What it takes to teach voice

Scott Barnes in conversation with singers Elizabeth Batton, Krysty Swann, and Dolora Zajick (Photo: © Dario Acosta 2007)I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to be a great voice teacher, so I was excited to see that the latest issue of Opera News focuses on education. It includes a great piece by vocal coach and frequent Opera News contributor Scott Barnes. Here’s my favorite quote from the article.

Ultimately, the path to being a good singing teacher is not so different from the one that leads to being a good psychotherapist – empathy, an avid interest in process as well as product, the flexibility to adjust vocabulary in order to achieve understanding, technical as well as instinctive knowledge, and driving curiosity.

–Scott Barnes, Opera News, July 2009

Saint Francis de Sales: "Do not lose courage."

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew.

—Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Roman Catholic saint


I find it all too easy to lose courage as a singer. I’m naturally impatient, and as a singer with vocal weakness progress for me is especially slow. I constantly have to remind myself that as long as I’m working, I will improve.

This sounds cliched, but it’s true. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Living in the moment, not regretting the past or obsessing about the future.

Poet e.e. cummings on risk and the human spirit

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

—e.e. cummings (1894-1962); poet, essayist, painter, playwright




"This is not a linear journey"

Shane Gould (above) training in Munich, West Germany, before the start of the swimming competition at the 1972 Summer Olympics. 

I thought a quote from a three-time gold medal winner would be appropriate during the summer Olympics season.
l have periods of incredible frustration, ... and periods of great satisfaction. This is not a linear journey where l've arrived.
—Shane Gould
Australian swimmer Shane Gould has won five Olympic medals and set world records in all five freestyle distances (100, 200, 400, 800, and 1,500 metres).

Photo: © AFP/Getty Images

"A wounded bird cannot sing:" Remembering Jerry Hadley


Tenor Jerry Hadley died a year ago today.  He was a gifted singer, but towards the end of his life he struggled with a number of vocal and personal problems. 

In re-reading an obituary in the Los Angeles Times, I was inspired by several quotes of Jerry from previous interviews.

On the beginning of his career:

I had to let go of a tremendous amount of fear. I had to let go of a tremendous amount of physical tension that was brought on by wanting to do it [sing] so much. I had to let go of the feeling that I had to prove myself all the time.
(Florida’s Orlando Sentinel, 1999)


On taking a break from singing several years ago to recover from the breakup of his marriage:

A wounded bird cannot sing. It was tough. It was emotionally distressing, and it goes straight to the throat. So I took some time off and sat in the quiet for a while.

I never really understood how inseparable was the journey of the spirit and the journey of singing and making music. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t see a way forward. But I came out on the other side of it with a deeper appreciation of what a great gift and great opportunities God has given me.
(Australia’s Courier-Mail, 2007)

What strikes me most is Jerry’s understanding that singing is as much about soul as it is sound, and musical growth requites as much self-awareness as it does talent and technique.