There is no one else in the world like you: my teaching philosophy

My teaching philosophy is structured around the belief that I can make any student, no matter what age, see and hear a glimpse of their true potential in singing and performing. I know that I have a gift of hearing potential in singers and I always aim to find ways of digging it up very slowly, shovel by shovel, until the singer notices a considerable difference after an extended period of time.

My personal strengths, as an artist, are communication, consistency of tone, flexibility of voice, and energy. If I have command over these things, then I can to explain them in very different ways to each of my students. I enjoy new opportunities to explain something in a way that I haven’t done before. In these circumstances, I am also learning. When I learn with the student, I feed off of their satisfaction and my enthusiasm motivates them to keep working towards their potential.

As a singer and performer, my job is demonstrate depth of knowledge of languages, diction, presentation, tone quality, musical accuracy, musicality, emotional range, dramatic interpretation, character development, a listening ear, a collaborative attitude, and an enthusiastic hunger to keep working towards improvement. These qualities alone, I hope to pass along to my students over the course of my career. I hope to improve upon these qualities and with that, learn from my students who actually show progress in these areas.

My background, as a musician, is listening to classical music from a very early age, perhaps six or seven years old. I would play the LPs of Beethoven symphonies and I would notice how they would make me feel. An excitement and passion that I cannot describe was aroused in me at that age and it taught me to approach all music from then on with that same excitement. My passion was not only for music alone, but also performing. I watched all the classic films that started out as plays and I observed the wonderful dramatic timing the actors possessed. I took that tool with me into grade school. I suppose you could say I was born with this passion. Both of my parents are amateur musicians, meaning they make music for the sheer enjoyment of it. They brought that into my life while they raised me. I sang in youth choirs, church choirs, acted in plays, musicals, and speech and debate competitions, while at the same time never letting other healthy activities such as sports disappear from my life. I became an avid concert-goer in high school and that made me who I am today. I think it is important for anyone to be a “well-rounded” person. For example, it is good to get a 4.0 all four years of high school and college and even to become valedictorian, however, it is also good, maybe even more important to always participate in many activities outside of the classroom which can put your life into perspective. For this reason, I think I was able to go to college. I took my love of many aspects of life and I put it into my craft of performing. Without this, my presentation would have been dull, lifeless, and less real.

I believe my most important job as a teacher is to give my students confidence. I want them to go away with the knowledge that no, they may not be the best singer in the world, but the way they sound right now, at this very moment, is the way they are supposed to sound and it is good enough; additionally, they will always get better.   There will always be other singers that they think are “better” than them, but what they have to figure out is that those other singers do not possess the same unique qualities that they do . Everyone is different and that is the truth! My students’ jobs and my job to figure out: what is that unique quality(s) that you have? And when they discover it, they must run with it! Too many singers become discouraged (including myself) from going after opportunities that would benefit them because they always think there will be someone better at the audition. While that may be true, there is always something new you can show the panelists that they may have never seen before. There is no one else in the world like you. This statement by itself summarizes my teaching philosophy and the single, most important thing I want my students to always remember.

My job as a teacher and performer is also to listen. I can’t emphasize enough just how important this is if I want my students to learn and to succeed. I check myself constantly to make sure I am not going off on a tangent without first making sure they comprehend the most basic point of what I am trying to say. That being said, descriptions and explanations are empty without demonstration; so much of voice lessons are about putting theory into practice. The teacher and the student are, in a sense, participating in the activity of collaborative-learning. They are teaching each other. Only until the student can talk about what I just taught them and show it, will I know if I’ve clearly communicated to them.

Specific examples of my teaching include lessons with one of my fellow church choir members. She is a retired Latin and Classics professor. Her understanding and vocabulary could very well intimidate me, but I do not let my own personal weaknesses, which are negative expectations, get in the way of my teaching her. I know my strengths, and I hit them home! She is very well versed in many areas, but she came to me because she would like to be well-versed in more, different areas. I know that I have command over these areas (music, performing, acting, tone, musicality, ease, freedom) and my job is to share my knowledge of these with her. At the same time, I can also benefit from her breadth of knowledge as well. Just because you’re teaching a lesson, doesn’t mean you’re the only enlightened one in the room. I have to continually remember that. Teaching and learning is a COLLABORATIVE effort.

I have taught at a college and I definitely think I improved my students’ tone quality and confidence on stage; however, I did not get to address my entire “package” of things to work on towards their potential since I only got to work with them for a short while. I also teach kids. They can be the most fun. I find myself translating the language I use all the time into an easier- to -comprehend language that they can talk in as well. I do most of my learning as a teacher with these kids. They have different expectations than I do. For example, one wants to be able to sing in front of people without getting nervous. If she’s nervous, she can’t sing. She blushes and stops singing. My job for her is to be a support system while she sings and to give her certain activities to practice which will get her used to singing in front of people. So in many ways, the voice teacher has to be more than a teacher of music. Sometimes he or she plays the role of guidance counselor.

What I hope to inspire in my students now and in the students to come is a hunger or passion to simply live all of life! This may not sound musical, but it is very important when it comes to performing and singing. Without it, there is no life to your performance. Without it, there is no confidence or comfort on the stage. I can teach tricks to seem comfortable on stage, but without the student having personal experiences they can relate to, they cannot do justice to the art that we call singing.

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A Review of Gerald Moore’s Poet’s Love: The Songs and Cycles of Schumann

This book shall be invaluable to me and any male or female singer who is planning on doing an entire Dichterliebe or any Schumann song cycle to complete one of their life-long goals. I also loved reading through The Schubert Song Cycles with thoughts on performance by the same author. The author gives the reader a sense of what the book is about right in the preface. He says that he mainly attempts to talk about questions of ensemble between the singer and pianist; mood, tempi, rhythm, color, and feeling. I’m a lover of Schumann’s entire output and I especially love Gerald Moore’s artistry. I am anxious to see just how valuable this book will be to me over the course of my life. I plan on buying this book. I have sung Liederkreis Op. 39 and I enjoyed skimming through the pages of the songs I particularly delighted in singing. This book is easy to read because there are only a few pages dedicated to each song, and the format is pretty much the same for every song. The translation of the poem under the song title is especially elegant. In the analysis of the song Mondnacht: Moore immediately launches into the symbolism of the music. It was very informative and could indeed enhance the performance for a singer. This book is good because it gives the performer something to think about while they are not singing and the piano is playing.  This is important because what the singer is thinking is represented on the face and the audience sees the face.  Moore talks in language that a pianist might understand better than a singer. Moore emphasizes key signature agreeing with poetry and demonstrates Schumann’s attention to words and their importance. Moore is a supporter of rubato and any pianist who loves to play lieder would be wise to read this book. Singers would benefit from pianists who admire or adhere to Moore’s style of playing. He says rubato is “subject to good taste and form,” with which I particularly agreed. In terms of teaching, I am especially anxious to use this book when I give selections of Frauenliebe und Leben to female singers to study and live with. This book is mainly for performers and it should be used liberally in that regard.

The Wanderer and the Linden Tree from Schubert’s Winterreise

The Wanderer character is associated with  images and themes of German Romantic poets. They sought to go beyond what is known. The new German culture at the eighteenth-century sought to eliminate boundaries. Poets sought to explore the infinite and escape mundane existence.

The journey of the Wanderer, as in Die Schöne Müllerin, is ideally suited to the form of the song cycle because the Wanderer seeks true love. The Romantic ideal of true love is found only in death, or peaceful repose. Schubert’s musical setting of Müller’s poetry takes us on a journey of musical themes, keys, and relationships. A song cycle is just as perfectly suited to telling the story of a character as an opera is suited. Many ideas and emotions, even ambiguous, are explored. The listener, as well, goes on an emotional journey and sympathizes, even empathizes with the Wanderer. Nature, even, is a character in this song cycle. (DSM) The brook, represented by the piano, talks to the Wanderer. The performance is ideally suited for the stage.

