Posts made in February, 2013

Why Take Voice Lessons?

Posted by on Feb 22, 2013 | 2 comments

Why Take Voice Lessons?

Why should we take voice lessons, or music lessons of any kind, for that matter? It is a frequent topic of discussion among my teaching colleagues these days as the economy continues to falter and money is tight for everyone. So why spend money on music lessons? Is it purely frivolous or could there be more lasting, substantive value to it?

At first the answer was obvious to me, after all, I’ve had a voice lesson almost every week from age 13 to 35 (and if Cornelius was still on this earth, you can bet I’d still be having lessons!). As a professional singer and voice teacher, I know that having a voice lesson is as essential as exercising, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and sleeping- it’s just what you do to stay healthy in mind, body and spirit. It was always just something I did, had to do, wanted to do. I never questioned the need or the expense because it was a natural part of pursuing my dreams, the cornerstone of the regimen for becoming a vocal artist. The bottom line is, you go to lessons to develop your instrument; to (hopefully!) learn “technique”- that fearsome, complicated, magical word that means so much but can be so elusive. I didn’t discover how powerful and profound that word could be until I was in graduate school when I finally found a technique that actually worked for me. Developing a solid technique that you fully understand, that makes you sing better every week is indispensable and potentially life changing.

But as I thought more deeply about it, beyond the technical aspect, the other reasons for taking lessons are just as profound but not as obvious, having less to do with a career and much more to do with the development and discovery of ourselves as unique, thinking, feeling, creative beings. With every passing year, I realize that all those voice lessons over all those years helped shape and define me as a person as well as a performer.

First of all, my lessons were a wonderful outlet for me to express myself through music. Ah the beauty of an hour devoted solely to singing, communing with the music, delving into the realm of the senses and emotions. Through repertoire, I got to explore facets of myself that I didn’t know existed, or was too afraid to express “in real life;” being passionate, funny, angry, sensual…are all emotions that are not necessarily allowed in everyday life but are the very essence of music. Even with Cornelius, when my lesson was solely a half hour of technique, my mood was usually buoyant afterwards; remember that the throat is the center of our emotions and when you release tensions there and reveal truly free, vibratory sounds, it releases emotional tensions as well, opening a door for you to be a happier person as well as a happier singer. Frankly, just the act of singing has always filled me with great joy and any opportunity to do that is a plus in my book.

Lessons helped me cultivate better focus and concentration, expand my memory (a very underutilized and incredibly valuable skill), learn how to successfully multi-task (singing, acting, counting, listening all at the same time!), stretch my imagination, and develop interpersonal skills working with my teacher, accompanist, and fellow students.  I also developed poise, professionalism and confidence.

But perhaps best of all, my lessons allowed me to connect one on one each week with a professional who shared my passion for the art of music, singing and performing. I was blessed with incredibly supportive parents, but they did not know the first thing about this crazy musical world I was involved in. They relied on the brilliant, passionate musical professionals who taught me to guide all of us.  My first voice teacher, the wonderful Isabelle Goeser, was practically perfect. She taught me to be musical, vocally and theatrically expressive, introduced me to the great classical composers in a loving, supportive environment AND helped my parents understand what I was doing, why I was doing it, and gave them confidence in how I was doing it.

I spoke to bewildered and relieved parents all the time at AMDA’s graduation who were so thankful that their child had someone who understood them and could help them navigate this unfamiliar musical world. I now realize how truly important and vital that is, especially for young, aspiring singers. A teacher/mentor who shares in your passion for your art, who not only imparts knowledge tailored especially to your individual needs (this is key!), but also helps you to develop into an artist in your own right is truly a gift. I have been blessed to have worked with a handful of very special, amazing teachers whose teachings, guidance and spirit are always with me as I perform and teach.

And finally, I believe that cultivating your passion in one area develops your passion for life in general. Most of the musicians I know are intensely interested in multiple aspects of life, not just music, which makes them interesting people as well as great artists. To be a performing artist you have to know about the art, theater, philosophy, and history informing the music as well as just the music itself.

I confess that I miss having my own voice lessons terribly. I am now forced to be my own teacher since mine is no longer with us. But I feel Cornelius, Isabelle, Julian, and all the other wonderful teachers I’ve had in my life, are with me when I practice and when I teach, whispering in my ear, reminding me, exhorting me to listen, pay attention, strive for being my best self as a singer AND as a human.

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Sing out, Louise! (The Performer’s Instinct)

Posted by on Feb 22, 2013 | 0 comments

Sing out, Louise! (The Performer’s Instinct)

I can teach you everything you need to be a better singer: how to sing healthier with solid technique, make more beautiful, interesting sounds, sing higher, lower, softer, louder, slower and faster. I can help you have excellent diction, teach you how to stand, emote, and act while singing, even how to dress for an audition. But what I cannot teach, what is frankly unteachable, is the INSTINCT for singing and performing. In my experience you either have it, or you don’t. Let me elucidate:

I am very fortunate right now to be teaching a wonderful young lady who is preparing audition recordings for getting into college music schools. She is a marvelous student, everything that a teacher could ask for: smart, motivated, musical, and possessing a lovely voice of enormous potential with consistent glimmers of the great beauty and depth that are in her future. I knew she had an instinct for the act of singing in the way she took my direction, consistently improving both on the spot and between lessons. But what I did not know about her until this week was whether or not she had a real instinct for performing. When the spotlight was on, how would she respond? Just because you can sing, does not always mean you can perform. We have been so focused on technical issues and getting all three songs learned and polished under a looming deadline that we didn’t have a lot of time to devote to performance issues.  So the first day of actually recording came…* the pressure was on, the deadline had come, it was time to deliver… And I am so thrilled to report that it was the very best singing she had ever done in the short time we have been working together. Even in the very first take, she exceeded all my expectations. Her instinct for performing, for making music, for bringing a song to life allowed all the elements we have been working on so painstakingly to come together into a harmonious whole that was infinitely better than the sum of its parts.

And to me, that’s what it’s all about. Yes, striving for continual technical mastery is a worthy and life-long goal, but being able to make music, to entertain and move your audience, is so much more important than everything being “perfect”, whatever that means. As Cornelius used to say, “There is no such thing as perfection until you are dead. And then you are perfectly dead.”

*I must say that recording can be 100 times more stressful than actually performing live; something about knowing you are being recorded “for posterity”, so to speak, and of course the dread of knowing at some point you’ll actually have to <gasp> listen to yourself! But that is a post for another time.

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