Do you teach privately or just in the university?
I offer voice lessons in both my private studio (located in Calgary, Alberta) and through Ambrose University. I teach singing lessons to people of all ages and levels, and in all vocal styles including classical, musical theatre, pop, rock, and jazz. I also teach speech, acting voice and presentation skills.
Do you offer lessons online?
I am able to deliver lessons both in person and online. Technology has made it very easy to teach via the internet. This allows me to teach people all over the world (and my local students who are sick… or on vacation!)
I’m not in Canada. Can you help me?
Yes, thanks to Zoom! I’m a dual Canadian and American citizen and I frequently help people on both sides of the border.
I think I’d like to learn how to sing but I don’t think I have any talent. Could you teach me?
I believe in meeting a student where they are in their development. I have been blessed to work with students on all ends of the talent and skills spectrum. I firmly believe that if someone demonstrates a desire to sing regardless of talent or skill, they should be given the chance. If I can help, I will do everything I can. That said, it is important to set realistic expectations with the student, and maintaining a continuing dialogue about goals is paramount.
How do you address technical issues in a voice lesson?
That’s a big question. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer.
There are four systems involved in vocal production: respiration, phonation, resonance and articulation. All four are informed by artistic choices. Most of our work focuses on equalizing these systems. I believe in a lean, easy tone that is balanced between bright and dark, with a high vocal focus. I direct my students to talk or sigh on pitch. I believe in approaching the tone from above rather than pushing the chest voice high. This applies even to contemporary commercial techniques such as belting where by definition the chest voice is pushed beyond the passaggio. Here, I believe in a more “head-mix” sound with wide, bright vowels. All singers need flexibility, agility and a large palate of colours and dynamic levels that they can access across their entire range.
Teaching is about communication and my lessons always begin with a conversation. I believe the personal rapport and connection between student and teacher is imperative for building trust. Equally, I like to evaluate the students’ speaking voice, overall wellbeing and physical stance. This allows me to direct the technical portion of the lesson, which will consist of body work and vocalization. I approach most technical teaching from a diagnosis and correction philosophy. I must listen and watch before setting a pedagogical goal and choosing the exercises that will help us reach it. I often give a diagnostic exercise, perhaps a mid-range staccato with varying vowels, and very quickly move on to make adjustments in the sound. As a trained pedagogue, I use my knowledge of voice anatomy and physiology, and acoustics to inform my choices. I try as much as possible to relate technical issues that come up in the repertoire to things already addressed in the warmup.
Will I have to perform publicly if I join your studio?
I encourage my students to participate musically where they can. Many of my students are already established professionals who have their own goals. As the chair of our local NATS auditions (Songfest) for the past six years, I have seen the exponential growth that comes out of public performance opportunities. I encourage all of my students, regardless of level, to participate in community festivals, not just for the feedback, which is invaluable to myself and my students, but for the opportunity to share their music with singing peers in the community. Even when my more inexperienced singers resist my encouragement, they are often astounded at what they were capable of achieving and what they learned from the experience. We will discuss your performance goals as your lessons evolve.
You teach in many styles. Is there a reason?
I encourage my students to cross train across styles in their repertoire. My students are just as likely to sing Sondheim as they are to sing Schubert. Sometimes the best technical development can occur in repertoire that makes the singer think in different ways. The physical mechanism involved in singing benefits from the balance provided by changing demands on registration and resonance. Furthermore, today’s singers must be prepared to be generalists. Performers are much more marketable if they can comfortably sing in multiple styles.
Learning to sing well is hard! Was it like this for you?
Yes! It was hard for me!
On my studio wall, I have a framed letter informing me I would need to repeat my sophomore jury. For years I had tuning issues, pain when I navigated my passaggio and I was scared to sing on stage…I looked like a deer in the headlights! It is a reminder that talent is not everything in singing. Good technical singing did not come easily to me. However, I had excellent instruction along the way, for which I am eternally grateful and because of that superb instruction, I am able to make my living as a singer. With good technique at your disposal, you can reliably sing joyfully through almost anything. This is at the core of what I pass along to my students.
I sing in a rock band. Could you help me with my voice or do you only teach classical music?
I teach singers in all styles and genres. The scope of my teaching is not limited to classical voice. I believe that the most successful singers are versatile and capable of working in multiple genres and styles. I often help theatre actors, singers in pop, rock and jazz bands, and injured voice users. I have helped many singers who struggle with finding all their notes or making it through all their sets. I have helped young graduates, professionals, other voice teachers, aspiring artists and avocational singers use their voices in a way that allows their authentic artistic desires to shine through.
I have had a vocal injury in the past. Can you help me?
I am frequently called on to “consult” on students’ vocal health or serious technical issues by other teachers in the community. I have a lot of experience collaborating with the appropriate medical professionals and I am comfortable navigating the world of vocal injury. I have helped people recovering from organic vocal lesions, hemorrhage, and functional vocal disorders such as muscular tension dysphonia. Because of my dissertation and work at Breathe Well Physio, I have a sophisticated understanding of chronic cough and lung disease. Depending on the nature of your injury, I may work with you in my private studio or through Breathe Well Physio, where I can work jointly with my physiotherapist colleagues.
I don’t sing, but I rely on my voice for my professional life. Do you do speech arts or presentation coaching?
Professional voice isn’t limited to singers and actors! Lawyers, teachers, professors, fitness instructors, salespeople, clergy, business leaders and many many others rely on their voices. Without their voices, they cannot do their jobs with any success. I have a lot of experience training speaking voices to effectively accomplish their communication tasks. I also offer training in presentation skills. We address voice, movement, expressive communication and visual presentation.
I currently teach voice but I have questions. Are you available to mentor me?
As the president of NATS in Southern Alberta, I consider it my job to assist other teachers. This may be in the form of one-on-one mentorship or through events sponsored by our association. Many of my current students are NATS members and are active in advancing the profession. I often have teachers come for lessons where they bring repertoire they are teaching in their own studios. We address the technical and performance aspects of the piece and work on their own vocal development. One of the best ways to figure out how to teach something is to try it yourself. I am happy to facilitate this process and I am proud when one of my “grand babies” gets up to perform a piece I coached with their teacher.
I myself continue to work with my own mentor teachers. I believe the best teachers are perpetual students. Vocal pedagogy is a very dynamic field that is constantly evolving. We must strive to stay current and make use of that knowledge to inspire our methods.