Last year my beloved voice teacher of more than a decade, the soprano Karen Anderson, moved out of state. As a student, my pattern was to show up on her doorstep for intense vocal work whenever I had a concert or show to do. Then, once the performance was over, I’d take a hiatus and focus on my own work, giving voice lessons in Marin County, music directing local shows or offering singing lessons for kids. However, lately I had been feeling a yearning, a creative dissatisfaction. Here I was, a singing teacher, and I wasn’t practicing or singing outside the voice studio. I didn’t need to be performing per se – unlike others, I’ve never naturally gravitated toward the stage for my creative well-being. But I did need to be singing and continuing to grow vocally. And, I love practicing. I was reminded of an Albert Einstein quote: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
So, I decided to find a new voice teacher. But who? I started by thinking about all the classical singers I’d ever heard and what I valued – crystalline, free vocal production with ease of expression and warm vocal color. Then I remembered soprano Virginia Pluth, who came to sing for us at Cal State Hayward, back in the ‘80s when I was in the opera program there. I had been super impressed with her easy, beautiful high soprano. I tracked her down on LinkedIn. A member of the San Francisco Opera Chorus, I had noticed that she had moved into doing smaller parts at the Opera House, no mean feat. Unfortunately, although flattered that I remembered her, she doesn’t have a voice studio. But, she referred me to another Opera Chorus member, mezzo soprano Erin Neff, who did. Although Erin didn’t have much availability, she agreed to see me.
I have never studied with a mezzo before and was a bit apprehensive. Would she be able to help me in my highest registers? I had been having trouble singing the repertoire that once used to come so easily. Was it because I wasn’t keeping my voice supple or because I was getting older and hormones was changing my instrument? I’m an Alexander Technique teacher. Would she speak my language of “non-doing” and approach singing in a holistic manner?
Well, we’ve had a row of singing lessons so far and I couldn’t be more thrilled, excited, and motivated. She’s amazing. Another quote comes to mind, this one by historian Daniel Boorstin: “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.” Most of the lessons have focused on undoing tensions I never knew existed and “realigning” my understanding of breath and resonance. We’ve vocalized to a high F and my high C’s have returned full force and easily. My voice is blossoming into a full lyric sound. But it is all very humbling.
What I love about my new voice teacher is her own desire to continue learning. Even though she’s at a high professional level, she herself still takes lessons. And, she loves that I challenge her. She reassured me at the end of one of my slightly combative (on my part) lessons – she said “whenever I start with a new teacher, I think – ‘God, I don’t know how to sing.’” But we do. Actually, we teachers are pretty darn good at it. But there is always more work to do. And, most important, our voice students will be the beneficiaries of that new knowledge. I keep this in mind when I give my voice lessons in my beloved county of Marin. We owe it to ourselves – and to our students – to keep learning.