DIRECTOR, EDUCATOR & ADVOCATE
April 25, 2020
M = MusicNotes.com/Audition
David Connolly (D) in conversation with Sheri Sanders (S) for Matinee to Z,
a series of Instagram Live Master Classes developed in response to Covid-19.
D: I’m so happy that you get to meet her Sheri. She’s an author, advocate and activist and an arranger and all of the things that we need in our life, right now. Because I think singing is so good for us. It’s good for our souls and our hearts and you are the world leading expert on the subject. (Shows Rock The Audition book) If you don't have this book, get this book!
S: For anybody who wants it, this book is 10 dollars off until the plague is over, just because I feel like it's such a great resource. Let's get it in your paws.
D: On Amazon. You do not want to live your life without the information in this book so you can start typing in questions whenever you want everybody. Welcome, welcome.
For those people who don't know Sheri, the method by which you started to organize this information so brilliantly, to make it so accessible. How did you come to that?
S: Well, in terms of the first edition, it was just one of those things where I had been teaching it long enough that I just kinda went… I think I gotta write a book, and so I didn't know what I was doing, I'd never written anything. I'd never even written any of it down. I just was doing it. And so the first book was really a... I don't even know if this is gonna read right or what this is gonna look like or what this means, but I feel like it’s gonna make sense to somebody and at least what it'll do is it'll help people know that I've got something to say.
And I was with Hal Leonard few years but eventually realized that they were the ones selling the book but I was the one meeting the colleges and meeting the teachers, and introducing everybody… I just went “Hey, Hal Leonard, you’re cool. Give me my book back, let me see if I could do this in a way that will benefit everybody involved, including me.” Because with Hal Leonard, I made 7.5% per book and I decided that if my book was gonna be in that many schools, I wanted to make more money, so now I launched that second addition and I make 75% a book. Yeah, so even with 10 dollars off, the bulk of the money still goes to me, so that's why I wanna do it is because I felt like, "Hey listen, if I'm gonna be busting my rear end making sure everybody's kinda exactly what they need to thrive and survive. I'd like to see some money in my pocket.”
So thank you for sharing that, David.
Also, I do have a music note discount code to give to people at the end of the call, and I do wanna also let you know that if you don't already know, I have all of the audition cuts that I’ve arranged on Music Notes on Spotify stations so that you can hear the songs and go, "Oh my God, what is this song? Oh my God, I love this song. Oh my God, what about this song? Oh, my God. now I know what the style of Motown is like.” So I gave it to you, because the best learning is listening, so this should be great for you.
D: For people who don't know, you saw the trend and musical theatre change, so this is a response to that many years ago and you’ve organized the information in such an incredible way.
S: So yeah, let me just at and tell you how I organized it and why it's organized the way it is in 10 words or less: music changed society as society changed music. So, as performers, we need to know that because in the 50s, and 60s, unless we're doing the dance moves from the '50s and '60s like watussi and the twist and unless we know that Caucasian people stole black music and that we made money off of it, unless we're aware of integration and segregation, and the relationship that we have to music, and what it lives like in us, we will never be able to tell people what we could be like in the show.
So I just decided to sort of organize it in the order in which life happened 'cause that's how I studied it. I started with Motown, the 50s and 60s, and then I learned how the '60s changed with when we went into the Vietnam War and then the music changed and people change, so I kind of became I guess a cultural anthropologist. I started out figuring out why people were the way they were, why the music was the way it was and how you need to capture that when you audition for musicals that live in all of the different styles from the Motown era, to the 70’s folk rock era, to the disco era, to the 80s. So what I do is I organize it through life, so that you realized that there's lineage - that each style is a part of a lineage.
Can I give an example of this,’cause this is really important to me right now?
Beyonce. We love Beyonce, she’s amazing, but Beyonce is somebody's granddaughter, and not just a person's granddaughter. Her mother is Disco, her grandmother is Motown and her aunties and her uncles, are jazz, blues and gospel.
