Tony Deaton is currently associate professor of music at Lee University, where he teaches applied voice and vocal literature. In addition to his teaching responsibilities at Lee, Deaton continues an active performance schedule through the southeast. His new book, STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! A Practical Guide to Vocal Technique and Performance was just released and offers down-to-earth tips to anyone involved in vocal performance.
When I first met Tony Deaton at a Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop a few years ago, I was impressed with his clear distinctive speaking and reading voice. Later I discovered his vast experience as a vocal artist and learned that he was writing a book about techniques to improve vocal performances. In this age of Podcasts, more and more writers are reading their work to audiences. The spoken arts, such as giving a public reading require different skills from those language skills that a writer usually uses. I wanted to know more about this skill, so I interviewed Tony Deaton about this.
Jan: So tell me about your new book, STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! A Practical Guide to Vocal Technique and Performance. Who is your intended readership for this book that speaks to vocal training to improve speaking and singing performance? And what led you to write this book?
Tony: My book is intended for use by singers on all levels from beginner to professional. I’ve been a student of the singing voice most of my life and I performed in opera, oratorio, recital, and musical theatre for more than forty years. I began teaching on the college level twenty years ago. I love teaching, but it has its challenges. In an effort to be a better teacher, I read a lot of books, as well as articles in music journals. While these were interesting, I found myself bogged down in too much jargon with charts and discussion regarding physiology. I wanted to write a book that is easy to understand and is immediately applicable to a singer.
Jan: You have spoken about the differences between those who have natural talents versus those who have marginal talent, but who understand the value of practice. Successful writers learn how essential practice is to the art and craft of writing. As a teacher of both individual vocalists and choral groups, you have seen this make a difference. How could this same idea be useful to someone doing public readings or speeches?
Tony: At one of my very first voice lessons many years ago, a teacher said something I’ve never forgotten: “Singing is speaking with music around it.” The point is the muscles, and for the most part, the use of those muscles in singing and speaking are the same. I emphasize to my voice students the use of a mirror and a recording device. Many of the technical errors and bad habits can be fixed simply by watching and listening. That’s two parts of the title I chose, Stop! Look! Listen! Watch yourself. Watch others. Listen to yourself. Listen to others. By watching and listening, a singer or a speaker can observe good points of vocal technique and good habits, as well as bad technique and bad habits you do not want to copy.
Jan: What do you see as some of the biggest hurdles for someone who is learning to become a singer, actor, or vocal performer?
Tony: That’s a very good question and one that is a little complex. It almost has a Jekyll/Hyde answer. What I mean is that on the one hand you have to work, work, work. Learn the basics of technique and continue to refine those for the rest of your singing life. On the other hand, you have to trust your voice. Let it sing freely. Vocal technique is very important. But technique should serve to enhance and support the natural talent and ability. It’s important to believe in yourself and respond to that burning passion to perform.
Jan: Let’s talk a bit about stage fright. I bought and read your book because I am going to do some readings for my new collection of short stories, Flight Path & Other Stories soon, and I find public reading terrifying. I got some good tips. As a writer I see myself as somewhat quiet and introverted. Stage fright is a real problem for me. What can I do to manage my stage fright and maximize my reading performance?
Tony: I used to be scared to death of auditions. Once onstage, I could hide behind the role/character I was portraying and feel very comfortable, but in auditions I felt completely exposed, vulnerable, and helpless. Every performer knows if you want to work, you have to audition. To connect and to feel comfortable with an audience, it’s important for performers to connect and feel comfortable with themselves.
It may sound crazy, but I suggest finding a private space, looking at yourself in the mirror and repeating words and phrases of calm assurance. Remind yourself of who you are, what you are, your accomplishments, the fact that you have had excellent training and experience. You are a professional. Also remind yourself that your audience came to hear you. They believe in you; that you are someone special. They are your fans. They love you. Love them. Reach out to them. If you feel nervous, tell them. Stating the obvious is a good way of dealing with it. Just saying it often minimizes the threat.
Jan: You have talked about the need for efficient articulation. What exactly is efficient articulation?
Tony: I must have read that term, “efficient articulation” somewhere. It sounds too good to be an original. When I said it in our workshop class, I think what I meant was to cut out the fluff. To say what you say with integrity. A minister from my youth used to say, “Plain talk is easy to understand.” An audience, whether it’s a live group of listeners, or those who read our work, can spot a fake. They see right through the “bull.” Just tell the story as straightforward as possible.
Jan: You have worked with such renowned artists as Gian Carlo Menotti, Carlisle Floyd, Robert Ward, Bodo Igesz, and Marni Nixon, among others, and performed many times on public and commercial radio and television. Who has most influenced you?
