8 Things I Learned From Singing In Choir

Christine Griswold Career Advice, Music, Performing Arts 0 Comments

Classic interview question: What class or academic experience do you think best prepared you for your career/life?  Now I’ve had a varied career that’s ranged from post production on feature films, to heading up production at a boutique animation house, to teaching and writing. Yet the answer to the aforementioned question for all of these things is singing in a choir.

1. Responsibility

Joining a choir is like joining any other “team”—everybody counts on you to be prepared and on time, and you need to work the rest of your life around these responsibilities. I’ve sung in choirs since I was in elementary school, and learning this time management skill from such a young age has helped me immeasurably in myriad aspects of my life. Whether it was doing make-up work from missing class while singing in a traveling performance choir in high school, or postponing or foregoing social engagements in order to rehearse or perform, I’ve had lots of practice in learning how to honor a commitment. And this ability has served me well in all aspects of my life.

2. Practice and Work Hard

Truly, the only way to get really good at something is to practice. Few people know every word, harmony, phrasing, dynamic, tempo or cue to every song right out of the gate (save for a few musical savants I’ve met in my time who come freakishly close after hearing a song played once)—most of us have to dedicate a fair amount of time and effort to hitting the right notes when we’re supposed to hit them, while singing the correct verse (in a way that is hopefully sonically pleasing as well). Focus, hard work, attention to detail and persistence pay off—in music, and in life—and often bring joy and a sense of accomplishment along with them.

3. Listen and Work Together

The thing about singing in a choir is that it is not a solitary exploit. Sure there are solos to be had but there is much more time spent blending and working together to create the beauty the composer has envisioned. Everyone plays a part. And although there are some leaders (those who are always spot-on with the correct notes, words and phrasing, etc.) the amazing part is that all members come together as a whole to sing in harmony where no one voice really stands out. This requires learning to listen to others so that your voice is strong and true, yet no louder than the folks’ to either side of you on the risers. Singing in a choir is really about blending voices together.

4. Take direction

In a choir the choral conductor runs the show. In life, in order for people to work together especially in large groups, it’s often most effective to have a single point person lead the group. Allowing that one person’s leadership or vision to guide your work together allows people to stay on task and accomplish goals. You may not always agree with their choices, but following this person’s lead not only helps coordinate everybody’s efforts, it may just open you up to new ways of looking at, interpreting or accomplishing goals – sometimes even stretching your own ability and creativity. Like it or not, we all find ourselves in situations when we are asked to take direction, to accept it and try to learn something from it – even if it’s how not to do something in the future.

5. Sometimes you must stand on your own

There are times while singing in the choir that you take center stage and sing on your own. All eyes are on you, and part of the fun is that you get to show a little bit more of yourself and what you can do in ways that are different from your usual choral singing. I’ve sung solos a cappella, or with instrumental or vocal backup. Being able to confidently present yourself in these types of situations is a great skill to have. Sometimes, things go as planned, other times, the choir has gone flat and you come in on key or the mic doesn’t work or your voice cracks or the pianist misses her cue…and you must improvise. This is another extremely important skill to master, because things in life do NOT always go as planned. Period. Successful people are those who are able to assess the situation and quickly come up with a new plan given the current (often unforeseen) circumstances. This is a skill often strengthened through singing solos, being in the moment and dealing with changing circumstances.

6. Contribute what you can

We all have different talents and challenges. Sometimes we want a different voice from what we have. And you can work on broadening your range and further developing what comes naturally, but there is not much to be gained through jealousy of others’ gifts or conversely, not recognizing and utilizing one’s own. There’s a place for melody and harmony. Decide which you can bring and bring it well! You may get the chance to experience both, depending on what is needed in a given song or situation. Balance and diversity of skill and point of view often bring about the best outcomes. Be thankful for who you are the things you do well.

7. Confidence

Through performing I’ve been “putting myself out there” since I was very young. I’ve been taught how to deliver in front of small groups as well as those numbering into the thousands. I know when and how not to pull focus (like not playing with your hair) and when and how to take center stage to be heard. These experiences have allowed me to develop skills that I use in both my personal and professional lives, and that have afforded me the opportunity to participate in ways I otherwise wouldn’t. I know how to connect with people and I feel as comfortable being part of a team as I do serving as its leader. Essentially, I am confident in my abilities and who I am through years of experience—and in no small part due to the specific experience I’ve gained through singing with multiple choirs.

