Who takes voice lessons?

My mother never understood how I had so many students. She would say, “So many people want to be professional singers?” and I’d say, “No, mom, some want to be professional performers, but some just want to get into the musical at school, or into a special ensemble in choir, or some just want to be better.” That blew her mind. She couldn’t understand why anyone would spend money on something if they weren’t planning to make money at it. (And why they’d give it to ME, of all people.)

But my mother issues are a whole ‘nother story. And ones only hinted at in this blog.

This summer, I read Seth Godin’s This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.  In the chapter, “In search of ‘better,'” he creates an X-Y graph showing elements that people care about. From a business perspective, one element might be convenience, and another one price. What kind of clients fall within these parameters? Who is willing to pay for both? Who wants one but doesn’t care so much about the other?

I decided that, from a voice teacher’s perspective, my parameters would be technique and performance. What kind of client/student wants to be a better singer, but doesn’t really want to perform? What kind doesn’t really care about developing strong technique, but just wants to be able to perform with a band or at open mic? Who wants to understand technique better so they can help their classroom students, but doesn’t really want to perform themselves? Who wants to perform at the highest possible level of ability? This is what I came up with, based on the students I’ve worked with over 20 years:

Types of Voice Students (click here for bigger version)Image 9-19-19 at 9.44 AM

By “professional performer,” I mean opera/musical theater, because that’s what I do. CCM performer means contemporary commercial music such as rock, pop, jazz. And please don’t feel that I’m judging any kind of singing here – except maybe “shower.”

This doesn’t mean that students are forever relegated to these arbitrary quadrants. The “always wanted to sing” dabbler might start out not wanting to perform (and, in fact, be terrified of doing so), but then dip their toe into karaoke, and maybe later, community theater. Or start out in the church choir, and then decide to try auditioning for a symphonic chorus. A community theater ensemble singer might go for a lead role – and get it!

As a teacher, who do you want to work with? I have to be honest – I prefer working with people who want to perform and who want to develop their technique to the highest extent possible. That’s my “ideal client.” I have friends who enjoy working with adults who have no intention of performing and who do not want to work with high-strung high school students with tons of rehearsal conflicts (in other words, my people). Knowing who you click with might mean that you don’t market yourself as “all ages, all styles,” because that might not be the best way you can serve yourself and your client. It’s not for me. But some people are happy to serve all markets, and good for them!

As a student, where do you fall? Does your teacher recognize what’s important to you? Are they helping you get to where you want to be? Are they pushing you hard enough or too hard? Are you their ideal client? Are they your ideal teacher?

Why I don’t teach pop – usually

I was reading a FB post on a teacher group where someone had mentioned that their student was recording some repertoire that was wildly age-inappropriate, both lyrically and vocally. This was repertoire that the parent had chosen but that they wanted help on from the teacher.

I don’t teach pop. It’s not that I feel that classical music or Golden Age musical theater is the “one true way” to develop vocal technique. It’s not that I don’t like pop music. I love Lady Gaga, John Legend, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Lizzo…. But I feel like contemporary pop music is so artist-driven, and written for the particular range and style of an individual singer, rather than for the masses. And often, the lyrics are more adult-themed than I think a middle school student should be singing (this also happens with musical theater for that matter – I had an 11 year old whose mom wanted her to sing “Mama, who bore me” from Spring Awakening because Lea Michele sang it and she liked her on Glee; I had to explain what the show was about and then she agreed with me that no, it was not a good audition piece for show choir).

I like finding what’s right for a student based on who they are at this point in their vocal journey, and what’s going to take them to the next level. And my comfort zone is musical theater (both contemporary and Golden Age) and classical. I’ll also use Great American Songbook rep and folk songs, but rarely will I use contemporary (post-2000) pop unless I find something that I think will suit someone. I can’t remember the last time that happened. And especially not with a new student.

A few exceptions:

  • Contemporary musical theater – it’s pretty pop-y, but I still feel like it’s not as limited as far as singability as commercial pop music.
  • Jukebox musicals – if you’re auditioning for Rock of Ages, you’re not going to sing “Oh what a beautiful morning” for the audition, so we’ll need to find something with a harder edge.
  • You’ve been with me awhile and you have something to sing for a school event and you’re having trouble with it. In which case, I need:
    • Sheet music or at least a lead sheet with guitar chords. This should be in the right key for you, not necessarily the key in which it’s written.
    • An accompaniment track so I can hear what it’s supposed to sound like.
    • A recording of it in advance so I know what I’m getting into.

Again, not teaching pop is not about me not liking pop music or wanting to impose my musical tastes on you. It’s the best way I know for the studio to serve you, based on my skill set and my experience. Pop music, even though I’m certified in contemporary commercial music pedagogy, is not in my superpower wheelhouse (that’s an upcoming blog, BTW). So if you really, really want to sing pop music and only pop music – then I’m not the right teacher for you. In which case, Godspeed, and I’ll help you find the right teacher if I can.

The Performing Teacher/Teaching Artist

The biggest reason I moved back to the east coast from Milwaukee was because I was not performing at all. Or hardly at all.

On the up side, this allowed/forced me to focus on developing my teaching/business skills, and I discovered that I’m really good at this. But performing was important to me, both because I am a performer, and I’m really happy on stage, and also because I think it makes me a better teacher.

This was reinforced in an article by Brian Manternach, a tenor on the voice faculty of the University of Utah’s Theater Department, and also a former resident of Milwaukee. (I think I might have judged him at NATS at one time….) This article appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of the Journal of Singing, and is titled “The Value of Performing.”

I’d like to summarize his points (in bold and italics) about why performing informs and benefits our teaching, and draw some conclusions of my own.

  • Teachers who perform may be better able to demonstrate the techniques they are encouraging their students to build. I know a lot of teachers who don’t demonstrate, just because they don’t want to encourage imitation. And I get that. If you are 14, you shouldn’t sound like someone who is… older. But if I can show you just what chiaroscuro is supposed to sound like, I will! I will also show you what it shouldn’t sound like. (There will be another blog in a few days about imitations/accents/funny voices and how this can help you find things out about your voice.)
  • Teachers who perform must maintain a regimen of vocalization that keeps their own instruments flexible, pliable, and healthyI “joke” that during the last  or so years I was in Milwaukee, I became really good at singing in E major. Because that’s where I started a lot of exercises. Whether it was a descending 5 note scale starting on B4 or an arpeggio coming down from E5, I’d demonstrate that, my students would sing it going down, and then I’d go to the same spot and go up. (It wasn’t a very funny joke.) I had no reason to practice. I intended to, but I had so many students (30 at home, 10 at colleges, plus teaching classes at Carroll) that I just didn’t have time. And it showed when I gave a recital in September 2011 at Carroll and realized that I did not sound – or feel – like myself. I had to work with Connie Haas to find the singer I had been and would be again.
  • Teachers who perform have the ability to thoroughly learn new repertoire. Again, I had no reason to learn anything. I had worked with a pianist in the early 2000s who introduced me to a lot of pieces that were wildly out of my comfort zone. Sometimes, they were exhilarating. But he took ill, and retired from performing. And my cabaret pianist was in high demand and became too busy to work on shows with me. I had a few opportunities through the MacDowell Club, a performing group, but they were few and far between.
  • Teachers who perform can empathize with their students who experience music performance anxiety (MPA). Boy, can I relate to this. I had terrible MPA (a new term for me). And because I didn’t have performance opportunities, I didn’t have the opportunity to conquer it. Each performance I did had so much riding on it. There wasn’t necessarily a “next time.”
  • Teachers who perform can bring first hand knowledge of age related voice changes to their studios. wish I didn’t have this … but I do. I’ve done pretty well so far, except for one 3 month period that coincided with a particularly bad bout of bronchitis.
  • Teachers who perform have additional opportunities to network and build relationships with other musicians. To a certain extent, I’ve gotten this from a lot of other sources:
    • NATS
    • Social media (performance/teacher FB pages)
    • Speakeasy Cooperative

But there’s a special bond between people who make music together. They inspire each other to do better, to take it to the next level.

Teachers who don’t perform aren’t lesser teachers than teachers who do. But, for me, I need to have both. Right now, I feel like I have a good balance of teaching and performing. Perhaps later, I’ll change the ratio (or have it changed for me).

I consider myself a teaching artist, and even when the day comes that I perform less, I will still consider myself that.

New Music to Hear and to Teach!

New Music to Hear and to Teach!

I’m in the process of cramming new music into my brain so that I can spit out new music for you to work on in the fall. (Spit out was my edited way of saying that.)

When I was in Milwaukee, I had a lot of students bring me things from new shows – one of my boys (who is now a working actor in Chicago) had a connection in New York via his dad with all the new composers on and off Broadway, so he was constantly bringing new things.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been focused on finding balance between singing and teaching, so I haven’t been exposed to as much that’s new and exciting. So there’s a gap in what I’ve been listening to. Some of that has been filled in by On Broadway on SiriusXM, but even that’s just a song at a time. So – I’m going to spend some time and listen to:

  1. Hadestown
  2. The Prom
  3. Be More Chill
  4. Come From Away (I know a lot of it but I need to listen to the whole thing)
  5. The  Band’s Visit (because I love Tony Shalhoub)

Any suggestions? Feel free to comment!

***

Meanwhile, enjoy New Music – “Haunting me, and somehow taunting me” (the staging in the first is REALLY static, but the singing is lovely, especially the young woman playing Mother) in two completely different ways!

New Music to Hear and to Teach!

New Music to Hear and to Teach!