Tony: The names of those renowned artists sound good in a bio sketch, and I feel fortunate to have had the experience of working with them. But when I think of who influenced me most, my mind immediately goes to my teachers. My high school choral teacher, Henrietta Brandt, made a huge impact on me. Through her constant encouragement, I was made aware of my talent. In time I believed in my talent and in myself. She instilled a love of great music in me and I was given ample opportunities to perform. Jim Burns, my undergraduate teacher, and Edward Zambara, my teacher in graduate school, were also both very influential in my vocal journey.
Jan: When did you know that music would be your life?
Tony: There was never any doubt for me. I knew in high school that music would be my life’s endeavor. After my collegiate study I expected to return to my hometown and take over from my beloved choral teacher, Miss Brandt. Originally I wanted to be a high school choral director and a minister of music. Sometime during my freshman year of college I got the bug to be a performer. A few years later I did a role in an opera, and I knew then there was no turning back.
Jan: And what are your favorite pieces of music to sing and to teach chorally?
I have about three roles that are favorites. Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro is a role I have performed many times and always love it. Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof is another, and Reverend Olin Blitch in Susannah is the third. All three roles have unique vocal, musical, and emotional demands. I could be very happy given an opportunity to perform those three roles every week for a long time.
In the past I directed church choirs, but most of my training and experience is in vocal solo performance. Occasionally I am asked to work with the men’s section of a choir, but I haven’t taught a choral group in many years. My choral performance experience is as a soloist in choral masterworks. Two very different, exquisite works, The Mozart Requiem and Carmina Burana come to my mind as favorites.
Jan: Finally, what advice do you have to encourage people struggling to develop their talents, whether they are musicians, writers, singers or others dedicated to a life in these arts?
Tony: Thanks. What a good opening for me to plug my book, Stop! Look! Listen! A Practical Guide to Vocal Technique and Performance. It’s available on Amazon.
Although I said it a little differently in my book, I will use the same catch phrase, Stop! Look! Listen!
Stop. And ask yourself if you are you maximizing every opportunity given you to grow, study, and learn. Stop wasting your time. Work! The real reward comes in the fulfillment of work.
Look. Observe others in your discipline. What are the successful people doing as they produce quality work? Look and learn. You can also learn as much of what to avoid by watching the pitiful efforts of others.
Listen. To yourself. As a performer, record yourself. Be your own teacher and critic. And, I know it’s a cliché, but listen to your heart. Will you ever be truly happy and fulfilled if you deny the love of this art?
I write in my book, “Follow your passion. Not someone else’s passion for you, but your passion.” Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
B.A., Lee College
M.M., University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Background: Tony Deaton made his New York debut at The International Festival of the Arts in the title role of Punch in Harrison Birtwistle’s avant–garde opera, Punch and Judy. He has performed at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., at Spoleto USA in Charleston, S.C., and with symphony orchestras and opera companies throughout the United States.
He has worked with such renowned artists as Gian Carlo Menotti, Carlisle Floyd, Robert Ward, Bodo Igesz, and Marni Nixon, among others, and has performed many times on public and commercial radio and television. Deaton created the role of Major William Lewis in the world premiere performance of Rachel, produced by the Knoxville Opera Company, and was chosen by American composer Richard Maltz to premiere his song cycle Seeing With The Heart. As a member of North Carolina’s distinguished Visiting Artist Program, Deaton presented hundreds of recitals, workshops and master classes. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Lee College as a voice student of Jim Burns and a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Tennessee, where he studied with Edward Zambara. Deaton has taught on the voice faculties of Appalachian State University and Methodist College. He is currently associate professor of music at Lee University, where he teaches applied voice and vocal literature. In addition to his teaching responsibilities at Lee, Deaton continues an active performance schedule through the southeast. He is married to the former Suzy Venable, originally of Knoxville, and is the proud grandfather of grandsons Spencer and Andy.
About Jan Bowman:
Jan Bowman’s new story collection, Flight Path & Other Stories (October 2015) Evening Street Press is available.
Winner of the Roanoke Review Fiction Award, Jan’s stories have been nominated for Best American Short Stories, Pushcart and Pen/O’Henry awards. Her fiction has appeared in Evening Street Review, Uncertain Promise: An Anthology of Short Fiction and Creative Nonfiction, Roanoke Review, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, and others.
Jan’s stories have been finalists or short- listed for the Broad River Review RASH Award for Fiction, The Phoebe Fiction Contest and So-to-Speak fiction contest. Glimmer Train named a story as Honorable Mention for Short Story Awards for New Writers.
She is working on a new story collection, working title, Life Boat Drills for Children. She has nonfiction publications in Atticus Review, Trajectory, and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a regular blog on her website on the writing life and interviews writers and publishers. Learn more at: www.janbowmanwriter.com