Plugging into Modern Southern Rock: My Interview with Kim Logan

 Behind the full-bodied and slightly sweet vocals of Southern Rock singer-songwriter, Kim Logan, is a fiery woman who know what she wants and what she is about. Lyrics like I’m a real good catch and I know it… from “Voodoo Man,” And I’ll give you three, but no more, turns across the floor/ But then it’s your turn, boy you better learn to be a gentleman, from the chorus within “Gentleman,” and finally, I ain’t someone’s other half/ I don’t like you baby, but I’m like you baby/ I think I love you but I don’t know if I should/ because there’s already one of me in the neighborhood from the song titled “Neighborhood,” which you won’t find on her first full-length record, but on the landing page of Kim’s website, will get the message across to any listener.

Although she recently turned 23, Kim has had a long road of musical development and plenty of real-life experiences which she transforms into great songs. In addition, she has an attitude about music today that matches the female empowered persona portrayed in her tracks.

“In the music industry today… It takes at least twice the work for a woman to accomplish half as much as a man. I really want to break that ceiling, and someone who has inspired me with lyrics, statements and actions has been Lady Gaga. What really disturbs me is Classic Rock and Southern Rock does not have somebody like that,” says the young musician. “I want to be the new millennium woman, the Lady Gaga of southern music, telling women and all creative spirits that it [the music industry] doesn’t have to be gender divided anymore.”

I agree with Kim on the subject of women in the industry. Daylle Deanna Schwartz, New York City’s first white female rapper will tell you that in the ‘80’s, women used their bodies to get ahead in the industry. Look back at the history of the American industry in your own personal time, and you will see women were only given two masks to wear – the emotional exhibitionist who was a sex object, or the unsentimental, bitter and passive-aggressive woman. Both of these facades are one-dimensional and superficial and sadly, female musicians are still expected to put on these faces today.

On a brighter note, there are female artists in country music that did not play either of these roles during the pinnacle of their careers, and led and continue to lead by a more positive example. One woman that comes to mind is Dolly Parton. I asked Kim about her thoughts on this, and while she agrees Ms. Parton continues to positively speak up for women’s and gay rights, her prominent years were the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The Southern Rock scene needs a fresh young face, and Kim hopes to be one of those new faces.

Yes, Kim is a very ambitious young woman. So I listen to her story of how she got into the industry, the positive experiences she had along the way, and what she wishes to make of them. In doing so, I begin to understand what fuels this passionate musician’s ambition, and why she chooses Southern and Classic Rock to tell her stories to the public. I am happy to welcome Kim to Music Historian.

Kim credits her mother and father for their support in her long road to becoming a singer songwriter.

“I always wanted to sing and my Mom worked in pubic relations and events for some really amazing people in the 90’s like singer songwriter Charlie Daniels, Southern Rock bands [like] Molly Hatchet and the Marshall Tucker band.

“I developed a special bond with Doug Gray, the guitarist from the Marshall Tucker band, and when I was about 9 years old, I was talking to him during one event weekend and he said I should go out on stage with Charlie Daniels at the end of the show and sing with him during a jam. Doug and Charlie jammed together after the show.

“I believe we sang “Amazing Grace” and Doug kicked my ass out on stage. Singing with Charlie and Doug is when I got the [rock ‘n’ roll] bug. I went to my Dad and told him I wanted to sing professionally, and I think my Mom had already realized that. My parents said “you’re going to do it right,” so they put me in classical and vocal training and the opera program in Sarasota, Florida for about a decade. This started when I was turning 9, and I did this all through high school.”

During this time, Kim also picked up the guitar. Her motivation was to accompany herself in her singing and songwriting.

“My parents got me a guitar and my father told me I wasn’t allowed to play electric guitar until I made my fingers bleed on my acoustic guitar, which he was right about,” says Kim. “I don’t know where I would be without a guitar in writing. I can’t do without it in the writing process, I want to have control over the writing process.”

Throughout high school, Kim also participated in additional musical activities such as playing in punk bands, party bands, blues and classic rock bands. Whether it was opera or songwriting, she was always singing.

Kim’s strong classical education helped her get into the Berklee College of Music in Boston for vocal performance. However, her desire to play honky tonk and rock ‘n’ roll made it difficult for the young artist blend into the Boston music scene.

“I think, at the turn of the millennium, everybody just got so crazy with music technology and music school, and students at Berklee had all of this new equipment available to them, they were held up in their dorm rooms tracking themselves and playing shows for other students,” expresses Kim. “It was also that weird blog [phase] that happened at the same time… and for the first 10 years of the new millennium, I think everyone was a little too innovative and saturated with music technology to get out to a show and plug their amplifiers into a wall and play. I wanted to play, not sit in a classroom anymore.”

So, the artist moved to Nashville to perform, record and tour. “Nashville is very centralized,” she explains. “I have been able to hit the entire deep south, including Texas, and then come back up to New England, and Chicago. I very briefly studied at Belmont, but that was more of an afterthought because my schedule for years has not been conducive to a classroom environment.”

