Voice and Piano Lessons in Vallejo!

I am excited to announce that I now have a new home studio in Vallejo, CA!

I teach private voice and piano lessons for all ages and experience levels.

Beginning Voice: ages 6 and up; 30-45 minute weekly lessons for beginners (depending on age and level)

Intermediate/Advanced Voice: all ages; 45-60 minute weekly lessons, in classical or popular vocal technique.

Beginning Piano: ages 4 and up; 30 minute weekly lessons (or 15 minutes for very young beginners) for beginners.  I usually recommend increasing to 45 minute lessons once a student starts learning more challenging music (around level two of a method series).

Intermediate Piano: all ages; 45-60 minute weekly lessons.

Beginning Voice/Piano Combination: all ages; 45-min for beginners, increasing lesson length when needed.  This is a good way to get started reading music and singing, and is often a good choice for younger beginners.

A brief note about materials and repertoire: I will recommend specific books for use in lessons.  I generally use the Piano Adventures series for my piano students.  Voice students will be asked to purchase music as well, usually at least one songbook and one book of vocal exercises to build technique, which I will recommend based on skill level.

 

 

 

 

Healthy Body, Healthy Voice

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything! I thought I’d write a little bit about what’s been on my mind a lot lately in my teaching as well as my own singing: the importance of good posture and body awareness for singers.

It’s easy for singers to focus on only what’s going on in the throat and mouth as we sing. After all, that’s where the sound is created and shaped. However, posture and tension in the rest of the body can also have a huge effect on our singing.

When I was in college, I was overweight and felt disconnected from my body. Over several years, I lost more than 50 pounds and began reconnecting with my body. (One of the things that started me on that journey to getting healthy was the two weeks I spent at the OperaWorks program, where we had an hour of yoga every day… and I could, and eventually will, write a whole post about how Ann Baltz and OperaWorks changed my life and my singing!) I’m not saying that simply losing weight made me a better singer. I’m not saying that being overweight is bad, or that anyone should be ashamed of their body. But as I got more comfortable in my own body, I was able to feel more connection and support while singing. And for me, personally, being healthier and stronger has made me a better singer. I also know singers who have had the opposite experience: after losing weight, it was harder to feel support from the abdominal muscles, and singing became more difficult. Everyone has their own unique experience, and mine has greatly influenced my growth as a singer and as a teacher.

Lately I’ve been amazed to discover how much the slightest tension in my body affects my singing!  If my shoulders are feeling particularly tight, that tightness will show up in my voice. Most of the time, if I am struggling with something vocally, I can fix it by finding and releasing tension in my body, and making sure the right muscles are working to support my sound. I’ve also recently been working on my core strength, which has had an amazing effect on my singing and helped me to discover a richer, fuller sound that I didn’t know I had.  As I continue to get healthier and stronger, so does my voice.

With my beginning piano students, I talk about using the larger muscles of the arm to play, instead of making the little finger muscles do all the work. With singing, I feel that it works the same way: really supporting your voice with good posture and active (but not rigid) muscles in the torso and abdomen reduces tension in the larynx. (Of course it’s important to experiment with these ideas under the careful guidance of a voice teacher, because using the abdominal muscles to push too much air through the vocal folds can cause vocal fatigue and lead to damage!) I’d really like to write more about the concept of support, and some of the varying opinions on it, but I will have to save that for my next post.

I’ve been finding ways to incorporate these concepts into voice lessons, but it seems especially difficult with young students who have not developed good body awareness yet. With young students, props like rubber balls or resistance bands are especially helpful because they keep the students’ hands busy and cut down on extraneous movement and wiggling, while encouraging more stable posture without becoming stiff and rigid.

Teachers and singers, what are some of your favorite ways to engage the body while singing? How do you develop body awareness and good posture in young singers? I’d love to hear what is working or not working for you!

Classical Music is Not Dead

I recently read this article on Slate.com, proclaiming Classical Music dead and irrelevant, as well as these two excellent responses, a line-by-line rebuttal from Proper Discord, and Occupy Classical Music from Head/Voice.

The misconception that classical music is dead/dying makes me angry.  This art form is something that I am passionate about, and I hate to hear ignorant people describe it as irrelevant and powerless.  I don’t have data and numbers to prove my points, all I have are my observations and opinions.  As a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I was surrounded by incredibly talented and passionate musicians who inspired me with their dedication to their craft.  As an aspiring opera singer in my early twenties, I had to explain my chosen career to countless confused individuals who didn’t even know that opera singers really still existed.  And now, as a voice and piano teacher, I want to help my students discover the same passion for music that has inspired me.

