Teaching Philosophy

I was raised in a musical household, with professional musicians as parents, who gave me music lessons as something both unremarkably routine, and also as the finest expression of their legacy. Reflecting that duality, I was both a typically ambivalent kid, as well as subconsciously hooked on the direct infusion of wonder that music taps. Many years of training and experience in the meantime have brought me to a place where these contrasts have resolved themselves into a fine counterpoint. I am honored to be both a singer and a teacher of singing. I aspire to guide each student to a fluent understanding of both the acoustic and emotive power of her voice.

The teacher-student dynamic must nourish both routine and wonder. Routine consists of: a reliable and transparent atmosphere during lessons, a gradual and systematic explanation of vocal mechanics, the implementation of a practical and incremental method of practice, and supportive guidance in the selection of repertoire.

The atmosphere of my lessons is designed to convey my high expectations of preparedness immediately and consistently. I solicit a list of goals from the student, so that we are joined in a common cause as soon as possible. I believe there should be a balance of ease and professionalism, and I carefully adjust these elements in the course of each lesson, as well as over the trajectory of a series of lessons. I am committed to making effective use of current media platforms, beyond dialogue in the lessons themselves, to be sure the student always has access to consultation, regarding either technical concerns or for moral support. I have built online classrooms using both Blackboard and Moodle software; students at a particular university have been required to contribute weekly journal entries (accessible to their studio-mates) to discuss anything and everything, from practice strategies, to concert reviews, to (temporarily) cryptic direction from their voice teacher. We also listen to posted audio material of important vocal artists in both standard and lesser-known repertoire; the ongoing discussion of these selections has proved to be extremely valuable in developing a heightened degree of observation, which they can apply to recordings of their own lessons and practice sessions. I am able to explain the various spectra displayed by Voce Vista software, so useful in clarifying the acoustic properties of vocal resonance.

I am grateful to the many fine teachers and coaches who have guided my own development as a singer. Beyond specific points of technique and style, I am struck by their diversity of methods and vocabulary, all bent towards the same goals of beauty and expressivity. Voice teachers today acknowledge that there has been a long, slow evolution in pedagogy, as we increasingly incorporate scientific advances in physiological assessment of vocal function. We know now that a mastery of pertinent aspects of anatomy, physics and acoustics is essential to achieving a thorough understanding of vocal technique. This is a daunting task for a student—one that is best begun early, and built upon steadily, in an ongoing exploration and curriculum of pedagogy texts, observing lessons in other teachers’ studios, and actively planning to attend the instructive seminars offered through NATS and NYSTA. I encourage my students to develop an unblinking engagement with questions of pedagogy and vocology through targeted assignments as well as by my own example.

In my years of giving collegiate voice lessons, it’s become clear that a huge challenge for this level (after gaining enough experience to feel committed to singing, yet still new to the accelerated learning curve of a young professional) is devising an efficient and effective practice routine. I’ve formulated a graduated series of practice modes that my students have found very useful; I encourage them to build on these by customizing their own “etudes” to suit their individual needs. This is an example of a particular goal of my pedagogy: teaching the students to teach themselves.

An effective teacher offers routine in guiding the student through repertoire that progressively builds a comprehensive technique. I draw assignments from a wide variety of eras and styles, and of course in foreign languages as appropriate to the student’s goals. Anyone who hopes to build a career in music needs to be ready to engage with all styles with an eager mind. A varied “diet” readies singers to be flexible and open—vital traits in both literal and figurative senses. In addition to offering suggestions myself, I am delighted when a student draws on their own research and passion to select repertoire. The experienced teacher knows when to steer a student away from inappropriate pieces, but I would be inclined to point out that a certain challenging work will only be examined as an etude, rather than to categorically forbid an interested student from engaging with a work that inspires them. The repertoire available to singers is so vast, and so much of it relatively unknown. A long, healthy singing life should include a commitment to inquiry, and the exploration of new repertoire and artistic associations. Any sign of this initiative on the student’s part must be nurtured and encouraged.

So, the importance of routine is clear. Equally important is wonder! I love the phrase “breath-taking beauty.” What a perfect description of the sensation of singing, and feeling the poet and composer sing through you. The technical mechanism will never be at its peak until that wonder-full feeling of emotional investment has been activated. Achieving this is surely one of the very greatest shared pleasures of a successful teacher-student relationship.

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