Thankfully, Berklee College reached out to Kim while she was pursuing her career and Nashville, and she is now completing her music degree online. She hopes to obtain her degree from Berklee soon. Although Kim has been in and out of school, she never stopped educating herself in the history of American genres. Through self-education, she learned to appreciate some of her songwriting heroes and favorite musical styles. She explains:

“It really comes down to the fact that I am obsessed with Music History. Before I was in college, I sought to learn the history of the genres in contemporary music myself. I would just dive into everything from the 1860’s civil war tunes to jazz and the blues.

“What really lit my fire was the father and son team of John and Alan Lomax, who went to the Appalachians and the deep southern terrains and did their field recordings. When I learned about that, and the Great Depression, and where everything after that comes from, it helped me understand the songs of Jack White and heroes of mine who, have also gone back and learned the same things. I felt like I was going back and strutting the same path, learning the same things in order to create my own contributions.

“My potpourri of different stylistic attempts comes from a deep love of other genres of music and re-creation of southern and grace, and different types of music. This lets me stretch my muscles in songwriting and vocal performance. That’s sort of my life’s work there.”

 Pick up Kim’s self-titled debut and you will hear how she flexes her songwriting muscles. “Black Magic Boy,” a Southern Rock song with a grimy tin-like effect in the guitar will leave you feeling like you transcended into a barroom in a southern part of the U.S., perhaps New Orleans. Listen to “Devil Makes Three” and the pitch bending produced by the steel-peddle and the major melody within the tune makes one feel like they are driving through a small sunny town in the Midwest. Then, there is the blues-infused track “Gentleman” which includes soulful vocals that back-up Kim in the chorus.

Aside from her style of writing, Kim continues to display her love for music history in the Vinyl production of her debut record. I asked what attracted her to recording with analog equipment, as opposed to staying strictly with digital.

“It is a science that non-compressed music and sounds, which have not been diluted digitally, are much warmer, more open and richer,” explains Kim. “I recorded the album at a converted church, and I pressed the record at United.

“I am passionate about vinyl records, no matter who represents me or what management I am under. We want that instant gratification and that quick satisfaction of logging onto Spotify and hearing something from somebody’s iPhone or their party. When you are at a live show though, you are listening to real live music, and you want to take home a vinyl of that record so that you can listen to it and understand the artist’s brain, and why they felt it was necessary to create that thing.

“It’s plain and simple, but that is the best method of listening to what a musician has to convey and say.

“I do think analog and digital can go hand-in-hand, they both can be complementary.”

I remember reading articles in Brooklyn-based publications, like Brooklyn Magazine and I heard that the vinyl is making a comeback in some music communities. I thought back to when I had researched Kim Logan before I contacted her for an interview. Specifically, I recall feeling surprised when I learned about some of the other artists on the Artists on the Verge roster for the New Music Seminar, who also make Southern Rock music – The Blackfoot Gypsies, Jamestown Revival, and Carolina Story. I thought to myself ‘something is happening within the Southern and Classic Rock community somewhere in this country that is getting industry players here in New York City excited.’ In regards to Kim, I wanted to know what made her passionate about classic rock, and the other form of classical music that attracts her, opera.

“It really is the timelessness in a piece of artwork. Each movement, whether it was classical, romantic or experimental in opera, were associated with distinct feelings. It was both a genre and community.

“I feel that way about classic rock and I feel that way about the blues, classic country, and the new wave of classic country that is currently happening. You have a community of artists who are trying to achieve a certain standard while enjoying art as much as possible.”

As I got to know more about Kim, talking with her in the very crowded and active second floor lobby of the New Yorker Hotel, I wondered about her personal observations of the music communities throughout the U.S. What did she think about the scenes throughout the different places she has lived?

“The scenes are going to be completely different in almost every city in America. Everything springs from the ground up. There are very different kinds of people in New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville and Chicago.

“I think Nashville and Brooklyn have become my favorites. I spent a lot of time in the Boston and Brooklyn scenes trying to connect with some of the bands, who came from indie pop music. There were many blog-driven Pitchfork bands with whom I did not connect. I was happy to take my act to Nashville where I not only played with large bands, but also became a fan of the bands.

“As Americana has taken hold, and as retro recordings make a comeback, like vinyl, it feels good for musicians playing rock ‘n’ roll, country and soul.”

While this young artist works towards greater goals like being a positive role model in the Southern and Classic Rock genres; like every savvy business person, she is always setting little goals along the way. Kim self-produced her debut. At this time, she gets ready to make a second record with producer, Dave Cobb.

“I am excited to work with this guy because I think it will provide the perfect combination for what I want to hear on my record, and what I want everyone else to hear. I am returning to the studio in the late summer and I am aiming for a Fall release.

“I think I am going to tour on it, and start the whole cycle over again. I think I have beaten this last record almost to death, and it’s time to get some new material.”

At the moment, Kim is currently unsigned. If any producers or A&R agents in New York City plan to attend CMJ in October, I encourage you to check out one of Kim’s shows.  If you are an industry player in Nashville, watch out. She is playing several shows throughout the summer.

