Born and raised in the Catskills, Jessica Rucker, Singnasium student, grew up singing with her father who bred and trained standardbred horses on their farm in Sullivan County. He introduced her to greats like Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra and had the radio station permanently set to AM WNEW (“Eleven three oh, New York!”). “I’d be up at the crack of dawn to help my father in the barn, and I’d serenade the horses while I worked.” She enjoyed performing in school and community theater musicals and gained some professional experience after college as a soloist for churches and local choral societies in the Tri-State area. Shortly after performing the role of Carmen for Delaware Valley Opera, her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she reprioritized her life to be available as a caregiver for him which included relocating to Florida. After his death, it became almost impossible for her to sing without crying and so she abandoned performing for years.
Over time, she slowly reconnected with her love of singing by getting involved in local choral societies and church choirs. In 2017, Jessica joined the Master Chorale of South Florida and went on to sing with them onstage with Kol Esperanza, Rocktopia, and Maestro Andrea Bocelli! With the encouragement of her husband and friends, Jessica began signing up for local jazz jams with professional musicians in late 2019, and was singing weekly by the time March, 2020 rolled around. “I was just starting to feel like I could build some momentum as a performer again when the pandemic hit and then everything came to a screeching halt. I felt so heartbroken and lost."
Currently, Jessica works as a Medical Speech-Language Pathologist providing voice and swallowing function rehabilitation to patients in hospitals recovering from critical illnesses, including COVID-19. While quarantined at home, she noticed a post on Facebook about Singapalooza hosted by Lennie Watts, and decided to sign up for the open mic. That experience motivated her to register for Singnasium classes: “Discovering Singasium was like finding an oasis in a desert! It provides invaluable intellectual stimulation, musical training, performance pointers, and social interaction with like-minded people. My therapy work is very mentally and emotionally demanding, so I feel blessed to have this extraordinary opportunity to be a part of the Singnasium family even though I’m 1200 miles away from New York City!”
Lennie Watts, founder of Singnasium, was interviewed by Sue Matsuki, of Cabaret Hotspot. Click the link below to read the article!
Lennie Watts, singer, producer, teacher, director, long-time MAC President and the Artistic Director of Singnasium and now the host of a new open mic called Singapalooza talks about life and offering places to work on your craft during these crazy times!
“It’s a medical fact that singing is a natural anti-depressant which strengthens the immune system. Now more than ever, we need to use our voice and our breathing to be creative and rebuild all around good feelings,” says Lennie Watts, who founded the non-profit singing collective, Singnasium. That’s why you should relax, grab a beverage and join scores of cabaret, country and Broadway singers of all ages and levels for Singnasium’s summer open mic night Thursday, August 20, 6:30-8:30pm.
Sing to tracks, or accompany yourself.
Email Singapalooza@singnasium.org by 3pm on the day of to register and to receive a zoom link. Free to join.
Summer is (almost) here and for Singnasium this means an all new line up of classes and workshops! From cabaret to country, the most popular musical genres and styles are all on our roster featuring a top-notch, award-winning line-up of highly accomplished New York teaching artists. And we’re very excited to announce that all are available on-line!
We’ve moved all of our summer curriculum completely online to offer a diverse selection of virtual classes covering musical theater, cabaret, country, jazz, and rock, as well as musicianship, vocal training, arranging, and self taping— a true one-stop musical shopping experience. A full list of classes, which begin June 15, and teaching artists’ bios may be found here.
We are taking this opportunity to expand our footprint from New York City to the whole country and even internationally. And we’ve reached out to provide some of the best teaching artists in NYC and beyond. Now more than ever, being creative, and more specifically, singing is important! It helps with stress and breathing, and all around good feelings.
Some of the teaching artists will be familiar to you and some are new to the mix and represent some of the best in their respective fields. Grammy Award-winning songwriterJulie Gold (From a Distance); Tony Award nominee Sharon McNight (Starmites); and multi award-winning Broadway, recording and cabaret star Karen Mason (Sunset Boulevard, Mama Mia, And The World Goes ‘Round) offer new classes, joining current Singnasium teaching artists Gabrielle Stravelli, Kristine Zbornik, Brad Simmons, Michael Holland, Carmen Cancél, Ted Stafford and Lennie Watts. Also joining with new offerings this summer are Joshua Zecher-Ross, Lisa Asher, and Ashton Michael Corey. Check out the complete listing on www.singnasium.org.
