Putting a Song on its Feet

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by Ron Squeri, February 2008 guest blogger

You have just heard someone sing this terrific song either on the radio, on a CD, on TV, in a movie, in a show or just heard it being sung by someone on the street, and you say, “Wow, I love that song, I want to give that one a try.” What are your next steps? You either find the sheet music for the song, or find someone to transcribe it from a recording. (Of course, if you get it transcribed, you have that performer’s arrangement of the song, not necessarily the original music or lyrics, so be careful.)

Now, you do at least some of your homework. You learn the lyrics and melody of the song. You find your correct key for the music. You study the lyrics and made decisions on your interpretation of the song, finding the nuances that make the piece your own. (Of course this is a given, but I can’t help to reinforce the process) Well, what’s the next step? You have to run it up the flagpole and see if someone salutes.

If you are looking for a comfortable, non-threatening, albeit at times overly “rose-colored-glasses”, supportive venue with excellent accompaniment, there is the monthly DC Cabaret Network open mic, run by Terri Allen. The open mics are well-attended with singers performing a varied repertoire. In addition, it is being attended by non-singing audience members as well, who are looking to hear live music. The cost is minimal, and usually there is the opportunity to perform at least two songs, and you get to judge your comfort in performing your choices, and get audience feedback.

An additional benefit is you get to see other singers perform and mentally critique their performance, comparing and contrasting their performance to yours. I learn more about performing, either from a “Wow, I never thought of that”, perspective to a “I have to remember not to do that” one. Let’s be honest, we all do this. Of course, as performers, we should be going to see other singer’s shows. What better way to learn? Remember, the way to learn to write well, is to read.

If you are looking for an experience that is closer to one you would get performing in a show, there are the piano bars in and around town. I personally attend two different ones, one at Le Canard, in Vienna , and one at the Flaming Pit in Gaithersburg . Both venues offer piano music and the opportunity to sing every night of the week. Personally, I go to sing with Blake Pace at The Flaming Pit, and Michael Terrance at Le Canard. Blake plays mostly every Fri, Sat and Sunday see www.blakepace.com for his schedule, and Michael plays consistently on Wed, and I was there on a Sat evening with him at the helm at what is affectionately called “The Duck.” www.le-canard.com

Remember, the vibe of a piano bar is unlike that of the open mic. This is the piano player’s gig, and the singers are invited to sing, and as such, we should act as invited guests, not the host. There is nothing I find more aggravating than a person, talented or not, that thinks that it is his or her gig, and tries to monopolize it.

Sorry, was that loud? Both gentlemen are accomplished accompanists, with large repertoires. Although, if you are going to bring a song like Meadowlark, or a John Bucchino song to them, and it’s the first time that they have seen it, they may ask that you to give them a copy of the music for them to learn, and sing something else that evening. Again, this is THEIR gig, and their livelihood, not necessarily yours, so be kind.

Warning. These are BARS, and RESTAURANTS, (with excellent food I might add) and as such, you probably won’t get the undivided attention here which you would at the open mic. But, if the room quiets down while you are singing, you know that what you are doing works. You will probably be asked to sing a few songs during the course of the evening. So, bring a 3×5 card with 10 standards you know, and the keys that you sing them in. It makes the “What do you want to sing?” question much easier and faster to answer. Also, since these are bars, people are having drinks, and we all know that we sound better when our audience is drinking. J

I know that there are a number of other piano bars in the DC metro area, but not all of them allow singing. I know that the two I mentioned encourage it. If there are any others that people know about, please respond to this post.

FLAMING PIT, 18901 N. Frederick Ave. , Gaithersburg . 301-977-0700.

LE CANARD, 132 Branch Rd. , Vienna . 703-281-0070.

PS. This is also an excellent way to build an audience, outside of “friends and family.”

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2 Responses to “Putting a Song on its Feet”

  1. Terri Allen Says:

    Ron,
    Thanks for a great blog and column. It is great to learn about other opportunities and places where you can test out your material! I really appreciate the information.

  2. Timothy Gavagan Says:

    Thanks Ron for the insightful comments. They answered many of the questions I had about what to do after you hear a song and what to try singing it yourself. Thanks for the information about the piano bars too. They are a agreat opportunity for singers to get some practice time in.


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