Take Five with Donna Singer

Donna Singer By

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About Donna Singer

Raised in the lush Catskills, Donna Singer graduated from the New York Academy of Theatrical Arts, then studied at The Juilliard School. Her far reaching career includes European concerts in Paris, Switzerland, Ireland, Italy and Wales. She has performed at the Metropolitan Opera Guild Recital Hall in Lincoln Center, Central Park's Naumburg Bandshell and The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, where she now resides. She has played countless U.S. cities and the Nebraska International Jazz Festival, Bethany College Jazz Festival in Kansas and the Saratoga Arts Festival in New York.

A popular guest soloist in the U.S. and abroad, Singer performs often with the 18-piece Harmony Jazz Orchestra, the 80-member Gold Coast Concert Band and her own jazz quartet. She was lead vocalist in the Swing Shift Orchestra for 15 years.

No stranger to radio, her six recordings have ranked high on the CMJ jazz charts and enjoyed international airplay in North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and Africa. From 1998-2004 she hosted the weekly gospel show, Down by the River on WJFF 90.5 FM radio in Sullivan County, NY.

She is a member of The National Guild of Piano Teachers: Teachers Division of American College of Musicians.


Piano, Voice.

Teachers and/or influences?

Sharon Cleaveau of the New York City Opera Company taught me opera, which turned out to be a perfect foundation for my jazz singing. She opened up a new genre for me and gave me a stronger sense of who I was and what I could become. She loved to smile and laugh, while very much getting on me when homework was lacking. I absolutely adored her. She died of cancer 2012 and I was honored to sing at her funeral.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I grew up in Upstate New York where me and my siblings were introduced to the world of jazz. We were raised in a family of jazz enthusiasts who listened to the music of great artists like Nancy Wilson "Guess Who I Saw Today," Billy Strayhorn, "Take the A Train" with Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr, "Hey There," and Count Basie "April in Paris." The bug hit me early on. I was humming before I could talk, and my father told me I was singing full songs at age five. My twin sister Dawn and I were in a local gong show and took first place as a song and dance duo to "Rockin' Robin." That routine quickly became the highlight of every family event until forever...

Your sound and approach to music.

My sound and voice placement are important to me. While growing up I sang at the back of my throat. I learned about vowel placement and consonant reinforcement, which have become second nature. My approach to music is strong and consistent. Using the proper tools and my body, I have grown into a smart singer—meaning I'm still concerned about pitch in a song, but more about body placement. When the body is right the voice usually follows.

Your teaching approach to music

Dr. Donna's School of Song is my academy. I taught piano and voice and we also had a violin and guitar instructor. We had recitals twice a year and absolutely taught with a fun flare to children and adults. If it ain't fun, then what's the point? We learn our warm-ups and technique, not just standing correctly, but being correct at all times. That's the hardest part. Consistency. Training the body and the brain. Wow, no easy task.

In teaching beginner piano, my approach involves scales, scales, and more scales, contrary motion, parallel motion, flying over that keyboard faster and faster and then, bam, as slow as possible. I spend more time on warm ups and then the song second. Then there's theory. Make it fun and energetic. Why bother if you are bored? Why bother if they are bored. I'm serious, one mother said too bad, they are taking piano lessons and I said too bad I'm not your teacher. Simple as that. The piano is a gift and I taught the kids who understood that.

Your dream band

I love an 18-piece jazz orchestra. I love singing with a big band. Don't get me wrong, a trio or quartet is fine, but I sing in two 90 piece symphonic and concert bands and the power is overwhelming and fantastic. Knowing that the stage is commanded by you and yet not is humbling. They are following me, but in reality, I follow them. An 18-piece orchestra is flying high. Each section is so very important and we all are in it together in the same place, space and time.

My ideal quartet would feature a jazz trombonist. I work with William Fleck of New York, and he would be the bandleader. His improvisational skills are not just correct, but fun to listen to. You never know what melodic tones he's going to come up with next. It keeps them wanting more. Writing about my album Feeling the Jazz for BVS Reviews, Bruce E. Von Stiers praised Fleck's playing on a Gershwin tune:" Then there is a terrific, smile effecting rendition of the Gershwin tune, "S'Wonderful." There is an awesome



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