Gratitude is a very strong emotion and one that we often don’t experience often enough in our daily lives. When we are grateful, we feel a sudden rush of well-being that makes us feel lucky, truly appreciate our current circumstances and those who helped us along the way. As singers, we have many influences. We are all trained by teachers and coaches and are, as a consequence, products of their knowledge and expertise. No one is born knowing who Mozart was, what the very best singing sounds like and how to develop our own voices. Even the greatest singers were obliged to study and work hard for years to develop their talent. It is only once we have a grounding of knowledge that we can then branch out on our own to experiment and develop our own opinions. We are obligated to teachers, coaches, colleagues and mentors for training, information and support along the way.
I would like to take the opportunity to show sincere gratitude for the major positive influences in my musical life with a gratitude list. Like most singers, I have had bad teachers, but those I will not mention. They deserve no credit for my success, other than as examples of how not to behave as a singer and teacher. But I have been blessed with kindness and support from a number of people and want to celebrate their gifts here.
First of all, I would like to thank my wonderful friend, colleague and talented tenor, Richard Gillyard. I was lucky enough to meet Richard in college and we have been great friends ever since. He is blessed with a fabulous spinto instrument and a superb ear for technique, so he has been my external ear for years and has helped my singing immensely by providing accurate feedback. Richard also has an encyclopedic knowledge of singers and repertoire and has always kindly offered brilliant suggestions for my Aria of the Day on Facebook and for my students when I run out of ideas. All of my articles, including my blog posts, are proofread first by him before being published. And, most importantly of all, Richard has always firmly believed in my talent and encouraged me, even when I was young and other people did not recognize the uniqueness and quality of my instrument. He has had by far the most influence on my singing and teaching.
My current teacher, David Jones, has been extremely helpful. After years of hearing bits and pieces about vocal technique from teachers, he finally showed me how to execute consistent, positive changes in my voice via the Swedish-Italian School of singing. Without his help, I don’t know if I would have been able to completely open my dramatic voice or develop it to its maximum extent. David is also a kind and compassionate teacher, who understands the difficulties singers go through. I incorporate the concepts he introduced to me into my own teaching with great success.
My first teacher in New York City was Sherry Overholt, who began to open up my top and was the first to recognize that I was a Wagnerian. She is also a kind teacher who is dedicated to helping her students. I still remember some wonderful exercises she gave me and use them effectively with my own students.
My teacher in grad school at The New England Conservatory of Music was Carole Haber. An accomplished coloratura soprano, she was very encouraging to me and helped me through the stresses that are part of the experience in a top-ranked conservatory. I also got some great exercises from her that I have been able to apply my own students’ vocal issues with positive results.
Rhonda Plessinger-Coltrane was my undergraduate teacher at Virginia Commonwealth University who very wisely took me down from lyric soprano to lyric mezzo, much to my relief of my poor larynx! She guided me through two recitals and helped me get into grad school. After several previous abusive teachers, she was a supportive and selfless teacher with only her students’ best interests at heart. Without her positive influence at that time, I might have given up on singing.
My first two private voice teachers in high school were Rabi Midah and Michael Flannigan. Both taught at the VCU Community Music School, were wonderful singers and made big impressions on me. They worked with me on musical theatre songs and I sang my first operatic aria with them. They became models of singers and voice teachers that I still remember to this day.
A huge thank you to everyone on this list! You have all been positive role models and I am very grateful to have had you in my life!
Singers, take a few minutes to make your own gratitude list of positive influences. Then think about each person and feel truly grateful for what you learned and to have been able to work with them. That feeling will only help you be happier, a better, more grounded singer and a most positive influence on others.