Why is one captured by certain singers and not by others? or: What’s the problem? // Guest Blog by Annika Bruhns

Annika Bruhns Copyright Karim KhawatmiIn all of these years of teaching song interpretation, with countless students of varying degrees of talent, I find myself repeatedly in the same situation. I have to “endure” a version of a song for three minutes (or longer) that has nothing to do with the performer or his abilities, but simply with what the student thinks he “has to” do to succeed. Due to the endless watching of videos on Youtube and thinking, “If only I sing like x, it will definitely work”, it has escalated far beyond any bearable point over the course of the past few years.

No use in listing endless examples of what not to do. My intention here is to point you into a direction that might help you avoid such encounters.

What? What is so important? Why should I listen to you? WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

My students can tell endless stories of me pestering them with the questions above. However, they can also tell you stories on how they succeeded once being able to answer these questions.

Musical Theater, in the traditional sense, let’s the actor break into song to continue the momentum and to raise emotional intensity. It is either used as a continuous monologue or dialogue of the character(s) or the inner turmoil that continues. The emotion continues. Even when taken out of context in a concert format, the first few notes open a window into an existing emotion.

That is the key to the success of the song.

What happened? Why do I have to sing now?

The answer to this question should be one word, three at the most. In a perfect world, this answer consists of an emotion. One word – any long explanation is not communicable.

Find the emotional journey your character is experiencing. From A-Z. Even detours. But – One emotion at a time. Write the lyrics out in a letter form and find out when the emotions change. At times you will find lyrics and musical breaks don’t coincide, that usually is intentional. (Having said that, there is, however, a lot of bad material out there, in which you have to work very hard to make it work.)

When taken out of context the song will still have its journey. Note: Only Life and Death are important. Everything else is superfluous. Would you listen to a 3-minute song about the technique of hanging up the laundry?

After the initial: What?  we arrive at Why? Why should I listen to you? What’s so important? Even if the lyrics and/or the music seem superficial, find a reason to fight. For anything. If there is none, make one up. No one knows what you’re thinking. But you’re fighting for something, that is what the listener will notice. That is the key.

If it is a matter of life or death to you at that moment, the listener will experience that and join you in your plight. And will listen.


Annika Bruhns is an international musical theatre performer, actress, speaker and coach. You can find more information on www.annikabruhns.de and www.abpcoaching.se.

Copyright of headshot of Annika Bruhns lies with Karim Khawatmi.

Don’t let comparison get the best of you

comparisonA few months ago, I attended the premiere of The Last Five Years in Frankfurt, Germany. During the entire train ride back, I thought about how to put into words what I experienced that night and how I wanted to share this with all of you.

Well, the performance took place in English with actors who have actually performed on West End, which is really quite rare in Germany. It was a small theatre and I was sitting in the front row. The actors were top notch, believe you me. I was so entertained on the one hand but on the other hand I realised how I got more and more frustrated by the minute. Why, you might ask… Well, there was this one thought that got stuck in my head and resounded like the voice of God, “Oh dear Lord, I wish I could sing like that!” I tried to find excuses and told myself not to compare myself to them because of various reasons but my frustration just couldn’t be rationalised.

During the interval, I started reading The War of Art. (This might strike you as a little unusual but the person who was attending with me had abandoned me for a short walk outside – not to be overanalysed ;-)). And the more I read, the more I thought, “What the hell am I doing?” Hadn’t I already eradicated the words good and bad from my vocabulary? Hadn’t I already forgiven all those people in the world with phenomenal voices?

I simply couldn’t risk going back to those ill-guided mindsets I had fought so hard to overcome. I couldn’t risk letting them hold me back any longer. So I took the opportunity to stop being frustrated and LEARN from them. Could I pinpoint what made their technique so impressive?

I started watching the actors more closely and started listening to them even more closely than before and I realised that it came down to only a few things: crisp diction, stylistic consistency, flawless intonation and minimal jaw movement!

That was the moment it struck me: These were the exact things I was currently working on. I was already on my way. Of course, they had already mastered the technique but all I had to put in to get there was practice. I had had the knowledge to bridge the gap and let go of these negative thoughts the entire evening but I just couldn’t see it. In fact, there was nothing standing in the way of me learning to sing like that. Well, nothing but Resistance. 😉

So, the next time you get frustrated because you compare your behind the scenes to somebody else’s highlight reel, do not resist the comparison. Allow it, analyse the differences and use that knowledge for good instead of evil. Because when you know why you like their performance so much, it will be much easier to find out how to tweak your path to get there.

The Secret of Audition Success

auditionHappy new year to everyone! Do you have new year’s resolutions? Well, forget them right now because your lifestyle and routines shouldn’t be tied to a time of year. Read this story to find out why your routines should be in place all year round:

A few months ago, I had an audition. A few days before that audition, I noticed that I was developing a cold. I had a blocked nose but it didn’t affect my voice at all. On the contrary, I was making groundbreaking progress as I was currently doing an 8-week intensive course with Tom Burke. So even though I felt sick, I was never miserable. And as my voice wasn’t affected, I wasn’t worried.

And then it happened: On the big day, I woke up and immediately realised that something was wrong. I was still in bed and gave my voice a little tryout. The sound I had to prepare was situated in the high rock belt range. My first attempt sounded as if I attempted a high C after a crazy night out. A shrieking banshee was nothing compared to that barely audible sound coming out of my throat. My vocal folds were maximally swollen, I could totally feel it.

For a minute, I considered calling off the audition but then I remembered two things that I had learnt over the past few months: a) never judge the first sound and b) rely on established routines to help in cases like this one.

Therefore, I stopped panicking and made a list of everything I could do to help my voice get back in shape over the course of the next three hours. (First and foremost, I was so glad that I always get up way early for auditions.) I started with my bottle exercise and every semi-occluded vocal tract exercise I could think of. Then I meditated for a few minutes and warmed up my diction. I did a salt water inhalation and drank Swiss herbal tea and praise the Lord, my voice was back! I admit, it wasn’t ideal, you could still hear my blocked nose, but you could also hear the awesomeness. 😉

And then I sat down on my bed, waiting for the videochat audition to begin… and I got so nervous! They had asked me to prepare two songs and a scene from the show and I started wondering if they would like my interpretation. I went back to meditating and realised that it didn’t matter how they wanted it, all that mattered was that I showed them what I got.

Then the audition started and they asked me to perform. (During auditions, I like to imagine that I already got the gig, it helps me get into what I like to call stage mode.) I didn’t manage to get entirely out of my head the first time around but, lucky me, I was asked to do it again due to technical difficulties. So, I did it again and nailed it. 🙂

The end of the story is, I didn’t get the gig. But what was way more important was the fact that I didn’t miss my shot at the part. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should audition in any condition (I, for instance, had laryngitis once and sounded like I was completely tone-deaf. Not an impression you want to give at an audition) but you should first consider every option and neither panic nor use any road block as an excuse not to do everything in your power to make it.

In this case, I didn’t get the gig but at the end of the day, it’s not about landing a role but about nailing the audition itself. (I know, I know, we want to be professional actors and not professional auditioners but it’s part of the deal.) Because if you look at it, the more experience you gain in auditions, the closer you will get to your goal next time.