As a young singer, in a very musical home, I was constantly being mentored in the things of voice and music without even knowing it. I thought it normal to hear one’s mother playing the piano, or giving a voice lesson in our living room. I remember hiding behind the couch and just listening, intrigued by what I was hearing.
I also didn’t think anything of it when my mother would fly to New York for one of my uncle, Samuel Barber’s premiers, whether for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center or with the New York Philharmonic. I knew my family loved and respected good music, but had yet to fully understand the impact it would have on my life.
It wasn’t until I was under the gifted leadership of my high school choir director Eric Jensen, that I began to grasp the brain-ear-larynx connection. Once that happened, I was quick to start experimenting with vocal sounds based on what I had been exposed to in my childhood. Step two happened in college under the no-nonsense guidance of my technique teacher, Dr. Harvey Ringle, and my coach, Fredrick Schauwecker. They would only settle for complete freedom in the vocal mechanism no matter what style was being sung. They knew my potential and never let me off the hook of accurate and free singing.
The next big revelation of how the voice works occurred when I was 19. I started singing with the Chicago Symphony Chorus under director Margaret Hillis, one of the most relentless, non-compromising director/conductors imaginable. Every note, every phrase, all dynamics and balanced blend had to be there all the time. Our rehearsals were exhausting, but always fruitful.
As I look back I now see that my DNA and family set the stage for my vocal passion. But, it wasn’t until by brain, ears, larynx, respiratory system and articulators got on the same page that I really got it.
APPLICATION IN YOUR SINGING
As much as I’m sure you enjoyed reading about my background, you’re probably asking yourself, “What does this mean to me?” Here’s the answer:
1. Let this be a wake-up call to never just sing without engaging your mind. It is true that good singing should become automatic, but that only becomes reality after many hours of focusing on all the parts, then putting them together one piece at a time. As the muscle and mental memories become strong, you don’t need to think about the details; however, you always need to be vocally aware. Always.
2. Do the musical and physical work of intelligent singing. Challenge your mind and ear as you work to perfect pitch center, phrasing and dynamics, diction and expression and the all-important posture, breathing and tone. Never stop evaluating, improving and getting feedback from qualified, neutral sources. Remember: Those who do the smartest preparation get the lucky breaks.
BACH TO ROCK AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
In my teens and early 20’s I had the advantage of being invited to NYC for amazing rehearsals and performances by some of the best singers in the world. Seeing their seriousness and focus impressed me. As I ventured out and sang pop shows in Las Vegas (not something the musicians in my family had ever done) I realized the same focus and excellence was also there. I sang family shows with amazing bands and singers. Now, I’m part of a church whose lead singers can literally sing any style. They have the ability to read printed arrangements or create “head arrangements” on the spot. This is not something you find in the average church. I know that living in the Nashville area and having a congregation of 7,500 doesn’t hurt, but the point is this: Excellence can exist anywhere there are singers willing to receive instruction and discipline their craft.
If you want to be an excellent singer don’t just sing. Make sure your brain isn’t M.I.A. Use the full resources available, whether it’s through private study, the Vocal Coach CD’s or live Online coaching. Do something. You owe it to your voice and your audience.