The Musical Athlete

Chris Kelly and Stephanie McCranie, founders of The Musical Athlete and a newly engaged couple, have made it their mission to demystify physical training for vocalists and take singers to the next level.

 

As a singer who grew up playing sports, not instruments, I always felt I was lacking concrete, physically oriented answers to many of my singing technique questions. I knew that there had to be a way to train my body that was conducive to my individual singing needs, but I could not find those answers anywhere. 

Fast forward to a year ago—after two singing degrees, a recent deviated septum and sinus surgery, a Fach change, and in the midst of a global pandemic—I had the incredible luck to be one of The Musical Athlete’s Mentorship Program Beta testers. Working with Chris and Stephanie changed my life, and I know I will not be alone in making that statement as The Musical Athlete continues to grow and reach vocalists globally.

 

A great idea is usually generated when someone identifies a void, something that is missing, inspiring the creative mind to find a solution. Was this the case with the origins of The Musical Athlete? 

Stephanie McCranie: Absolutely. This all started when Chris came to hear me sing for the first time. It was Christmas, and I was performing “Rejoice Greatly.” I honestly just wanted him to say I was beautiful and I performed beautifully…but with him being a biomechanics expert, he said that was beautiful but why did I do that weird thing with my rib cage? I honestly knew I had limitations in my singing but had never had anyone that could help with specifics. Chris asked why I didn’t train like an athlete, and I said because I honestly didn’t know how. We realized there was a missing link between what was known in the professional sports world and what was being offered in the professional singing world. 

Chris Kelly: Whether you use the term “athleticism” or “body control,” I see so many commonalities between great singers I have worked with and great athletes from all sports. One of the most important is self-awareness of breathing and the ability to achieve a full, 360-degree inhale prior to singing. Starting in a good position allows for the better manipulation of internal tension and improved vocal endurance and an improved ability to recover. This is one of the big gaps we are attempting to bridge in the vocal world and something that has made a massive difference for our vocal athletes.

You have had fast growth as an organization and concept and have already collaborated with many educational institutions and platforms. How have those experiences helped build your brand and experience, and what do you hope the next steps will be? 

SM: We have been so fortunate to work with amazing people and incredible institutions. It’s very humbling. We have learned so much about what a singer’s needs really are and how we can best create programs that will truly benefit singers. Our next step is our four-week mentorship, 360 Degree Voice Method: Elevate Your Mind and Body. 

CK: I would also say that, based upon my experiences working with singers from all levels and areas of the world, our “always” step with every singer is providing awareness of what is actually happening internally when they sing. Singers are told so many things about their bodies by other people that it can be confusing and frustrating. By having a better understanding of the basic mechanics of how breathing happens in your unique body, I feel you can make better decisions for how you train and prepare. 

 

What are the key concepts you work on when training “Musical Athletes” to have a sustainable use of their bodies for a career in singing? 

SC: This is a big question and something we tackle extensively in our four-week mentorship. But the basics amount to addressing the big rocks of performance and recovery. When working with a singer, this includes:

  1. Creating a physical warm-up for singing for each unique singer.
  2. Establishing an optimal position of the rib cage and pelvis to allow for a 360-degree inhale and full exhale. 
  3. Establishes the ability to “stack” the body in optimal alignment in standing to optimally utilize the pelvic floor during singing.
  4. Specific breathing training to reduce neurological threat response that contributes to over-breathing.
  5. Establish how to recognize and work on unique physical issues that manifest during performances and rehearsal.

 

What are some common misconceptions about physical training in relation to a singing career?

CK: I can only speak for what I have heard and experienced so far in working with singers, but I would say the biggest seems to be a misunderstanding of the difference between “training” and “exercise.” “Training” is following a schedule and program to achieve a specific result. Exercise is doing stuff that makes you feel good in the moment. One thing I say to singers all that time is that, as a professional, your training should specifically reflect making you a better singer first and addressing everything else second. 

This means knowing when to do cardio versus strength training, for example, and also what not to do. A big error I see almost everyone make initially is doing way too much and being so sore and tired that it affects the ability to sing or motivation to work out again. My goal with my vocal athletes is to give them the minimal amount of physical work necessary to achieve a physical result so the majority of their resources can be devoted to improving and refining their amazing gift: singing. 

You are not a “one size fits all” kind of training program. How are your programs structured?

CK: Our goal with every singer we work with is to create a program that helps them to optimally recover and navigate the process of improving vocal performance. This means we help them to create a specific vocal warm-up and training schedule that optimizes their ability to breathe and control/align their body while performing and rehearsing before ever worrying about intense physical training. 

From here, we place a massive focus on improving cardiovascular endurance and power with nasal breathing, as I believe this is a largely unexplored x-factor for vocal endurance and breath management. We also use strength training to reinforce how we use gravity and teach the body to generate and control tension. 

You two are a dream team…and recently got engaged! Could you share with us the context in which this proposal happened? 

SM: Thank you! We were on the final day of the four-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. Chris proposed at the Sun Gate, which overlooks Machu Picchu. It was an incredibly special moment for both of us. 

CK: I ended up hiking the trail with a sinus infection, and we were both absolutely exhausted. I had this whole speech planned. But all I could do was break down in tears and fall to my knees because I was overcome by emotion for the person I love more than life itself. It was truly the happiest day of my life, and the sleep that night (after coming down from an extremely high altitude) was absolutely amazing. 

What are some of your wildest dreams for the future of The Musical Athlete? 

SM: We hope to be the leading program offered in universities and programs around the world. We feel very strongly this is something every singer should know and will empower singers to be experts about their own body and voice. We hope to change the vocal world for the better. 

CK: Honestly, I think about each singer and their experience in this industry. Our goal is simply to bring about greater self-awareness of what is happening in the body to support singing and the pivotal role that simple training can play to build vocal confidence and performance.

Eugenia Forteza

Eugenia Forteza is a French-Argentinean Mezzo-Soprano, Actor, Influencer, Writer and Producer based in NYC. In 2016, Eugenia founded the popular social media platform dedicated to the behind the scenes of the opera world, @360ofOpera. Eugenia enjoys a versatile international career in opera, concert, theatre and film, which has taken her worldwide from NYC’s Carnegie Hall to Singapore’s Wild Rice Theatre and beyond. Follow Eugenia on Social Media at @fortezaeugenia & @360ofOpera. For more information, please visit www.eugeniaforteza.com.