So what we're asking you to do is love Beyonce, but love Beyonce’s whole family. So that when you hang out with Beyonce, with an audition team, they know you've been hanging out with the whole family, and you know the lineage and you know how she lives and how to live in her music in a way that regards the entire history, especially if your Caucasian. So and then that turns into contemporary pop in R&B and rock and rap.
That’s one side of the family of pop music. The other side of the family is immigrants. Immigrants who lived in the Appalachian Mountain - Scottish, English, British immigrants, they created folk music, and then that folk music went to the 70’s folk rock era with Joni Mitchell. Then we have a crazy aunt in London, was like, Kate Bush. And then we've got Tori Amos and the whole Lilith Fair movement. Does everybody understand where I'm going? So popular music is this stunning combination of the lineage of black people and the lineage of immigrants, and how their music comes together in pop rock, R&B, blues, rock, gospel, folk, all of it. So I'm the person who basically got to know the whole families and I, and am now sharing the families with you.
Isn’t this fun? So that I organized it, honey, I organized it so that you can learn both families at the same time, so that when you show up to an audition room, you can pick and choose. Okay, I'm hanging out with the grandma right now, in the Motown era, I'm hanging out with a daughter in disco, I'm hanging out with my ancestors. It's really wild stuff. So that's how I organized it.
By the time you you’ve finished studying the book, your voice and your spirit have the history, and the soul and the worth of the generations that came before us.
You don't sound like a musical theatre performer, you sound like a rock singer and an old soul.
You can be a musical theatre performer, copying Sarah Barellies or you can listen to who Sarah Barellies listened to and then have that affect your voice. And she listens to black people. So I'm just saying.
D: Question from Sarah Strange… Okay, when there's a song that has a very clear story, how do you make a cut without compromising the story? Or do you pick another song?
Okay, great segue, you're gonna let us know what music notes is?
S: So yeah, about three years ago, I cold called Music Notes, and I said, "Look I have been arranging audition cuts of your music for the last 10 years. Tried to work with another person on arranging cuts, but we ended up arranging your cuts on their platform and they also sucked. So, your Music Notes can I come work with you? And they were like, "You what?” and by the end of the week, I had a job. Yeah, and they really love the work I'm doing and it's really helping because how are you supposed to know how to cut and arrange a song that was never even supposed to be sung in an audition in the first place? How are you supposed to know that?
So this question that your student or friend is asking is actually really accurate, which is “How do I make this big great story small?” So it respects and regards the audition process and the answer is, some stories are too big, and some stories can be made smaller but you wanna think of it like this.
Say the song is a full course meal, it is an appetizer, meat, potatoes, corn, salad, a drink and dessert and that's your song, toenail to curler. What you might wanna do is... Let me grab a small appetizer, a half portion and just a taste of dessert and there, I’m satisfied. And if they want eight bars, what’s the best bite of that song?
And so, if you wanna be able to find a song that, depending upon the situation that you could have a half portion size with a full portion size waiting. If they ask for eight bars, that is really, truly 10 to 15 seconds.
In places like in London, what they've been doing is they've been saying, "Well look you've got two minutes.” Then there are people who come in and sing a two-minute pop rock song and I'm like... wait a minute/. Why are you singing a two-minute pop rock song when you can do two, one-minute pop rock cuts that already have an arc built-in them that are two totally different styles. You can give them a Janis Joplin and then you can give them a Regina Spector in the same amount of time. Two great stories as opposed to singing one pop rock song that goes back and forth through time, and doesn't make any sense and repeat, fade out at the end?
Why not tell them two totally different stories, one that's wild and emotional and raw, and raucous and rock and another one that's quiet and private and internal, and emotional and thoughtful. And you could do that in the amount of time. So, that's why I create Cuts. So that you can talk people a ton, in a great story, in a short amount of time.
Inside the book I have a chapter called The Cutting Clinic, which really can help everybody understand what exactly we mean by wanting a cut.
