Covid Teaching

Well…its not that I ever imagined I would be working on Zoom to teach voice. If you had told me last year that I’d be able to move my studio, my career and those of my students to an entirely virtual studio I’d have laughed. However, here we are. Its been actually a Godsend to me and the students to keep going. We have explored more vocally (with the help of my new electric piano set up) than I think we could have in person. One of the reasons for that is the acess I have to sheet music, YouTube videos, Spotify searches and so much more.

I have for many years worked showing students videos or checking keys on sheet music apps but now it is even more and there’s no schlepping books to a studio miles away to use…or not use and my electric piano is always in tune.

I can also see their face, mouth positions, diaphragm and chest breathing so much better on a camera. Nothing is hidden and also, I get to record and send a video along to them so that they can watch themselves and learn even more. Total Win!

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I Wanted to Start Sooner

I really did.  It’s almost 3 years since I put this blog up.  I think it was because I was singing a lot that I avoided doing it much or I didn’t know what to write.  Yesterday a new student came in for a consult with her mother.  They were happy to meet me and excited to talk voice but they were confused as to who I am and how I came to sing and teach the way I do.  I am going to use this blog to explain the method I teach, tell stories about my learning and singing experiences and about other singers I have met along the road that have really shown me ….me through my voice.

I will start at 6 on the floor of my mother’s house sitting between two speakers of my father’s Hi-Fi stereo singing “You Can Sing a Rainbow” by Andy Williams.  My father thought I  could sing.  I could. He had wanted to sing. He didn’t have the voice maybe or the opportunities to do it and so sneaking around listening to me in my room sing to my dollies, my brother and the dog he decided I would learn that song and learn it well. I would sing for him. I would be the one to make it. I would do it for him. For what seemed like years he drilled the words, the music, the meaning into me. I was little and bored easily and the song made me cry… a lot for some reason.  Music still does that to me. It makes me weep for no good reason but the sound of the song.

So, this one day after being drilled by the voice torturer that was my father, I stood up and told him I’d had enough. I told him I’d never sing that song again. I haven’t. I can’t without crying for the desire he had for me to do what he didn’t, for the little girl in my not sure she was doing anything but having fun using her voice and for never having sung that for him at all. Indeed from that day forward, I avoided singing in front of him entirely  I did it to keep him at bay.  He never didn’t criticize me. Even after concerts or shows, he’d go on over pizza bout what I did wrong.  He’d do it now if he were here and now, I ‘d just giggle. I do forgive him now he was so broken.

When I was a teenager this was like torture.  He’d compete with me to see if I were louder or had a higher range than he did.  For years he vanquished me. Then I got lessons.

One day, at Christmas time over cookie baking and now a strong 19-year-old with at least three years of serious classical study under my belt the Hllelujah Chorus from the Messiah came on in the other room blaring from the Hi-Fi he still loved. It did every Christmas. He played the same albums each year.  As always the challenge occurred in the kitchen, the whole family there making cookies assembled as his audience. This was his favorite thing to challenge me on because he liked to compete. He liked to win. You can beat a kid.

Cigarette in hand he’d croak up to the high baritone range and say, “See I beat ya!”. He’d laugh and humiliate me and say I wasn’t the singer, he was the singer.  I had his talent he gave it to me.

This time I was ready for him. I told my mother I was going to really sing him out of the kitchen. We started and he, puffing away on his Winston was sure he was in command…but I waited. I am a Mezzo-Soprano but the range in that piece of music is not too high for any soprano and so I began. I took the proper breath and set my throat up to soar. I began soft and as we got to, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” I let him have it.  Higher and higher I went.  Bigger and bigger was the sound.  Placed, open, clean, on pitch and BAM! I beat him.

He looked defeated, tail between his legs. Walked away. That made my mother smile and my brother high-fived me. He did that to my brother’s guitar/bass playing as well.  That day I lost all fear of singing. I get butterflies and I do obsess and worry over my work. However, now, after that, after 13 years of that man brow-beating me into silence. After that, I was free.

I teach people how to not be afraid.  I feel that if I survived that kind of scrutiny no one in the audience could ever be so mean. Well, maybe they could but I don’t’ have to go home with them, no one in the audience is my father so I am safe. Safe in front of strangers who just let me sing!

 

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When Students Leave

When a student leaves, and they do, there is a change in the world I inhabit. I wonder how or if students realize just how important they are to their teachers. I think its one thing when a teacher has a large class of students or in the case of a college situation there are many students and many classes.

However, when its one on one study in private intense lessons it becomes a sort of deep relationship. Even if as a teacher I never really get to know much about a student’s private or family life the time we spend together makes a strong connection.

Voice lessons are very intimate. I mean…the song, the music, the character. So much talk about meaning of songs, deep ideas in music that take both the student and the teacher to deeper understanding of themselves. The study of amazing music written by musical Gods and Goddesses of music or just really intense pop idols. Music changes people, it makes physical, emotional and spiritual changes occur, healing occur and more.

So when someone leaves for reasons that can be as diverse as moving to a new state, getting into a school far away, changing directions in life, losing a job, getting pregnant and many more the teacher changes too.

Where there was a time when the sharing of all the amazing thoughts, ideas, creation of sound and exploration was there and both student and teacher do a dance of learning and sharing. When there is no student in the time that used to be filled with one then there is a loss for the teacher.

Of course, there is the loss of financial gain and there is always the worry that there won’t be enough to survive. Teaching voice is not at all lucrative. Its more of a healing art and not one where even a comfortable living can be had. There is the loss of that person, their personality, their voice. The loss of the journey to the truth of that voice, and the truth of the performer. That is the loss. The loss of the time to discover together.

Its a hard thing to experience even under the most fulfilling of circumstances like a student hired by an Opera company or a child accepted to a prestigious school.

I have been teaching voice for over 20 years now and its never easy to say goodbye to what was.

I know that noting is permanent and we should never become attached to anything, if I were a Buddhist I’d work on that every day but I am not so good at letting go. Obviously!

The funny thing is I left all of my teachers too!