October 4, 2006

JLY’s Vocal Coach Katie Agresta’s Thoughts on Rock Singing in Musicals

October 4th, 2006

Backstage.com’s David Finkle notes that nowadays, there are an amazing amount rock musicals on Broadway and elsewhere (touring shows, of course). Finkle talks to John Lloyd Young’s vocal coach Katie Agresta, and other vocal coaches about the techniques they use in training Broadway actors to sing like rock stars eight times a week.

Katie Agresta has developed “all kinds of exercises” over the last 40 years to help rock singers keep in shape and more recently aided Broadway singers newly immersed in rock. She calls attention to the flexibility of the body needed for effective acting, and how that desired state is in opposition to the muscle tightening ideal for singing rock. Agresta notes,

Rock singing goes against how the body works naturally. Muscles were never intended to be used that way.

The mere thought of those muscles sets her itemizing the importance of what “phonates.” She lists the importance of the roof of the mouth, the soft palate, the muscles of the face and neck. Agresta’s exercises are engineered to reconcile the loose/tense muscle conundrum that initially sounds irreconcilable. She especially encourages tongue exercises, because she’s adamant about the tongue being loosened before tackling a rock score. That’s just one part of the warm-up she sees as obligatory. She’s every bit as strict about a warm-down. “Almost nobody warms down,” she laments, and yet she says that since singers are also in the muscle business, they “must train themselves like Olympic athletes.”

One Agresta client who follows her regimen to the letter is John Lloyd Young, currently continuing his Tony-winning Frankie Valli portrayal in the Tony-winning Jersey Boys. “He should be praised up one side and down the other,” Agresta says. Her enthusiasm stems from “the superhuman” task Young has assumed. She marvels at it, saying, “Twenty-seven hit rock songs night after night after night. That’s gargantuan.”

For his part, Young isn’t reticent about a rock-singing assignment that’s like no other, in his estimation. “When you think of most Broadway shows, they’re demanding vocally,” he says, “but [the lead] may have four songs altogether. I have 27. If that’s not unprecedented on Broadway, it’s one of only a handful.” Saying that, Young underlines why for him “seeing Katie once a week is integral.” He’s confident she detects vocal glitches even before they crop up.

Echoing Agresta, Young says, “The warm-up is integral. More importantly, the warm-down is integral. It’s like being a sprinter. Everyone knows that if you’re an athlete, you have to warm down. That for me is the saving grace. It’s the most important element.” When speaking to Young and Agresta, it’s unmissable that they argue for the warm-down component of healthy rock singing — on legit or concert stages — because they suspect, probably rightly, that it’s a widely neglected component.


  1. I drove from central VA to NYC for my birthday On Oct. 7. I LOVED Michael as Frankie and felt so happy that I was able to experience Jersey Boys. Having graduated in 63 I knew every lyric and Michael sang them perfectly. I actually enjoyed his performance more than the CD I purchased.

    Comment by jacque — October 9, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

  2. I have an ever growing music facility in Northern Westchester called C-Note Music,Inc. It’s located about an hour north of Manhattan in Cortlandt Manor, NY. I am always looking for young voice teachers here at my school. If you can refer any person who might be interested in doing some teaching on either a full or part time basis,please have them contact me, ASAP!
    I would greatly appreciate your help in this matter. My office number is #914-736-6673. Fax #914-736-6679.

    Comment by Mr. George J. Candreva — January 3, 2008 @ 2:42 pm

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