2 years coming to fruition but I finally did it – I completed my Diploma in Music Theatre Performance and can now use the letters DipLCM after my name should I so wish!
I have been working wth my fabulous vocal coach Lynne Wayman for just over 5 years last now at her Voice Centre in Nottingham. Lynne is an active member of the British Voice Association, editing their magazine, as well as coaching students in London and Nottingham.
I was introduced to her when I contacted my old music teacher from school to see if he was still teaching singing, he wasn’t so he put me in touch with Lynne.
When I first started with Lynne I was suffering from a crisis of confidence as well as a deep rooted issue with performance nerves so bad that my throat would literally close up when I went to sing. This is all a matter for another blog post but that’s a little snippet of our history.
We first talked about taking an exam around 2 years ago but work has been so crazy that I didn’t feel I had the time to focus and give it my best shot. Eventually I think Lynne knew I needed a new challenge and she really pushed me to start giving the exam some real thought. Thinking about my future I know that vocal coaching is an area I want to explore and this would be my first step into getting properly qualifed.
The exam that I would be taking was the Diploma in Music Theatre Performance and this was made up of 3 distinct areas; a quick study, performance and a discussion. I would also have to present my notes to the examiner.
I knew that I would be fine with the discussion having been a music theatre geek for so long I could talk for around 24 hours continually on this subject so my focus would be on the performance. The programme has to be 20 minutes in length and contain a range of genres and decades and must include libretto from the musicals in question.
Between my own gig and family commitments preparing for the exam took just over 6 months although we had been talking about it for over a year and we decided to be as straightforward as possible and use songs that I was fairly familiar with and save the more challenging pieces for the associate level. I knew at this stage I would also have to engage a pianist to work with for the exam and also the quick study and Lynne recommended the amazing Alistair Parnell.
The most testing part for me was sourcing the libretto as well as choosing pieces that would create a ‘story’ arc. Libretto is not easy to get hold of so this meant sourcing the films or watching Youtube and transcribing. Eventually I decided on a them ‘You made me think you were in love and my idea was that it would loosely follow a them of a good time girl falling in love with a man who has no intention of loving her back. The difficulty then is weaving the songs in to a pattern and being able to describe this through the programme. For my programme I chose the following songs:
- The Trolley Song from Meet me in St Louis (1944)
- Someone Like You from Jekyll and Hyde (1990)
- Secret Love from Calamity Jane (1953)
- Tell me on a Sunday from Tell me on a Sunday / Song and Dance (1979)
- Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949)
The libretto I transcribed was from Meet me in St Louis, Calamity Jane and a couple of lines from Jekyll and Hyde and Gentlemen prefer blondes. I also had to look at props, costumes and staging.
Once I had my programme in place we began setting each piece and looking at costume and presentation. As I am primarily a singer with limited acting experience I asked my good friend and acting coach Adam Guest to run through my pieces with me to give me some direction on my acting through the songs as well as setting the libretto. Adam was fantastic and gave me the confidence I needed. I also have around 4 one to one session with Alistair my pianist to ensure I was comfortable – one of the things that I did struggle with was working with an accompanist rather than the inflexibility of backing tracks and it hasn’t until my last session that everything really came together and I was able to relax in to the sings a little more.
The costumes and props were a little easier and I invested in a black catsuit which I would just accessorise. I wore layers as well which was a tip from my friend and fellow singer Beth Berwick-Lowe who had already done this exam. For the Trolley song I wore a long skirt, hat and Edwardian style shoes moving to a shawl for Someone like You, a 50s style skirt and daffodils for Secret Love, hat, scarf and Mac for Tell me on a Sunday before sparkly shoes and a bright red 50s style dress for Diamond’s are a girls best friend.
I do get incredibly anxious and nervous during auditions and exam situations but I managed to get to the Nottingham High School music faculty in plenty of time and the ladies on the booking in desk were really lovely and put me at ease straight away. I was also directed to a private rehearsal room which Alistair joined shortly afterwards.
As with any performance I try not to run through anything before hand as it just makes me more nervous – I try and think about the fact I am secure in the lyrics and what I am doing, I am well rehearsed and fully prepared that when I get in to that performance situation everything just comes together. We did go over one of 2 bars that I just needed to check and did a quick warm up.
The quick study forms 20% of your final marks and we were given a piece of music and about 15 minutes to prepare. The piece was from Brigadoon and we soon rattled through the song. We were given a choice whether to do this at the beginning or the end of the exam – I plumped for the beginning as I knew I would be nervous and when I am nervous my form and pitch starts wandering.
We entered the exam room and the examiner welcomed us in. I presented my programme notes and ran through the song. My nerves meant that I wasn’t as secure I was hoping to be but on the whole it went OK.
I was fully rehearsed on my songs and costumes – the only things that gave me a worry was the libretto but having run through with Adam I was confident enough to give it my best shot.
