A Stagey Guide To Singing... Josefina Gabrielle | Chicago | Stagey Sunday

Welcome back to Stagey Sunday! I hope you're all well and not too saddened by the football... although if you're reading this, the chances are that you were at the theatre instead of in front of a TV! Anyway, this weeks guide to singing is brought to you by the female lead of Chicago the musical, Josefina Gabrielle who plays Velma. Josefina started her career as a dancer before transitioning into the world of singing so it's really interesting to hear how she built up her voice and stamina to be able to perform such a demanding role...


Can you tell me a bit about your vocal journey? 
Well I went to a theatre school, Arts Educational school, from about the age of 10 so we had an all round performing arts education. It incorporated singing, ballet, jazz, modern, tap, drama, you name it! So I had that in my life for as long as I can remember. 

Then I specialised in Classical ballet, so I danced only for quite a few years and, I worked abroad. When I came home to London after about 8 years, I joined Carousel the musical which was being done at the National Theatre. They needed strong ballet dancers so there was this perfect break from one world into the next so then I was surrounded by singing again and kind of got back on the saddle with that. 

I had been a soprano and hadn’t really experimented with the musical theatre sound, mixing or belting or anything like that so I learnt a lot about that during my time at Carousel. I learnt a lot about different voice types as I joined different companies and slowly developed a belt voice which was quite daunting at first because it’s quite muscular, you know you can push the wrong way and make yourself hoarse. So that was quite an interesting journey and I think having a typical dancer mentality I pushed it quite a lot which made it strong but compromised it’s flexibility. So that’s been my journey into different sounds! 

I went to a singing teacher for a little while who gave me all the knowledge on how to belt but it felt painful, so I shied away from it. But as I came to acquire, note by note slowly, I was able to process what she’d told me to do. But at the time it felt scary. It’s like doing push-ups! Twang and tilt are also an important part of that- I’ve learnt all the terms along the way! 


Was there anyone or anything that got you into music in the first place? 
I’ve always enjoyed music, my primary school before I went to ArtsEd- my mum has since told me cause you don’t think about these things as a child- focussed a lot on the arts so we did have a lot of musical appreciation. I remember playing all the percussion stuff and recorder and clarinet and things. So I’d already started that journey at my primary school so I think it's always been a part of my life. 

And then in the classical ballet world you dance to so much music. I feel like I’ve got quite a nice, wide variety of music that I appreciate and it’s quite wonderful to identify and recognise composers easily because I’ve acquired it as opposed to studied it. Rodgers and Hammerstein are a musical duo that I absolutely adore and Stephen Sondheim as well because there’s so much research and such an education while you're performing and learning the subjects and your journey. It's fascinating. And the structure of the way they write just does it for you really. 

I think maybe because I’ve come through dance, I’ve been a little gung-ho with my singing and sometimes I've not thought “well this is as good as it gets”; I've dared to be a bit rough on my voice and sort of thought, well, I’ll just face the consequences… I don't find that pure singing comes easily to me so I focus very much on telling the story through song and that seems to find my voice; so there’s always the thing of juggling the X and the Y, the technique and the emotion and I think I focus more on the emotion and hope the technique will follow! 

Josefina Gabrielle and Hugh Jackman as Laurey and Curly in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel

You've had a long career with Chicago now so you must know a lot of it like the back of your hand but are there any moments you still find hard or have to put extra focus on? 
I do find every every show that I do, I play my voice in, I’m not a person that can just pick something up and sing it beautifully. I need to almost dig a trench in my voice so once it’s played in I can do it. I’ve found that if I just treat it with respect but don’t get too fixated on it, it will find it’s way. I find a lot of that is once the breathing becomes choreography, you automatically prepare in the right way and you know when to hold, when to let go and when to not step on the gas. That just comes with repetition. I think that the moment my breathing has sorted out it’s choreography then I’m in safe hands. I also feel that I'm very much a voice that works with a mic. So the mic informs how I’m going to hold back or let go. 


You've recently had Mazz Murray join the cast of Chicago as Mama who your character Velma is very close to; what’s your process like when you work with someone new in terms of figuring out how to blend and balance one another? 
Again that comes with time, we’re early on so we’re still blending. But she's a wonderful musician and has one of my favourite voices. You know you're in fantastic hands and you just you feel and you listen and that’s how you come together, just like any orchestra would really. 


What are your tips for maintaining good vocal health? 
Drink a lot of water, the usual. Sleep, always get a decent amount of sleep. I have to be careful with acid reflux so I try not to eat too late at night. If I do eat too late at night or am feeling full or even just in case, I’m never far from Gaviscon Advance. Until you know about acid reflux, you may not even know you have it; it’s basically where the acid comes up your oesophagus and can sit on your cords and swell them. I didn’t realise but I’d often wake up coughing at night and I now know it’s because of the acid so now I'm very aware of that as it got me a lot of trouble in the past. 

I have an excellent warm up tape from by singing teacher Mark Meylan which I do religiously before every show and even when I'm not working, I’ll try and do that warm up regularly because my singing muscle needs to be looked after regularly. I’m not a person that can just sing, I need warming up well for flexibility. 


Who would your dream duet partner be? 
I’ve never really though about that! Well I just had the most amazing time singing with Ruthie Henshall; that felt wonderfully organic and I enjoyed it enormously. I'm now having a wonderful time working with Mazz and we're on a new journey. I even put this in Mazz Murray’s card on opening night that I have a laminated wish list of leading ladies I'd like to work with and two of them have come along at once! 


Could you tell me your top piece of advice for aspiring performers in terms of finding and maintaining their voice? 
Well I’ve kind of already blended those answers into my others but I’d say, don’t get upset because the emotions really affect your voice, they’re both in the same place so it can hinder performance. Breathing is terribly important and don’t push something they doesn’t want to go there- coax it gently and it will come!


A huge thank you to Josefina for taking the time to give her stories and advice on singing. You can catch her in Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre until 5th January 2019.

See you next Sunday for the final instalment of our singing guides!

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