It’s true that classical music is not as popular as many other forms of entertainment, but it still has an audience.  Just because something falls outside of mainstream tastes does not mean that nobody likes it– just look at the thriving indie music scene.  I believe that in our electronic and impersonal world, live music of all genres can bring us back together, make us feel things together, and connect us with each other.

And let’s not forget the growth of new opera companies and performing ensembles started by young performers with the goal of making opera/classical music accessible to everyone.  Is this a sign of a dying art form?  No.  Opera on Tap and Classical Revolution both organize performances in informal settings like bars and cafes, to bring music to the people.  This eliminates the obstacles that sometimes stand between the average citizen and an opera performance, like expensive tickets, fancy clothes, and proper audience decorum.  Instead, audience members can sit with friends, have a drink, and enjoy the music the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

Many, many of my classmates from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music are building their own careers in new music ensembles and other exciting projects, and doing so quite successfully.  There are also new opera companies being formed by young singers who just want to make music, like San Francisco’s Waffle Opera.  These singers are hungry for opportunities to perform, so they are creating their own, and finding an eager audience.  These organizations prove that classical music and opera are, in fact, very much alive.

It all comes down to the fact that a live performance by an excellent musician is a moving and powerful thing.   This concept easily gets lost in modern pop music, with all the special effects and auto-tune and pyrotechnics.  But being in the same room as a truly great performer (in any genre of music) and really feeling the energy and passion of the performance is an amazing experience.  There is nothing else like it.

This is especially true in classical music, which generally uses no microphones or other amplification, so the wall of sound that is washing over you is PURE ACOUSTIC AWESOMENESS.  If you’ve never been to a live performance by a great orchestra or opera singer, DO IT.  Trust me.  Even if maybe you get bored after an hour or two or don’t absolutely love the whole thing, I guarantee there will be at least a few moments when you are hit by a huge wave of sound that leaves you with goosebumps and a smile on your face.

Classical music is far from dying.  It’s growing and evolving.  Some people are just to narrow-minded and lazy to look for it outside the traditional big opera houses and symphony halls.  Some people don’t realize that you can head over to an intimate cafe for a drink and watch some chamber music or opera scenes.  Some people just don’t understand the power of music and the dedication of those who have been inspired by it.  We are not giving up, and classical music is not dying.

How to Choose Songs for Auditions

Choosing the right song for an audition is important, because it shows that you know your voice and what you can do.  This article from Opera News has great tips for opera singers who are competing or auditioning at the professional level.  Here are a few more tips that I share with my students.

1.  Always sing something that you are comfortable with!  An audition is not a good time to try out a new song that you’ve never performed.

2.  Sing something that fits your voice well.  If it’s a little too high or a little too low for you, pick another song.  It’s important to show that you know your voice type and how to show off your strengths.

3.  If they ask for two songs, use this opportunity to show the full range of what you are capable of, but don’t pick songs that are so drastically different that they are not right for your voice.  Choose contrasting styles, but both pieces should still fit your voice comfortably.

4.  Know the character and subtext.  Acting is just as important as singing, and getting into character will also help settle your nerves and keep you focused.  Try practicing in front of a mirror so that you can make sure your facial expressions and gestures look the way you want them to.

5.  If you are auditioning for a specific role, sing something similar in voice type and character.  You want them to be able to see you in the role.

And a few more audition tips…

6.  Dress nicely and professionally.  Avoid revealing outfits, flashy patterns, or bright colors that will distract from your performance.  Dressing nicely shows respect for the judges and yourself.

7.  Be nice to the pianist!  This means making sure all your music is readable, with any cuts clearly marked.  The pianist wants to help you sing well, but will be unable to do this if your music is hard to read or missing important markings.  Also, knowing how to indicate your tempo to the pianist is important.

8.  If you are given specific instructions for the auditions (bring a resume and/or photo, sing something from the show, don’t sing something from the show, wear comfortable clothes for dancing), follow those instructions!  If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask.

9.  Be professional and polite while in the audition.  Clearly and confidently state your name and what you will be singing, and don’t forget to say “Thank you” at the end of your audition.  Even if they cut you off mid-song (which is not necessarily a bad thing), just smile and thank them for their time.  Manners are important.

Big Decisions – Part 3

Part 3: My advice

Should you major in music at a conservatory?

