Mentors and Training
When I was writing a bio recently for a program it was suggested we give a rundown of our musical training and background. My goodness, I thought, this is what trained musicians do and if I’m going to be a singer now I should give this some thought and attention.
From the high school choir and band follies to my vocal studies as an under-grad my singing abilities were never anything more than adequate. I knew I was a tenor and could sing very loudly if I didn’t watch it! I learned to blend into ensembles in church and school.
I worked at improving my vocal technique off and on through the years with several very good teachers. At Western Michigan University I worked with Dr. Elwin Carter who was the vocal director for University Singers, a stylish singing ensemble for which I had nothing but admiration. My lessons with Doc Carter never won me even an audition for the elite ensemble, but he set me on a path of serious voice work when I studied regularly with him one on one over the summer of 1966.
I didn’t have an opportunity to study singing again until I found myself employed at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in 1973. While in Ashland, I answered an advertisement for voice lesson by one Cornelia Clemens (the widow of Hans Clemens, a well-known German tenor). She introduced me to several of the basic concepts of Italian bel canto singing. I proceeded to working on art songs with Cornelia before my departure from Ashland.
Training at ACT in San Francisco, we had group lessons with the remarkable Stewart Brady. Stewart had been a child prodigy as a singer and began teaching when he matured and settled in San Francisco. He mastered a very free and open interpretation of vocal production which seemed to me to be compatible with what I understood of bel canto. I followed up our group sessions with a series of private lessons with Stewart when I could afford them. After that I worked with one of Stewart’s protégés, Derek Winterbottom.
Though the years I made progress in singing working with the various Music Directors in shows in which I was cast, especially in song interpretation and in expanding my range when I was cast in baritone roles. There is nothing quite like the school of hard knocks to teach you the ropes. I learned to sing on “mic” primarily in performance and was at the mercy of the sound techs for making me sound decent whilst over-singing.
My current voice teacher, Mr. Matthew Ellenwood, has a very organic (and scientific) understanding of vocal technique which is founded on the principle that there is one voice for singing as well as speaking. He not only knows what’s happening in an optimized technique for various styles of singing but can communicate his knowledge in practice. My most valuable lessons from Matthew so far are getting a better grasp of the “light” voice used on microphone for pop and cabaret, not to mention amplified theatre singing.
When I’m done warming up every day, I perform one of my “challenge” pieces where I stretch with an art song or something musically demanding and then I proceed to practice whatever I’m currently preparing for my repertoire.
And so there’s a little information on my musical training and practice.