Between her move to Nashville in 2010, and the release of her debut in 2013, and her appearance at the New Music Seminar, so much has changed for Kim, and the development of her career continues.

“I have put out records in March of 2013 after I had gone down to the SXSW Festival and I did not have merchandise nor any recordings, and I scrambled to release this record so that I could take it on the road. Then, I got an article in the Nashville-based Native Magazine, and it all kind of tail-balled in the last year and a half.

“I’ve been on the road, and I have been working my ass off, and the iron happens to be hot. Absolutely everything has changed, and I’ve checked a lot off my list since then. I’m really grateful, and I want to go to as many places as possible and bring the best records there. It will only get busier.”

Music history lit this young artist’s fire. Plugging-in to a performance space with other musicians and making something happen helps feed that passion. Whether listeners are attracted to her country songs, driving rock ‘n’ roll riffs, or blues-infused choruses, they are bound to hear the voice of a woman who delivers stories about her real life experiences through clever lyrics, thoughtfully written compositions, and warmly recorded sounds.

She might be a combination of a music nerd and a young woman who reveres the Southern and Classic Rock legends who were big in the 60’s through the 80’s, and in the early millennium. Regardless, Kim Logan has found her voice within this genre, and she flexes it freely. She comes to the city as much as possible to bring her sound to Southern and Classic Rock lovers here in New York City, Nashville and just about any city she can reach. Kim says, “I want to get people excited about it, and I want people to put money, time and energy into real music, with real instruments.”

A World of Wonderful Machines: The philosophy behind Yuzima’s new LP

Yuzima Philip, Press PhotoNew Yorkers might recognize Yuzima for his performance of “Hey Jude” at the annual Beatles Complete on Ukulele concert. While the concert approaches, Yuzima is currently celebrating the release of his latest LP, THE MACHINE.

The singer songwriter describes his earlier works – Sound Opera – Project One (2012) and Powerful (2012) – as statements, larger than that of his additional work Glasnost (2011), all adding up to THE MACHINE (2013). “The songs on THE MACHINE are bigger, more pop, and more political. Everything is more,” he explains.

“Get Things Done,” is the first song on the album that gives the listener any idea about the meaning of the record’s title. The vocalist mentions within his lyrics how everyone should have dreams so that they can avoid becoming part of “the machine.”

In my first full-length interview feature for 2014 on Hear, Let’s Listen with Yuzima, I come to understand the machine he describes only operates properly with contradictions, politics, and musical craftsmanship.

“Everything is a machine – your family, your neighborhood; they all have systems, habits and levers,” explains Yuzima. “We all know what makes our families work: who’s who, who’s a bully, who’s artistic. It’s a system.

“People like to think of things in a very compartmentalized way: allies and enemies, etc. Life in essence is about competition. We’re all the current players in the way life works.”

He adds, “You can’t escape “the machine.” The minute you exit one you enter another. It happened in the 60’s going into the 70’s where many learned that the alternative of the system was another system. On the other hand though, you can “escape the machine”, in the instances of, being yourself, getting out a bad relationship, and more. In the end, the artist wants to be free.”

THE MACHINE Poster

As I listened to the song “Get Things Done,” I wondered whether Yuzima feels that there is a moment where individualists want to be a part of the machine – a collective in which individuality is lost. According to Yuzima, this is “the irony of human nature.” He enumerates:

“People want to be alone – just in a crowded room… We’re all working together while competing against one another.”

Yuzima helps express this contradiction through his music. The first few tracks of his record include a fragmented musical form. For example, “Black Graffiti” has a guitar that produces riffs which follow measures with specifically placed rests. There is a disruption in the harmonic flow of the chords. Yet, the clear and imagistic storytelling keeps the listener moving throughout the discord of the song. Half-way through “Black Graffiti,” a listener will soon start putting together in their own minds how to sing the song back in a continuous flow that follows the harmonies from the music and Yuzima’s vocals.

By the time listeners get to “Sex City,” they no longer have to make the inner effort to put a fragmented song together. Instead, Yuzima delivers a more easily audible tune that listeners can immediately sing back. In this song, he sings, You were spotted on the outskirts of town/ looking for a new drug…

Yuzima reminds listeners of experimental independent music that no matter what message is being expressed within the song; chord progressions, vocal melodies, harmonies and rhythm come first. Meanwhile, his vocals include a hint of soul that resonates deeply with the listener, especially when the lyrics tell a story about love, violence or societal troubles. “Black Graffiti” and “Sex City” are such examples. Then, there is the simple political message in the song “Guns,” expressed through lyrics guns kill.

Yuzima claims that while he freely makes political statements in his songs, he does not classify himself as a political artist. He says:

“I write about what is happening to people and what they are going through; kind of like a documentarian. If you don’t write about what is really going on, you’re playing pretend.”

While Yuzima may repeat some of the lyrical practices artists before him implemented, like politically themed messages – which I believe veers toward the prosaic – and compositional experimentation; the clear artistic reflection between song structures and titles – a practice he has implemented throughout all of his music – presents something new for the independent musical culture.

