Friday, May 6, 2016

Are the Hunkentenors a threat to Barihunks?

Hunkentenors Ed Lyon, Glenn Seven Allen & Derek Chester
We've noticed that they're a bunch of tenors online who are getting their bodies in great shape, matching their beautiful voices. We asked three of the most stunning of them to answer questions about their fitness routines and whether barihunks better watch their backs. We chose three of the most gifted singers, including Americans Glenn Seven Allen and Derek Chester, and Brit Ed Lyon. 

1) What got you started in fitness? 

Glenn Seven Allen: I've always been active and played 6 sports at various time in high school.  The issue for me has been consistency.  Starting on Dec. 1st, I made a conscious decision to rededicate myself to a complete makeover, as far as my health is concerned.  I committed to a 30 day diet called the Whole30, which really jump-started all of my health goals.  I lost 25 lbs in 30 days and put myself in a place to really be selective about what foods I would be willing to put in my body.  From there, I started to educate myself about smart, sustainable ways to train my body to add pure lean muscle mass.  I've added almost 20lbs of lean muscle since March 1st, and really feel that I'm only getting started.  I also practice the Alexander Technique and make sure to never contract/restrict my spine, even when doing the heaviest squats, deadlifts, etc.

Ed Lyon: I was the most inactive child and young man you can possibly imagine - an exercise dodger of the first order. I only really started working out when I was 29.  It occurred to me that if I didn’t carpe that particular diem, it would only get harder to be in good shape as I got older.  I suppose it was a combination of things which pushed me to get a PT and really commit to working out.  The main one was the increasingly competitive world of singing - I struck me then that there were so many good singers out there, and frankly less and less work.  Given that we live in an increasingly visual society, and that opera, in order to remain relevant to other contemporary performing arts (be it theatre, film, pop music, jazz or dance) has to reflect that, so it’s artists must remain relevant and recognisable to their audience.  There is an expectation for both men and women to have a physique to do the role, while of course acknowledging the primacy of vocal ability.  So it seems only logical that we, as performers, should aim to fulfill as many of those expectations as possible - both on stage and for marketing purposes.

Derek Chester: I wasn't very physically active growing up.  I was (and still am) a huge video game and music nerd, and I focused all my energies there.  I was never particularly gifted at sports so I left that to others.  I was drum major in the marching band. I did however run the 1600 and 3200 in track and field during high school but I really wasn't very good at it.  At the University of Georgia, as an undergrad, I found I needed a place to escape from all things music and from other musicians.  I found the gym.  I took a running class, met some of the exercise science and kinesiology majors who eventually became my gym bros who knew everything and taught me everything they were learning. I began lifting pretty seriously.  At Yale School of Music, the pressures of the training, classwork, and performance, and my newlywed status caused me to fall of the bandwagon.  I spend a year working and studying in Germany on a Fulbright scholarship and I really let myself go.  Couldn't resist eating Berliners and döner kabobs and drinking limitless beer.  When I came back to the states, I was a full 225 lbs.  I really turned my life after that, and fitness became a more important part of my life, though not as important as it is now.  I fluctuated between 190 and 200, would go through phases of serious dieting and training, but ultimately, never really committed fully.  I was on the road gigging some 180 days a year, and found it was easier to just kind of dabble and maintain.  I was always making slow gains, but I was still ultimately doughy.  When I moved to Colorado and took my university job at UNC, I was able to be more selecting with my performing and establish a more stable routine. I really starting training hard core last year, running two half marathons, and undergoing some serious body building bulking and cutting programs.   After my most recent and most successful cut phase yet, I have lost almost 30 pounds in 4 months, and have truly transformed my body type and composition, finally achieving true, serious results.  I plan on sticking with this serious training for a while.  It's a great hobby for me to obsess over, I feel better than ever, plus I've the benefit of being married to the owner and instructor of a fitness franchise, so I have a constant support system and someone to share my fitness journey with.

Hunkentenors Glenn Seven Allen, Ed Lyon and Derek Chester
2) Do you feel that being in shape helps you on stage? 

Glenn Seven Allen: I can honestly say that my singing has never been stronger.  I sing by engaging muscles that expand and support my throat and diaphragm. i.e. my lats, my glutes, obliques, etc.  I never contract my abs or my ribs when singing.

Ed Lyon: I suppose Question 1 sort of answers Question 2.  The stage has the opposite effect to television, in that people who are giants in real life, or have very distinctive features, are often normalised by the stage - a kind of natural makeup (as on screen, small features, even a small physique, are advantageous).  Particularly now I have started singing German repertory, I have found being in better shape, and carrying a bit more healthy weight, has helped me to appear more substantial and physically strong and present than I might otherwise have done.  Looking at the curtain calls from Tristan/Dutchman/Tannhäuser at Covent Garden, even at 184cm and 85kg I look boyish next to these massive guys.  If someone is going to believe in you as a soldier, or a knight, or even a heroic lover, it helps to have a physique to do the role.  That said, I have also lost out on roles because people have felt I wasn’t ‘vulnerable’ looking or ‘boyish’, or indeed that I looked too athletic.  Particularly in stuff set in period, an obviously ‘gym built’ physique in the 1800s can look incongruous, so it is important to resist the urge to get bigger for its own sake.