Der Lindenbaum, no. 5 from Winterreise by Schubert is in itself a masterpiece. It too represents nature as a character in a story, which goes through a range of emotions within the major and minor tonalities. The tree is home for the weary traveler. It represents good memories. The tree is his resting place. The pianistic triplets are the rustling of the leaves. The voice is stentorian and folk-like. The traveler pledges gratitude to the tree as to an old friend. The tonality is major when he thinks of good memories, and vice versa. There is also an actual rhythmic tree-motive, and it appears through out: the dotted eighth followed by two thirty-seconds and a dotted eighth is the sequence. The poem is strophic and the music follows the structure of the poem. The melody ascends on words associated with joy, which represents heightened emotion. When the traveler passes the tree at night, he closes his eyes in darkness. Here, Schubert is in minor and the triplets are perhaps a grotesque dance. The poetic meter is in itself musical: important words are melismatic and have longer note duration. If the mood of the poem changes, so does the music. The horn call-motive represents the wandering minstrel or musician; as made popular in German culture with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. On the words “hier findst du deine Ruh,” (here you find your peace) the melodic line descends into the Romantic ideal of death.

Thoughts on Performing

Halfway through the first semester of my Doctoral coursework, I rediscovered my passion for performing that had been dormant during my break from academics. Over the years I have established many important relationships with colleagues. An element of trust is understood between us; that if I am entrusted with the task of performing as a soloist or in a group, I take that responsibility seriously. I am reliable and am sure that my references will attest that I strive for a higher standard of performance quality even when the job is finished and we must temporarily part ways. My style of learning and teaching is to take what I have learned from one teacher or coach and directly apply it to the very next performing opportunity that presents itself.

 

As an artist, it is my pleasure, honor and privilege to provide the much needed service of classical singing to others.  It is an art form that is immediately recognized by all who are passionate about life; people who are courageous enough to live it to its fullest. Opera has much to offer to those of us who have yet to discover its beauty; the drama, the tragedy, the wit, the humor, are fully and boldly expressed.  My aim is to achieve a standard of quality in this medium that is comparable to a highly trained tennis player, swimmer, or an Olympic athlete. Skill and agility are the hallmarks of artistic singing. A singer should never take for granted the talent that is given him or her. Rigorous practice and honing of technique over many years are required for the true beauty of singing to shine. Working with numerous colleagues can help one understand the many challenges involved and the joy of building such a spectacular achievement, such as an operatic production. I know that I have worked with many fine artists and hope to continue to do so.

 

My goals in pursuing further musical education are to set an incredibly high standard of quality for myself by exploring all available avenues and resources in this art form. I intend to immerse myself with experienced performers and pedagogues alike to get only the best possible tools for my craft. By traveling and moving around an artist feels the pulse of what is required as a singer today in order to gain a successful and fruitful career in performance.  I cannot imagine doing anything else. I know in my heart that music is my purpose and I will actively work towards success in performing and teaching for as long as I am able. One of my many intentions is to at once make the observer feel at ease; to make them smile or cry. Ideally, I would like the person watching my performance to be touched in such a way that they are reminded of their own happy experiences or heartaches, and they leave with a feeling of fulfillment. I want to craft the emotions within myself so that they are in tune with others. I seek to make years and years of hard work seem like effortless ease.

 

Image

Serse (Xerxes) 2013

The servant disguised as a bird in a tree

The servant disguised as a bird in a tree

Elviro Act I of Serse

design by Robert Perdziola

design by Robert Perdziola

getting the idea to disguise himself as a tree to deliver the love letter, even though he's in exile

getting the idea to disguise himself as a tree to deliver the love letter, even though he’s in exile

The bridge of Ships connecting Europe to Asia

The bridge of Ships connecting Europe to Asia

Serse planning victory on taking more land for himself

Serse planning victory on taking more land for himself

Romilda and Serse next to the famous tree that Serse sings to at the top of the opera

Romilda and Serse next to the famous tree that Serse sings to at the top of the opera