Songs for the Season

Unique Musical Programs

Archive for the month “April, 2014”

Mentors and Training

When I was writing a bio recently for a program it was suggested we give a rundown of our musical training and background. My goodness, I thought, this is what trained musicians do and if I’m going to be a singer now I should give this some thought and attention.

From the high school choir and band follies to my vocal studies as an under-grad my singing abilities were never anything more than adequate. I knew I was a tenor and could sing very loudly if I didn’t watch it! I learned to blend into ensembles in church and school.

I worked at improving my vocal technique off and on through the years with several very good teachers. At Western Michigan University I worked with Dr. Elwin Carter who was the vocal director for University Singers, a stylish singing ensemble for which I had nothing but admiration. My lessons with Doc Carter never won me even an audition for the elite ensemble, but he set me on a path of serious voice work when I studied regularly with him one on one over the summer of 1966.

I didn’t have an opportunity to study singing again until I found myself employed at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in 1973. While in Ashland, I answered an advertisement for voice lesson by one Cornelia Clemens (the widow of Hans Clemens, a well-known German tenor). She introduced me to several of the basic concepts of Italian bel canto singing. I proceeded to working on art songs with Cornelia before my departure from Ashland.

Training at ACT in San Francisco, we had group lessons with the remarkable Stewart Brady. Stewart had been a child prodigy as a singer and began teaching when he matured and settled in San Francisco. He mastered a very free and open interpretation of vocal production which seemed to me to be compatible with what I understood of bel canto. I followed up our group sessions with a series of private lessons with Stewart when I could afford them. After that I worked with one of Stewart’s protégés, Derek Winterbottom.

Though the years I made progress in singing working with the various Music Directors in shows in which I was cast, especially in song interpretation and in expanding my range when I was cast in baritone roles. There is nothing quite like the school of hard knocks to teach you the ropes. I learned to sing on “mic” primarily in performance and was at the mercy of the sound techs for making me sound decent whilst over-singing.

My current voice teacher, Mr. Matthew Ellenwood, has a very organic (and scientific) understanding of vocal technique which is founded on the principle that there is one voice for singing as well as speaking. He not only knows what’s happening in an optimized technique for various styles of singing but can communicate his knowledge in practice. My most valuable lessons from Matthew so far are getting a better grasp of the “light” voice used on microphone for pop and cabaret, not to mention amplified theatre singing.

When I’m done warming up every day, I perform one of my “challenge” pieces where I stretch with an art song or something musically demanding and then I proceed to practice whatever I’m currently preparing for my repertoire.

And so there’s a little information on my musical training and practice.


Burl Ives Role Model

I’m doing one of Burl Ives’ most famous numbers in Ride of Your Life “Big Rock Candy Mountain” which is also a favorite of mine. I’ve been trying to work out my relationship with Ives and his material for some time now. It is true that I have strangers telling me that I remind them of Burl Ives and when they find out I’m a singer they assume I’m doing his material. What an opportunity. I do two songs he made famous in Santa Songs and plan to do others in my other programs.

Burl Ives was an actor, folk singer and recording artist popular in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. He temporarily abandoned formal education (he had been planning a career as a football coach) for the school of hard knocks when and wandered the country hitching rides, working odd jobs and street singing with his banjo, picking up new songs as he went along. He first became famous as a folk singer who had collected a large repertoire of American music during his travels. His radio show “The Wayfaring Stranger” was also the title of his autobiography published in 1948. He began a stage career in summer theatre and made his Broadway debut in 1938, his movie debut as a singing cowboy in 1946. In 1952 Ives played the role of “Ben Rumson” both on Broadway and on tour in “Paint Your Wagon.” Loewe and Lerner were said to have added three songs especially for Ives.

As a recording artist he was prolific and particularly popular (singing novelty numbers and songs for children) even crossing over into Country music for a time. He is remembered today for his film performances, recordings and his narration of the TV special “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

His natural, straight forward singing style was distinctive and greatly admired as was his personable nature. He was widely thought of as everyone’s favorite “Uncle,” although his stage and screen roles encompassed a range from benign to blaggard and even fantastic (playing genies and snowmen).

I’ve given a lot of thought to doing an Ives tribute show and I’m not closed to the notion, but I haven’t committed to it just yet. Still there are a few things I find irresistible about him and his work. There is much to learn from his singing style, his commitment to his unique repertoire and his personal charm.

Sources:;;; accessed 4/24/14.

Take the Ride of Your Life

SongShoop Live Presents: Take the Ride of Your Life April 25th at 7:30 PM

At PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL

With SongShop singers (Arlene Armstrong , Amy Lechelt-Basta, Ruth Fuerst, Lynda Goron, Carrie Hedges, Claudia Hommel, Daniel Johnson, Jeff McGowan, Patricia Salinski, Sue Susman , Leona Zions) led by Claudia Hommel and with Philip Seward at the wheel (keyboard)! Dan will contribute “In Your Custom Made RV” his own parody of Gus Edwards “In Your Merry Oldsmobile” and the folk standard “In the Big Rock Candy Mountain” as a tribute to Pete Seeger. This is an eclectic and wonderful program full of popular standards and traditional songs with a great group of cabaret artists.


FRIDAY: You can also call Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006

(also seen April 26th at 7:00 PM The Venue at Daystar Center 1550 S. State St., Chicago, IL, but Dan will not perform that night.)

Prices are
Students/Musicians $10.00 ($11.34 w/service fee)
(SongShop tries to support those with a limited income!)
General Admission $15.00 ($16.52 w/service fee)
VIP Reserved, Front $25.00 ($26.87 w/service fee)

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