I began with some lib from Meet me in St Louis with went without a hitch followed by the Trolley Song which we had set seated. This song is one I sing at my 1940s events and I had fallen in to some bad crooning and curbing habits – OK for a 1940s show but not OK for music theatre and I had to work hard with Lynne to sort this out.
Te following some ‘Someone like you’ was a different tone completely and I felt really comfortable with this. The only issue for me was the sheet music I sourced as well as the full score wasn’t a match to the actual show and there were some differences that I worked with Alistair to overcome. Never the less I felt this was my best performance of this piece.
Secret Love is a song I also sing all the time and this version was in a higher key. We set this song seated on the floor to give some contrast and I bought some artificial daffodils as my props. The lib following the song was from Calamity Jane and is the scene where Calamity has witnessed Katie kissing Danny and she is furious. This was quite hard for me as it required me to be angry as well as remember some fairly complex turn of phrase. I know for a fact that although I gave it my best I got some of the lib wrong.
Tell me on a Sunday was perhaps my favourite piece and one which I hadn’t ever done before. I really enjoyed performing this and felt this was my best performance of the exam.
Moving on to Diamonds are a Girl’s best friend. This was quite challenging as it was a song I was familiar with but we had again changed the key to a more music theatre friendly version rather than the lower Marilyn Monroe version. Being 5 ft 10 inches tall I never feel entirely comfortable with dancing – I always look all arms and legs and a bit Bambi on ice but I tried!
This was the bit I felt most comfortable with and I was able to fluently discuss all aspects of my programme, music theatre history, composers and genres. I have always been fairly academic and the research, facts and figures appeal to me and I am able to remember things really well so I enjoyed this aspect off the exam.
I was questioned why I hadn’t chosen anything from the 21st Century as part of my programme and I felt I stumbled over the answer – I was worried at that point I would loose marks for not being diverse enough. I think I recovered well enough as Lynn had prepped me in true politician style to push my answer towards the point I wanted to get across so I worked around it.
And that was it! After months of prep it was done and dusted.
How I felt it went
I knew I would be super nervous and Alistair, Lynne and Adam had ensured that I was well prepared. Lynne is always the advocate of making sure you are totally secure in your preparation weeks if not months in advance. This means that you know your music inside and out the more secure you are the less nervous. Lynne and I have always worked on physical techniques to help with nerves from breathing to posture and in particular a method which Lynne refers to as anchoring.
As mentioned earlier I chose to do the quick study first.
Th rest of the exam went really well – I mixed up some of my lib and got a line wrong in Diamonds but I felt that I had given a performance to the best of my ability. This was difficult when the examiner asked me what I think I could improve on when for me I felt that I had given my all and did the best I possibly could have! There was nothing that I would have done differently but I did try and answer the question.
I was really pleased with everything from my introductions through to how smoothly everything had gone with Alistair.
We were told prior to the exam that results would be up to 4 weeks to allow for Easter however I was thrilled that I had an email just shy of 3 weeks saying that they were being sent. Darren (who is a postman) kindly offered to pop down to the office first thing the following morning to see if they had come in but alas they hadn’t. The results were finally here on the Tuesday and Darren rang me to pop down to the office – this was great as it meant he could be there with me to open my results.
We all say that ‘I will just be pleased to pass’ but secretly you are hoping to get a great result. I was absolutely thrilled to open the envelope and find not only my certificate from the London College of Music but also the fact I had got 86 marks out of a 100 which meant that I had passed with DISTINCTION! I felt that to have overcome my anxieties and nerves as well as lacking in acting experience I was more than happy with that result.
Now I have this exam completed I will be doing my Associate level exam in Music Theatre Performance before progressing to the teaching module. I intend to go on performing as long as I can – the thing that will stop me more than anything is the physical side of lifting and carrying heavy equipment – but I wanted a long term plan and something that I can slowly move in to when I start to take a back seat from performing. I already know that I have achieved everything I have set out to do in terms of my career and in that respect I have been lucky, this means that I can totally embrace others talents and abilities and try and encourage and support as much as I can rather than just being single minded about my own performing goals. I am also of the belief that anyone can sing given the right coaching, advice and mindset.
In conclusion I would say that anyone thinking of taking this exam or any music exam should definitely consider it – for me it was setting a personal challenge, pushing my boundaries and setting up my future.
Best of luck!
Lynne Wayman (The Lynne Wayman Voice Centre) – Voice Coach http://www.lynnewaymanvoicecentre.com
Adam Guest – Acting Coach tel: 07976 824979
Alistair Parnell – Accompanist http://www.isax.co.uk/wordpress/
London College of Music – http://www.uwl.ac.uk/academic-schools/music/lcm-exams
Tags: Adam guest, alistair parnell, Beth Berwick lowe, diplcm, diploma, entertainer, exam preparation, exam results, jayne darling, lcm, London college of music, lynne wayman, music exams, music theatre, music theatre performance, musical theatre, Nottingham, singing exam, singing teacher, university of west London, vocal coach, vocal exam