Also inside the book there’s a code. So when you read the Motown chapter, for example, you read that chapter, you read about it, you learn all about it, and then you scan the code in the back and it will bring you to videos to watch, stations to listen to everything that is audio and visual that gives you everything you need to go, “Oh my God, that's what he meant what she said she wanted me to dance and sing at the same time, that's what she means.”
So I organized the audition cuts and organized the chapters in the book exactly the same and the Spotify stations, so everybody can study everything in an organized way and no one has to run around looking for information. I gave you everything.
D: Yeah! And for any questions about how to make a cut, guess what? You don't have to anymore, never do you ever have to make your own cut, because Sheri has the hundreds of titles…
S: And there’s more coming. And, if you wanna cut your own music, you can. The cutting clinic in the book is gonna tell you exactly how to do it, so that you can figure it out on your own.
So should you not like any of my songs, which I don't know, I have a good taste, but should you not like any of my songs, there's a way for you to find ones that you do and then do what you need to do with them.
D: Amazing, here’s another question from Holly. She's asking, “When picking material, is it best to pick rep that's popular, that the panel will know or is less mainstream and obscure okay?”
S: Holly, that is a fantastic question. The only time I would go obscure is when shows are obscure. So for example, something like Hadestown is poetic and ethereal and non-linear. I don't know what's happening in it, I'm just kind of riding a vibe or an energy…Or looking at a painting or poem.
So because of that, when you're auditioning for that or Spring Awakening or Once, you can really go obscure because we're not really... These songs are not meant to be like hummable or you work out to them or dance to them. So in that way yes, go obscure.
In the other styles, like Motown that it's easy to do something that isn't as well-known but it should be be catchy. As long as it feels like a dance hit, and you're in it, I will love it.
But a lot of them don't do anything particularly interesting vocally. 'cause that was not the intention back end back then. So, at least check out some of the ones that I have 'cause they at least are vocally interesting.
David, what do you think I would say about something like this? I would say, you should go with stuff that people know so that they can pay attention to you and what you're doing but don't do something that's overdone, because if it's overdone, and I have a no-no list, that means that everybody's singing it 'cause it's about range, and they're trying to show off and they don't even give a shit about popular music at all.
What do you think, David, do you agree? Do you feel like that if you were that that advice is sound advice?
Yes, and I think that you offer this new lens into matching current musical theatre with these styles and that is so helpful that I never have to listen to a song from Waitress again for 10 more years because you have come up with…
S: A whole station of folk/ pop music.
D: You can give me the essence of Waitress without having a panel listen to that overdone material. Sorry everybody, I'm sorry.
S: It's just that when you have great folks singers like Maggie Rogers or Patti Griffin or Jason Mraz, it’s like when you've got singers like that, why on earth would you see something from a show when you can actually take me into the world of yourself living in folk pop music instead of me thinking about Jenna being pregnant and or why are you telling me that you're pregnant but you're not pregnant, and wait, you’re 13 years old, so why are you singing that song? When you can sing a Joni Mitchell song. So that's the whole idea… I’m trying to introduce you to the music that inspired these musicals to be made.
D: Is everybody hearing this? Next question: How do you apply storytelling to pop rock songs, especially ’80s songs without being too musical theatre about it.
S: No, I mean it's such a good question which is why I wrote a whole book on how to act audition songs, because it depends on the song, and it depends on the genre and it depends on the era and it depends on the show you're auditioning for. All of those things have to be kept in mind. The answer is…who knows? Because it depends on what '80s rock musical. Are you talking about making fun of the era with The Wedding Singer? Rock of Ages? Are you talking about living in the area, but not making fun of the era like in Fame or Flash Dance? or Footloose? or are you talking about not being in the '80s at all? But they want 80’s style in regard to range, like Frank Wildhorn 80’s stuff or Andrew Lloyd Webber 80’s or are we talking School of Rock, We Will Rock You, Bat Out of Hell…
There's too many different ways, even just in the '80s to act it, which is why in my '80s chapter, I break it down into the different ways to act 80’s pop rock songs depending on what the musical wants. Because we think we wanna be mad, angry, high screlty, I’m a bad ass, I'm a tough chick. And that's actually not at all what we're looking for. And sometimes these 80’s songs are so funny and the songs are so over the top that you could really make great jokes out of them.