If you are certain that all you want to do with your life is music, if you have an abundance of raw talent and potential, and if you understand the challenges that come with a music career, then going to a conservatory as an undergraduate might work well for you.  It is inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by talented musicians and instructors.  However, the more competitive the school, the fewer performance opportunities the undergraduate students get, and it’s easy to end up blending in with the scenery.  For some students it might be better to major in music at a university with a strong music program, and then go to a conservatory for your master’s degree.

If you’re not sure, and if music is not the only thing you can imagine doing with your life, don’t limit yourself.  There are plenty of universities that have great academics as well as wonderful music programs.  If you do decide on a music career, where you earned your Master’s Degree is more important than your Bachelor’s.   (More info here:  What does an Operatic career look like?)

You’ll have plenty of time to focus solely on music in graduate school, if you decide that’s the path you want to take.  Especially for opera singers, there is no need to rush!!  Your voice won’t even be mature until your mid- to late-twenties, so there is plenty of time to get a solid education before focusing on music.  Trying to do too much before you are ready will only lead to frustration and rejection.

Finally, understand that a career as a musician takes a while to establish, and you’re probably going to need some kind of day job to get you there.  While you are in college, try to get some work experience that will be helpful.  A part-time office job on campus is a great place to start.  Try to work your way toward a steady day job that will pay enough to support your budding music career.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that going to a conservatory as an undergraduate is a bad idea.  For a lot of young musicians, it’s the right choice.  It’s just not the best idea for everyone.   Consider all of your options and choose what feels right for you.

Big Decisions – Part 2

Part 2: My Story

I grew up in a small town.  I was stubborn, and all I knew was that I wanted to be a singer.  I only applied to a few schools, all in my home state of California, and I figured that if I was good enough to get in to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, then I’d go there.  My parents weren’t crazy about the idea, and they thought I’d be better off getting a more well-rounded education at a regular university.  But I was stubborn and determined to pursue music no matter what.

Once I got to the conservatory, I was immersed in a whole new world of music.  I’d played piano and sung for my whole life, but I knew very little about music history, literature, or theory.  I was fascinated.  My grades hadn’t been that great in high school, but once I was studying the things that interested me, I excelled academically.  Emotionally, however, I struggled, and I was often lonely and insecure.  I also struggled financially, and worked hard to support myself.  I missed many opportunities for additional education and training (summer programs, etc.) because they were simply too expensive.  There were many ups and downs, and I was incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful, supportive voice teacher who taught me how to sing as well as how to survive.

The main problem was, I was not quite mature enough to handle the pressure.  To be perfectly honest, I was kind of an emotional wreck for most of those  4 years.  I spent too much time in unhealthy relationships and friendships.  And I took rejection too personally, so every time I didn’t get the part I auditioned for (or any part, for that matter), I was absolutely devastated.   I knew I was making progress, but I still wasn’t being cast in anything.  I realize now that there are lots of reasons for this, but mostly I was awkward on stage (since I had no real acting training, and very limited experience) and not confident enough.

When I finished my Bachelor’s Degree, I wasn’t sure what to do next.  I wanted to apply to other schools, but I didn’t have the money for application fees, let alone plane tickets across the country if I got an audition.  I thought that continuing at SFCM was the best choice, since I was happy with my teacher, and I was already there.  However, that turned out to be a mistake, and I was especially miserable that year.  My financial struggles increased as well, and I finally reached a point where I realized that the education I was paying dearly for was not the education I wanted or needed.  I needed stage experience and acting training, and I was not getting that at all.  I also doubted whether I was on the right path, and did not think I wanted to be a professional opera singer.  I decided to leave SFCM and move back to my hometown while I figured out my next move.

That summer I was also fortunate enough to attend the OperaWorks program in Southern California.  I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that those two weeks changed my life.   The program included classes in improv, performance techniques, and movement: everything that had been missing from my previous education.  I began learning how to move on stage, and realized how disconnected from my body I was.  We also took yoga classes every day, which made my constant back pain go away and started me on the path to a healthier lifestyle– over the next year I lost almost 60 pounds.

I was fortunate that my tiny hometown has an active music community, and I was able to sing lead roles in several productions with Mendocino Chamber Opera.  Working with just one or two other singers and the director gave me the training and confidence I needed to become a better actor.  I also started teaching voice lessons, and began finally figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.

The thing is, I love to sing, and performing in operas is so much fun.  But I am also sensitive, a perfectionist, and an over-thinker, and those qualities hold me back as a singer.  However, those are the same qualities that make me a great teacher.  I realized that, rather than trying to change so many things about myself so I could thrive as a singer, why not find a career that actually fits me?