Derek Chester: It's an increasingly visual art form, and the expectations singers have really shifted as of late.  It's not necessarily a good thing, though I would be lying if I said I didn't hope to benefit from it professionally if possible. Ultimately, I think the art needs to focus primarily on the voice, so we don't lose the quality and lower our standards in singing to display a hot body and a pretty face on stage.  However,  it does make me hyper aware of the reality of our business.  I think training singers need to keep this in mind, and be sure to not only train the voice, but the entire package.  I do mostly concert work and oratorio with early music and symphony orchestras, but I get a chance to do an opera production or two a year. I think being fit and health conscious definitely helps me when on the road and when on the stage.  Sometimes I get asked to do things that I might not get asked to do otherwise, and I feel that makes me a more versatile performer and balanced actor.  I think there is also an advantage in auditions, to strive to present more than just solid technique.  I had to bench press and squat a soprano last year in a production of Cosi with Opera Ft. Collins I did with your amazing barihunk Gregory Gerbrandt.  I'm sure there will be more opportunities lined up for me to use my fitness to my advantage on stage in the future.  It's also nice to feel good about having to take off your shirt or bare your guns for a production.  As long as you can deliver vocally, it's all beneficial.

Hunkentenors Glenn Seven Allen, Ed Lyon and Derek Chester
3) How do you respond to people who say that working out can restrict proper breathing for singers? 

Glenn Seven Allen: I have never felt more confident, capable and ambitious in all facets of my life and am recognizing that physical/mental health and daily commitment to personal growth is the foundation for everything I do.  I have very clear goals on multiple levels in my career and put them first on a daily basis.  And I am seeing the results in a big way!  This is radically different for me, as I now see how 'asleep' I really was in my life and career.  Setting goals and holding only yourself accountable is the key.  Thoughts/dreams become actual things when one takes daily action....

Ed Lyon: With regards to the effects of training on the voice, I can honestly say that my singing has only improved the stronger I have got.  Of course, straining the voice when lifting, not stretching properly, or simple physical fatigue from exercise can affect singing.  For someone unused to working out, yes, their singing will be temporarily affected by sore tired muscles, or strain where there previously was none.  But fallacies like ‘you can’t have a six pack and sing’ are a total fiction.  Everyone has a six pack just as everyone has quads and hamstrings.  It’s just a choice how much fat covers them, or what kind of condition they’re in.  Interestingly, very few trainers will recommend much ‘ab’ work these days, as big core exercises like dead lifts, squats, cleans, kettle bell swings and pull ups all work the abdominals as part of the core.  Crunches are so 1990. As for breathing, any restrictions are probably to do with stiffness, soreness, or strain which comes from not looking after the body properly when working out or when recovering.

Derek Chester: I was just having this conversation with singer another one of your barihunks, Ryan Kuster, who is a pretty fit guy with a stellar instrument and stage presence.  I personally don't feel having a six pack makes by breath tight at all, but I do know that every body and technique reacts differently.  Also, I sing generally light lyric repertoire, and maybe this would be a bigger issue for me if I ever feel the voice wanted to fach up.  I'm really interested in exploring this because I feel some fitness myths for singers need to be debunked.  Much of what we are told is passed down from a previous generation in which Hollywood image and opera intersected much less.  Since then the business has changed and there have been so many advances in exercise science.  I am convinced there an optimal way for singers to still craft their physique without hindering technique.  There are a few exercises I avoid in the weight room, and I never vigorously near performances. I especially think there are ways to reduce throat tensions with heavier weight. I keep a very pressurized air flow through pursed lips and certainly don't do much directly around neck in terms of lifting.  Singers mustn't use passed down fitness myths as an excuse to not take care of there bodies.  After all, our bodies are our instruments.  I think at some point in every singers fitness journey they should work with a pro to find a regimen that fits them personally without restricting technique.  It can be done.  I'm likely going to get certified to be a personal trainer and take some online physiology and exercise science classes.  I would like this to be an outlet for future research and publication for me in the academic world.  I figure I'm already passionate about fitness, and I take great joy in helping other singers with tips and tricks that have worked for me. 

Derek Chester, Ed Lyon and Glenn Seven Allen (Clockwise from upper left)
4) Do we need to start thinking about a Hunkentenors site and should the barihunks feel a challenges coming from their higher voiced colleagues? 

Glenn Seven Allen: I would LOVE it if you would start a Hunkentenor site, btw!!!!

[You can follow Glenn on Instagram at g7fittenor and on Twitter @g7tenor].

Ed Lyon: I thought there was a hunkentenor site once upon a time!  I think there will always be a competition between the voice types - the truth is that there are very few lothario tenor roles (I know, Duke of Mantua etc) compared with baritone ones; we tend to be more princely in our affections.  But I do see a lot of guys in amazing shape coming through now - particularly (and unsurprisingly) from America in both voice types.  There may even come a point where it becomes helpful not to be the buff guy, when the buff guy becomes the norm.  My real feeling about it all is that opera audiences deserve help with their suspension of disbelief - after all, singing a drama is already quite a stretch.  If the voice is all that matters, then let’s do concert versions. But I don't think there’s anything wrong with expecting your Don Giovanni to be attractive, your Semele to be irresistible, your Tom Rakewell to be charming or your Hercules to be buff, as there isn't for your Falstaff to be fat, or your Eschenbach to be older.  It is, and should remain, secondary to vocal considerations, but an audience used to television and cinema are going to find it much more appealing an art form if there’s some hint of verisimilitude and contemporary correlation between what they experience in mainstream culture and what they see on the opera stage.

[You can follow Ed Lyon on Instagram at lionotenor and on Twitter @Ed_Lyon]

Derek Chester: I love what you guys do here. You certainly draw a crowd with your material.  I think there are enough fit tenors out there to warrant our own site, but there is something endearing about letting the baritones have something of their own to be proud of.  They have a hell of a time.  If the hunkentenor thing never happens, you can still keep up with my journey with fitness and singing including my current training programs, tips, and info on staying fit and active on the road by following my Instagram @fittenor.  You can keep up with my calendar, videos, production shots etc. on my Facebook group

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