So I would say that’s a really rough general answer. I remember Natalie Weis, the great riff teacher, once was like... So how do you act pop rock? Do you like, act like you think you have to think about what you're trying to do to me? Or am I just jamming? And I said, ”Yeah go get my book baby, because there’s not a one answer.” It depends on the show, it depends on the style, depends on who you are as a person, all of these things. It’s not just about type anymore. What does the song do to you and what would it do to you if it was a 1984.
D: Someone has ordered your book already. And someone is asking where to find the cuts…
S: Well, MusicNotes.com/audition will bring you to the page, where you will gag with so many gifts, treats and wonderful opportunities for you to get better and this really tricky thing.
D: I also feel that, in this time in history, it’s more than just about preparing for an opportunity. We’re now being allowed to approach this material without any without attachment to winning or money or anything. It just let's just live in the story telling and that’s cool.
S: Yes, and it’s about finding empathy and consciousness, it's like... you get to pretend… what would I have been like as a Caucasian woman, in 1956, would I have been somebody who was like... I hate black people? No, I would have been an integrator, so I would have used the music. I’d have staged a song where I was a housewife, cooking in the kitchen, my kids are clean, and I put Sam Cook on the radio, and all of a sudden Sam Cook is the love of my life, and I'm on stage on the Ed Sullivan Show singing a song about Sam Cook. Integrating race and my love of the people who gave us this great music into my performance. And so to me, is sort of like, that’s how you tell us who you are.
And so that's why I want you to study the eras that came before you, because then you find out, "Oh my God, I would have been an integrator. Oh my gosh, in the 70’s, if I was a person of color would have been a Black Panther. If I lived back then, I would have been a White Panther, caring about my Black Panther family. So we get to think about who we would have been and our emotions expand in our hearts expand and we grow into more conscious people then we grown to better performers 'cause we have more to offer.
So it's not about type, it's about who I am as a person, and why the song matters to me and what it does to me and how cool it would be if I was in your show, 'cause I brought all this to the table just at the open call. Wait, so you see, what I do at the call back, I live so truthfully in this time period, I will book this show in the call back. I mean, I've done it, you can do it too.
D: Incredible. Where can we buy the book online? Amazon, Amazon, Amazon.
S: And more about the Music Notes page… there are two links: one, where you can study with me privately online, if you wanna take online classes and two, Spotify stations that we made specific for the Music Notes page. So there's a little bit of information there too. And then if you scroll down, I have free videos about all the styles so that you can get a little bit of information about rock and pop, a little bit of information about Motown little bit of information about anything that you need right this moment until your book comes in the mail... It's all free.
D: They have accompaniment too, right?
S: The Music Notes App. Thank you so much for mentioning that David, the Music Notes app is free. And what's really cool about that app is that you can, when you get it, the songs download and you can change the tempo, you can play with the keys, you can take the melody line, on and off.
What I love about being able to play with the keys is that everybody has a different sweet spot in their voice. So I'm a high mezzo. But if you put me with about 10 other high mezzos, all of our high mezzos are different. So you don't know what your sweet spot is, just because Kelly Clarkson’s sweet spot is a certain key, maybe your sweet spot is one click below or above that. How do you even know?
And so I'm a big fan of trying your song and doing it in every key so that you find out what your voice does, you can only find how cool your voices is and all the cool things that are in there by playing with keys. Be careful, don't hurt, you don't scream, but play with keys.
D: Rebecca Poff, is one of your Canadian students who took your workshop asks, “Can you share your awesome technique of how to communicate tempo and feel to the accompanist?”
S: In an ideal world, my pop rock audition cuts could be translated in the exact same way that a traditional musical theatre cut is translated, except the only difference is rather than giving the tempo of the beginning of the song, we give the feel of the hook instead. It's the same thing… “Hey, I'm singing, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, once through and it goes…(singing) Oh, that was somebody.
