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Christine Ohlman (Photo by Michael Weintrob )
Ted Ervin, studio manager, and Sandy Connolly, owner of Crescendo Music Loft. (Photo courtesy of Crescendo Music Loft )
Christine Ohlman (Photo by Ron Kovis )
Christine Ohlman (Photo by Tom Horan )
Christine Ohlman (Photo by Super 9 Studios )
Christine Ohlman (Photo by Robert D’Eli )
Christine Ohlman (Photo by Catherine Sebastian/CSP Images )
Christine Ohlman (Photo by Super 9 Studios )
Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez (Photo by Tom Horan )
Christine Ohlman (Photo by Tom Horan )
Christine Ohlman (Photo by Super 9 Studios )
Christine Ohlman (Photo by Bobby Bank )
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Christine Ohlman has been performing since she was 16. She had a record on the charts when she was 17. She’s performed with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Brian Wilson, Steve Miller, Keb Mo, Bonnie Raitt, and Elvis Costello.
For all of the highlights in her career, she says her burn-the-house-down style of rockin’-rhythm-n-blues hit new heights when she was at the lowest point in her personal life.
“When my mother passed away a number of years ago—she was in her 50s...I noticed a deepening of the emotion in my voice,” she says. “And then when my husband passed away 15 years ago, I noticed a real difference in the amount of emotion I was able to muster up. I couldn’t have predicted that. But those were two times when I could feel my voice changing.”
Another time she noticed a change in the way she was performing and singing was when she became the lead vocalist for the Saturday Night Live band on NBC in 1991. She says that forced her to up her game because everything is live, leaving no room for mistakes.
“Lorne Michaels [who created and produces Saturday Night Live] thinks a delay takes away the edge, so you really have to be right on it, all the time,” she says.
This time, rather than sorrow, the adrenaline rush pushed her connection to the audience, this one worldwide, into new territory.
“What I found is I was able to bring a deeper level of emotion...that sort of spread into what I was doing,” she says.
Learning how to channel the good, the bad, and the in-between is a vital skill for a performer, she says, one of several she will be teaching during a master class on how to connect with an audience, on Thursday, April 9 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Crescendo Music Loft, 5-B Old Post Road, second floor, Madison. Several musicians have auditioned. Each will play. Ohlman will coach them on “the finer details of attack, tone, phrasing; overall confidence; eye contact; and stage presence.” Then the musicians will perform again, incorporating what she’s suggested.
While the auditioned music slots filled up quickly, there is one more element required, and that is an audience. Tickets to be an audience member are still for sale.
“That’s one of the things that this master class is all about, the audience connection. You have to channel it. You have to always be ready,” she says. “When that door at NBC opened, I was ready to step through.”
Hitting the Sweet Spot
If there is one person who’s as excited as Ohlman about the upcoming event, that would be Sandy Connolly, the owner of Crescendo Music Loft. She runs it with her partner, Ted Ervin, who is the studio manager.
The goal of the music loft, which offers a range of services and events from piano lessons to performance spaces for rent, is to be a musical incubator that nurtures student talent. Connolly and Ervin, who live in Guilford, are doing that by creating a welcoming community of musicians who support and learn from each other in a family friendly environment wholly focused on music, minus the alcohol, loud crowds, and late nights that are an inevitable part of performing in some other local venues.
The names Ervin and Connolly may ring a bell with shoreline music aficionados and those who attended the Guilford Performing Arts Festival last year, where the two performed their blues-infused Americana music as the final act in the festival.
Connolly says she has found a perfect place for her business at the music loft, which is right down the road from Red Tomato Pizza, tucked behind Beebe Dock & Mooring Systems.
After starting up her business in her garage, and then searching high and low for space where noise would not be a problem, she says she walked into the second floor at 5-D Old Post Road, and “almost fell to my knees.” The space was perfect, with room for lessons, offices, meetings, and, as a bonus, a soaring palladian window in the front room that let in gorgeous light, perfect for Connolly’s other business, photography.
In addition to creating music and helping to create musicians, Connolly says her other goal is to show people how to have fun. The event with Ohlman hits the sweet spot, she says, by doing all three.
She excited both for audience members, and for the musicians she’s signed up for the event, which includes Harper Reed, 12, from Guilford; Sarah Fournier, 15, a sophomore from Guilford High School (GHS); Eowyn O’Hara, 15, also a GHS sophomore; Connolly’s daughter, Abigail Connolly, 17, a senior at GHS; and Bianca Miranda, 28, a female vocalist from New London.
Sandy Connolly, who has a background in opera in addition to numerous other musical traditions, says the idea of a master class is a bit foreign to some rock musicians, but once they become familiar with the idea, it’s easy to get them on board.
Ohlman says the response to this master class was so overwhelming that she is thinking about offering the class again.
The Deeper Level of Deep
Ohlman says her goal with these students will be figuring out how to connect with “people on the other side” of the mic, whether that’s on a recording, on the radio, during a television performance, or during a live performance.
She says a good performer yearns for that connection.
“You have to connect with whoever is on the other end. Without that person on the other end, you may as well stay in your bedroom and sing to yourself,” she says. “You have to want that connection.”