“Anarchy,” for instance, includes several musical ideas, like an electric guitar riff playing with drums against the fragmentation between the song and the lyrics. The song evokes a feeling of disorder. Listeners can guarantee that all his songs on THE MACHINE will accomplish this reflection between song structures and titles.

“Music for me is an art form from top to bottom,” he enumerates. “I’m thinking of these songs from the beginning to the end. Some songs, you want to be easy while some you want to be more ambitious.

Yuzima, Press Photo “In order to be ambitious, you need to break rules. Yet, at the same time, you need to get to the point – for instance, the drums on “Anarchy” have a monochromatic hard hitting sound to them. The guitars have a militant feeling to them with discordant notes, and the chorus is a ground shaking explosion.”

Clearly Yuzima is the type of experimental musician who makes a plan for each of his songs, putting a great deal of effort and love within each track. On this note, he makes a point to keep his collaborating and recording process very restrained. Yet, Yuzima openly listens to feedback from reliable colleagues, including mastering engineer Nathan James, who “throws the magic” on the music.

At the end of our conversation, I learned the machine is a system that feeds on overused politics and the contradictions produced by human nature. This system exists in all dimensions within our present societies, the societies that once existed, and the ones yet to emerge. I also learned that philosophy has always been the hidden hand behind Yuzima’s most pop-inspired material, including THE MACHINE. Yuzima shares the quote from Red Plenty that inspired the theme of his LP.

“Capitalism created misery, but it also created progress, and the revolution that was going to liberate mankind from misery would only happen once capitalism had contributed all the progress that it could, and all the misery too… At the same time, the search for higher profits would have driven the wages of the working class down to the point of near-destitution. It would be a world of WONDERFUL MACHINES and ragged humans.”

While these philosophies might have inspired political and social movements, Yuzima does not serve a political agenda through his music. Instead, Yuzima wants to express the nature of machines – systems that leave little room to reinvent the wheel but at the same time require changes, usually brought about by the continuation of time, in order to survive. The artist successfully conveys this idea through his music by accomplishing two different goals simultaneously. The first developing the symbolic relationship between the titles of songs and structures which validate each title’s specific tone. The second, breaking some of the compositional rules of pop music through fragmentation, the imbalance in the volumes of the electronic instruments, and that unsettling industrial noise.

THE MACHINE Cover Art Yuzima’s THE MACHINE inspires lovers of experimental indie music to embrace a new listening experience. This might be why writers described Yuzima as a “rising indie luminary,” while fans deemed his music to be “bad ass” and “flawless.”

Yuzima will perform songs from his latest LP for audiences on January 11th at Pianos NYC. In the near future, he also plans to debut three music videos for THE MACHINE online. THE MACHINE is currently available on iTunes, Cdbaby and Bandcamp.

Todd Carter a.k.a The Looking Make Old Folk Songs Great for Rock ‘n’ Roll

The Looking perform at Symphony Space on February 25, 2013 Todd Carter (a.k.a. The Looking), the New York City-based singer songwriter, is in the process of releasing their third album, Songs for a Traveler. In this record, Todd turns American folk classics and old country songs from the years 1850 to 1950, like “Wayfaring stranger,” “900 Miles,” “River in the Pines,” and “Blue River” into rock ‘n’ roll.

My personal love for rock music motivated me to talk with Todd about his newest album, which is set for a release date in April of this year.

In our conversation, I learned that Todd’s love for the archaic folk songs The Looking covers in their latest record doesn’t stem from a deep understanding of American folk music. Instead, he has developed an appreciation for how some of the crazy, romantic and mind-boggling themes and stories within these songs easily transition into the rock genre. This is why I am happy to introduce Todd Carter as the subject of my March full-length interview feature on Music Historian’s, Hear; Don’t Listen.  

The Perils and Romance in Travel-Themed Songs

I asked Todd what he liked about these folks songs and he said:

“I love travelling, and a lot of these folk songs have some sort of traveling theme in them. “900 Miles” is about a man trying to get back home to find this woman, but he’s lost on a train somewhere. “Hobo’s Meditation,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “River in the Pines,” all share this theme.

“It really comes down to, not necessarily being about the music but how much I love these songs. It’s about taking the listeners on the journey of these songs. I just want to articulate that and present it in a way that is really available to people.”

To enumerate on this point, he took me through the process of recording “Blue River,” a ragtime song that was popularly performed by jazz singer Sophie Tucker in 1928.

“We ‘unragtime-ized’ the song by taking it out of its original 4/4 time signature and made it 6/8. We put some heavier guitar in there and we thought it would be fun to leave some of the jazzy influence. We also removed some of the lyrics that are found in the original version, which are really hokey.

“I really wanted to move it to another dimension.”

