I love singing at funerals.
And I don't care if anyone thinks it's weird.
I love singing at funerals.
It's probably the most human and the most humane thing anyone can do, to sing to those who are grieving.
Funerals are for the living.
In a high school a student two years younger than my class died in a tragic accident; it was a horrible event and shocked our small town.The high school choir sang and I was so mad because I didn't want to go--I knew I'd cry through the whole service and I thought that would be so embarrassing. My dad advised me, "Funerals are for the living. They're for the families and for the friends to say good-bye." Although it was difficult, we all made it through the funeral and we were able to transition from the initial shock into some kind of acceptance.
Since funerals are for the living, now when I show up to sing at a funeral, it ultimately leads to the question "How did these folks know the deceased?" Sometimes I get to chat with the visitors, sometimes I sit on the side and am just another human dressed in black. Sometimes the family members all want to introduce themselves and talk about the details of the service and what their parent or sibling or friend would have wanted.
Having a general, predictable routine in the voice studio is part of what I call the "culture of a voice studio." When students start taking lessons from you, whether it is your private studio or at a school, they need to learn how your studio functions--they want to know what they can predict. Having a general structure to lessons creates a sense of security for you and your students and avoids chaos.
Over this past school year I've implemented a beginning-of-lesson-routine that has helped many students focus and relax when they enter their lessons--they take 3 slow, deep breaths before we do anything else. There are always a few students who try to rush through these breaths, and I have them start over and take slower breaths.
These 3 breaths serve multiple purposes:
1. The student turns off the outside world and turns on to their voice lesson.
2. The student will calm and relax.
3. How the student breathes gets you an idea of where they are that day, breath-wise as well as psychologically and emotionally speaking.
In 2004 I started teaching voice. It was the last thing I wanted to do. Long story short, I thought I was too good for it, that I should be singing, not teaching, and I was soon proven completely and utterly wrong.
I LOVED it. My first student was an attorney who sang in the concert choir in the Musikverein Lippstadt and took voice lessons to enrich her life and so that she might enjoy her singing more. Other students followed, from teens who wanted to sing the choir music arrangements from Harry Potter to rock singers to adults who only wanted to sing classical music.
Since then I've taught hundreds and thousands of hours of voice and I'm happy to share with you several of the things I've learned. Here's Part 1.
1. Your students will always show you their utter humanity.
There isn't much more bittersweet than a teen telling you how much they really want to do well at contest or how frustrated she was that something went wrong in an audition. Teens (and adults) come to lessons as whole beings, which means they have all their hopes and their dreams and their own perfections and lack of perfections. Somehow I thought teaching voice would be really nice, fun, and somehow cute, yet students come to their lessons with every emotion you can possibly imagine--I am continually changed by the stories they share, how they connect with the text or with the music, and how much they seek my undivided attention. It is an honor to give it to them.
2. Your students will crack the funniest jokes you've ever heard.
I have a blog post started on this, and I'm still collecting the funnies. Stay tuned for this.
3. You will be witness to the most beautiful music... and no one else will ever hear it just like you heard it.
This is one of the toughest things I've learned and I learned it again yesterday. A student came in with a piece with a solo that she's auditioning for so we worked on it--by keeping it simple, and by focusing on the story and the perfectly written melody, her voice and the music, the story flowed out of her. The room (at the school) was hot so I had the door propped open and a teacher walked passed us--when the teacher heard her singing that song, it stopped him in his tracks. He looked at me, his eyes wide, and he just stopped and listened.
She was singing the story.
The Bel Canto Chorus is now accepting applications for their 2015 Regional Artist Competition. The postmark deadline for applications is Thursday, March 26, 2015.
The 26th Annual Bel Canto Regional Artists Competition is Saturday, May 9, 2015.
From the Bel Canto site: "The competition was established to support and encourage singers with strong oratorio experience of any age who reside in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio. Adjudicators come from a wide variety of performing arts organizations from throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. The winner is awarded a solo performance contract with Bel Canto Chorus in the following season, which includes a $1000 cash award. Past winners have gone on to sing with recognized organizations throughout the United States and Europe, including the Metropolitan Opera.
The 2014 Regional Artists Competition winner is Mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Osowski will perform with Bel Canto Chorus in March 2015."
Read more and get application materials from the Bel Canto Chorus website here.
I had a wonderful experience meeting the folks at the Bel Canto Chorus for the first time back in 2010 and I'm very happy to have worked with them every season since. It's an honor to be in their national ad this year, advertising the Regional Artist Competition, and I wish them every success and loads of fun listening to the singers on May 9!
Get your application in now!
It's Black History Month. I'm into Social Justice. So here you go.
Oh, Nina Simone...what an incredible voice.
She wanted to attend Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but she was denied...and she was not able to pursue her chosen career of becoming a concert pianist.
Ms Simone was able to turn another situation into an opportunity, and thank goodness she didn't let racism stop her from creating music.
Her voice has such a distinct quality it stops you in your tracks. Check this video out:
Reginald Mobley, countertenor extraordinaire.
Reggie has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. His ornamentation is exquisite, the result breath-taking.
I had a verbal agreement to do a St. John Passion once, and I lost it to a countertenor when the conductor found out he was getting a period orchestra. That burns me to this day.
If it had been Reggie that I had lost the gig to, however, I wouldn't mind. Not one bit.
Listen up here, and listen real good:
Camilla Williams, soprano
THIS is the soprano who sang the Star-Spangled Banner before Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. THAT would have been spectacular to witness.
Here is Ms. Williams in "Ritorna Vincitor" from Aida. A stunning beginning, incredible musicality, and she gave me goosebumps at 3:50.
What other African American singers do we need to know about? Post your links, comments, and video links below!