Back to Back Issues Page
eNotes, #006
December 22, 2007



Hello Students!

Welcome to this issue of eNotes. I hope you are well.

This issue contains the long-awaited interview with Michelle Mailhot, vocal jazz singer. I was lucky enough to have her as a student at Methuen High School for about 2 years. A few years after that she was "discovered" but we have intermittenly stayed in touch. I think you'll find what she has to say very enlightening, especially her insight about playing the piano! She currently lives in Orlando and is expecting her first child in about 4 months.


This is an interview with Michelle. Here is a little background on her. She has a Bachelor of Music Degree in Vocal Jazz Performance from Western Michigan University. I first met Michelle when she was a sophomore at Methuen High School. I was her chorus teacher. We have stayed in touch and she has gone on to achieve great things in music. She is a full-time professional jazz singer and sings in a highly successful a cappella group based out of Orlando called Toxic Audio. They have performed off-Broadway for one year, have had many gigs at Hilton Head, Las Vegas, and won the National Harmony Sweepstakes. She has recently come out with a great CD with piano accompaniment by Mark Shilansky (remember that interview?)

Debbie: Hi, how are you doing?

Michelle: Hi, Debbie

Debbie: Tell us about the group you sing in and how it got started.

Michelle: Toxic Audio is a 5-voice theatrical a cappella group. We donít just stand there and sing songs. We started 9 years ago at the Orlando International Fringe Festival and we worked together for a couple of weeks. We were all professional singers in the area and Renee, the lead singer, wanted to get this gig together just for one week. The boys were always doing the funny things. So the seven shows went by. There were Disney executives there and they were just saying that they need more entertainment and they asked us if we would consider taking a year-long contract working at Disney World. So we did it. About a year and a half later we started getting higher paying corporate gigs. The straw that broke the camelís back at Disney was a three-week gig that we were offered in Las Vegas through the Tupperware organization. They paid us a ton of money. We said yes to them. Then the Disney people said that we wanted too much time off, we were actually becoming too successful. We left that and ever since that we have been freelancing. In the beginning of 2004, we did a showcase ourselves in New York. It cost us $40,000 and then a big producer came and said he wanted to move us there for a year, give us moving expenses, costumes, lights etcÖ.And we did that for a year.

Debbie: And you do lots of cruises too?

Michelle: Oh yes, lots of cruises.

Debbie: How often do you perform?

Michelle: We perform almost every week. Lots of times, we meet up at the gig. Four of us live in Orlando and one in New York and one of us lives in Las Vegas.

Debbie: Do you still get nervous when you perform?

Michelle: Yes, I get nervous at educational events. It happened two weeks ago as a matter of fact. We were the guests for a show choir competition. There are people that are still judging it from when I was in high school. I have to sit the group down and say, I know you are going to roll your eyes at me but please sing in tune! And I worry about my scat singing. I really work to be as good as I can be for educational events.

Debbie: What helps you with that?

Michelle: Reminding the group that itís important to remember musicality -reminding myself that Iíve been doing this for a long time. I still have to reconnect with the girl who went to music school for 6 years.

Debbie: Who are your influences?

Michelle: Okay, influences are Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Mark Murphy, Bobby McFerrin, Annie Ross, John Hendricks, Nancy King (from Seattle). People that I love to listen to is Prince. I like an a cappella group from Toronto called Cadence. I listen to MPact, another a cappella group. There is a group in Orlando called Return to Zero that I like to listen to.

Debbie: Do you have piano skills and do you feel they help you with your singing?

Michelle: Yes, I do have piano skills and I think they help a lot with my singing. Iím practicing ďThe Waters of MarchĒ now from my CD. I want to open my show with it in Orlando, I like it so much. I was getting frustrated trying to sing and play piano at the same time. Then my husband said, why practice? Mark (the pianist) will be accompanying you. You donít have to worry about learning it. And I said that it was really going to help me! Itís really going to help me with my music theory. So playing and singing today is whatís putting the song in my brain. If I didnít have any piano skills and I was just singing it, it would throw me! I canít just practice with my CD the whole time because I can cheat! My playing the piano with myself singing is truly making that song come together for me. Through coaching and playing, Iíve become a better singer. Iíve become so much better. Piano skills are great but I wish I played as good as you do!

Debbie: Well, I listen to Mark Shilansky and I say, ďI wish I played as good as Mark!Ē Itís all relative. I teach a singing workshop and a piano workshop.

Michelle: Wow! Iíd love to take one of your piano workshops. Would you put me on your mailing list for when Iím in town?

Debbie: Sure! The first workshop is a basic one on how to read chords, but then there are other ones on how to play the blues and how to play by ear.

Michelle: Great.

Debbie: Okay, hereís a heavy one for you. Why do you like to sing? What is it about singing that makes you feel so good?

Michelle: One of my first vivid memories about singing was coming home after Mass in Methuen. Now Mass in the 70ís, the Catholic music scene was kind of like the Grateful Dead Ė folky with tambourines. I liked it. I remember coming home and singing all those songs in the basement because of the cement walls and the acoustics. I didnít like to sing in my bedroom. Part of the reason that I like to sing is that it physically feels good to sing. If Toxic Audio doesnít have a gig for over a week and I havenít practiced the piano, I have to sit down at the piano and just start singing something. It feels good in my chest. It feels good in my mask. Also, a couple of huge influences as a child were ďAnnieĒ. My mother took me to see that show when I was seven. It was huge to me. So was Olivia Newton John. I loved her as a kid and I love her now.

Debbie: Well, Michelle, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. And much luck to you and Toxic Audio!

Michelle: Oh, youíre welcome, Debbie.

I have her new CD called "Happy Madness" by the way. It is incredibly good! It has reharmonizations of standard jazz songs and pop songs like "Landslide", Prince's "Love 2 the 9's" and "I've Got the World on a String". Mark Shilansky arranged and played piano on the whole CD. It's got his genius artistic talent all over it. And Paul Stiller (remember that interview from Berklee College of Music?) sings on it! I highly recommned it.
Michelle Mailhot website

If you haven't checked out the website recently, you gotta check it out! I've added video! The video is a small excerpt from a Cable Television interview I did in Burlington, MA a few months ago.

Also, my current 2008 teaching schedule is there for the winter term. I have also added new pages on Private Lessons if you'd like to give one a try. I put down a dose of the curriculum that I use in my teaching. Plus, I am adding new content all the time.

I am also having a special for only those people who have subscribed to eNotes (that's you!). If you order, "Playing with Style", you will pay no shipping charge if you order before the New Year.

Playing With Style

That's it for now. Lots of interesting new additions planned for 2008 on the website, including lots more audio samples, new classes at new Adult Education Centers, Piano Stores and my house.

I hope you and your family have a great holiday season. Enjoy the snow if you ski (we're heading to Pats Peak this weekend!)and I'll touch base with you in a couple of weeks.

Happy holidays!
Debbie Gruber, B.M., M.M.

Back to Back Issues Page