The Contrast

The Contrast
Lift Big, Sing Big, Look Great Doing It.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ask The Opera Bro: Weight loss and MY singing

Draw what conclusions you may from the following article, but know that this has nothing to do with the recent Glydnebourne Rosenkavlier scandal that has basically blown up my Facebook news feed the past 36 hours. I see a new story or article about this every other hour, and even though I've been asked to raise my opinion on the subject by multiple people, I really don't think there is anything to be gained from printing opinions about such stuff. If you ask my opinion in person, I will discuss it thoroughly and politely and listen to whatever you bring to the table and have a wonderfully insightful time doing so. We will learn, we will grow, and in return our friendship will be molded by the iron of mutual respect and understanding.


Anywho...

Well, since you enjoy my work...I'll forgive you misspelling my name. Lol. Thank you for reading and watching!

I was asked this question, and I feel a personal detailed account of this process could help quite a bit for both sides...but it will require some story time.

I began losing weight when I was in the middle of rehearsals for Aida at Tulsa Opera, March/April of 2013. I was singing in the chorus.

Big! That guy looks like he could take a punch.


At that point, I was immensely insecure about my voice and it's capabilities. But not because I was starting to lose weight.


Let me explain...

Rewind to the fall of 2012: I was experiencing my first ever audition season in the big apple. I was freshly "graduated" (I had a few credits to finish up at outside universities - cheaper) and I was stepping into the real world. I was no longer getting regular coachings, lessons, and obligations to sing in rehearsals for choir and shows. I was trying to keep up with practicing, but I was also working a delivery job with frequent hours to build up some revenue so that I could afford applications for grad school (more on that soon) and summer programs. More or less, my skills diminished from a "high point" that I reached during and prior to the summer of 2012. I was by no means perfect, there are obvious flaws to be pointed out. But, I performed with confidence and consistency:

Prior To:

During:


Now, whether I was misinterpreting what I was being told to do, or that my execution of it was flawed is really unknown to me, but when I returned from the summer, I was singing as such:



My weight fluctuated between 245 to 270 during these three clips.

I don't think the product was "bad" (Some of you might actually prefer it or don't hear much of a difference) but It didn't feel very natural, comfortable or at the least bit exciting. It was what I would call "safe singing." I may very well have been executing it incorrectly. But, meh, the past is the past, this is just an examination of it, I blame no one or accuse anyone of bad teaching, so please don't take this as such.

Now we're back to October of 2012. Voice feels weird, unenergized, no regular lessons.

New York:


I go to New York and have just a terrible terrible time with auditions. Got to see friends and hangout with my girlfriend at the time, which was awesome, but I could feel myself really sucking at singing. Like really really sucking.

I used to never crack. Like, I never cracked, maybe at times I fracked a few notes if I was sick. But, high notes were always easy for me...but all of a sudden my high notes were leaving me. I don't know why, but suddenly the prospect of moving from high baritone to Bass-baritone rep was becoming really enticing and something that I might have to do just out of survival. I didn't know what to do and frankly I was pretty scared. I bombed several auditions that year and felt like hell.

My last audition wasn't even in New York, it was in Indianola, Iowa for Des Moines Metro Opera. At this point I was so defeated and my confidence was so sunk that I almost canceled the audition so I could spend more time with my girlfriend (at the time) and sulk in self pity. But, Christmas was approaching, and I missed home, and I had already paid for the audition. So, I sucked it up and I drove to Iowa. (17 hours from Long Island, by the way.)

Des Moines Metro Opera is a very competitive summer artist program to get into. The field of applicants and auditioners is immense. I didn't feel good about it going into it, I had already gotten a rejection letter from them the year before. But, I am one resilient bastard. (No means yes?) 

