Northern New Jersey artist, Giulia Griffith, is first and foremost a dancer. When she came to study voice with Brett Manning Associate Deb Smith (also known as Zuke), her objectives were very minimal, focused, and straight forward.
“I started going to Deb last September in 2008 for one main reason,” she said. “I am a dancer, and all I knew back in 2008 is that I wanted to be on Broadway. I knew that it is very rare to book a show of just dancing, especially since Movin’ Out is over and done with!. My only goal was to be able to skim through a singing audition so I could hopefully book a gig.”
It wasn’t long before she realized that as a teacher Smith looks deeply into the heart and soul of her students for dreams, desires, and potential they may not even realize they possess.
More Than Hitting Notes
“If I had gone to any other singing teacher in the area I am sure I would have reached my goal,” Giulia said. “They would have taught me how to sing technically well I’m sure, and they would get me a few songs that I could drag with me to an audition. However, my mother and I chose Deb. Since day one it has been about so much more than hitting a note. I have always loved her approach to teaching, the visualization techniques she has used, and her overall passion for this art.”
Smith sings high praise for her student that recently auditioned for West Side Story on Broadway.
“Giulia is a nationally recognized professional dancer so she has incredible discipline and has a deep understanding in the amount of work it takes to excel at something,” Smith said. “She already knows how to work a stage, and she interprets lyrics beautifully.”
But Smith has also faced a few challenges to help Giulia choreograph and arrange a safe path for her song and dance toward success.
“Giulia used to compare her singing to her dancing; so she put far too much pressure on herself to succeed sooner than humanly possible,” Smith said. “She has now settled into a groove and is very focused. She also didn’t understand that singing is an art form and deserves the same respect as any of the other art forms. The day she said realized singing tapped into her psyche as deep as dance does was beautiful to witness.”
Tough + Tender
Guiding Giulia has been a balancing act of toughness and tenderness for Smith because of respect for the vulnerability and sensitivity that is a natural part of Giulia’s artistic temperament.
“I had to take a risk and push Giulia to a very fragile space without breaking her spirit,” Smith said. “That is very emotional for both the teacher and the student; so I have to be careful not to push too much. I had her sing even though it was the last thing at the moment she wanted to do, but it opened up a wellspring of artistic development in her.”
We talked with Giulia about her journey from dancer to singer under the guidance of Deb Smith.
Q + A
SSO: How did you come to know Deb Smith?
Giulia: Deb is a celebrity in our town (West Milford, NJ) there’s no one who hasn’t heard of her! I knew it was the best choice to go to her to learn how to sing.
SSO: What do you remember about your first lessons with her?
Giulia: My first lessons were hilarious. Her only goal was to loosen me up and get me to be completely comfortable. She made me bring my iPod in so she could see what kind of music I was into. Then from there she picked selections for me to sing that I could relate to.
SSO: How would you describe yourself before your first lesson in terms of fear and confidence, as well as the condition of your singing voice?
Giulia: I wouldn’t be caught dead even humming in front of someone before I went to Deb! The condition of my voice wasn’t too hot either. I always sounded like I was hitting puberty if I ever tried to hit a high note… my voice would crack all over the place.
SSO: So how does your voice sound now after your latest lessons?
Giulia: I have more confidence in really everything now thanks to Deb. Aside from singing, it is so much easier to project while speaking. And it has made public speaking much easier for me. I’m also not afraid to sing in front of anyone now, including my friends who are great singers.
SSO: What have been you biggest challenges with working through the program, and did you ever have an experience where you thought you might give up? If so, what got you through it?
Giulia: I wanted to give up when we were working on the song Don’t Rain on my Parade. Leah Michelle just sang it on Glee which gave the song more popularity. But for some reason I could not emotionally connect to the song. I mean, I was just in love with the lyrics; but the song itself, I could not really perform it. I wanted to give up and pick a new song but she wouldn’t let me. She kept saying, “You don’t find songs by accident.” And, I now realize that’s totally true. I picked that song because of the lyrics, but with such an upbeat tempo, I couldn’t relate. So, the brilliant Deb turned the song into a bluesy rendition and it worked out great. I was finally emoting and feeling what it was like to express myself through singing which I had never done before! I’m so happy I didn’t throw in the towel because the outcome was so rewarding.
SSO: Do you remember a specific breakthrough that clearly began to fight through fear?
Giulia: I remember finally being able to belt out the song, Shy, and I had a lot of fun with it which made it much easier to perform. That was my first break through that I could sing without being so petrified!
SSO: What is your favorite tip, exercise, or lesson learned?
Giulia: I love anything with the vocal fry. It always relaxes me and feels good when I warm up.
SSO: What are your goals as a singer?
Giulia: My goal is to be able to be on Broadway and not just as a dancer. I really feel in love with the art of singing and would love to perform singing on a stage one day. My goal in life is to have my own variety show like Carol Burnet that can compete with Jay Leno and Conan O’Brian. My main passion is dance. I dance almost every day and wish to pursue dance after high school.
SSO: How did your audition go for West Side Story?
Giulia: Well, for my first Broadway audition, it went great! I got cut before the last round. But, I had a lot of fun and realized it is not as nerve racking as I thought it would be!
SSO: Any final comments you wish to share?
Giulia: I am so thankful I had the opportunity to go to Deb Smith and learn from her. I am going onto college next year at SUNY-Purchase for dance. But every weekend I am home I would love to get a lesson in because she has made me fall in love with something that at first I thought was the enemy. I though my voice was going to keep me away from all my goals; but because of Deb I see my future completely differently.
SSO: How has your perspective changed?
Giulia: I take dance very seriously, and I have trained in ballet and tap and jazz along with other styles for the past fifteen years. I had no interest in falling in love with a new art form. Because of Deb, I did. I never knew singing could feel so wonderful, and I never thought I would be able to use it as an outlet like I have with dance. I am so thankful that I have her every week to let go and do what I love! Singing for me is now so much more than just hitting notes and getting through auditions, it is fun, exciting and a new art form I love to express.
What The Student Teaches
When Smith stops to think about the lessons she’s learned from Giulia it is her student’s love of learning and discovery that encourages her as the teacher.
“Giulia is so cool,” Smith said. “She’s on a continual road of progress. The world needs Giulia. She has such a sensitive artist’s spirit that she reminds me to look for that in all of my students. She has also taught me some really cool ballet stretching exercises!
Deb Smith is a renowned music copyist, piano teacher, songwriter, vocal coach, and self-proclaimed “East coast chick,” who credits Brett Manning’s Singing Success with not only saving her life but forever changing it for the very best it can be. In 2000 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and braved the brutal battery of tests, surgeries, chemotherapy, post chemo drug regimen and physical therapy.
She believes that Brett Manning’s programs and method are absolutely essential to bringing out the full potential in any voice. You can find her on Facebook listed as Brett Manning Vocal Method: East Coast, U.S.A.