Some songs on The Looking’s latest record underwent fewer modifications. This enabled Todd to focus on conveying the tone and themes they presented. One example is “River in the Pines,” a song made famous by Joan Baez. He explains:

““River in the Pines” is a wild song that takes place around the Chippewa River in Wisconsin. It’s about a logger named Charlie, who falls in love with a woman named Mary. Later in the song he dies in a river accident; and at the end, Mary also ends up in the grave, but it is unclear how she got there. You think she was so bereft by Charlie’s death that she couldn’t handle it anymore. There is something romantic and a little hard core.”

The Story of Finding These Songs

Stories about danger, loneliness, and suggested taboos that one learns about on the road have graced many rock songs. Based on my experience, I always felt rock ‘n’ roll was a more popular and familiar genre among urbanites than American folk, especially in New York City. So then, I became curious about what motivated Todd to release a rockin’ cover album of folk music.

“Last year, I completed a residency at The Underground on 107th and West End, and I had two hours to perform every Wednesday night,” says Todd. “So, I started to gather a repertoire of more songs I could perform besides my own.

“I found some old Bob Dylan, which led me to look at Townes Van Zandt, which led me to examine all the versions of “Wayfaring Stranger.” We also found some old Gospel tunes like “Angel of Death” written by Hank Williams.

“My band and I started experimenting with these songs; and we started playing them live for the audience in different arrangements and keys.

“I really enjoyed playing the songs and started recording a lot of them in my studio. Then, I tried to figure out which ones I liked most and got the idea that I really wanted to make a record.”

Todd’s Musical Influences and Performance Background

Todd Carter aka The Looking at Symphony Space 02/25/2013 When I first listened to Songs for a Traveler, I had no prior knowledge that these songs were covers of folk and old country tunes. I simply judged them as originals. In doing so, I developed the following thoughts on The Looking’s record: the lyrics express an old country feel and tonally, the songs convey rock ‘n’ roll. Then, I picked up subtle influences of classical music, like the minor to major key modulations, and the simple duple meter in the song “Blue River.”

This led me to ask Todd about his performance background. He enumerates:

“Growing up, I loved listening to Michael Stipe from R.E.M. As you listen to Michael’s vocal evolution, you hear that he started becoming more of a crooner. Although he was never exactly a crooner, it was interesting to hear.

“During my early years, I was into Brit pop, and bands like New Order and Joy Division. I mixed that with my old-time love for country music – Johnny Cash, Ray Price, and Bob Dylan.”

Todd adds, “I started out singing in my parents’ garage in Carmel, Indiana. I played a lot of punk rock and didn’t have any real training until I moved to New York in about 2000, when I decided to study at the Mannes School of Music. That’s when I became really interested in vocal training.

“I began to study with various teachers. I eventually trained with a singer at the Metropolitan Opera, Edna Lind. I studied with her for quite a while and started putting on some Operatic performances around the city.”

The Recording Experience of Songs for a Traveler

During the time that Todd was performing Operatic pieces around Manhattan, he also worked on two other albums recorded with The Looking: Tin Can Head (2005) and The Cabinet of Curiosities (2009). Both of these albums were created under his label, Astraea Records. I asked Todd how his experience with making his 2013 album differed from that of his last two records.

“That’s a good question,” he remarked. “I wanted this record to have more of a live feel. I wanted to come out of our recording days with Ken Rich over on Grant Street Recording and record a lot of live music off the floor. I really wanted to try to deliver some of the vocals in the studio while we were recording the instrumentals live.

““Sail Around” included a live vocal recording. Then the vocals for “Blue River” and “900 Miles” were recorded in the studio. I sang the lyrics right back into the speakers.

“I love the way this record sounds. The man, who mixed the music for the latest record, Songs for a Traveler, Myles Turney, did an amazing job.”

At the moment, people can listen to some of the tracks on Songs for a Traveler on The Looking’s website. When I listened to the tracks prior to interviewing Todd, I received no auditory indication that these songs were recorded live. In short, the album lives up to its promise of being finely mixed.

As for Todd’s love for the musical styles and genres he previously touched upon, listeners can expect to hear something different on each record that he will release with The Looking. Todd already has another complete album he hopes to release in the next couple of months.  

Todd’s Plans for the Future

“I actually just finished another record that I’m hoping to release in the next couple of months called 1969 to 1984, produced by Roger Greenawalt,” he says. “It is another cover project I have been working through. We recreated songs by Leonard Cohen, Syd Barrett, Echo and the Bunnymen.”

When Todd is not recording or performing with The Looking, he works with an intermediary company that helps him place his original music on spots for television programs on channels such as Bravo and Discovery. Then, there is Todd’s record label Astraea Records, which he has been running for ten years.

Todd explains that owning his own record label “Came out of helping of friend who wanted to make a record. Her name was Morley; she is a New York singer songwriter. We got a couple of people together to help her and we created this record to get that project off the ground.

“It was really out of the spirit of assisting some friends that needed to get their music out. I felt it was important at the time because Morley made an incredible record that helped her get signed to Universal in France.

“Then, other projects came into play like Camomile, Parmidian One, and then mine.”

