One of my favorite hours of the week is Wednesday noon- actually 12:15-1:00 – which during most weeks is voice studio. This is when my private voice students gather to sing for each other and to receive comments and suggestions from me and from each other. This semester my studio consists entirely of guys – and some very talented guys to boot! And somehow it is during this particular hour that I feel especially happy to be doing what I am. I think part of it is that – for as much as I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching some fine female singers over the years, I am better at teaching men. I know the male voice more intimately than the female voice – I can directly model what I want them to do – and I also feel a certain comfort level with guys. I am more confident about how to joke around, what images to utilize or how to evoke a deeper emotional connection to the music. I can do that with women, too- and certainly I have only the most positive feelings about having taught students like Kasey Costabile and Jennifer Ledanski in the past or Sarah Gorke in the present. But I have to dig a little deeper for the same degree of success and I do so with a certain guardedness . . . anxious not to offend them with my off-the-wall humor. On the other hand, it would be a vast generalization to say that I am always fully comfortable and confident with all of my guy students- that is certainly not true- but on the whole I feel like I really know what I’m doing with them. And with several of my current Carthage students, I feel like I am connecting on a very potent level and really making a difference in their lives. And that’s the greatest feeling of all – that for a handful of these guys, their voice lesson might be the very best part of their entire week.
My students range from several who came to Carthage with serious voice study already under their belts to students who have never had a voice lesson in their lives nor even sung in a choir before. One of them is a talented member of the swim team who is studying voice so he can sing more effectively when playing his guitar. For him, I ended up choosing some songs by the renaissance composer John Dowland, and I did so because I could tell Christopher that these songs had been performed and recorded by none other than pop superstar Sting. Boy, you should have seen his eyes light up when I told him that! And he’s doing great. I have another student who began with me with so much tightness in his throat and he sounded like he was being strangled when he sang. This student is making remarkable progress and I love the way he goes for whatever I ask him to do. I have several freshmen who are already doing great things – upperclassmen who have nicely learned the basics but are still growing – a couple of students who have been fairly lazy but who have raised their game this semester – and I also feel particularly fortunate that among my students are several young men with whom I expect to develop lifelong friendships.
Early this morning at the radio station, I recorded a phone interview with 15-time Grammy Award winning record producer Phil Ramone, who is responsible for major releases such as Frank Sinatra’s duets album, the Central Park concerts of Barbra Streisand and Simon&Garfunkle, numerous recordings by Billy Joel, etc. (He’s written a book about his work called “Making Records.”) One of the things he talks about the most is how crucial it is that he know how to make his various artists/clients as comfortable and happy as possible. . . so they are capable of doing their very very best work. I’ve decided that this is among the most critical aspects of my work as a voice teacher. My challenge is to get the best out of each and every one of my students – and because each one of them is a unique human being, I can’t afford to lazily resort to a one-size-fits-all approach. Some are fragile and need to be treated very tenderly – others are made of sterner stuff and profit from a much more direct, straightforward approach – and most are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. This range is one of the things which makes voice teaching SO fascinating and so very challenging.
As I was vocalizing the guys today, I was realizing what a superb sound they were producing- and I decided then and there that I would bring a piece of music to our next studio for them to sing together. . . and maybe we can do it for chapel sometime. It’s not that I’m trying to create a men’s chorus at Carthage, but I feel like this group of guys is capable of some superb group singing and I would hate for no one to hear them except for me. What a loss that would be.
front row: Andrew Spinellil, Eric Quinn, Matt Staller, Andrew Lenox, Zach Wolf, Craig Reece, Adam Kelly. second row: GB, Chris Schananfelt, Greg Webb, Jamie Wilson, Tom Novak, Justin Pratt, Mark Bracken, Brian Schoettler, Dan Ermel, Ben Kuttler, Bryan Chung.