This is a new addition to my blog. I'd like to be able to keep up with the activities of my students on my blog, so that it can be edited more quickly and efficiently than on my website. So . . . please let me know what you are up to and I promise it will get published here!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Talent is an Accident"

As all of my students know, I am an avid reader of magazines, books, blogs, postings, websites, etc. that have anything to do with singing. One of my favorite sources for "teaching tidbits" is OPERA NEWS, which just celebrated its 75th Anniversary. In an article called "Life Lessons" F. Paul Driscoll wrote about 12 things he'd learned about opera during his 42 years of fascination with the art form. One that stood out for me was the following . . . "Talent is an accident."

Oh boy, could I relate to that. On some level you are born with talent or you aren't. This is something that is very difficult for me to deal with as a teacher; especially with young people. I cannot tell whether a person has the talent to be a professional when she is in junior high or high school. I believe it is my job as a teacher to guide the student who wants to sing to become the best singer she is capable of being. Throughout the years I have been surprised, yes even shocked by the "talents" that have blossomed in people due to nurturing, maturity and proper training.

Driscoll spoke of opera's many talented failures. We all know of talented people in whatever aspect of the arts we may be involved in who have managed to burn themselves out and their talents with them or who just didn't have the "talent for talent." They didn't realize that even the talented would be asked to put in hours of work, be team players, and subsume their egos at times. Then there are those who, as Driscoll puts it had "great PR." I never knew this but there was a soprano named Marion Talley who made her Met debut at 19 to huge press attention and was finished at 30! Sound familiar?

So, I'm going to end this little rambling rant with a quote from Mr. Driscoll with which I heartily agree and hope some of you will react to my latest entry.
"Talent needs to be tempered and nurtured by hard work and discipline to stay the course."

Friday, September 24, 2010


It's been a great couple of weeks of teaching here. My "old" students have come back from their summer vacations and I have acquired several fascinating new students of many different backgrounds, ages, and styles of singing. As is my usual policy, I inform everyone at the beginning of studying with me, one of our goals is to "fire the judges and hire the reporters." This means we are going to be on a journey together of exploration of their particular singing/acting process and how I can help them to find their most beautiful, strong, flexible, free and powerful instrument. Along the way we are going to run into many bumps in the road. Some of them will be because of the student's age. Some will be because I haven't found the right way to communicate to this particular student yet. Some will be because the student hasn't practiced enough (simple, but true). Some will be because there is an emotional block. And on and on . . . But LOVE/LEARNING MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY "I'M SORRY." I can't remember how many times I had to say this week "Hey! Don't apologize! We're learning here. That's what it's all about. We're both learning. Let's see what we can learn, celebrate our awarenesses and move on."

I know a lot of the apologizing for our "mistakes" or imperfections comes from our culture and/or upbringing. Goodness knows I have it myself. But I urge you in your work on your music to "Fire the judges and hire the reporters." See what it feels like for a day. Just observe. Have a day of "Hmmm. . . isn't that interesting. Every time I "reach" for a high note I lift my chin . . . or Every time the emotion gets stronger my shoulders get tight." Just observe. Don't judge and don't apologize. Love yourself into learning.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


OK . . . maybe Jackie Evancho (the phenomenal little classical singer on "America's Got Talent") is coached to the "n'th degree." Maybe her every cute remark is just as rehearsed as her every passionate gesture and every rounded vowel and every breath in her magnificent, if somewhat eerie singing ("How is a ten year old making sounds like that?"). But every time she sings I get a thrill and sometimes when she speaks I know that unvarnished truth is coming out of this kid's mouth because she is speaking the feelings I had as a 10 year old and still feel today when I am singing from my heart and soul.

At last night's Finale, Jackie spoke of loving singing so much that when she sings sometimes she smiles so much lips wanted to twitch. That joy, that rapture just from the act of singing was clear from watching her performance, which was (and here I disagree with the "distinguished judges") far,far, far from perfect. Thank God! She's a little girl. She's just at the beginning of her journey and she's human. But please, if you didn't get to see and hear this performance, swallow some of your snobbery and pride and go on the "AGT" website. This is what I mean when I talk about singing for the pure joy of it.

