Posts made in March, 2012

An offer I couldn’t refuse

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 | 0 comments

An offer I couldn’t refuse
In March of 1998, my life changed forever. This was when I first met Cornelius Reid, the man who profoundly changed my singing voice, the way I sang, the way I thought about singing, the way I taught, the way I thought about and viewed the world, musically and otherwise, gave me a career, a profession and a new passion. I knew it was a momentous event even after my very first half hour lesson with the man. In 30 minutes he had me singing better and more beautifully than I could ever have dreamed in my previous 25 years on earth. Besides the previously discussed “ah” vowel, under his guidance I sang a high Eb for the first time ever and it actually sounded like something worth listening to. And after the three lessons I took with him that week, I knew deep down inside that nothing would ever be the same. I had a new awareness of my voice and had been awakened to its possibilities. But I didn’t know what to do about it. After all, he was THE Cornelius Reid, he lived in New York City, he was out of reach. And then my universe tilted and whirled- my voice teacher at the time, the wonderful, irreplaceable Julian Patrick, came to me with the incredible, awesome, life-changing offer: Cornelius was very impressed with me and very interested in my voice (he said I reminded him of Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1940) which is of course very flattering and a remarkable thing all by itself considering he actually saw her sing live at the old Met! Yes, he was that old) and therefore he wanted me to come to New York City and study with him.
Whoa.
I was completely astounded, incredibly flattered and honored, and then quickly added, “but I couldn’t possibly. I can’t move to New York City!” As soon as that was out of my mouth, I knew that in fact I HAD to move to New York City, that I MUST find a way to study with this man, this vocal guru; that THIS was what I had been waiting for all my singing life. I had been taught by so many voice teachers up to this point, ranging from horrible to wonderful, and none of them had ever been able to come close to solving my technical vocal problems. The consensus was that my tremolo (my biggest, most problematic issue) was just how my voice was, that there was nothing to be done about it and people would either love it or hate it and good luck to me. (I must mention here that Julian was my best teacher thus far and an extraordinary one at that, and as one of Cornelius’ protégés, he did in fact help me a great deal. My voice blossomed under his care.) But here was Cornelius saying that, no, it was not “just my voice”, that of course my vocal problems could in fact be solved and he was the man to solve them. The only catch was MOVING TO NEW YORK CITY!
And so I did. I accepted his amazing offer and I began to make my move to New York a reality…           Five months later I took a tremendous leap of faith and moved to New York City with $3000, 2 suitcases and one voice teacher. It took every ounce of my courage and resolve, every drop of my desire to be a better singer to get me on that plane and to get me through the days and months that followed.
And was it worth it? Oh indeed, wholeheartedly yes it was. I have never once regretted that decision. A funny thing though- it was never really a choice. It was never ‘should I go?’ but rather ‘how can I make this a reality?’
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Proud of my girl

Posted by on Mar 18, 2012 | 0 comments

Proud of my girl

I am especially proud of one of my students this week and I feel it necessary to brag about her publicly. However, I also want to tell her story (even as it continues to unfold) because I believe she is a perfect example of the extraordinary vocal transformation that can happen using Cornelius Reid’s vocal techniques and philosophies (as he taught them to me). Since I know this will make her incredibly uncomfortable and blush from head to toe, she will remain anonymous; I will refer to her as “Amelia”.

 

I’ll never forget Amelia’s first lesson four years ago: in walked this shy, quiet girl and when she started to sing for me, out came this teeny-tiny sliver of a voice. So I started “poking around” (figuratively, not physically!), trying various exercises, various vowels, etc…to discover what might be in there beyond that thin, nasal sound and whaddaya you know, out popped the beginnings of something gorgeous- the promise of a beautiful, full, warm, womanly, voluptuous voice! She looked terrified and bewildered (which I now know was not true- she told me a year or so ago that she thought her first lesson was fantastic and she skipped all the way home in happiness!). It was exciting for both of us, but I approached the situation with extreme caution. It was such a different sound than anything she had ever produced before that I knew it would be hard for her to get her psyche around it, let alone her ears and throat. Cornelius Reid used to say that learning to sing, really developing your singing voice in a profound way, is like going through puberty all over again. It forces you to confront new aspects of yourself that you did not even know existed. I certainly experienced that in my first few years studying with him. Every week it seemed like he uncovered a new aspect to my voice- a new color, a new freedom, more depth and dimension that I could ever have imagined; it was like waking up in the morning and discovering that overnight I had turned into a straight-haired blonde! My vocal identity was shifting, changing, morphing. It was glorious but also terrifying and certainly disorienting.

