A letter of enquiry

Today I received a letter ‘out of the blue’ about my thoughts on singing. I answered it as best as I could, but as it was to a complete stranger I had to be rather brief. Anyway I though I could put

Thank you for your letter which the music department forwarded to me. You don’t explain who you are in your letter but I assume you are a singer or a singing teacher so I will try and answer your questions.

What do I look for in a solo singing performance?

A unique beautiful sound in the voice, a variety of timbres, word painting, good breath management, energy and excitement, commitment and focus to the words and music, a love of singing, a generosity of spirit to give to the audience. Attractive and interesting appearance with care taken on presentation. A good relationship with the accompanist.

Would I say singers are born not made? 

Well I do believe we are all born singers but some have that desire to sing knocked out of them at an early age and they lose confidence in their God given abilities. Singers are ‘made’ in the sense that any singer wishing to become an international singer has to have nerves of steel, a good teacher and coach, an amazing promoter or agent, a good repertoire, skills with many languages, an ability to cope with travel and air conditioning and excellent health and physical fitness. Those are skilled to be learnt!

Memorising words and music seems to come easier to some and not others.

Yes that is true of all skills, but if the plasticity of the brain to learn things is fully utilised, you can memorise using aural, visual and kinaesthetic means (i.e. parrot fashion, writing the words down, visualising the musical notation etc.). It is certainly easier to learn when you are younger but age is never a barrier if you really want to do something.

What books would I recommend? 

I have hundreds of books, where do I begin, but Richard Miller, Oren Brown, Meribeth Bunch, Janice Chapman are all great authorities plus all the books on body mapping, alexander technique, lieder, melodie, languages, interpretation, music theatre etc.

Which singer or teacher influenced me the most and why?

I was very fortunate to have the late Mollie Petrie as a teacher for over twenty years and she has been my greatest inspiration because she was such a hard task master, she would not let me get away within anything but the best I could do. She was a wonderful performer herself and loved languages. She never gave up learning and was instrumental in starting AOTOS the UK singing teachers association and was also involved with EVTA (Europe) and NATS (USA). She had an incredible ear for vocal colour and would demand a high level of nuanced performance. She did not have any patience with ‘methods’ and was always highly critical of those who thought they had all the answers. So she has influenced the way I sing and the way I teach but also I have followed her example of continuing to explore and have been fortunate to work with colleagues from all over the world and learnt so much from all of them.

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