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.