I believe that music is a very special gift in our lives. It speaks to us in ways that we can’t fully understand. Music is about personal expression. As a teacher, my job is not to hinder expression and creativity, not to show “right” and “wrong,” but rather to help each musician overcome obstacles in order to sing as they truly want to sing. My goal is always to encourage curiosity and a love of good music in all its forms through the way I teach healthy, lifelong singing.
When singers leave my studio, I want them to be able to:
In these endeavors, I am a mentor and coach. I work one-on-one to advise and guide, in order to cultivate the skills necessary for students to be able to take care of their own voice and work independently toward their goals. That may mean helping a singer learn how to realize the physical possibilities of his or her voice, helping him or her overcome self-consciousness that prevents his or her best performance, or providing resources and guidance in his or her exploration of the many possibilities in style, expression, etc. The advantage of the private lesson environment is that, while there are established paths of learning we can follow, we are not restricted by a mandated curriculum. I have the freedom to guide each student through the areas that need to be strengthened as they become clear, and can tailor the program to the student’s individual goals and learning style and pace.
After an introductory talk about the singer’s history and their goals for the future, I begin my work with a new student by assessing the physical foundation of their singing. Is the breath function healthy? Do the vocal folds vibrate properly? Does the student hold onto unnecessary muscular tension that undermines their singing? Healthy singing and rehearsal habits must be established early on. Fundamental technical issues can present a frustrating or even impossible obstruction in achieving their musical goals. Certain problems, if not addressed, can result in permanent vocal damage. Therefore, I immediately develop a fluid plan of attack for combatting any technical issues. Repertoire and exercises at an appropriate level for each student are introduced on an increasing scale of difficulty, with individual pieces selected to address current technical issues while building the student’s performance repertoire and confidence. Exploring different musical styles may also be extremely useful in broadening the student’s horizons and teaching them to listen actively.
My studio is a safe, welcoming place for exploration. I provide students with an honest assessment of what I hear, but explain, step by step, how we can work together to achieve their goals. Even more than other musicians, singers can feel very vulnerable during the learning process. They have to know that their teacher is on their side. Learning to sing well requires developing body awareness, much like yoga or dance (elements of which we use in exercises). One must be able to precisely control very specific muscle groups and learn to manage the work of a number of muscles that are not under voluntary control. These muscles can be influenced and managed through voluntary use of other muscles, and through relaxation techniques. This requires a great deal of focus. One has to learn to sing by feel and not by ear. I teach my students exercises and practice routines that help prime the system to activate the proper muscles and release unnecessary tension in other muscles.
Beyond the singing itself, the student and I explore both music history and music theory. The music of our ancestors has influenced the music of today and will influence the music of the future. Learning about composers and musicians of the past – how they wrote, performed, and thought about music – allows us to see the world from a different perspective. Musicology in its best form is a dialogue between student and teacher, which generates the tools and inspiration necessary to both create beautiful new music and rekindle the fire in old music.
Finally, I foster attentive listening. People so often hear music playing in the background that they no longer listen deeply and thoughtfully, present in the moment. We sometimes take time to simply listen in lessons and discuss what we heard. We compare recordings of the same piece to really dissect what the expressive options are.
Throughout the learning process, I find curiosity to be essential. For that reason, I use the Socratic method a great deal, asking questions of students throughout the lesson (with the caveat that there are no “wrong” answers) and encouraging them to ask questions of me. Through the dialogue of questions we stimulate critical thinking and constant exploration. A student engaged in curious, rather than fearful, exploration of the voice is less likely to carry problematic tension in his or her body. Curious students also more quickly learn how to work independently to find solutions to questions and assignments, and are more likely to live a life of active pursuits, both mentally and physically. These traits will help them in many fields throughout their lives, whether or not they become professional musicians. We need musicians of all types in our world, from the top international professional musicians who inspire and amaze us all, whose recordings we listen to again and again, to the local professionals, community musicians, and music lovers, who keep music alive close to home, where we can experience it live as a regular and renewing part of our lives.