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Acting in Plays, Singing/Does one have to choose between a classical and musical theatre voice?


Hi, My teen-age daughter loves musical theatre yet her voice is more classical - a soprano with vibrato rather than a pop musical theatre voice capable of belting. Does she have to make a choice between these singing styles and if she does choose to attempt to develop one will this be at the expense of the other? She is not interested in pursuing a career in opera. Nowadays it seems that there is a trend to more 'pop type' musical theatre roles rather than roles for the more classical musical theatre type voice. Is it possible for her to develop both of these types of voices in order to make herself more marketable, or must she choose one to develop and perfect?  Thanks

Hi, Victoria --

Thank you for contacting me. Your concerns are very complex.

Basically what it all narrows down to is what your daughter’s academic major will be in whatever college, university, or conservatory she hopes to attend. What is her current grade average? Most schools require an audition. Applications come in from all over the country. For the better schools -- from all over the world.

I’m the Acting Major bent on Shakespeare who wound up singing opera for ten years and then moved into the “American Songbook” for another ten years. I’ve been a professional vocal coach in San Francisco for the past 30 years. There was an overlap of five years as I moved into teaching full-time. I practice regularly and keep-up my performance chops for my clients. Even though half of my professional singing career was about opera and all the other vocal literature related to it, 99% of my clients are involved in Musical Theatre and Cabaret. Both of these arenas include every style of Popular Music you can name. I promise you -- in the real world of professional singing -- there is no such thing as being able to “do it all”. Especially for a Soprano who is better equipped for the Classical world than whatever vocal trend is around in Pop music (including Broadway) or will be off the charts five years from now when she’s out of college -- or five years after that when her competitors will be younger and fresher and are really-into whatever will be, like, really-popular then.

That irritating over-amplified pinched nasal twang Disney voice that has so dominated the Broadway scene is one of the best examples. That peculiar sound has been around -- also in men’s voices -- since The Little Mermaid. Add to that the yelled constricted tone on high notes that have no vibrato in roles such as Elphaba (“Defying Gravity” in Wicked) and Jo Marsh (“Astonishing” in Little Women). Trends come and go. It has always been true, it will always be true.

There’s no arguing financial success and Corporate profit. You and your daughter need to become more familiar about The Business of musical theatre and how it effects the wannabe performers who devote their Academic careers to it. Every year, there are thousands of graduates with some variety of Performing Arts degree, including Masters and Doctorates. The vast majority of them will never see another audience after they leave the cocoon of Academia. Of those who do, few will ever stick it out long enough before they can pay their rent. Community theaters from one coast to the other have degreed performers lined-up around the block to audition for jobs that pay nothing, maybe carfare, but might offer points towards acquiring the union card, i.e., an Equity Card -- without which, standing in line to audition for a real On Broadway show is virtually impossible. And the Agents won’t look at you etiher. Oops! Maybe they didn’t cover that subject in Advanced Dance Class or Beginning Voice. It’s a harsh reality the day after the diploma goes up on the wall. Also for Classical voice majors.

Don’t listen to any 16-year-old who says they don’t like or aren’t interested in opera. Has your daughter been to an Opening Night performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York? Or at Covent Garden? Maybe Paris or San Francisco? Can she name two hot professional operatic sopranos who have two roles in common?

As a professional music critic, it is my privilege to interview internationally celebrated singers who come to San Francisco and appear with our Opera and Symphony. They all know that careers are shaped and formed by a long series of opportunities and critical successes. It’s all a crap shoot. And years of passionate commitment.

There is no one-size-fits-all training that will enable today’s young hopefuls to flit from one medium to another.

Deciding to be an Acting Major paid off for me. It led me to my first singing teacher. Six months after my first lesson, I got my first check singing an aria that I’d been familiar with since I was a child. What I learned was how to be heard over an orchestra, without a microphone. That is the essential difference between Classical and Pop. And how and where you spend the college fund.

I am a vocal coach to working singers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Check out my web site:

I'm also an entertainment and cultural critic for – and Classical music reviewer for – Let me know when you're ready to come to San Francisco for some vocal coaching. I’m also available for lessons on Skype.