So the idea is that we would be able to do the same thing, but let me just do a quick walk through, just as a reminder of how feel is different than tempo and when we give tempo of a traditional musical theatre song, we would say hey how are you, here is my cut and then I would give, how fast or how slow I want it. But groove and feel is more like, "I'm gonna do Raspberry Beret by Prince and it goes like this,” then, I’ll point to the hook in the music, remove my finger and then sing, “She wore a raspberry beret…” I’m giving the groove, because if I just give the tempo, I’m a human metronome.
So does everybody here that the two of those are so different?
So if you’re doing a traditional musical theatre song, give the piano player tempo but if you’re singing pop rock, give them feel.
Question: I’ve heard different opinions on changing keys of pop songs for auditions. Is it okay to do in an audition?
I don't think you should change the keys with traditional musical theatre, I think you can sing pop rock in any damn key you want baby doll, as long as it doesn't lose the life energy or the energy that's in the song. So, if this a song that amps you up, it's gotta be in a key that is amping vocally. Or else the song loses its energy. So if you're a baritone, don't take a tenor song and bring it all the way down, grab a baritenor song and bring it down a bit. You know what I mean? Get closer to home first and then play with the keys in there. For pop rock, any key that is alive in you is the key you should do. It's just totally different 'cause we're not using songs from musicals we're using songs from the Mother Earth.
D: That are rooted in history and culture.
S: …and the world grew up in and made want to make musicals about our lives.
D: And we’re going in to make the world better, t not to get the job or impress or blow anybody away is just going in there to...
S: …tell our stories and you could use things about your life and find your story in other people in different times and say, This is who I am, this is what matters to me. I care about these things, by the way you relate to the music and then people go, "My God, I see you, I see you. I see your spirit, I see your world. I'm not looking at your type I. I see your life and I want you in my show 'cause you're gonna bring you, if you your life into this moment, I can't even imagine what you're gonna bring into the story.”
So that's what you wanna do is say it's not about type or to impress or high notes, it's about sharing your life with people. Truly, and finding yourself in the music of other cultures and other situations, and other worlds, and showing us what your relationship is to those things. That's what we wanna see.
What else can I answer him loving these questions? So yeah, sing in the key that your life is in.
Do you want to talk about your self-tape challenge?
S: The challenge that we're doing right now is so great. So about a year ago, I started working... 'cause I have an online training program it's called a Rock The Audition Online. You'll probably find it if you're snooping around about me but I've been teaching some classes that I've kind of been intuiting that would be coming down the line. And one of those classes was Auditioning On Camera with Musical Theatre because everybody's been asking for it but there's been not one ounce of technique in it. And so I just start going, well, lemme just like play with my students in my on-demand program. And so a year ago next month will be when I started teaching online classes, and I was having people show up on Zoom, and go, “Alright, let's use your camera on Zoom right now, let's just use that camera and I'm gonna stage a number. I'm gonna stag a rock song in your apartment with you, and then I want you to make a video and then I want you to submit it to the contest, right?” So that before it was even a contest, I was asking people to work with me on camera, and state their pop rock song, so like I was saying, it's like I'm in the kitchen doing dishes and Sam Cook comes on the radio, and all of a sudden I'm doing the twist, and my spoon is my mic and I'm living my Motown realness in my kitchen, sitting next to the window and missing somebody.