The day of the auditions things were taking a long time, two of my buddies were auditioning that day as well, and our auditions were literally spaced out from 10 am to 6 pm when my audition was to take place. The longer I was there, the more I wanted to be home. Eventually, I stopped caring about where my passaggio was that day, how the high notes felt, or what I looked like. I gave no more fucks. So, I went in there and I sang the tits off of "vision fugitive"...and then after feeling confident, I then sang a very mediocre Tanzlied. (Lol)

The next day, I woke up early and drove home. When I got home, I recieved a call from Michael Egel, general and artistic director of DMMO, offering me a position as an apprentice artist that summer.

Confidence returned! But, soon, more work (delivery job), less frequent singing and now school work was creating a great deal of atrophy in my body and voice. I wish I had recordings of what I sounded like at this time, but I was too self conscious to record anything.



NOTE: At this point I was very heavy. VERY heavy. Arguably my heaviest. Not sure. Again, too self conscious to even acknowledge. Actually, looking back at this time in my life, there is almost no photographic evidence that I even existed. I hardly did anything social, I didn't go to parties, events, or really anything where my picture could be taken and I rarely took pictures of myself.

One of the few pictures I took in the spring of 2013.


That Spring I was auditioning for Graduate school programs. I filled out several applications and was really disappointed to find that I was only granted 2 live auditions. This crushed me to begin with, but then after traveling to the schools, having very mediocre auditions and finding out months later that I was not accepted into one of the schools, then wait listed for the other, only to be accepted with no scholarship money that I began to become really depressed about my singing capabilities. I felt like hell. I started to think that I had no business being in this business.

It wasn't until my self loathing and neurotic behaviors caused me to lose my relationship (at the time) that I had woken up and realized that I had a very serious problem. Like, a real problem with body image, eating, a completely idiotic idea of what nutrition and exercise was. So, I said "fuck this" and I pursued the weight loss journey full tilt.


*Side Note: I've talked about my weight loss methods extensively, and because I tried a bunch of shit, I'm not gonna go into anymore detail. Let's talk about the voice for now. If you're interested in some of my weight loss methods, I suggest looking at my past articles -------->>>>*


Back to Aida: self conscious, steadily losing weight, voice still feels mediocre, no regular lessons or coachings, just practicing my chorus and scene music for Des Moines on top of rehearsals.



However, right before Des Moines, I took a lesson with a teacher in Texas named Brian Schexnayder who kind of reopened my eyes to some principles of visceral, raw singing that used to be second nature to me, but somehow i had gotten away from this idea and concept. In all honesty it was a complete pendulum swing from the way I was singing the months before, and it felt amazing. I felt like I had something resembling my voice again. It was the perfect way to start my summer of weight loss and hardcore singing.

Des Moines:


For any of you who have ever worked at DMMO, you know that the work load is immense. Lot's of music, long hours, many scenes, and not as much rest as you would like. If you can get through that program, you are a vocal champion and a smart applicator of technique.

My weight loss during Des Moines was nothing short of aggressive. Hyper caloric restriction and going ham on some weights and cardio will do that to a person. How I found time to do all of that I will never know.

After a late night game of basketball.


However, the beauty of all this was, the more weight I lost, the more confident I became. And the more I was required to sing, the more my voice started to feel functional again. I was taking B flats with tenors, taking low D's with basses, I hardly ever marked and at times would test the limits with how loud I could singing (I pushed! Oh no! For shame!) I didn't treat my voice like a fragile piece of glass. I forged iron in my throat. At least that's the way my uneducated self felt about it. I was building endurance I hadn't felt since I sang the four villains in Hoffmann and sang Sweeney Todd every night for 2 weeks straight without marking. 

Ol' Yeargain with fire in his belly!


I call this the rebirth of Ol' Yeargain. The fearless dumb-ass that went for every big note he tried, that sang rep he shouldn't have, that gave 100% of his life to becoming an opera singer, even though he had invested almost all of his young adult life to playing viola professionally (Another story for another time.) Frankly, I was becoming the man I was always meant to be, but didn't know how to until now. (Deep shit, Ol' Yeargain.)


Lawrence:


After Des Moines I was still continuing to lose a lot of weight and I had one more gig to finish out the summer. A series of concerts in Lawrence, Kansas with Lawrence Opera Theater. 

