I’ve loved singing since very early in my life. But because of extreme shyness when I was young I never did it.
Finally, when I got to college I felt determined enough to pursue my desire to sing.
I learned that I had talent but I had no control over my voice. I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted.
That began what has been almost 30 years of discovering the pieces of the puzzle that we need to learn to put togethrer in the right way.
Figuring out the voice and the functions of the body that make it work has been a long-term labor of love for me.
It has been a struggle, but it has been worth it. Because that experience makes me better at helping others to figure out their voice.
One of my earliest memories is of sitting in Church listening to the choir sing the Doxology. Then at the end the tenor soloist would sing the “Amen” up an octave on a high G. It always thrilled me to hear that.
From that early time in my life, I have always loved singing. It gave me a feeling inside that I could express myself in ways that I couldn’t otherwise.
Even with how singing affected me and my Mother and Grandmother singing in the choir every week in Church, I never tried to do it myself. At least not publicly.
I did plenty of singing in my room by myself. But I was too shy to do it where anyone else would hear me.
Things went like this for my whole childhood. Once I was in high school I would constantly sing in the car, whether I was driving or one of my friends. I think it drove my friends nuts.
Finally as a Senior in High School I sang in public for the first time. As part of Spirit week we had a talent show and a Battle of the Bands.
So a friend and I did “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”. I sang and he played Guitar. Then he and I along with a few other friends had a band compete in the Battle of the bands.
Singing in front of others was difficult but I had a lot of fun and was glad I did it. I think I probably had some kind of social anxiety when I was young because making myself do that felt like facing the executioner.
But once I had done it I couldn’t give up the thought of doing more. Our band played a Junior High dance a couple months later. That was fun but unfortunately that was the last gig we had.
My friends later formed other bands and still play to the day. My next step took a little more time.
When I went to college the next school year I entered as a Physics major with the idea of maybe going into the study of acoustics eventually.
Unfortunately my Physics major lasted about two days, until my first class of Fortran programming. To be honest, I still don’t really know what that is. From what I’ve been able to gather it was an older programming language that was used in the sciences.
This was before computers were common and pretty much only people that were into computers had one. So I had no experience with them and couldn’t grasp how programming worked. It was one of the only times in my life I actually felt stupid.
At the same time, because I had been interested in singing all of these years, I finally decided to actually do it. So when I registered for fall classes my freshman year, I included freshman chorus along with my regular classes. This was my first experience singing in any sort of way that resembled what I do now.
After the difficulty I had with the computer class, I dropped that and decided I wasn’t going to be able to continue with the physics major. I focused on general classes while I started to think more seriously about singing.
The rest of my freshman year I continued to sing in the chorus and added voice lessons. At the end of the year I auditioned for acceptance into the music department as a voice major.
I was accepted to be a music major, but I was not accepted into the vocal performance emphasis. So with my sophomore year I began taking music major classes, including theory and ear training.
This was my first experience with any kind of serious music emphasis. As you may imagine I had a lot to catch up on. But I kept working and at the end of each year I auditioned again to be accepted into the vocal performance major emphasis.
Finally at the end of my fourth year in college I was accepted into the vocal performance track. This basically meant I was going to need two more years to complete the degree. It was actually during my fifth year that I started teaching voice as part of my degree program.
The whole process seemed to take forever, but I just kept going. Trying to learn and figure things out. The unfortunate reality was that even though I had been studying for so many years now I still couldn’t sing in a comfortable or satisfying way.
After I graduated I looked for any teachers I could find that might be able to help me continue the process of figuring out my voice.
I went to undergrad at one of the smaller campuses of the State University system, which was in a different part of the state from where I lived. While I was home for winter break my last year I went to the main University campus and visited the School of Music.
I met a student there who happened to be going to a lesson with one of the teachers there. He invited me to come along and sit in and meet his teacher.
It seems like Kismet because I thought at the time that this teacher may be able to help me. So I studied with him over the summer and continued the next year after I graduated.
I auditioned for acceptance to graduate school at the University that the teacher was at.
Unfortunately I was not accepted. I auditioned again at their second date. Again I was not accepted.
I continued to study with this teacher through the summer. I auditioned one last time in August, only weeks before the start of the next school year. Finally, I was accepted into the graduate voice program.
I suspect it was probably because only my teacher and the baritone on faculty were present at my audition.