I’m also excited to announce a new monthly online open mic, “Singapalooza”!
Join us Thursday June 11, July 16 and August 20 from 6:30 - 8:30pm.
Hosted by yours truly - Get a track, make a drink and SING!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org by 3pm on the day to register. You will be sent a zoom link.
Need some guidance on how to make the most of your online singing presence? Ashton Michael Corey will be teaching a new Singnasium summer offering: Put Your Best Face Forward. Here are some quick tips to give you a taste of what to expect!
- Tip 1: When recording vocals, you usually want to be about 6-8 inches away from the microphone. The further away you are, the more background noise and room reverberation you’ll record. If you get extremely close to a microphone you’ll notice the lower frequencies seem to be more prevalent, this is known as proximity effect. Proximity effect is a valuable tool that’s used by voice over artists and singers to achieve an intimate and tone-rich sound like that of crooners Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
- Tip 2: Pop filters are a must have for recording vocals. Pop filters come in many varieties, but the most common is a hoop shaped frame with a thin fabric stretched across the middle like a drum head. They’re placed between the vocalist and the microphone to prevent bursts of air (often produced by plosives like the “P” sound) from directly hitting the microphone and causing a loud POP sound.
You can learn more from Ashton by signing up for Put Your Best Face Forward.
Welcome to the great indoors!
I hope this newsletter finds you all safe and healthy. Boy, these are strange times, and I don’t know about you, but it’s taken me a while to adapt to this “new normal”.
How do we stay healthy? How do we stay sane? How do we stay creative? We are inundated with news 24/7, and most of it isn’t good. We’ve all been affected by this virus, and for some of us, it’s hit very close to home. Now, more than ever, the power of music and its effect on our lives is so apparent.
When I started Singnasium with Kim Grogg and John Koprowski, one of the first things we discussed was how music and the community that it brings had enhanced and vitalized our lives. Our mission was to create a space that could help do that for other singers - singers of all levels and strengths that shared a common love and appreciation of music and singing. We have brought artists together in classes, seminars, workshops and bootcamps.
Now, we are faced with new challenges and opportunities for furthering our mission. We are thinking outside of our normal box and stretching into new territories. We have started using platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Meet to conduct business. We are currently doing the three classes that were interrupted by the COVID-19 quarantine on Zoom, and will be adding more classes very soon.
Although this is all very new to us, we are making it work and excited about being able to continue with classes. We are also excited about the prospect of opening our classes and exposing our amazing teaching artists to singers around the country and the world! People who do not live in the New York area will be able to sign up for these online classes! We will be sending info about our next round of classes shortly. Until then, keep singing, stay positive, and take good care of yourselves.
May 2020 - Lennie Watts, Artistic Director and CEO
Masks may be required when we venture out, but while we’re at home, I encourage you to turn on the music and Sing Out Louise! Now is the time to let music be your companion and wrap you in love.
There are so many people in our community who are singing out and helping to keep us strong. Check out our fabulous teaching artist, Gabrielle Stravelli, and her Live FaceBook concerts on Saturdays. Or take a peek at Singnasium student, John Burns, and his kitchen concerts. And what about all the Singnasium singers who made Stephen Mosher’s Broadway World Pandemic Playlist! (Gerrilyn Sohn, Rian Keating, Roberta Feldhusen, Lynda Rodolitz and Helane Blumfield, just to name a few!) All of this to say, there is a lot of entertainment out there which can lift your spirits and connect you to others.
The Singnasium Board realizes the need to keep music alive...in our homes and in our hearts. With that in mind, we have taken steps to offer online classes and retool our upcoming summer and fall sessions. We continue to keep our mission front and center: Keeping the arts alive by helping vocal artists thrive.
To keep the arts alive AND to keep the proverbial lights on, we need your help.
- Stay in touch with us! Look for us on Facebook and Instagram and check out our website for new classes and important information. Say hello! Check in! Let us know what you are singing and how you are being creative. Share with us your favorite shelter-in-place activity or recipe of a favorite dish (Joan Darragh, I am talking to you!)