By the way, there was some other pretty fabulous joyful performing at Broadway on Broadway as well, which I caught on the BroadwayWorld website. Loved Mandy Gonzales perfectly imperfect Elphaba and those proud Cagelles who must have been freezing their pride off.

But all of this is about LOVE and JOY. Loving singing. Loving acting. Loving what you do. I've recently returned to auditions myself and I'm having a ball. I look at each EPA as a chance to do what I love. Feel the power of the music flowing through me, sharing the moment with the accompanist and the auditors and then leaving it in the room. With love. Look, I know times are tough for all of us who do this thing for a living; old timers, new comers, aspiring students alike. But let's take a second to remind ourselves why we started to sing in the first place. I hope for a lot of you it was because it made you smile so much your lips twitched.

P.S. Day after the final votes have been tallied and the winner announced. Jackie did NOT WIN! and I am so happy. This little girl needs to be nurtured slowly; not have a Las Vegas act. She will have a long and fulfilling and (I hope I hope I hope) happy career.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Too Much To Say

When you don't write in your blog for years (literally) and then suddenly decide it's time to share your thoughts with the world, the stuff comes pouring out like . . . well like polished pearls of wisdom or, I'm too much of a prude to actually write down the other word I am thinking of. Let's just say, "pea soup."

There have been so many things going on in terms of my education as a singer/actor/voice teacher that I have shared with my students and intimates, but just have not written down. I guess I forgot that I even had this blog or thought that it was a worthy place or something that people would be interested in. Now that I am becoming more of an activist in terms of building up my studio, I've decided that it's time to write more and publish more. So here goes.

Obviously, from the title I have too much to say, so I'm going to narrow this down. This one is hard. The subject is PATIENCE. A very difficult one for many, or should I say most of us in the arts. We want success, fame, brilliance, power over our instruments YESTERDAY. The media, and especially TV shows are certainly doing nothing to discourage the idea that you can have instant success and that you can pick up music, look at it once and sing it brilliantly (especially with "auto-tune" behind you). And don't get me started on Reality Television. I love it as much as the next person for a "guilty pleasure" but when kids pout that they have been working "all their lives" for this one chance I can't help but scream at the television "Go back to school where you belong!"

So . . . anyway now for some positive ranting. I have three students who have recently shown the value of patience (and persistence). Two are baritones (more about this in a later post) who have only recently come into their true voices. They have had a difficult in dealing with the whole "baritenor" phenomenon because their natural voices just don't fit into that "fach." But PATIENCE and persistence on both of their parts have led them to find their true and beautiful voices and they are both now singing as they should and as grown men look the part as well. My other student is a soprano who came to me with, shall I say "incorrect" training. It's really not my place to put another teacher down, but this young lady was a bundle of muscular tension in every part of her being, plus her idea of "singing" was a version of classical production I fondly refer to in my studio as "BAAAAD OPERA." We struggled at first, she and I. In the beginning much of the lesson was just spent on Alexander Technique, release of unnecessary tension, and the building of trust. Then gradually we found the system of vocalises that were right for her voice (not everyone responds to the same ones). I can now say that this young lady is one of my favorite students. She gives me chills when she sings and is on her way to having a truly beautiful and consistent voice. Why? Because both she and I have been PATIENT and persistent.

WHEW! "Have I said too much . . . there is nothing more I can think of to say to you."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Response to Albert Burtis Workshop in New York

Hi Albert,
I so appreciated being at your workshop and understand the frustration of the hit and run Master Class. Just wanted to let you know that one of your exercises (the breathing in on "aw" and thinking of the lungs being in the lower abs had an immediate and stunning effect on a brand new student of mine yesterday. I had never met this young lady but could immediately tell that although she has been working most of her adult life as a professional musical theater and pop singer, her larynx was stuck waaaay up throughout her singing and that her voice was sounding much too young for her chronological age. So we just played a little "aw" game (luckily this was a very flexible and open minded singer) and immediately she was able to produce sounds she had never made in her life and the feeling of release and relaxation she felt were astonishing. So . . . don't ever feel that you have had no effect in helping people sing more beautifully, easily, and clearly. You have indirectly helped my new student enormously.
Thanks once again.
Joan Barber