I remember later during the school year when one of the female faculty members saw me at the weekly Department class, and asked my teacher “when did we accept him into the program?”
Hearing that really reinforced my feeling that I wsn’t as good as other singers. All of the failed auditions in Undergrad and then to get into Grad school just made me feel I wasn’t good enough.
But it also hardened my resolve. I was determined to figure out my voice and understand what made it work.
Through the two years it took to do my Master’s degree I had some improverments. But in general I still didn’t feel comfortable or confident in singing.
Basically I was a tenor who couldn’t sing tenor music. What I have since learned is it isn’t really possible to do so without the ability to use the high register, which I was never taught.
But I took a pedagogy sequence of three classes my first year. I learned a lot of the basics about the vocal instrument. But the biggest thing I learned was I had a natural knack for sensing what was going on in other singers and identifying what they needed.
One of my friends that was in the class called me a prodigy because I just seemed to automatically know what was happening. No one else in the class could understand how I just seemed to know.
I didn’t have a lot of teaching experience at this point, although I did have some. It was like all the difficulty I had in making my own voice work was flipped in my ability to intuitively know how to help someone else.
After struggling through and completing my degree I kept searching every possible avenue to learn what I needed to figure out my voice.
After a couple more years without much progress I pretty much gave up on teachers. I had tried just about every one in the metropolitan area.
I resigned myself to needing to figure it out on my own.
It was at this time I came across David Jones and his articles online. He was talking about concepts that made sense to me but were things I never heard from any of my teachers.
So I contacted him with a few questions that addressed issues I was working on. His answers seemed to make sense and gave me hope that I could still figure this out.
After a few more questions back and forth I made the decision to go to New York for some lessons, which seemed like a huge step. Not to mention expensive.
I had five or six lessons that first trip. There was no miraculous and sudden improvement like we might wish for, but I definitely noticed progress and learned some things that I was not thinking of correctly.
So I made plans to go back again a few months later and again a few months after that. After each week I could tell I was making more progress. But at the same time there was some kind of block remaining keeping my singing of repertoire difficult and uncomfortable.
After this third trip my wife and I decided to move to New York so I could continue my studies. As a dancer and a singer as well she looked forward to the opportunity to get advanced training in both.
We flew to New York with two large suitcases on Labor Day, Sept. 3rd, 2001. No apartment, no job and knowing no one.
The next week 9/11 happened. I have written about that experience in the blog here.
Our four years in New York were tough, but satisfying. I always say it can be summed up by the saying, “It’s a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
I learned a lot and had experiences I would not have had if we weren’t there.
I sang in a bunch of operas with a few small companies that exist for the sole purpose to give aspiring singers oportunities to perform.
I saw a lot of operas as well, going to the Met and NY City Opera many times. Even saw Pavarotti’s last ever performance.
A fun experience was working as a Supernumerary at the Metropolitan Opera, I was in over 100 performances in 8 productions.
Being onstage at the Met was exciting and I got observe the top singers close up. And I met a lot of great people. The stage managers there are probably some of the best anywhere.
Even with all of the great learning opportunities, I still didn’t feel comfortable doing the things I felt I should be able to do. But life keeps moving ahead, and we had plans for a family. Which did not include raising kids in New York.
So after four years we moved back to our home area of Minneapolis in June 2005. I didn’t have the resources here that I had in New York. So I felt like if I was going to figure things out I was going to do it on my own.
Since then I have continued to experiment and research concepts on a daily basis. This has gradually led me to a deeper understanding of how the body works to be a musical instrument.
I would describe the process as being like wandering through an unknown land in the dark. Without being able to see you just take what information you have at that moment and decide on a direction to go.
After following that path for a time you assess the results and decide if that path makes sense to continue following or to start over and try a different path.
The difference for us is sometimes the correct path appears to be wrong and the wrong path appears right. It takes diligence and awareness to figure out when that is the case.
The guiding principle is how it feels. Do things feel more comfortable or less? The surprising thing is often trying to be more comfortable doesn’t give us that result. And what we think would be more work actually ends up being more comfortable.
These unknowns are what makes it a hard and lenghty process to figure out things on our own. With me as your guide you can take advantage of my experience for your own benefit.
Sign up to download my Cheatsheet at the bottom of the page and get a jump-start on learning what I have to offer. Then you can contact me with the form at the bottom of the Home Page when you are ready to do some work together.
Thanks, and I look forward to your journey!
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