But, enough about me.  The bottom line is, even though it was tough and maybe not the best choice for me, I wouldn’t change any of it because I learned so much and I am happy with where I am now.  But would I recommend that path to my young students?  That depends on several factors, which I will discuss in the next (and final) post in this series.

Big Decisions – Part 1

I recently spent part of a voice lesson discussing college choices, majors, and life plans with one of my students.  It got me thinking about the choices I made and what I might do differently knowing what I know now.   I have far too much to say on this subject for just one post, so this will be the first in a series of entries.

When I was finishing high school and making huge decisions that would determine the course of my adult life, I had no idea what I was getting into.   I wanted to be an opera singer, and I didn’t care what anyone said.  I’m not saying that I wish I had done things differently, but I wish I had at least done my research.

Most importantly,  I wish I had known what I was choosing, so that I could have been prepared for it.  Specifically, what does the path to being a professional opera singer look like?  When I choose this career, what does that mean for the next ten years of my life?  You can find an excellent answer to that question here: What does an operatic career look like?  Building a career as a professional singer takes time, money, determination, and lots and lots of auditioning.   For more on auditioning, read this: How much did your last job interview set you back?

The thing is, getting an opera career off the ground takes money.  Quite a bit of money.  You’ll need audition/performance outfits, not to mention the money for application fees, accompanists, travel expenses, and tuition fees for the “pay to sing” programs that give you the experience needed to be considered for the paying gigs.   Assuming that you don’t have unlimited money at your disposal, you’ll need a steady job to fund all of this.   Being an opera singer can pay the bills eventually, but you’ll need a good day job in order to make it to that point.

Building an opera career also means learning to tolerate rejection.  In the beginning, you will probably be rejected a lot.  It’s nothing personal, that’s just how it works.  It takes time and practice to become great at auditioning.  Most importantly, you have to believe in your talent and turn each rejection into motivation to keep yourself moving forward.

That being said, being an opera singer is also amazing and totally fun.  And there’s also no rule that states you have to make it to the professional level to have value as a singer– there are many definitions of success.   My goal here is not to discourage anyone from following his or her dreams, I only want you to plan for the challenges involved so they do not derail you.

In my next post, I’ll discuss my own experiences and struggles, how I sabotaged myself with naive enthusiasm and lack of practical preparation, and how I still would not change a thing because the music training I’ve received has made me a better person overall.

Why I teach music.

I’ve wanted to be a music teacher since I was old enough to appreciate how amazing my own music teachers were.  Freshman year of high school, to be more precise.  But I got distracted by what people thought I should do, and by my own ego and ambition.  I went to the San Francisco Conservatory because I was so excited to have been accepted, but I really had no idea what I was getting into.  Then I got caught up in the beauty of opera and the wonderful hard work of classical singing, and for a while I thought I wanted to be a professional opera singer.  Soon after I finished my Bachelor’s Degree, however, I realized I was on the wrong path.

Don’t get me wrong– I love opera, and I love singing.  Being on stage is fun and exciting, and I enjoy the intense, focused work that goes into preparing for an excellent performance.   But I’ve learned that I just don’t have the personality of a professional opera singer.  A professional singer needs to be tough, driven, outgoing, extremely confident, and able to tolerate rejection.   It’s not an easy career, and you have to want it badly enough to push through all of the challenges you’ll face before you start succeeding.

My amazing voice teacher in college used to ask me this question at least once a year: “What do you need in order to be happy?”  Do you need to be famous?  Do you need to be popular?  Do you need a family?  My answer was always the same:  I need to sing.  I don’t need to sing on big, fancy opera house stages.  I just need to sing.  I don’t need to always be the center of attention, and I don’t need fame to make me feel validated.  Not that I have anything against my colleagues who are pursuing a professional opera career–  I really admire their dedication and strength.  I often feel a slight twinge of jealousy when I hear about the success of my former classmates, and part of me still wishes I had kept going down that path.

But then I started teaching, and I can’t imagine devoting my life to anything else.  My students are amazing, and I learn as much from them as they learn from me.  Teaching voice is like solving the most beautiful, intricate puzzle you can imagine, and I love puzzles.  Teaching piano and music theory is equally rewarding, and watching my students learn and grow makes me so proud.  This is not some kind of marketing scheme or insincere exaggeration, I am lucky to have found a career that I genuinely love this much.

I will use this blog to express my thoughts on music, education, creativity, life, adventure, and other things that bring me joy, and to connect with others who share those interests.  Most of all, I want to share with young musicians the vital pieces of knowledge that I did not learn until later.