then we do a full company warm up which is more scales and stuff which get me to the notes which I’m going to need for the show. On my own it’s more of a mechanical warm up to make sure that the mechanics of my voice are ready and then with the full company I use that to get the notes in my voice warm and ready for the show.
Who would your dream duet partner be? Michael: Well besides my fiancé, I think I’ll go for Celine Dion. Her voice is unreal. Or if I wanted to look like I couldn’t sing, I’d go with David Phelps who would school me, he’s got an amazing voice!
Dayle: Oh that’s a good question! I’d definitely go with Freddie Mercury!
What’s your top piece of advice for aspiring performers in terms of finding and maintaining your voice? Michael: My best advice is to find the right teachers. If you’ve got a voice that seems to do what you want it to do then just keep going and don’t think about it too much. With the voice it’s all about bringing it from a place of joy and fun; don’t think that you have to try so hard and that it’s a rough journey. Find it fun. Your voice is meant to be strong naturally- a baby never loses it’s voice when it cries! So you’re just getting rid of habits you’ve formed as you’ve grown up so just enjoy the journey because your voice wants to go to the right place. You have to study it though; a book I like is called Finding Your Voice by Barbra Houseman, I worked with Barbara and she’s fantastic so I’d recommend her book to anyone.
Dayle: If you want to do it, you’ve got to be very serious about doing it. It’s a very overpopulated industry and there’s always going to be somebody that’s better than you so you have to work hard to get what you want and to where you want to be. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it though, if you really want it bad enough, go for it and don’t give up.
Give yourself the best opportunity you can, don’t go to an audition after being out the night before cause you’re not going to be giving it your best and if you’re not the best then you’re not giving yourself the greatest opportunity to get the job. All the things I said about looking after your voice, do that and keep on top of things. Keep your voice active and moving but don’t overwork and make sure you rest!
A huge thank you to Dayle and Michael for chatting to me. Both can be seen as Frankie Valli in various Jersey Boys tour stops around the UK. More information can be found here.
Interview by Editor, Olivia Mitchell
See you next Sunday for a BATTY Stagey Sunday 😉
Photo credit: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg