A Philosophy of Teaching
Operatic baritone Sherrill Milnes was asked “How do you have a great career and stay such a normal person at the same time?,” his answer was simple:
“My brother has a better voice than I do, and he owns a gas station around the corner from where we grew up in Downer's Grove. Artists exist everywhere, in every corner of our lives, and those whom we call ‘ordinary people’ are actually extraordinarily talented.”
People who possess substantial talent should have an avenue to express themselves, because when you find an artistic voice, it changes everything about your life. A repressed artistic desire isn’t benign; it needs to blossom. Balance and joy begin to return.
Perhaps you have a degree in vocal performance and need someone to prepare you for the professional world and keep developing the technique you've honed. Perhaps you’ve sung in choruses for over a decade, but have recently found that some notes don't come as easily, or you don't have quite enough breath at the ends of phrases. Maybe you're ready for major operatic roles, or you'd love to focus on French art song.
Maybe you're about to have your very first voice lesson.
The first job of any good voice teacher is to instill correct (healthy and freeing) technique. How one imparts that information depends on the singer's learning styles. How much physical information is helpful? Should we explore Alexander Technique? How about floor work? What repertoire is right? How can I make sure that a student's first few lessons are empowering? Answering questions like these is where we begin.
This is my favorite part of the job: figuring out what music best serves a student's technique, their vocal color, their passions. What will challenge them? What will inspire them? There are so many beautiful songs in the world, and you could not live long enough to sing all of them. My rule is: if you don’t love it, don’t sing it!
Bel Canto Technique
I am a bel canto pedagogue, in style, in technique and methodology -- an open and relaxed throat, the voice riding the release of the breath. My primary teacher was Edward Zambara. He was a bel canto master, and you can trace a direct line from him back to the great bel canto pioneers. Zambara was the pupil of William Whitney at Boston's New England Conservatory. Whitney imparted a thorough knowledge of the performances practices and training of the Italian bel canto school which he himself received as the pupil of Luigi Vannuccini of Firenze, who conducted the Italian premiere of Gounod's Faust, and worked with composers Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi.
After a year of working with Mr. Z, he told me that he thought I’d make a good teacher. Our lessons became as much about teaching others as improving my own technique. The most important thing I learned from Zambara was how to listen and diagnose tension. If singers are tense in a lesson, they are prevented from singing well. He taught me the value of fixing issues while at the same time keeping the singer relaxed.
It is a joy to discover what each student needs, and I learned how to do that directly from Zambara.
Most importantly, I learned how to physically demonstrate and model good singing, which is why I keep my technique in as good a shape as possible!
A Community Of Friends
It is a teacher’s unique opportunity to create a community of non-competitive friends out of his or her studio. Students should have a chance to listen and talk to other singers, learn from their experience and process, and overcome insecurities by being a part of a group.
This is why we established OperaOne, a training program focusing on opera and stagecraft, fifteen years ago. And that's why I’m the only St. Louis-based voice teacher who runs masterclasses and organizes studio recitals. Watching other singers grapple with some of your own struggles is illuminating. We are all part of a musical community, and we should feel the benefits of the immense support such a community provides.
Preparing For The Professional World
Good audition prep is everything. Need I say more?
Audition pieces well in hand, I encourage students to perform in professional or semi-professional capacities. Join my students who sing with the Bach Society and the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, and have been featured at opera companies in the area -- OTSL, Union Avenue, Winter Opera St. Louis and The Muny whilst others have progressed to national and international careers.
Singers need to hear as much great singing as possible. YouTube is an amazing archive of singers and singing, and one of the sources of recordings and videos we will study together. A group of us attend the local Metropolitan Opera auditions, the Met HD broadcasts, performances by all the local opera and classical music organizations, and we host opera- and concert-watching potluck events.
No matter your experience level, if you want to learn how to use your voice and find your artistry, I would love to have you join our community.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.