See my interview with popular TV host, David Perry, on "Ten Percent":

Below are links to my articles and youtubes on the San Francisco Bay Area entertainment and cultural scene:

On ‘Billy Budd’—A Trio from Merola: Alex DeSocio, Thomas Richards, Robert Watson

Lawrence Brownlee—On ‘Carmina Burana’, with the SFSymphony—Tuesday, July 30th

On “The Joyless Street” at the Silent Film Festival—An Interview with Matti Bye

THE GERSHWINS AND ME – A Conversation with Michael Feinstein

Introducing Cheyenne Jackson and Alexandra Silber as San Francisco Symphony’s Tony & Maria in “West Side Story”

Nathan Gunn Is ‘Yeshua’ in San Francisco Opera’s “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene”

Natalie Dessay on ‘Becoming Traviata’—French Soprano bids ‘Adieu’ to opera stage

‘Tales of Hoffmann’ Fizzles at San Francisco Opera

‘A Grand Romance’—A Spectacular CD from pianist Jeffrey Biegel

Philippe Sly Debuts In 'Cosi fan tutte' at San Francisco Opera

Nicole Henry redefines the '70s with her latest CD, 'So Good, So Right'

'FILLY BROWN' — An Extraordinary Film from Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos

Nonsemble 6 presents Schoenberg's 'Pierrot Lunaire' – in corsets

Tenor Noah Stewart Debuts with Berkeley Symphony in World Premiere of New Work by Steven Stucky

Marnie Breckenridege, A Modern Soprano for Contemporary Opera

A Profile of Choreographer John Neumeier and his "Nijinsky"

In Conversation with Peter Gallagher – Coming to the Venetian Room

Melody Moore steps into Tosca — Opening Night at San Francisco Opera

'Moby-Dick' opens at San Francisco Opera: A Conversation with Composer Jake Heggie

'Drama Queens' – A Conversation with Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato

Marco Vratogna Is Sensational as Rigoletto at San Francisco Opera

A conversation with Joshua Bell, featured guest artist at opening of SF Symphony, 9/19

Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford duke it out at The Castro Theatre's 90th Anniversary

Samuel Ramey is Leo the Great in San Francisco Opera's 'Attila'

Tom Judson Is Making It Big In San Francisco

A Look at Gennadi Nedvigin, Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet

Organist Christopher Houlihan Makes A Powerful Debut at Davies Symphony Hall

RICHARD WINSOR – An Interview With the Star of 'Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3D'

DEANNA DURBIN – The Leading Lady of NOIR CITY, Wednesday at The Castro Theatre

KRISTIN CLAYTON– A Conversation with "The Diva" of Teatro ZinZanni

CUBAN BALLET – An Interview with Octavio Roca

A Look At "Giselle" with Ballerina Lorena Feijóo

ZUILL BAILEY – A Conversation

Best regards,
Sean Martinfield

Acting in Plays, Singing

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Sean Martinfield


I am a professional vocal coach in San Francisco. I have published over 3300 responses related to vocal training - particularly as it relates to Musical Theatre, Pop/Standard, and Opera. I have 30 years of experience as a personal trainer to working singers and actors in the San Francisco Bay Area. I sang professionally for 20 years and know what it means to live the life of a musician. I can determine your voice category, i.e., Tenor, Baritone, Bass, Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto, Alto Belter, etc., and how to broaden and strengthen your range. Need an audition song for a Broadway Musical? I can assist you with your song selections and help you build an audition portfolio that demonstrates your vocal category and meets the requirements specified in the audition notice. I have created a vocal methodology, "The Belter`s Method". It will enable those in Cabaret and Musical Theatre to practice more efficiently because it focuses on the vocal demands of professional performers and will keep you performance-ready. If what you want is a better voice and more control over your career moves and choices, contact me at: I am also a music and cultural critic for and I interview internationally recognized musicians, singers, dancers, and recording artists -- particularly those who are now appearing or scheduled to perform in San Francisco.


As a vocal coach, I work primarily with singers and actors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. My students range from absolute beginners to working professionals, from kids to senior citizens. The vast majority of my clients come to me through recommendation. I know how to identify any singer's vocal category, i.e., soprano, tenor, alto, baritone, etc. I know how to muscle-up every singer's vocal range and to expand it beyond conventional definitions. I have developed a vocal methodology for those who want to know how to belt, THE BELTER'S METHOD. There are a number of major components to my work as a vocal coach. The first is to identify the client's vocal category and to strengthen and maximize the vocal range accordingly. Then it's about teaching a reliable vocal workout that will enable the client to gain better control of their musicianship. That includes scale work to expand the vocal range and to improve placement, breath control, and diction. Then we work on material for the audition portfolio, the immediate job or assignment, a recording session, etc. My task to is to better equip singers and actors who are hoping to or relying upon their performance skills and vocal endurance to maintain a career in the Performing Arts. My clients regularly appear in cabarets and musical productions throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Some have worked in New York and gone on National Tours. For more information, Contact me at:


San Francisco State University – BA in Theatre Arts; graduate work in Theatre, Philosophy, and Comparative Reiligion. Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley – Graduate work in Ethics

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