Todd continues, “Astraea has become more of a production company than a label per se. We’ve had a few releases. Astraea has been around for quite a while and it has created a presence on-line which enables people to listen to the different artists. I would say it’s more in its twilight sphere now. I’m actually moving my attention to The Looking.”    

At the moment The Looking are planning an official launch party for Songs for a Traveler sometime in April. A tour for this album and a potential release of 1969 to 1984 are also possible plans for later in 2013.

Musical Theater Today with Mallory Berlin: The Lead of A Doll’s Life Shares Her Experiences, Thoughts and Advice for Young Performers

As a musician who played classical piano and sung in several women choir groups, I truly love to sing. However; being a professional vocalist is not in my future, mainly because I cannot master the skill that all classical and opera singers need for a successful performing career– acting.

Mallory Berlin*

I have known actress and casting director for The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective, Mallory Berlin for years, and she can attest that the most prevalent career roles for professional singers in the performance world are either in musicals or operas. Mallory fills me in on some of the tougher realities for individuals looking to make it as a singer and actor.

“Before I started working with The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective, I would go to auditions for several different productions. As an actor or actress, you are required to wait for long periods of times outside of studios or theaters, and even then, you might not even be seen by the casting crew. Usually, many non-equity performers arrive at 4:00am and stay until 5:00pm, just to sing an 8-bar song.”

Further in our conversation, Mallory also talked about additional ways a professionally trained actor or actress can gain the experience they need so that they are not just investing their time in waiting for a call back from an audition. In our conversation for Music Historian’s Hear; Don’t Listen, Mallory talks specifically from experience. She graciously shares stories from her journey in musical theater, and how she found opportunities in the most unexpected places.

Specializing in a popular style can work against young actors and actresses

Mallory’s professional training as a performer didn’t start in the theater, but in the music school at Ithaca College. She says, “When I got to college, I knew I wanted to perform, act and sing, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted a degree in musical theater. I did know that I wanted to continue singing, so I auditioned for singing lessons at the music school.

“I passed the auditions, and one of the professors, Jennifer Haywood, suggested that I should sing opera. This was something that I had no idea I could do; and she thought I would be great. So, I decided to audition for a spot in the music school.

“Once I was admitted, my advisor said to me, “We loved your audition, and we think you’d make a great music teacher.” I had never thought of myself as a teacher, and I was excited by the idea.

“From then on, the bulk of my college career entailed education and vocal training. By my junior and senior year, I realized I could be a cross-over artist and perform in a variety of mediums including opera, musical theater, and regular theater.”

Being a cross-over artist is a great professional strength for Mallory. Here is why:

“The most popular type of singing today includes belting pop and rock and roll,” explains Mallory. “While this type of voice is in demand, most actors and actresses who specialize in this style have to compete with other performers that sound the same.”

Specializing in a popular style can work against young actors and actresses, especially when they are the 50th person in line for an audition and have to perform the same monologue or 8-bar song that previous auditionees presented. Having a different sound though will not guarantee an actor or actress better chances for being cast.

To help myself, I had to make my own acting opportunities

“In classical music, I am a lyric mezzo- soprano. I have sung roles of little boys, children and occasionally men in opera. In the musical theater world, I am considered a soprano only because I do not have that belting pop voice.

“In purely theatrical roles, I am a character actor. Most people who fall into this category are typically cast to play comical roles. In my case though, my style of singing and acting doesn’t satisfy many casting directors in other theaters because character roles are usually assigned to women that can belt.

“Currently, nobody is producing plays for character actors that have classical voices. So, to help myself, I had to make my own acting opportunities.”

Networking is the key to making it in this industry

Mallory received a lot of sound career advice from experts in the performing arts during her studies at Ithaca College. One of the most important pieces of career advice was “always network.” Mallory enumerates:

“The most important thing I learned is that networking is the key to making it in this industry. Meeting people, making a good first impression and getting involved with different projects will help you in the weirdest of times.

“In my career orientation course at Ithaca College, a professor told all of us, “Look to the person on your left, and now look to the person on your right. One of these people will be in the position to help you find a job in the future.””

One of these individuals that helped Mallory tremendously did not sit on either side of her in the lecture hall but instead, shared a stage with her in Daniel Guyton’s original production, Where’s Julie?

The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective Icon*

“I was very fortunate to meet actor and playwright, Steven McCasland. We first met at the Author’s Playhouse in Bay Shore in the summer of 2006 during the production of Where’s Julie? From that point forward, we started talking and got to know one another. Then, we lost contact for a while.

“About a year after I graduated from Ithaca College, Steven asked me to sing in the benefit for the new theater company he was creating called The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective. He also asked me to audition for the role of Viola in his upcoming production of Twelfth Night. After I got the part for Viola and sang in the benefit concert; Steven recognized my credibility and then cast me as the Queen of Hearts in play he wrote of Alice in Wonderland.

“That summer, he asked me if I would consider joining the Executive Board. The position that interested me, and one I thought I was well-suited for, was the Talent Director. So, I started at Beautiful Soup as an actor, and then became a part of the Executive Board.

The Official Poster of Alice in Wonderland by the Beautiful Soup*

“Who would have known that meeting somebody at a low-budget theater would have lead to opportunities that made a huge difference in my career path? It’s been a great adventure so far, and Steven has really given me a lot of great opportunities that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else. I cannot thank him enough.”

Nora in A Doll’s Life: the Defining Role for a Character Actor and Classical Singer

Aside from working the business-end of the Beautiful Soup Theater Collective, Mallory’s opportunities ranged from playing Viola (Twelfth Night) to the Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland). Her most recent role was Nora in A Doll’s Life.

A Doll’s Life is a musical with a book and lyrics written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music by Larry Grossman. The musical is based on a play by Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House. It originally premiered in 1982 and it was a flop. In 1994, The York Theater re-premiered a slightly different version of the play. The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective is the third theater to have produced this play since its premier.

“For the Beautiful Soup’s production, Steven wanted to firstly create a version of the musical that only focused on Nora leaving her husband and finding herself. Secondly, he wanted to combine both ending scenes from the 1982 and 1994 productions.

“We made sure to get permission from the play’s composer, Larry Grossman and Adolph Green’s wife, Phyllis Newman to create this new ending.”

The Beautiful Soup's Production of A Doll's Life*

Since Steven decided to narrow the focus of A Doll’s Life strictly on Nora’s journey, Mallory adopted the same attitude as she prepared to act the part.

“When I researched Nora’s part, I was struck by the humanity in her character. She was raised her entire life to do what men asked of her, but has no knowledge of what she likes until she ventures into the world to find herself.

“Nora also wants to teach her children something genuine about life, and she does not want to return home until she feels she really knows what it is like to work, have power, start a business, and more.

“She makes several mistakes in her journey, and she learns from them. I really tried to live in the moment of that.”

I saw Mallory perform the role of Nora in A Doll’s Life back in February, and her performance was impeccable. She has found the perfect theatrical character that can facilitate all of her different talents. The character of the lead role is dramatic, and sings like a soprano. As a character, Nora is ambitious, subtly manipulative and innocently sexy for a woman who was once raised to live like a doll.

Mallory Berlin (Nora) and Alex Pagels (Eric) at The New Ohio Theater*

As I thought about more about Nora, I realized she is a timeless character. We have all experienced a time in our lives when we were programmed and taught to operate in a single structural manner, only to get out into the real world and see that in fact the only rules we need to follow are the ones we make ourselves.

In addition, some of the plays we consider timeless are performed by character actors and classical singers. Musicals with these actors and singers include My Fair Lady and A West Side Story. In addition, Mallory also taught me that what is popular isn’t always timeless.

What Musical Theater Experts Have to Say

“Although there is a large demand for singers who can belt out pop and rock vocal styles; many musical theater experts say that this style will be dated in 20 years, especially since musical theater changes through the generations.

“In the 1950’s, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals were popular, and my voice is considered very appropriate for their work. During the years between the 1980’s and now, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s work became popular – and his works included that belting pop, rock voice that has since become the norm.

“I do know however, that the musical theater sound will change because if you look at audition tapes from the 80’s they are far different from those in the 90’s and even from those after the year 2000.”

Mallory’s Final Suggestion: Be Nice!

Several artists can attest that the popular demand for certain musical theater works, vocal styles and actors will change in later years. Although the industry will change, the landscape for all performers, actors and opera singers will still be competitive. Here is what Mallory suggests to all young actors:

“When you’re in school, you don’t have to be friends with everybody or like everyone, but you should be nice to them. And I can say this is relevant in the job world in so many ways.

“As the talent director for the Beautiful Soup Theater Collective, I do occasionally contact individuals I went to school with regarding auditions. If I remember things about a respective individual that I feel didn’t help them, for example, they didn’t treat me with respect, then I ask myself, what will make them treat me with respect now? Or what will make them treat the director with respect?

“When I do meet individuals who I went to school with that were nice to me, and I like their audition, I can put in a good word for them, and hopefully help them out in a small way, like recommend that they come in a second time.”

*All photos were published with permission*

Opera Night’s 7th Anniversary!

Like any modern day music historian, I talk about music during our generation in the 21st century. I also like to examine the role of classical music in today’s society. Although classical music is not on the top 10 list of popular genres, it is still used to educate and help young musicians, school children and professionals further their performance skills.

 Northport – a New York City suburb on Long Island – is one such artistic community where classical musicians and music teachers dedicate their time to building new talent. My former classical piano teacher, Isabella Eredita-Johnson has not only developed young artists as a teacher, but she has also created an organization called Opera Night.

Since its beginning, the series grew 

Since its first gathering at Café Portofino in Northport village on Friday, July 1st, 2004; Isabella and her sister, Maddalena Harris, have been inviting singers to perform arias and vocal duets on a monthly basis. They both named this gathering, Opera Night. As the series grew and began attracting larger audiences, the little café with the bistro charm couldn’t accommodate crowds.