And if you're in the 50s and 60s, it's like, "Who's this video, who's eye is this camera?” And that's the work. So it's like if we're talking about the 50s and 60s, right? Say somebody's doing a 50s and '60s song. This camera could be three different people, it could be the camera on the Ed Sullivan Show and I’m performing. So maybe I’m a crooner or maybe I'm in a girl group, and I'm the lead singer. And the camera is the camera on the Ed Sullivan Show. Maybe I'm one of the dancers on American Bandstand and the camera caught me, and so I'm singing and dancing to the camera, and there are people at home, and they're learning the dance moves while they're watching me. And so maybe the camera is the Ed Sullivan show. Maybe the camera is a friend and we're in my bedroom and I put a record on and we're listening and we're learning and practicing the new dance moves. Maybe the camera is a fly on the wall and I'm having a moment alone in my bedroom, and I'm in love with Bobby Darin and I make out with my pillow because I'm thinking of him, you know. And these are the ways you could use the camera. So I've been doing that all year. And finally, when we ended up getting shockingly somehow trapped in our space I said, “Okay, if we're gonna be trapped here, we're gonna make some art.” And so what's been happening is I've been talking to the on-camera teachers who are here in the city, some of my casting director friends and they're like, “Sheri, oh my God, this is great.”
So if you go over to @rocktheaudition on Insta, we are about to release the dogs. And what it’s intending to do, everybody is to get you into a relationship with the camera, because so far, there are no rules, there's no standard. So, what I figured we could do is one, create the standard with creativity, two, learn how to play in our space and develop skill sets so that when there are people who are like... “No, I just want you in front of a curtain,” you fully realized it inside of your space and then you can be in front of a curtain with the tea cup and live the entire thing.
Okay, so either they'll say yes Sherry, “I love this. All pop rock audition videos, need to look like this moving forward.” And maybe the traditional people will be like, “No, I just want in front of the curtain.” But either way, we will have fully realized our potential as filmmakers and as artists, and we tap into cool new part our brain and our self and our creativity and our spirits while we are trapped in a space.
So, we could shoot something in the kitchen, in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, we could shoot something in our yard, we could use our space and tell cool stories from the '50s and '60s in the 70s and the 80s, completely in our spaces with what we have. So if you follow me there, we've got tons of tips and tricks for you, great examples of people using their space and an opportunity for you to get to study with me for free as well. And the good news is, is that the industry is like, "This is a great Sheri.”
So find stuff in your apartment, rehearse it, shoot it, share it with your friends, and if everybody's like, "I love that this feels like the... Right now she on social media and A raphe audition. And then I will share it on you know what I mean? But was all the content and submitted to the contest. 'cause the content is great because we give you all the tools you need to nail it.
D: And that contest has prizes.
S: We have great prices and things that will advance you. So I have this on-demand program, it's like $199 for a whole year. And what we have inside of that is we have teachers who are teaching things that everybody's asking for, but nobody's teaching.
So then, that's actor-musician classes, riffing for musical theatre, or rapping for musical theatre. It's the whole idea. And then on camera for musical theatre, it's all of these things that everybody wants from me right now.
It’s about making links. And then the other thing is being able to have all these things accessible to people with disabilities, with neuro-diversities, and people… in Motown it’s always been black and white, but what about everybody in between? What about all the mixed race people… What about every other culture? They get to also say, “No, excuse me, I was here, I had a radio, this is how I danced.” So we get to do a lot of innovating.
D: Mary-Lu Zalhalan, who is the head of commercial music performance at Sheridan College, is inviting you to the college as soon as you can get there.
S: Would love to. It’s been so invigorating and training the teachers has been incredibly invigorating. The teachers do have an ability to teach this. It is not just mine, it's just mine to share.
D: Believe it or not, we are heading into the last bit of this conversation. Ian Simpson is saying that they want you at St. Lawrence College as well. Mary-Lu uses your book as recommended reading in her course. There’s so much love pouring at you. And you've started a podcast, right?
S: Yes, it’s called Cause An Effect. I will definitely have David on. But it's really who are the big innovators, in all of the parts of the industry, and how can we innovate the space from no matter where we are.
D: They want to know when the next Teacher Training will be…
S: It’s gonna be the summer. We've got a little bit of a wait list, but message me and I'll make sure you're at the top of it. It’ll be in the summer for eight weeks on Sunday nights. EST. I'd love to have you. It's a fantastic way to take care of yourself and innovate your studio.
Take care everybody.
Rock The Audition book - $10 off on Amazon
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