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Aspiring Singers Finds It Takes A Little Push, A Little Twist
Saturday, January 19, 2019


Pianist John Boswell looked as if he was caught in the middle.

But he kept playing the piano, scarcely paying attention to the boy pushing the piano one way while cabaret star Scott Coulter tried to push it the opposite way.

“I won’t send roses or hold the door,” Rye Fruehling sang, seemingly emboldened by the act of pushing the piano. “And should I love you, you would be the last to know.”

“Great, great, great!” enthused Coulter, as eight teenagers sitting on folding chairs in the music room at Sun Valley Community School clapped. “Think about pushing all that energy out. This time you nailed it.”

Coulter, a legendary cabaret singer in New York, has staged master classes around the world from Kalamazoo, Mich., to Riga, Latvia. He staged one in Sun Valley this week in conjunction with tonight’s “Jerry Herman: The Broadway Legacy Concert” being performed at the Argyros Center for the Performing Arts in Ketchum.

The class introduces today’s youngsters to the work of Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, while honing the skills of the next generation that will take the stage.

“Young people know ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Book of Mormon,’ ” he said. “But they don’t know ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and ‘Mame.’ Sharing this music with a younger generation has been extraordinary. Jerry Herman is  iconic, legendary. And I’m thrilled to share his music.”

Fruehling was the first to take the stage, singing “I Won’t Send Roses,” the Jerry Herman song he had chosen from “Mack and Mabel” about the tumultuous relationship between Hollywood director Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand.

Coulter listened intently, then asked Freuhling to sing the piece in a lower key.

“We stretch for the high note no matter what key we put it in,” he said to the class, showing how singers tend to take it on an “aeeeee” journey. “And we do that because it’s the high note.”

He turned to Freuhling.

“Now, say ‘I’m gonna nail the high note.’ Think about pushing all your energy down to the floor.”

Freuhling bent his knees as if he was a skier getting in an athletic stance. Then he opened his mouth and began singing.

“You nailed it!” Coulter said.

Julia Ott took her place at the front of the room singing “Ribbons Down My Back” from “Hello, Dolly!”

“Ay, yi yi,” Coulter interrupted.

“How many of you drive?” he turned to the class. “Now, how many of you drive like this,” he asked, mimicking a driver behind a car that lurches forward a foot at a time.

“You’ve got to put your foot on the gas and keep it going. Your breath is the gas,” So take as long a breath as you can,” he said.

He turned to Ott: “Now, see if you can do all that in one breath.”

She obliged, as Coulter spread his arms apart, simulating the act of holding a breath.

“That’s nice! Don’t breathe unless you have to!” he told her.

Sophie Harder strolled up to the front and immediately launched into “I Won’t Send Roses”—Mabel’s response to Mack.

“So who needs roses or stuff like that! So who wants chocolates? They’d make me fat…”

“Now, hate every moment of it!” Coulter told her. “So who needs roses?!” he yelled back at her. “This guy’s nasty. You’ve had it with him. So tell us how much you’ve had it!”

Harder responded with the ferocity of a lion trying to chomp into a gazelle.

  “Awesome and every note perfect! See the difference?” Coulter said to the class. “Hate is an intense emotion. You all were more engaged watching and listening to that, weren’t you?!”

“Was it fun?” he asked Harder.

“Yes!” she nodded.

Annabel Webster spun off the last lyrics of “If He Walked Into My Life” from “Mame.”

“Though I’ll ask myself my whole life long what went wrong along the way? Would I make the same mistakes if he walked into my life today?”

Coulter handed her a black shirt, asking her to pull it every which way as she sang.

“Great, great, great, great, great,” he said.

The shirt and piano pushing are tools or tricks to get students to think about expending energy on something other than singing, said Coulter.

“When you focus on another task, it frees the voice up to fly from your body without your thinking about manipulating it or forcing sounds,” he said. “The piano thing came to me one day in a class and then I added the shirt out of necessity when I taught a class without a pushable piano.”

Holding nostrils as you sing is a mask thing, he added.

“It helps to get the voice out of the back of the mouth and throat and up into the nasal resonators.

Rye Freuhling, for one, liked the tearing of the shirt and the piano pushing.

“It helped distract me from worrying about singing,” said Freuhling who has his sights set on acting.

Christine DuFur, by contrast, hopes to pursue a career in music.

She chose to sing “Look What Happened to Mabel” from the musical “Mack and Mabel.”

“Doing a class like this is good practice for people like me who are hoping to study music. I went out and did more research on Jerry Herman because of this. I’ve learned through this how much he’s done. He’s very talented.”

Kevin Wade, the Upper School theater coach at Sun Valley Community School, called the master’s class “an amazing opportunity for the students to be taught by someone like Coulter, who is a pretty famous vocal performance teacher.”

“He coaches them on how to bring life to the piece they’ve chosen. And it gives them a chance to see more clearly what vocal performance classes are like, what musical theater school might be like,” he added.

Coulter said he has high hopes for the youngsters.

“They were fantastic—lots of talented kids in that room. They stated out slightly nervous or trepidatious but all dove right in and embraced the work,” he said. “They all walked away having learned a little something and I think they were really very excited about that.”

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