Fun with "Jee Jaw Jee"

If you visit the Kanbar Performing Arts Center any afternoon of the week, you'll hear lovely singing all around. It's entirely possible that amongst that singing will be the simple, catchy, and enduring "Jee Jaw Jee" warmup below. I don't know why I like this one so much, or why it seems to be a favorite of my colleagues and students, but perhaps it's due to the bouncy rhythm, or the buoyant, effervescent feeling you get when you do it right. In these few sentences, I've already built it up to be more than it is in actual substance, but give it a try and see what you think.

Similarly catchy, but slightly more difficult is "Kee Yaw Kyaw." This one hails from the late, great Barbara Kierig (and, she would've told you, from Tovini before her. "He was an utter god, Honey!"). Her original was slightly different, putting the 'kyaw' on the top note of the exercise. When we worked on this one, I usually lost my grounding and ended up choking on my larynx, so she moved the 'kyaw' one note earlier so I could slide up to the top and try to maintain a neutral, relaxed laryngeal position. It's a small example of flexibility and pragmatism that was a hallmark of our work together, and that I try to practice with my own students. After all, as Barbara said time and again, "You have to do what you have to do to get it to do." So there.


Vocal Technique and Warmups - Videos and Sharing

Beginning this week, I'll be posting videos of the warmups and vocalises I use regularly in my teaching. I used to think of these as proprietary, and think that keeping them semi-secret would preserve my unique teaching style and ability. In addition to being self-absorbed and vain, I now believe this notion is actually practically false as well. Sharing information with students and teachers, both close to me and in the vast online vocal community will only improve my teaching and ability to help singers. I hope to get feedback on my teaching, engage in dialogue with other vocal pedagogues, and help students I don't have time to see regularly or who aren't in the Bay Area. I'm going to throw this stuff out there and try radical openness for a change, and I bet it will be fun and fruitful. Please let me know what you think by commenting on my YouTube Channel, and please subscribe!


Currently, I am working with several young students who have been singing pretty high in chest voice—well above their lower passaggio. To give them another option besides that belt voice, we worked a little on this exercise of nudging the head voice downward in range. Their goal (for now) is to be able to sing D4 in a clear head tone. This tone will strengthen in volume and resonance with practice. These are rudimentary exercises, but many young singers need simple tools and lots of repetition to assimilate new vocal skills. 

Tenors’ Festive Friday

Me and Valerie with The Tenors

Me and Valerie with The Tenors

This week, I had the wonderful experience of reuniting with an old friend and colleague, Fraser, who now sings with classical crossover super-group The Tenors . Sweetening this happy reunion was the first meeting of my two choral loves, Clerestory and the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Fraser messaged me looking for choirs to sing in The Tenors holiday show at Herbst, and the stars aligned to bring us all together for a few tunes. The Tenors were awesome to work with, entertaining to watch, and great with the kids. Clerestory was positioned right in front—between Valerie, my music director at SFGC, and the girls. Aside from the shortest sopranos trying to find sight lines around our tallest basses, things went swimmingly! We sang the fastest O Come All Ye Faithful in history, rattled the rafters with some humming on The Little Drummer Boy, and finished with a beautiful O Holy Night. You can hear the former two songs on The Tenors new album, Christmas Together, and the latter on their first Christmas album (under their original name, The Canadian Tenors), The Perfect Gift. Make sure you listen to the closing track of each album. The Perfect Gift ends with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a song that played no small part in The Tenors’ rise to prominence, and which they sang beautifully last Sunday. Christmas Together ends with a gorgeous version of Auld Lang Syne that helped me to understand the beautiful ending-as-beginning subtext of that traditional song.

Clerestory, The San Francisco Girls Chorus, Valerie Sainte-Agathe, and Me

Clerestory, The San Francisco Girls Chorus, Valerie Sainte-Agathe, and Me


While we’re talking tenors, I have one more group’s holiday album for you to check out. Sol3 Mio is another classsical-ish tenor trio having great success on tour right now. I came to know of them because tenor brothers Pene Pati and Amitai Pati are currently Adler Fellows with San Francisco Opera. They and their baritone cousin Moses Mackay hail from New Zealand, where they formed Sol3 Mio, and have a huge following. Unfortunately, Clerestory will be singing the same night as they are presented by SF Opera in a Christmas show, so I won’t get to hear them live, but I’ve been enjoying their first full-length holiday album, A Very Merry Christmas. Some very fine singing, plenty of light-hearted fun, and the constant presence of ukulele make this album stand out from the December crowd. 