Two years later, Opera Night relocated to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church across the street. Along with more seating space, the church provided an upright Steinway piano to accompany the singers and greater performance space. While moving to St. Paul’s greatly benefited audiences and singers, Isabella, also faced challenges. Some of them involved focusing on professional singing and musicianship while accommodating local audiences. I personally talked to Isabella about how Opera Night evolved from a monthly gathering to an actual venue, and the challenges that arose.

Opera Night is still as fresh and exciting as when it started

Isabella explained, “The caliber of the audience has grown and the presentation is now more formal than from Opera Night’s beginnings in 2004. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the spontaneity.” The performance program is determined by which singers show up that night. Isabella claims, “we do this to keep the performances fresh and exciting. After a performance, people come up to me and say, “this was the most exciting Opera Night to date!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I would be very rich.”

 This spontaneity helps Opera Night stand out amongst the competing performance venues that heavily rely on structure in their programming.

Another aspect of Opera Night that hasn’t changed is the immediate delivery of famous arias and duets. Isabella started Opera Night to bring the most exciting and popular parts of great operas to opera lovers instead of performing full operatic works. Some musicians might find this hodgepodge of music overwhelming, but for Isabella, it comes naturally. Isabella claims, “For me, it’s easy because good, finely trained singers have come to me. The nature of inviting 20 different singers is they will most likely sing 20 different songs.”

Opera Night now focuses on furthering singers’ performing repertoire and skills

Focusing on the singers is fairly new general goal at Opera Night. Isabella explained, “The reasons a singer would want to sing at Opera Night are: they sing in front of a large audience; they get a free accompanist provided by Opera Night; and they increase the quality of their performances.” These benefits naturally encourage singers to spread the word about Opera Night to opera lovers and potential future Opera Night performers.  

If a free accompanist and a full house is not enough to attract singers to Opera Night, the success story of some regular performers will perhaps change prospective singers’ minds.

Bringing professionals back to the music and putting their voices in films

Bruce Solomon initially had a successful singing career. However; supporting a family while performing as a concert artist was challenging. So he went into sales.

Years later, he heard about Opera Night, which helped satisfy his passion for singing and helped make up for the years he was out of the musical scene. Thanks to Opera Night, Solomon can now easily step back into singing.

In the beginning years, Frances Fascetti was an Opera Night regular. Chris Garvey, an audience member, taped and recorded all of Fascetti’s performances and distributed them on a digital music platform.

One faithful day, independent film director, David Campfield, found Fascetti’s recording of “Ave Maria.” Isabella was thrilled to hear Campfield wanted to use Fascetti’s recording in his upcoming film, Cesar & Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre. Fascetti was doubly excited to learn that out of all the “Ave Maria” tracks available for download on the worldwide web, Campfield chose hers.

Opera lovers are all around and they are coming out to Opera Night

Aside from helping young professionals develop their skill and performance repertoire, Opera Night reinforces the communities love for one of the most classical performing arts.

Isabella says, “Opera lovers are out there and they’re coming out of the woodwork. We see the audience turn out, and it is growing. You meet these people who love Opera and want to know if there is anywhere they can listen to it… and you tell them about Opera Night.”

The minute Isabella meets an Opera lover looking for a good performance; she puts them on the email list and sends them reminders about upcoming performances.

Opera Night also reinforces Isabella’s life-long drive and passion for opera and classical performing arts.

Isabella’s performance experience during college encouraged her to take on Opera endeavors

 Isabella’s mother and father were the first opera lovers she ever knew. Their love of music fostered Isabella’s talent for classical piano, and soon, her years of dedication and performing eventually resulted in a degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Her greatest inspiration for opera however, was a “fine” bass/ baritone singer and enthusiastic voice teacher named Peter Maravell.

Isabella became Maravell’s piano accompanist at his studios. What Isabella thought would be a summer job that paid more than what her peers were making at McDonalds, turned into an assistantship and apprenticeship under a great singer. Maravell taught Isabella the music from the operas by some of the greats – Mozart and Puccini.

Maravell helped give Isabella a job that enhanced her experience as a concert pianist. Working under Maravell also expanded her musical world.

Isabella’s performance experience outside of academia encouraged her to teach music and take on projects and musical endeavors that would attract large audiences. For her, these projects and endeavors would revolve around opera.

Isabella encourages communities to help keep opera afloat

As Isabella continues in her musical endeavors and projects, she is constantly reminded of the hard economic times currently affecting many opera companies – even large ones in the neighboring metropolis, New York City. Isabella has taken the initiative in promoting New York City Opera’s Chairman Challenge, a fundraiser that will help City Opera continue producing full operas. More importantly; this challenge will help New York City Opera improve their opera education and professional development programs. This is why Isabella encourages community members to take an active interest in keeping opera afloat by attending a performance; spreading the word about a company; or donating.

Tonight is Opera Night’s 7th Year Anniversary!

Tonight’s celebration of Opera Night’s 7th year in Northport will remind community members of how much people love Opera. People want to have it and need to have it. “And for a good reason too,” Isabella says, “it is just wonderful!”