8. Do what you love

My grandfather told me to “do something you love—that way you’ll never work a day in your life.” Granted, not everyone can sing for a living, but not everyone has to in order to benefit from the joy it brings. Singing along to the radio turned up full blast while doing chores, to holiday caroling or teaching music class have all given me a chance to vocalize.

However, there have been times in my life where I really needed a choir, and I was usually lucky enough to be able to find one. To be able to escape the pain of a bad break-up, or just the everyday stress of an over-scheduled life, is a valuable pursuit and happy result of doing something you love. For me, nothing matches the whole body (almost at times out of body) experience of singing 3- to 4- to 8-part harmony, either a cappella or accompanied by a piano or full orchestra, to transport me to my happiest place.

So jump in – find a choir that’s right for you and sing, sing, sing! You might be surprised by what you learn.

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Marshall Ayers Books, Sponsors, Visual Arts, Writing

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10 Questions for Film Producer Gaylyn Fraiche

Andrea Davis Career Advice, Film, Getting Started, Performing Arts, Production, Television

Film Producer and Development Executive Gaylyn Fraiche has numerous credits spanning many years with experience that covers making flight reservations (her early years) to cultivating relationships with feature and television writers, making casting and crew decisions and solving on-set problems. She deploys her gracious Southern manners to good effect and is as comfortable chatting with gaffers on set as she is catching up with top tier directors and actors. Gaylyn was generous enough to answer a few questions for me about her career in the film and television industries for Artzray.

10 Questions for Gaylyn Fraiche

What was your first job?

I answered a blind ad in The Hollywood Reporter and was hired to be the receptionist at Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment, a small but very successful TV production company that did TV movies and was just starting to produce series.  I worked for everyone and met everyone who walked in the door.

Tell us about five turning points in your career:  education, successes, failures, diversions. Basically, how did you get from there to here?

Wow…only 5?

I was only 21 and about a month out of film school (University of Texas at Austin) when I moved to LA and got that first job.  I had been here 4 days, and only knew what I’d learned in film school. I didn’t know anything about the “business” side of the industry.  It was great job with great people, but a big turning point was when I got laid off a few years later when the company had to downsize.

That was certainly one of my first big lessons in the business, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”  I often have to remind myself of that even after all of this time.

After some time working freelance… for the people who laid me off… I was hired by Curtis Hanson to be his assistant on “The River Wild.”  He wasn’t yet the big Oscar winner, but he was incredibly smart and taught me so much about movies.  It was my first feature film, and I was working with Meryl Streep.  I went on location for the first time and worked on the movie until it was released internationally.  It was a crash course in studio filmmaking, at least from the director’s side. I feel like working so closely with a director in the beginning taught me a lot about the kind of producer I wanted to be and hope that I am.

Gaylyn Fraiche

Finally being promoted to Director of Development at Castle Rock Pictures after being an assistant for many years was a bigger turning point than I realized at the time.  When you read and critique scripts, writing coverage especially, you feel like you know what you’re doing, but it’s not until you sit with writers and discuss and dissect scripts and have to give the writers notes do you really hone your craft.  There are no absolutes in what we do.  We are all trying to make the best possible project, but we all have different opinions and taste.

In 2011, when was running Debra Martin Chase’s deal at Disney, we were given the contemporary American Girl Doll/Girl of the Year movie franchise.  They wanted to make them feel more like Disney Channel movies.  Basically they had oversight, but they were giving us a specific amount of money, much less than we were used to, to go make the movie.  We hired a line producer to consult and worked with the writers to tailor the script to get the most for our money.  Normally we would be working with a studio or network physical production executive to decide where to shoot the movie for maximum tax credits, etc., but we didn’t have that person this time around. Most of that fell on my shoulders.  In talking with lots of people, I was directed toward Winnipeg. We hired a production services company who helped us put everything together.  It was a lot like putting together an independent movie, when someone has already given you the money.  I used a lot of new muscles.  That same year, we were putting the remake of “Sparkle” together for Sony, and ABC Family hired us to produce a musical for them called “Lovestruck.”  Debra and I really had to divide and conquer.  I ended up running “Lovestruck” from prep through post while Debra was on “Sparkle.”  It was a crazy busy year or so, but it was a huge step forward for me as a producer.

