Monday, 11 March 2013

On the Dream Team...

My singing life in Glasgow was pretty simple.  I had lessons every week with the same teacher, and I trusted her with everything.  Whatever I was working on, whatever I had trouble with, I would bring it to her.  As far as I was concerned, her word was gospel.  I didn't quite go so far as making a bracelet that said "What Would Kath Do" - but trust me, I came pretty close.
It was nice, having that consistency.  One teacher, once a week, for everything.  But here in Ghent things are more complicated.  First of all, we are not assigned private singing teachers at the opera studio.  If we feel we need private lessons, we're expected to arrange them for ourselves independently.  Secondly, this is almost impossible to do!  The nature of our irregular and ever-shifting schedule makes it quite difficult to fit in regular lessons with one person. 
Nonetheless, I have found a couple of good teachers here, and between the private lessons I arrange with them, and my various lessons and coachings at the studio, I get a rich and varied education from an assortment of teachers.  Unlike Glasgow, where I relied on one teacher for everything, in Ghent I'm learning to consult with different people depending on what I need. 

Here is a brief catalogue of my Dream Team - all the various teachers I work with.  Some of these are specific teachers, and some are more like a category of teacher.  They each play their own role and have their unique teaching style.  You may recognise a few of them yourself...
The Technician

This is the person I trust to work with me on the fundamentals - the nuts and bolts of singing.  She teaches me how to use my instrument.  In her words, she shows me when to change gears, so that the next time I'm driving through traffic, I can look straight ahead with confidence instead of constantly looking down trying to figure out what I'm doing.  Our work is very physical, and also very analytical.  I sing a lot, and I think a lot about how I'm singing.  There is much drawing of diagrams.  I try to see The Technician regularly to work on my overall technique.  I also might go to her for help with vocally challenging repertoire, or when I need to solve a specific technical problem.

The Psychologist

This teacher deals with the psychology of singing, rather than the physical reality of it.  The philosophical rather than the practical.  She is very wise, and loves to say deep things like "there are no intervals - there are only pitches and breath".  The Psychologist wants me to stop listening to myself, stop analysing every note I sing.  She trains me to trust that my voice will work for me.  I used to think The Psychologist was the polar opposite of The Technician, and I had to choose either one approach or the other.  But then I realised that this is just the next step - the one I can take once I've done the necessary work with The Technician.  The Psychologist helps me progress from practice to performance, start trusting my technique, stop micromanaging, and let go.

The Musician

In other words, my coach.  Every singer works with at least one of these.  I work with quite a few coaches at the opera studio, but there is one in particular who I see regularly and who I would trust beyond anything.  He is my second pair of ears, and he helps me to realise what I want to do musically.  He isn't really concerned with how I produce my sound - he just wants to see what I do with that sound to make music. The Musician is a musical encyclopedia, full of knowledge about the history and background of the repertoire.  He uses this knowledge and his excellent musical taste to advise me on how to sing expressively and stylishly.

The GP

The opera studio calls this woman "the vocal consultant", and she sees us every once in a while for sort of a "check-up" session.  She has a more gentle and holistic approach to teaching: she's not there as a surgeon to pick apart the details of our technique - she's just the friendly family doctor who wants to make sure everything's ok.  Since most of us have our own individual teachers, she doesn't want to interfere too much with the specific technique we're learning with them.  Rather, she listens to what we're doing and makes small adjustments and suggestions here and there.  She points out bad habits, things we don't realise we're doing.  She makes sure we're singing healthily, and diagnoses any problems we might want to address.

The Dramatist

This one's pretty obvious.  Because it's one thing to sing musically and confidently with good technique, but you have to say something with all that beautiful singing.  The Dramatist works with me on my dramatic interpretation.  Just like The Musician is my second pair of ears, The Dramatist is my second pair of eyes.  He makes sure I'm actually being as expressive as I think I am.  And if I'm not, he jumps around like a caffeinated ferret until I am.  I've had a few different people fill this role - some are directors, some are teachers, some are both.  Since acting is not my biggest strength, there's often a lot of jumping around like a caffeinated ferret.

The Visiting Master

Like Yoda, this is a master of the craft who comes into your life for a short duration to impart their wisdom to you.  Unlike Yoda, they don't die after imparting their wisdom - they just move on to impart their wisdom elsewhere.  At the opera studio we are lucky enough to have masterclasses with various singers, conductors and repetiteurs who are working at the top of their field.  Although these teachers won't work with us regularly, in a very short time they can make an enormous impact.  A good masterclass can be an amazing, mind-blowing, heart-stopping, and inspiring experience.  Imagine working on your aria with someone who has sung it at the Metropolitan Opera or at Covent Garden.  They have seen it all, they have done it all, and they know their stuff like nobody else does.  If these masters are as articulate, energetic and passionate as they are talented (and most of them are) they can change your life with their teachings.

The Peer

Of course I cannot neglect to mention a very important teacher for all singers: other singers.  Whether through classes, rehearsals, performances, or discussions over lunch and coffee, we are constantly learning from each other.  Everyone has their unique strengths and weaknesses.  If you're struggling with something and you see someone who does it well, pay attention.  Chances are they're learning something from you too.  It's a shame that the opera industry so often turns singers against each other.  We start to see each other only as The Competition, rather than as friends and colleagues.  The truth is we can achieve more if we work together.  Learning from your peers is invaluable.

The Teacher-in-Disguise

Ok, this might sound a bit corny.  You know that person who's really annoying you?  The one you don't really like, who always seems to disagree with you?  Well they're a teacher too.  The fact that they're bringing up such strong feelings is probably an indication that there's something to be learned from them.  Perhaps they irk you because they're actually reflecting a part of you that you don't like.  Or perhaps they're confronting you with some truths that are really hard to swallow.  Or perhaps this is just an opportunity to learn more patience, kindness and understanding.  In any case, pay attention to this person.  Like everyone else in your life, they have something to teach you.  I've encountered more than a few Teachers-In-Disguise, and I'm sure there are plenty still to come.

So there it is, a brief overview of my Dream Team.  Not exactly simple, is it?  But I'm starting to get the hang of it.  The trick is to know who I need when.  Sometimes I need an intense session with The Technician, and sometimes I need The Psychologist to get my mind in the game.  I might want to polish something with The Musician, or I might want The Dramatist to help me bring life to an aria.  Maybe the GP will flag up something I'm doing poorly, or the Visiting Master will give some much-needed inspiration.  Or perhaps I'll get a powerful lesson from a Peer or a Teacher-In-Disguise.  Whatever the case, I'm extremely lucky to have such a team of teachers and advisors helping me out.  With them on my side, I feel like I can conquer anything.

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