She says part of that is understanding that a song is really a story, one that might include tragedy or joy, or both. It is a story that can be better understood and translated by those who are connected not only with their own personal history, but also with history in general, and who then desire to find where they fit in that history.
“In American popular music, the river is deep and wide. You have to want to be part of that continuum. That kind of helps you find your place,” she says.
Technique, and honing technique, is imperative and should be done in alignment with larger goals, she says—“Singing better and more perfectly only exists to make it easier to tell the story, in a deeper way.”
Those who are familiar with Ohlman and her music know that she is all about deep.
“I’m always talking about deep to students,” she says. “The deeper level of deep. You get there really through respect for the story. The technique has to be there, so you are not singing off key, and you are breathing in the right place. But think about all of the artists who can’t really sing that well.”
She rattles off a few names—Tom Waits. Neil Young. Elvis Costello.
“They can’t sing that well, but they are great storytellers,” she says. “There’s a happy medium there, at which point, the story really wins.”
Lyrically, Emotionally, Musically
One of Ohlman’s first questions to her students is: “‘I want to know, what do you want to do with this song?...Where will this song go after today?’ They should know where they are headed and have a goal.”
She says she will be working with the students to communicate “lyrically, emotionally, and musically.” To that end, she will want to know what they bring to bear in terms of non-musical elements.
“In terms of things, no so much technique, but, you know, experience-oriented and heart and soul,” she says. “I’m going to be encouraging them to take joy in their performance, and pour their heart into it.”
She will be talking about “the finer details of attack.”
“What that really means is how are you fashioning your impingement upon the audience?” she asks. “How are you impinging into their heart and soul, from your heart and soul?”
She’ll also discuss with them tone.
“When you’re talking about singing, that’s about how round does it sound,” she explains. “If it’s sharp and obnoxious-sounding, that might be what you want. Or is it round and soulful? Is the tone appropriate for the song? Because there are a million ways to do that.”
Then, there is phrasing.
“Well, really, you know, that is how you choose to say the words, and link them together, breath-wise,” she says. “Breathing is something I spend a lot of time talking about. Breath is our fuel. Are you choppy? Are you fluid? You want fluid phrasing, pretty much, no matter what the song is. You don’t want breathing at an inopportune spot. You don’t want to be gulping air, breathing in the middle of a phrase, when you really should be firing.”
Overall confidence will be another topic.
“You know, as I always tell my students, the easiest way to overcome stage fright is to focus on the audience. Sing to their emotions. That takes a lot of pressure off of you,” she says. “I would say the same to anyone.”
Eye contact is important as well, but she says she suggests that performers not focus on just one person, “that’ll make that person nervous,” but the entire audience.
“You need to sing to the audience as if they are one person,” she says, adding that is a lesson she learned from Dale Carnegie, the famous American writer and lecturer of How to Win Friends and Influence People fame. “You have to think of the audience as one person.
And then there is stage presence.
“To me, that is an overriding term that encompasses everything we talk about, all sort of wrapped up in a beautiful bow,” she says. “That is your stage presence.”
Anyone Could Sing, and Everyone Should
She says the students with whom she works will ideally learn things not just about performing, but also about connecting with people and being confident in everyday life.
“I would just say that connecting with an audience really does mean how you connect person to person, and so I would absolutely expect that to carry on in the rest of life, if you took it to heart,” she says. “Which I urge all my students to do, you might expect...to care more about people because you can connect with them.
“That was true for me,” she adds. “Being a singer can be such an enriching experience. That may be true of artists of any stripe. It certainly does seep into so many areas of your life.”
She says people should know that anyone can sing—and they should know that everyone should sing.
“Sing along with the radio. Sing in the shower. Singing is a wonderful way to release emotion, and to impart that emotion to other people is a wonderful way to relate to them. Sing. Sing for joy. And it can be a pathway through tragic events,” she says. “I was lucky enough to have that outlet and that I was able to take advantage of that.”
In addition to her work with Connolly and Ervin and on the Saturday Night Live band, Ohlman is working on her seventh album, which she plans to call The Grown Up Thing. She also has a number of performances coming up, including one on Friday, April 17, “Love Is In The Air: A Springtime Celebration of Roots-Rockin’ Romance” at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook with The Sin Sisters playing backup.
It’s a wonderful show we do every year,” she says.
She’ll be onstage with The Sin Sisters, including Patti Rahl, Janice Ingarra, and Kathy Kessler, along with the members of Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez band, Michael Colbath on bass, Cliff Goodwin on guitar, and Lorne Entress on drums.
She says she will be practicing what she preaches that night, and that she’ll walk on that stage ready to set everyone’s soul on fire. Will she do that gradually, building up to it with a tease, or does she just torch the audience from the get-go?
“Oh yeah,” she says. “From the get-go. I don’t think there’s a better example of a deeper level of deep than setting the place on fire. I am always out for the deepest possible level of connection I can make. From the first note.”
For more information about tickets to the master class, call 203-584-2814, or search “Master Class by Christine Ohlman April 9 2020” online. For tickets to the April 17 concert at The Kate, visit www.katharinehepburntheater.org. For more information about Crescendo Music Loft, visit www.crescendomusicloft.com.
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