In 2014, I went to work at MarVista Entertainment.  I had been unemployed for almost a year after the Disney deal expired.  I had not been unemployed since I was freelance and had held my last two jobs for 8 1/2 years and 7 1/2 years.  Although stressful at times, it was nice to have had the time off to regroup, but I was ready to go back to work.  In my job at MarVista, we make movies for television, but I work on the side that sells to and develops directly with networks.  Since starting here, I’ve made two movies for Disney (Disney Channel and Disney XD) and four for Hallmark. We shoot mainly in Canada, and I have developed relationships with great creative people there.   Since MarVista is the production and distribution company, I’ve learned a lot on the distribution side and continue to learn as the company grows.

Gaylyn Fraiche

Me with actor Josh Ballard, producer Trish Dolman and actor Bradley Steven Perry on a rainy Vancouver day for Disney XD’s “Pants on Fire.”

If you had a time machine and could only go back to talk to your 21-year-old self only about your work life for only two minutes, what would you tell yourself?

Don’t be so consumed with getting to the next level.  Try to live in each moment and take a look at what you’ve achieved.  Look at the whole journey.  There are some great things happening along the way.  I remember one day when I was reading a magazine article about Hugh Grant at my desk at Castle Rock, and he called.  I used to talk to him all the time, as he and Elizabeth Hurley had a deal at Castle Rock.  It was surreal to tell him I was reading an article about him and getting to discuss “Bridget Jones’s Diary” with him.

What is the hardest thing about your job, and how do you approach it?

It’s a lot of hurry up and wait, and once the trigger is pulled, things can move very fast.  You’re often putting together a team of creative people in a matter of weeks to start a project.  I try to keep track of the people I like working with and keep up good relationships, so I can be as prepared as possible when we get a green light.

What is something you do every day that is essential to your career?

I read the news and listen to mainstream radio.  It sounds silly, but I have friends who only listen to satellite radio… 70s and 80s… whatever they feel comfortable with.  I feel I need to stay connected to what is happening right now.  I feel that consciously or subconsciously I’m always looking for new talent and great stories.

Complete this sentence: “If I couldn’t make movies, I would __________.”

Own a winery.

What is the weirdest, most unexpected skill you bring to your job, and how did you learn it?

That’s a really good question. I had to think on it a bit.  I think growing up in The South and being taught by my mother how to be a good party hostess comes in handy in my job as a producer.  You are always putting groups of people together who often have nothing in common but the project they are making.  I try to find a commonality between everyone and make things as harmonious and hopefully fun as possible.  It is often very stressful, as we all know, but I hope that in the end we all come out of it knowing we made something great together, and we remember the good over the bad.  I credit other people for pointing that out to me over the years.  I didn’t realize it myself until the last couple of years.

Gaylyn Fraiche

With the lovely Jane Seymour on “Lovestruck The Musical” for ABC Family.

Do you have a mentor? How did you find your mentor and forge a relationship with him or her?

I’ve never had one specific mentor, but I have worked with and for some great people.  Curtis Hanson was great.  Martin Shafer at Castle Rock was an amazing boss and was always willing to answer questions.  He knows so much about the business.  William Goldman became a friend via phone when I worked at Castle Rock.  I spoke to him almost every day.  He always had the best stories and knew how to tell them.  When I was promoted, he offered to work on projects or just “spitball” with me if I needed him.  I wish I could have taken him up on it more often.  I have always been curious, and I think you forge relationships with people when they know you are genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say.

Favorite movie? Favorite TV show? Favorite book?

There are sooooo many movies.  My top three in different genres are “Grease,” “Tootsie” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  Funny enough, they are all from around the same time period.  I guess that was a very influential time in my life… young teens.  I’m currently loving “This is Us” on television.  There are so many great shows, but this one has risen to the top.  I also loved “The Night Manager.”  I have always loved “The Great Gatsby,” since my AP English teacher handed it to me and told me she had chosen it specifically for me for my final research paper.

Favorite style of pizza?

Traditional Italian-style thin crust with grilled vegetables and crushed red pepper.

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