All of these tenors (and one baritone) are worth following beyond the holiday season! 

Merry Monday!


The weekend was crazy, so instead of a Festive Friday, here’s a Merry Monday. I rediscovered Fantasia through the vehicle of her thrilling, uneven, yet enjoyable new Christmas album,  Christmas at Midnight. This album begins on a nostalgic high note, with a cover of Donny Hathaway’s This Christmas, moves through a range of moods and vocal colors, sends Santa on a beeline to the ghetto (her words, not mine), pays jazzy homage to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, and ends with a soulful, chorus-backed rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. I firmly believe the latter song needs no more covers ever for the rest of time, but Fantasia derives so much energy from a backing choir, that her spirited version won me over. I love the way this woman sings; she is honest and fearless, with one of the most unique instruments around. She also possesses enough technique to last for the last fifteen years, and the wisdom to throw it out the window when she needs to get to the raw heart of a song. Give this talented artist’s holiday work a listen.


Today is a double bill, so next up is Veni Domine, a wonderful album of pristine polyphony from Palestrina, Josquin, Mouton, and Victoria. The Sistine Chapel Choir (Coro della Cappella Musicale Pontificia) has been in existence in some form since early in the fourth century, but was formalized as an institution of the Catholic Church by Pope Saint Gregory at the turn of the sixth century. With adult basses and tenors, and boys on soprano and alto, this is the original old boys’ club. Although the choir’s musicianship and singing are characteristically gorgeous, it is especially satisfying to hear the equally stellar singing of Cecilia Bartoli on Beate viscera by Perotin. She is the first female singer to collaborate with the Sistine Chapel Choir in its long history, and the joining of voices echoes through the chapel with musical and historical power. Hear Bartoli speak about her experience in this video:

Let me know how you like these two very different holiday albums. Enjoy! 



Feeling in need of felicity this fall? Fear not, Festive Fridays are here! I’m starting my annual Christmas album weekly recommendations early this year because, frankly, we all need a little Christmas cheer. Let’s begin with something most of you will know and already love, but which won’t fail to put you in a good mood and seeing sparkles of snow out of the corners of your eyes—Christmas by The Singers Unlimited.

No amount of global warming can ruin the cool of this vocal jazz supergroup. Chanticleer’s music director emeritus, Joseph Jennings, was a huge fan of The Singers Unlimited and their founder, Gene Puerling. We sang several Puerling arrangements while I was in that ensemble, and I too fell in love with the layered, breezy, crisp sound of the quartet, as well as Puerling’s uniquely crunchy chords. How did he know such musical weirdness would sound so awesome?

The Singers Unlimited formed in 1971, comprising Puerling, Don Shelton (from Puerling’s previous vocal quartet, The Hi-Los), Len Dresslar (the bass voice of the Jolly Green Giant), and Bonnie Herman (singer of the original “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” jingle). Christmas was actually the first album they recorded, although it was released as their second.

Every track on this album is excellent, but make sure to check out the wacky harmonization of the second verse of Silent Night, the more-major-than-major starting chords of each verse of Joy to the World, and the incredible tuning of fast-moving chords in Night Bethlehem, a lesser-known gem. In the solo accompaniment sections of Good King Wenceslas, you can also hear a textbook example of The Open-Mouthed Hum—a combination of ‘mm’ and ‘oo’ used by many choirs to get that perfect accompanimental palate. My beloved Clerestory will be using it a bit in our own Christmas concerts this year (shameless plug!).

This was a long post—future Festive Fridays will be shorter (and less alliterative, I promise). Hopefully, you think The Singers Unlimited are worth the attention. They’ve certainly got me open-mouthed humming along this morning. May these weekly posts give you a little joy and some musical inspiration in this wonderful time of year. Merry Christmas! 


The Singers Unlimited

Premiere, Mortal Lessons

Ryan Brown's Mortal Lessons is a 35 minute work setting poetry of Richard Selzer, a former surgeon. He explores the processes of the body, illness, anesthesia, and surgery. Despite the somewhat grisly subject matter, Ryan's music is rhythmically vital, tuneful, and at times humorous. This performance premieres two new movements added to the ones already premiered in 2014 as The Exact Location of the Soul

June 10, 2017, 4:30pm
Switchboard Music Festival
Z Space, San Francisco
Tonia D'Amelio, Justin Montigne, Samuel Faustine, and Sidney Chen, singers

Eric Dudley, conductor