I’m in the process of cramming new music into my brain so that I can spit out new music for you to work on in the fall. (Spit out was my edited way of saying that.)

When I was in Milwaukee, I had a lot of students bring me things from new shows – one of my boys (who is now a working actor in Chicago) had a connection in New York via his dad with all the new composers on and off Broadway, so he was constantly bringing new things.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been focused on finding balance between singing and teaching, so I haven’t been exposed to as much that’s new and exciting. So there’s a gap in what I’ve been listening to. Some of that has been filled in by On Broadway on SiriusXM, but even that’s just a song at a time. So – I’m going to spend some time and listen to:

  1. Hadestown
  2. The Prom
  3. Be More Chill
  4. Come From Away (I know a lot of it but I need to listen to the whole thing)
  5. The  Band’s Visit (because I love Tony Shalhoub)

Any suggestions? Feel free to comment!

***

Meanwhile, enjoy New Music – “Haunting me, and somehow taunting me” (the staging in the first is REALLY static, but the singing is lovely, especially the young woman playing Mother) in two completely different ways!

What’s Next? – It’s BIG

The other day I wrote a blog called A Year In Review about all the things that happened that were studio-related since about this time a year ago. Today I’m going to write about the things that I see on the horizon. This is what I’ve got planned for 2019-2020:

  • Write articles for the Roland Park News about music/arts related activities in the North Baltimore area (first one due August 1)
  • Start taking credit cards both online (Acuity) and in the studio (Square)
  • Organize a December holiday recital (date/place TBD) and a June studio showcase (6/7 at Springwell)
  • Start using Mailchimp to coordinate studio communications
  • Offer an online lesson option for people who live further away or for days when you just can’t get here and you want a lesson
  • Monthly (or more) Facebook Lives on various areas of technique
  • Offering master classes/workshops outside the studio
  • Hoping to get one of my former students now working in the professional MT world to come in and do a master class (if I can get them between gigs)
  • Going to the NATS National Conference in Knoxville, TN next June, possibly as a presenter (fingers crossed)
  • Continue working on using Appcompanist to its full potential for myself and in the studio
  • Work on increasing my knowledge of more recent musicals (I was up on them all when I was in Milwaukee because I had so many students that I couldn’t help but be up on them – less so now)
  • Coordinate a studio cabaret show at Germano’s Piattini in Little Italy (3/30)
  • Create a video library of vocalises based on BRAAP (breath/resonance/articulation/alignment/phonation) that will be included in studio membership and available for an extra fee to non-studio members
  • Switch to a tuition-based system and have studio packages for students based on their needs and availability and my own performing (and life) schedule

This last one is a big one. Rather than paying per lesson or for four at a time, as I have been doing, I am going to go toward a full-year (September-June) program and offer packages that allow for flexibility while still allowing continuity. There will be payment options offered that will allow you to choose what works for your circumstances.  This will go into effect on September 3, when the fall semester starts.

I will be sending out specifics to my current students by July 3 at the latest, and the package options will be shown on the website.

Golden age musicals – why you should bother

I hear this way too often from people:

“Why should I sing golden age music? It’s so old-fashioned! I don’t know any of it.”
  • Technique. Today’s musicals tend to be very text-driven, and aren’t necessarily vehicles for mastering things like legato and breath management. (And that doesn’t make them less than, just different.)
  • Revivals are big nowadays. Two revivals were nominated this season – Kiss Me, Kate and Oklahoma (see below). 
  • Sometimes it’s right for the audience where you’ll be performing. A retirement community will appreciate a Rodgers & Hammerstein song more than they will something from Pasek & Paul. Usually.
  • Because choosing repertoire is one of my superpowers. If I’m picking it for you, it’ll be right for you. Trust my judgment.
    AND
  • History. Most of all, history.
Oklahoma won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. It’s supposed to be fantastic, and I want to see it. And I don’t even like the show. However, the way they’re looking at it is more contemporary – the accompaniment is a band, rather than a full orchestra, the casting is diverse, and the direction takes it to a darker place than most traditional productions.

In undergrad, I wrote a paper about the characters of Curly in Oklahoma and Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro and how groundbreaking both of them were for their times. Frank Rich pretty much wrote the same thing in this article:

“At its birth, the show was to its America what Hamilton has been to ours: both an unexpected record-smashing box-office phenomenon and a reassuring portrait of our past that lifted up theatergoers at a time of great anxiety about the country’s future. Its Broadway opening took place less than 16 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when America was shipping its sons off to war and still digging out of the Great Depression. Like Hamilton, too, Oklahoma! was deemed artistically revolutionary for its time. A self-styled “musical drama” rather than a musical comedy, it dispensed with the usual leggy chorus line and leveraged its songs to advance character and plot.”
There is a vast history of American musical theater, going back before Oklahoma! Knowing about it makes you a more well-rounded singer. 
And again – trust my judgment.