I learned this from Miss Creed (Kay Creed Osterhaus, my vocal coach during my grad school years, 1982-86, at Oklahoma City University).
Especially for young performers, the thought of taking voice lessons for 5 or 10 years can be daunting. What do you do for all that time?? You either know how to sing– or you don’t, right? Wrong. Voice lessons are to teach you “technique.” Technique is “the method, procedure, or way of using basic skills.”
I’d been singing my whole life but I didn’t start taking voice lessons until my twenties, from a lady in my church who was the pianist/choir director. I remember vividly being told by her that I had a nice voice, but I would never sing opera. “It’s just not that big of a voice.” Then in college I got my first “vocal coach.” (normally, a voice instructor teaches you the basics, and a vocal coach takes it from there)
Dr. John Mizell, at The School of the Ozarks, was the chair of the Music Dept and Music Director for the musicals presented by the school. He took my “little” voice and helped me discover my “big” voice. How he did that illustrates the importance of finding a vocal coach who you can connect with– who teaches in a way that you can understand and benefit (there were MANY voice coaches with whom I could NEVER study under because their methodology wasn’t compatible with my learning habits) . We had just finished a production of “Merchant of Venice” in the Drama Dept. I played Antonio, the title character, the father of the main character. Dr. Mizell took me to our stage (seats 1000) and had me deliver some of my lines. I was very good at stage projection and had no problem filling an auditorium with my voice. He said, “Kevin, THAT is your singing voice!” A huge light bulb lit up in front of me and I “got it.” From then on, I had a big singing voice (and I went on to do a couple opera leads in Grad School).
I took lessons from Doc Mizell for 3 years. He helped me get into OCU, and his connections helped me get in Miss Creed’s studio (a teacher’s “studio” is made up of all the students s/he coaches). I took lessons from her for 4 years– until I left grad school and set out on my career as a singing actor.
Anyway, all those lessons and coaching sessions helped me develop my technique. With all those lessons and the stage experience I was getting, I realized that it was easy to perform when you’re “inspired” — when everything is going well: you’re in great voice that day, your memory is alive and kicking the lines out, the audience is eating everything up, the performance almost seems effortless. Anybody could perform well in that situation!
However, the more you perform, the more experience you get, the more times you’ll find that you are called on to perform when the situation is less than “inspired.” Perhaps you’re feeling under the weather, perhaps the band is really struggling with tempo, perhaps you just can’t connect with the audience or you had an argument with one of your friends right before you went on. Times such as these are when you must rely on your technique to save your butt.
I performed in over 1000 performances during my performance years. Half of those were in touring situations where we performed the same script over 100 times. Believe me, by the 20th or 30th time delivering the same lines, you can get pretty UNinspired if you are not careful. Thank goodness I had developed a good technique to carry me through my career!
What do I mean by technique? What are some examples?
+ Being able to sing through sickness or sore throats
+ Continuing to find truth in your lines even after a month of rehearsal and scores of performances (realizing that it’s the first time for your audience really helps!).
+ Being able to adlib or adjust your performance in the event that something unusual happens, such as someone misses a cue, and audience member yells something, or your performance is interrupted by a fire drill.
+ Being able to sing your role even if your pit band blows a fuse and you have to perform to just a piano instead.
Your work ethic and technique can get you through almost any circumstance.