In memory of my wonderful singing teacher, Mollie Petrie, I thought I should try and encapsulate some of her many words of wisdom. Although she too had an inspirational teacher, much of what Mollie knew about the singing voice was distilled from trial and error, working with singers of all capabilities. She did not mind teaching the ‘ungifted’ as she would be determined to give them a beautiful sound and help them discover the voice within. Thus she learnt how to ‘build’ a voice and so much instinctive knowledge one can never find in books!
She was charismatic and focussed but fierce in her judgement. Her ears may not pick up the doorbell but even in her eighties she was able to detect the slightest change in tone quality or a dull vowel or a miss-placed pitch. Everyone of her students from the wonderful Susan Chilcott to the humble rest of us was submitted to the one note lesson, yes you needed to have stamina learning from Mollie and to be fearless! You rarely got a ‘good’ from her but then she only really worked hard those she felt had promise. I waited 20 years for a ‘well done’ and then I thought she must have been unwell!
In her last years she taught from her home, a rambling Georgian farmhouse in Dundry, full of treasures like Mollie herself. Sadly her loving and adorable husband Eric passed away when they were at the ICVT in New Zealand. But Mollie never stopped thinking about the voice, “you know all that crying has made me realise how much I need to use those lower abdominals”. Her singers were her family, as she had no children of her own, though she dearly loved her sister in law and her nephew and nieces. And of course we all loved her as our singing mother!
So what words of wisdom amongst the many that pop into my head as I teach or adjudicate:
The fingers around the eyes to help lift the sound
The ‘sniff hum’ to get the ring
The ‘bunged Ooo’ to release tension and to feel the resonance
The cat pose – on the floor like the yoga exercise- to let the larynx hang and release tension again
Italian open vowels from Tina Ruta’s great friendship and advice BANANA and double consonants!!
I know there are more but this will do for a start. It was as much the way she taught that inspired me, no fancy jargon, but lots of well thumbed scientific knowledge, no fads or ‘methods’, she even hated the word ‘technique’. Her love of words and language and the music that meant so much to her, singers were just the vehicles or vessels for the music and the poetry. She could not stand the teachers who claimed they had all the answers, she was constantly learning herself and we all benefited from her drive to understand how the singing voice really worked.