The Pearl Studios had the privilege of hosting real theatre pearl, Ms. Natalie Weiss, the melismatically-gifted performer who kicked off the New Year with her two-hour COME RIFF WITH ME Workshop on January 8th at 12 pm.
In today’s day and age, there is no one quite like Natalie Weiss. No one can deny her wicked talent as well as being a phenomenal teacher of her craft. Natalie Weiss possesses a diamond quality that keeps her ever-expanding fan-base growing.
Natalie Weiss not only has a breadth of knowledge based on a life-time of impressive experience and accolades (Natalie just finished doing pre-records in the ensemble for the upcoming upcoming Hugh Jackman movie musical, The Greatest Showman, based on the life of P.T. Barnum, with original music by Pasek and Paul. She can also be heard in the ensemble on the Original Broadway Cast recording of Dear Evan Hansen. She has gained an international following from her performance videos and popular web series, “Breaking Down The Riffs,” which have collectively reached over 3 million views.) but also an endearing personality that shines bright in her live performances and in her teaching. Ms. Weiss’ personable approach with her students made for a fulfilling and entertaining workshop that I have no doubt that students will be ecstatic to re-attend.
The COME RIFF WITH ME Workshop included a warmup, breaking down riffs by famous singers such as Mariah Carey, rising star Tory Kelly, and others. We participated in a riff circle, which was a more collaborative portion of the event, after a thorough vocal warmup led by Natalie Weiss herself.
At the end, Natalie Weiss gave her students the opportunity to ask her any questions regarding theatre and singing; she gave us quick pro tips and advice on better audition technique and the business. She answered these questions quite openly; its refreshing to see a performer of such high caliber have such an honesty about the craft with their generation of students.
This is the diamond quality that Natalie Weiss possesses that separates her from the rest and keeps her fans coming back for more.
I had a chance to ask Ms. Weiss a few questions after the event:
A: What does riffing mean to you?
NW: Riffing is used to embellish a song or heighten an emotional moment. It can also be referred to as a melisma, ad lib, lick, or run. I basically grew up imitating artists like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston so I feel like a big part of my style of sound comes from listening to them throughout my childhood I wouldn’t be the singer I am today without having the artists I admired as teachers growing up.
A: Do you remember the first time you ever riffed?
NW: In the 4th grade talent show, I entered as a classical pianist. However, the next year, though I really had NO experience, just some natural ability, I decided to enter as a singer. I swear I went from screaming 10 year old pitchy girl with nodules to 11 year old Natalie cleanly imitating Whitney riffs out of nowhere in my performance of the Greatest Love Of All, full vibrato and all. Of course I had ZERO stage presence, but that was definitely a memorable riff moment early on.
A: What inspired you to BREAK DOWN THE RIFFS?
NW: A few years before I created BDTR (Breaking Down The Riffs), my friends and I were chatting about complicated riffs that we thought we could never figure out. One of my friends “broke one down” into smaller sections so I could process it easier. I realized how much more achievable it was than I thought. So anyway, I stored that little piece of info in my mind along with a few other complicated ones I had learned throughout the years. When Beyonce’s “Halo” came out in 2011 or 2012, my friend had said that she couldn’t’ figure out how to do the riff on the word “night”. I took a listen, realized there were only 7 notes, and mentioned that she should tilt her head on the 5th note because it kind of skipped a note in the scale. That led to a thought of me casually making a video teaching people how to do certain riffs… so I casually thought of a title for it… “breaking down the runs”, (which sounded like a bathroom trip) “figuring out the riffs”, etc, and “breaking down the riffs” just seemed to stick. What started as a silly little video turned into 33 episodes! A: Do you remember the first time you ever riffed?
Natalie Weiss’ voice is fully-connected. Natalie Weiss can deliver vocal acrobatics accurately and effortlessly, delivering enjoyably unpredictable riffs and runs in her musical performances while maintaining control over volume. If the Incredibles family had a singer in their Super-hero clan, Natalie Weiss would be it! Her musical phrasing always contributes to her story-telling and Ms. Weiss doesn’t feel the need to over-sell her voice, which makes her performances that much more effective.
Check out her interpretation of With You from Ghost; it will bring you to tears.
I can only dream of guest-riffing with Natalie Weiss on BREAKING DOWN THE RIFFS, where she hosts fans and fellow musical theatre students on her show to break down the riffs with her in person for a Youtube episode.
Attending her the COME RIFF WITH ME WORKSHOP was inspirational and meeting Natalie Weiss in person was a true blessing.
Check out Natalie Weiss’ Breaking Down the Riffs!
As a singer it will be the weissest decision you ever made.
Alexa is a Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Alumna.