- Make a Donation. Tuesday, May 5th, was the National Day of Giving and Unity. Money was raised to support our first responders, front-line workers and non-profit organizations who are struggling. Singnasium may not be a first responder, but we do play an important part in nourishing and feeding the souls of people who are affected by this crisis. You can help us keep the arts alive during this time by donating. Any gift is truly appreciated. You can donate by going to Singnasium.org.
- Support us on Amazon Smile. I don’t know about you, but I am doing a lot of online shopping for necessities and I always use my Amazon Smile account in support of Singnasium. (Simply type smile.amazon.com in your browser and choose Singnasium in the "Supporting" drop down).
- Become a recurring donor. We can help set up a monthly giving plan that works within your budget.
Let me end by saying, we are forever grateful for all gifts and donations. We have to stay collectively strong and with your help we can do that through music and song! Oh yeah...and a good cookie recipe!
May 2020 - by Kim Grogg, President
Our Student Spotlight showcases Deborah Zecher, a rabbi, a mother and an avid Singnasium student.
What is your performance background?
As one of those kids who spent my days singing along with cast albums of musicals, it was one of life’s great ironies that neither my high school nor college did musicals. Not until Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway in November 2019 was I in anything resembling a musical. (Thank you, Ricky!)
With my love of music, people were surprised that I became a rabbi, not a cantor but my passion for music always percolated just beneath the surface of my rabbinic life. In 1995, I was invited to speak at a nearby congregation; instead, I created Broadway Bible where I told Bible stories with a show tune title. Here’s an example: Noah is on the ark and his wife finds him outside, trying to escape the responsibility for all those animals for a few minutes. “What are you doing?” she asks. “Oh, just ‘Singing in the Rain.’” Fractured Bible stories with a musical twist!
That was followed by ten years doing Jewish-themed cabaret shows each summer. In 2005, I started taking a cabaret class at the local music school. I learned about the Yale Cabaret Conference, was accepted and spent twelve of the most challenging and rewarding days of my life there.
I realized that the need to perform was becoming more compelling so I retired early in 2014 and moved to NYC to jump into the cabaret world with both feet and a whole heart. I attended open mics, started taking the Arrangement Experience and Summer Boot Camps with Lennie, as well as classes at the Juilliard Adult Division and the Kaufman Music Center. I was fortunate to be a Senior Fellow at the O’Neill Cabaret Center in 2017, another intense but fabulous experience.
When Singnasium began, it became my cabaret address, not only for the classes I love, but also for the wonderful community of singers. In 2018, I presented my debut show called, ON PURPOSE, a musical memoir of my life as a rabbi, wife, mom and, now, cabaret singer. Doing that show filled my heart in ways I never imagined possible. And in 2019, I was so happy to be part of Four Women, Four Stories with Lynda Rodolitz, Helane Blumfield and Peggy Schwartz, as well as Meg Flather’s Cabaret Sisterhood.
What became clear as I began to explore this ‘second act’, was my desire to synthesize my love of cabaret with my lifelong passion for Judaism. I’ve loved traveling around the country as an artist-in-residence performing shows from my synagogue years, as well as ON PURPOSE.
Last September, I created a cabaret fusion High Holiday service where I substituted thematically appropriate cabaret songs in place of some of the liturgy. Planning and leading that service for the cabaret community was a total labor of love, especially because I got to work with my son, Joshua, who is another one of my favorite musical collaborators. What the experiences of the last few years taught me was that I could bring my whole self to the stage, and I’m really grateful for every opportunity to sing.
How are you staying connected to your family and friends while staying at home?
My son, daughter-in-law and grandchild (cutest baby ever!) live in Jerusalem so we have a weekly WhatsApp visit and regular Zoom calls for our extended family. I’ve taken part in Zoom get-togethers with college and rabbinic friends. I can attend Zoom Shabbat services at my former synagogue in the Berkshires, as well as those all over the country.
Being home has given me the chance to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen or talked to in a long time, a silver lining of this situation. And I’ve been happily connected with the Singnasium family as well, with a weekly Zoom visit with my Sing Your Story pals and others in my Singnasium world.
How are you staying creative?
