by Gudrun Brunot
The blessing of living in an urban environment is that cultural resources are varied and plentiful. The blessing of living in the boondocks is that they are not. Formal certification is less important than the question “Can you do it?” If others believe you can, that settles it.
During my 18-year residence in San Francisco, Calif., I received my fair share of vocal instruction from a variety of teachers, among them choral director Byron Gordon, who declared, “Well, you won’t sing at the Met.” That’s one of the teaching techniques I decided not to adopt later on. …
In 1999, my better half, Rob, and I moved to the little town of Twisp in the Methow Valley of Washington. I eventually landed a job as project coordinator for Cascadia, the Methow Valley Music Association. Pam, herself a good soprano, had several voice students, but wanted to focus on teaching violin, so asked if I’d take the singing students on. I did. In addition to not meeting Mr. Gordon’s requirements for Met-worthiness, I lack the God-given ability of those who can play the piano in any key and any song off the bat. What to do? The vocal instruction per se, I felt reasonably confident about, since I’d picked up a fair amount of the what and how from being a student and noting what different instructors would do. For accompaniment production, technology to the rescue: In my hardware arsenal at the time was a Karaoke Master with a CD player and two cassette decks; a Yamaha synthesizer keyboard, plus some software on my computer for audio production. I found pianists to record some vocalises and some songs, which I burned to CD to use with my students. My Yamaha had two wonderful keys — transfer up and transfer down. Warmups on the fly — no problem.
Most students would come to the house, but one lives in Massachusetts, so I was teaching via Zoom way before COVID hit. This student asked me to teach a group of children for an after-school session, and that was interesting. They could sing together in the same room, which is a bonus, for those who are stronger can reinforce those who need a little extra support. Once COVID hit, students could not sing together. Now, students would go to YouTube and find songs to sing with. Welcome to the world of audio off-sync, crackle and dropout. I would find a karaoke track, lyrics, and a representable vocal performance of the student’s song choice online, zip the three files up and send via Dropbox, so the music could be played at the student’s end.
I just finished instructing at a 4-day singing camp, also via Zoom. For this to work, the event leader will play a recording, remain unmuted, perhaps sing along, or sing a different part. Students will unmute and sing along. One hit was “The Chocoholic’s Confession,” which has 4 parts. That low part is really easy — try it!