Musical Theatre Educators Alliance Conference and some thoughts on Music Theatre voice pedagogy

One of my favourite places, the MTEA conference in New York, with great MT educators sharing and connecting. I’m there with a hot pink scarf around my neck!

I am half way through my amazing trip to the USA working as a Visiting Research Scholar at Shenandoah Conservatory while I collect my research data for my PhD through the University of Southern Queensland looking at how voice is taught to music theatre students here in the USA. It has been an astonishing journey, connecting with colleagues and learning from the experience. My favourite thing about being here in the States is the experiencing the collegial atmosphere of many training institutions, and of course, being at my favourite conference in New York, the Music Theatre Educator’s Alliance International, at NYU Steinhardt this past weekend. Stacey Alley and Meg Bussert did an incredible job co-ordinating this event where I got to meet colleagues, new and old, and share ideas. There were casting directors, and music theatre educators from all over the US and the world sharing their knowledge and expertise. Simon Ward, from Nomiz in Sydney, was a standout presenter on the brain and teaching. I also loved watching  Gwen Walker workshopping Contemporary Alexander Technique and a highlight, Lynn Ahrens discussing her writing process. There were actually too many things I loved to mention, to be fair to any of the presenters – it was all great! I also saw The Ferryman, The Waverly Gallery and Head Over Heels. Seeing Jason Robert Brown and Betsy Wolfe at Subculture on Friday night was unforgettable. Being there with my friends and colleagues made it even better.

Lynn Ahrens was the guest keynote speaker at the recent MTEA conference at NYU Steinhardt.

I am so grateful to my US colleagues for their support and friendship. Music Theatre education is our shared passion, and as Matt Edwards said to me last semester, it takes a village to raise a music theatre performer. A village, a tribe, whatever this group of wonderful people is, I am glad I belong. I leave refreshed and excited for my research and for the future of those we teach. The care and attention paid to employability, to the mental health of students, to the standards required for employment within the industry, to trying to nut out solutions to difficult questions – all of it matters to this group of educators.

I was so excited to be part of a new group of Music Theatre voice teachers (thank you Raymond Sage  for the conversation and for hoisting the flag) who want to start a voice pedagogy discussion based on what is happening NOW, what students need now. Music theatre singing (and other Contemporary Commercial Music singing styles) is as important, and as highly skilled in its own way as classical singing and deserves it’s own recognition. Just as I would never pretend to teach the application of classical voice, with my small amount of experience in classical voice singing training (I send students to a classical specialist – there are LOTS of them!), it is exciting to see that singing teachers who are specialists in the field of music theatre, and other CCM styles, are being recognised for their expertise, and this expertise comes from years of working with students, working in the field and understanding the nuances, just as classical teachers must train and work formally for years to understand the nuances in their fields.  Whilst I love the various contemporary voice training courses around and available to us, and have taken many of them, and I recommend them to colleagues and students all the time, no one would expect to be considered an expert in classical voice training after a nine or ten day course.  They are excellent, with highly skilled presenters and very very valuable to us as pedagogues. They are a starting point. Short courses are a launch pad, an exciting and wonderful launch pad. As are conference presentations and workshops and ideas we glean from masterclasses. Valuable and useful, all of them. I believe we need longer training and mentoring programs available to those voice teachers wishing to move into CCM and Music Theatre voice training. The skills needing to teach Music Theatre voice application (and pop/rock/ country/ R&B/ and all other CCM styles) are specific and different to classical voice training – even the American Academy of Teachers of Singing believes this, and I look forward to this new group unpacking the pedagogy into the future and being a part of this important conversation. I was fortunate to do my Masters in voice pedagogy specialising in CCM (including music theatre) styles, and I didn’t realise how rare a thing this was until I came here and realised how many classical courses there are, and how few (although they are starting to sprout!) graduate level programs are available to voice teachers wishing to specialise in this field.

Some of my closest friends and colleagues were at NYU this weekend across all the Music Theatre disciplines and I am grateful to have these people in my life. Now, back to the data analysis, remembering why I am doing this crazy huge project, then I am going to sing today. Because joy! I am filled with joy and gratitude after the weekend in NY with friends.

USA trip

Arriving in Winchester!

After a wonderful holiday with my husband John I am settled in to my little apartment in Winchester, Virginia. I will be here for around 10 months while I do my PhD research. I’ll be based at Shenandoah Conservatory, and I am very excited to be here. For the last few days of our holiday together (our first without children in four years!) John and I enjoyed New York, seeing musicals and catching up with friends, as well as watching his colleague Crispin swim around Manhattan to raise money for secondary breast cancer! Over 10 hours of swimming! he has only a bit to go to reach his target of 4000 pounds – if you’d like to donate go here. It was amazing to watch him battle the Hudson River, and to be there at the end (I was cheering like a maniac! There were 15 swimmers, and I think I managed to see about 12 of them finish!)

I hope all my students are going well with their teachers and keeping up the practice! I miss teaching – it’s been six weeks since I closed the studio and it feels VERY strange not to be teaching and living by my timetable. However, I did my practice this morning, and realised that I can take this time to sing, and I loved my practice. Now to find me a piano! I feel a little weird without one! And being without my sound system feels strange too!

I had lunch with the wonderful Brenda Earle Stokes on Friday and with the incredible Jeanie LoVetri and her husband Jerry Kaplan on Saturday. Brenda will be travelling with Jeanie to Toowoomba to present Somatic Voicework: The LoVetri Method at the University of Southern Queensland in January. I know lots of people have already registered, and I encourage those of you who want to learn more about the voice, or voice teaching and pedagogy to go along. You can get more information here.

I was so inspired to get backing practicing after seeing a couple of musicals (Anastasia and SpongeBob SquarePantsyes my second time for SpongeBob, but I truly love this show and I wanted to see it with John – thanks TDF!). Jeanie has been teaching the two leads of Anastasia, and Christy Altamore is a graduate of College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati where my colleagues and friends Pat Linhart and Wendy LeBorgne teach. The cast were wonderful.  I really enjoyed the show, even though I know it is not based on the real story, but it was gorgeous and I was right down the front and appreciated the amazing acting and singing, and the incredible skill of the whole cast. Zach Adkins was wonderful as Dimitry (Yummy voice! Fabulous acting!) and Max von Essen as Gleb was just excellent. I LOVED John Bolton as Vlad. Mary Beth Peil as the Dowager Empress was astounding – it was like watching a masterclass. And even tough I am mentioning just a few, all the cast deserve bouquets!

SpongeBob is really such an incredible, energetic, fun filled show, so bright and cheerful, and the cast are simply spectacular. It is so much fun. Ethan Slater bowled me over again, and I am again reminded of the high skill level of these music theatre athletes – they make it look so easy! Like all true athletes! Christina Sjous as Sandy Cheeks and Gavin Lee as Squidward are brilliant – but really, so are all the cast! And seeing and hearing  Jai’len Christine Li Josey sing the role Pearl is a moment. That voice. She is gorgeous onstage, and when she opens her mouth and sings, well, you know she was made to sing. Shivers down my spine. But again, the whole cast was just amazing.

Right now it is time for me to get ready for the data collection part of my PhD! Hope everyone is well, and remember to practice your singing! Vocal athletes are trained and prepared, just like olympic athletes! And remember, sing a song that makes you love singing EVERYDAY!