I’ve been working on a new show called, Jewish Caroling: The Music of Carole King, Carole Bayer Sager and Carolyn Leigh, originally scheduled for early May but now postponed until mid-October (hopefully!). I’ve loved exploring the lives of these amazing women and their music. I work with Lennie Watts and Tracy Stark and they continue to inspire me with their talent, creativity and generosity.
After a short hiatus, I’m back working on the show which fills me with joy. I’m also working my way through a book on how to play from a fake book so that I can accompany myself a little better when I practice. I’m a terrible pianist, but I thought this might be more fun and more useful than just practicing scales.
What’s the first thing you want to do once we can get out and about more?
First and foremost, I want to see my kids and hug them for about 10 hours! Then (and I know this might be a while) I want to walk from my UWS apartment to midtown and revel in the theatre district coming back to life. And if I can see my friends on stage at Don’t Tell Mama or one of the other clubs we love, even better!
I want to thank every front-line worker and first responder I encounter and ultimately, I want to advocate to make life better for those who helped us by their willingness to be out there during the pandemic.
As a rabbi, any words of comfort for those feeling a little off while on lock down?
The wisdom of people’s shared life experience has been enormously comforting. In particular, I am guided by those who remind me to take one day at a time, live in the present and acknowledge gratitude. It’s so crucial to be gentle with ourselves when we feel frustrated, sad or depressed and to acknowledge the legitimacy of those feelings. Social media can be both a blessing and a curse; it helps us to stay connected but it can also be intimidating. We’ve got to let go of the tendency to judge ourselves harshly when we see what others offer online and wonder why we’re not doing the same. Sometimes, our greatest accomplishment is simply living out each day as best we can.
But since you add the caveat of my rabbinic background, I’ll frame my answer in the context of a Jewish text. One of the key components of the Passover seder is the retelling of the exodus from slavery. We tell the story over and over again because we are commanded to remember and to see ourselves as if we too had escaped from slavery. And that remembering must inform our day-to-day existence—to see our lives as a journey, to know that bondage and liberation take many forms and that both are part of our lives. We also realize we have a sacred responsibility to help others with their liberation. It’s about kindness, compassion and empathy for ourselves and for others.
Another piece of the story resonates deeply for me. When the Israelites left Egypt, they did so with almost no time to prepare for the journey, but the Torah is explicit that Miriam, the sister of Moses, packed her tambourine among her few possessions. In later commentaries, the sages ask why she would bother to bring a musical instrument at such a precarious time. As usual, they answer their own question. She brought her tambourine, they suggest, because she understood that music would be vital to their survival as the Israelites made their way through the desert with so much uncertainty and angst. Miriam knew that there would again be a time for music and celebration. The same is true for us. Music has the power to heal as we slowly and often painfully, make our way through these complex and challenging days. We will sing again and our music will carry us forward to days of celebration and joy!
May 2020 - Deb Zecher
Singnasium student, Laurel Lockhart, has been an actor all her life, working in summer stock, dinner theatre, Off Broadway and National Tours. Being cast in La Cage Aux Folles, and going to Los Angeles with the company, starring Gene Barry, was a definite highlight. And repeating her performance as Madame Dindon with Larry Kert (original Tony in West Side Story) at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera was like a dream come true.
Television, film and Actor’s Alley Theatre Company made Los Angeles a busy place. But after one too many earthquakes, and her mother suffering a stroke, she moved back to her hometown, Pittsburgh. After her mother passed she wondered, “What to do? Move back to L.A., or back to NYC?” She ended up going to Ireland, and then decided that New York would be home.
But when she arrived, she found the New York she knew was greatly changed. She turned her shock into art, and was inspired to write Times Square Tourist, a solo show that she took to the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland.
Laurel came to Singnasium through our Artistic Director/CEO, Lennie Watts. A couple of friends of Laurel’s were MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets) members and they encouraged her to join and go to MAC To School, a weekend of singing and performing workshops, where she met Lennie and learned about his classes. Laurel has taken The Arrangement Experience and most recently Sing Your Story, which she feels is a great class in which to improve your craft, learn new material and meet a supportive group of people.
Laurel shared, “there is nothing better than being with creative, energetic, inspirational performers and sharing the joy of music together.” Here at Singnasium, we couldn’t agree more!