 

So I knew that Amelia would need time and a lot of patience tempered with persistence on my part, for her to embrace these new and glorious sounds emanating from her throat. And because she is a very brilliant and talented young woman, she took these new sounds and ran with them. She worked very hard and was such a good sport about trying and implementing every new sound and idea I threw at her. I am so grateful and thankful for her complete and unwavering trust in me and the process of developing her voice. It is a wonderful thing to have a student with whom you can collaborate with on their vocal and musical development and journey to become an artist. It took a couple of months for the new sounds to really take hold, but by the time she got to sing “Mr. Snow” from Carousel, she had fully embraced her new instrument and caused quite a stir on campus. Who was that girl? Where had she come from? No one remembered her from her first semester but by her last semester, she was the star of her graduating showcase; her rendition of “Old Maid” from 110 in the Shade was so beautiful, so well sung and so movingly acted that I confess to shedding a tear or two (and it is quite something to cry with joy at an AMDA showcase…).

 

I was incredibly proud of her then (well, I always have been proud of her and incredibly blessed and humbled to be a part of her development as a singer) but I was reminded afresh today during our weekly Skype voice lesson (a sometimes awkward but surprisingly effective mode of having a lesson when not physically in the same city) of how amazing her vocal development has been in such a short time and how smart she is about and with her instrument. Amelia is back in school and singing all the time, every day, for hours on end, and she is singing better than ever! Why? Well, first I think it is partially because she has had some time away from formalized education to continue to develop her voice without the rigors of deadlines and enforced repertoire, and has naturally grown and matured as both a person and as a performer. However, the other big reason is something Cornelius believed very strongly: he always said that if you sing well (healthily, musically), then the more you sing, the better and stronger your voice becomes. And Amelia is a case in point. The girl who used to freak out singing a high Bb (and sometimes actually refuse to try in her panic), is now knocking out gorgeous high C’s, D’s, and even a high Eb! Her chest voice, once non-existent, is now full and powerful, womanly and dramatic. She even sang a respectably pianissimo high Ab! It makes me giggle with happiness to hear her sing this way. Her progression and consistently high level of achievement is directly proportional to her acceptance and utilization of Cornelius’ teachings. And besides all that, she’s a talented human who is taking great joy in expressing her talent after too long of being silenced. I am honored to call this remarkable young lady both my student and my friend.

 

***I must add that I have had, and continue to have, many wonderful, marvelously talented, dedicated, brilliant students that have also made and continue to make me incredibly proud and honored to be their teacher, helping them achieve their vocal dreams. This will certainly not be the last of such stories as I have told above; it is only the first one I’ve written down. I can think of at least a dozen more that I would like to share in the future.

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Belt, baby! (Aka:the show must go on)

Posted by on Mar 9, 2012 | 2 comments

Belt, baby! (Aka:the show must go on)

I’m still a little in shock. Last night was a first for me after 30 years doing theatre: it was the final dress rehearsal for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (for which I am the vocal director) and the actor playing Marcy Park (the one who sings “I speak 6 languages”) was too ill to perform (she had a terrible flu!). The director called me at 3:30 p.m. saying he needed ME to play Marcy, ON BOOK, thank goodness. I was just about to have lunch and suddenly I couldn’t eat a thing. I was freaking out! I had never done anything remotely like this before- I’m a planner, a practicer, a preparer! Anything remotely improv-like or non-rehearsed scares me to death! Thankfully I have been studying the score for over two months so it’s not like I was sight-reading, but still…and of all the songs in the show, this was the one that I felt least prepared or even capable of singing. I can belt, I even like to belt (which is saying a lot for an intensively classically trained opera singer), but I’ve taught “I speak 6 languages” too many times to not be wary of it from a vocal perspective. It’s hard and it’s a relatively high belt. I had my doubts. But I practiced a little and it seemed mostly do-able. And what choice did I have anyway? The show must go on!

So, I highlighted Marcy’s lines, assembled my music, and headed off to the theatre. The cast, crew and director were wonderfully supportive and positive about the whole thing which made me feel much calmer. And the director made an announcement that I would be doing the part on book which also took the pressure off. I felt ridiculous in the first act holding tightly to the life raft of my black binder while our very talented cast cavorted expertly about the stage. I tried to disappear into the set so as not to distract or cause trouble. Then came the second act where Marcy has her big solo followed by her dialogue with Jesus. (Yes, you read that correctly. You must see the show- it’s a brilliant comic scene and one of my favorite moments in the show.) At that point, adrenaline and my performer’s instincts took over and I have to admit it was actually quite exhilarating and fun. AND I belted the whole song, including the high D’s! Truly a first for this dyed-in-the-wool soprano! And that was that- I happily left the stage feeling like I had done the best I could under the circumstances and on further reflection this morning, overcame a huge phobia. Thankfully the real Marcy Park is feeling better and will be able to perform tonight. I will be the happiest audience member ever as she takes the stage and is as brilliant as I know she will be! She makes it look easy, and I now know from personal experience it is not at all.

 

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