To say the rep that I sang in Kansas was a lot higher is putting it mildly. Ford's Monologue, Don Carlo Duet, and Avant de Quitter (For those of you who know baritone rep.)


I feel that I sang very very well during these concerts and outreach performances. This rep had literally given me nightmares the year before, and here I was singing the tits off of it again. 70lbs lighter no less. I was giving myself all kinds of pats on the back.

Here's a neat little video I made during Lawrence Opera Theater:



Back to School:


But my weight loss journey wasn't finished. I was still losing weight and getting into a very thin aesthetic for the role of Frank Maurrant in Street Scene was really important to me.

Here is a great deal of me singing excerpts from Street Scene:



I got to a pretty low body fat % and I was carb cycling pretty aggressively, so I lost a lot of weight. After that, I took some steps backwards as far as physique is concerned under the guise of "bulking" but I don't believe I was really doing that effectively. I was putting on some weight that I raked off of my body during Street Scene, However, after some time of hating how that felt, I then began engaging in my most recent venture of recompositioning my body (losing fat, gaining muscle) to much success. I'm down to a consistent 191-192 lbs, making my weight loss venture over 100lbs, and my muscle composition is progressing nicely, and I'm building some strength.

Currently:


Since then I've had a few singing ventures, Here is me singing excerpts from The Rake's Progress as Nick Shadow:



Right now I am preparing for my scenes at Des Moines Metro Opera and ran through a great deal of my music with piano the other day. I presented it in my vlog. My current singing sounds as follows.


Things I've Noticed:


*Note: The following is not a request for vocal advice. I have my own concepts, ideas and experts that I seek out for these manners. This is me being as scientific and transparent as possible, presenting the evidence as best as I can. In all honesty, your unsolicited opinions will probably just make me butt hurt or grumpy. (I'm only human.) Please, formulate what opinions you will based on the evidence and share them amongst yourselves, I will discuss these issues with my teachers, coaches and professionals in the field that I seek out.*

- I have continued to have very similar issues with my singing throughout the weight loss, but I personally do not feel that any of them have been fixed or exaggerated due to it.

- I have way more confidence in my physical presence, and thus when presenting myself in front of people I no longer feel apologetic in nature when I have to perform or audition for them.

- My breathing has not changed. I still take very quick, rapid breaths that get me plenty of air, but do not fit the style of most of the music I sing. This is something I'm currently trying to actively practice, but muscle memory is a bitch.

- I have a very scewed perception of pitch center and I often cannot hear the instrument or accompaniment I am singing with whilst singing, so I do tend to sing out of tune if I'm not actively concentrating on finding pitch center and harmonic relation in the ensemble I'm placed in. But, this is not new, I've been singing like this for years. Pitch center was my very first issue I had to fight when I first began singing, and that same ghost still haunts Ol' Yeargain from time to time.

- My passaggio, like almost every young baritone gives me issues. From time to time, I'm left with the quandary of "what do I do with this note with this vowel, should I keep this open/closed, what sounds the best." Sometimes I sing sharp in that range, again, could also be a symptom of the above mentioned note. ^

- Having visible abs has nothing to do with the quality of my singing. I've seen lines, been smooth and now have a 6 pack and don't notice a difference. I'm convinced subcutaneous fat has almost nothing to do with quality of singing...but I've talked about that before.

- Having enough food and energy is a necessity for me singing well, specifically in the form of carbohydrates. I will never carb cycle like I did for Street Scene ever again. Way too exhausting.

- I always feel ready to sing and ready to sing well after I've lifted some heavy ass weights and had myself a big ass meal. Ass is key.

- I believe the success of my transformation and the lack of complete vocal decline was probably mostly due to how often I was singing while weight training and dieting. My old body was able to adjust to my new body and the musculature involved because both the mechanisms were being constantly worked, and being worked at aggressive lengths.

Respect the Selfie, It's an art form.


...Or I'm just a lucky idiot.

Until next time,
Lift Big, Sing Big, and Look Great Doing It!

The Opera Bro

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