Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Own Story

It has come up from time to time, parents or students ask me; “what was it like for you when you were studying music?” To which I reply; “I'm STILL studying music,” and I think I always will be. The truth is that the arts are way too big a subject to ever feel as though you could stop learning. At the time I am writing this I am a graduate student through the University of Sheffield's Master of Arts in World Music Studies programme, in addition to taking vocal performance and composition courses at the local community college. I also study privately for Hindustani voice and sitar (both with wonderful instructors). But I get the feeling that what parents/students are really asking is; “what was it like for you when you were YOUNG and studying music.” And this is something quite different than the litany of things listed above.

As a child I lived in Japan and in those days; playing the melodica (a keyboard like free-reed instrument you power by blowing through a tube) was taught to just about everyone. But I can't say that any part of me as a child was passionate about the melodica so I don't really count that as starting my music-studies. For that, I would have to flash forward to being 12 years old and coming up with the idea of being in a heavy metal band with my friends... I decided I would be the singer.

My mother knew a young man who possessed an incredibly beautiful voice and asked him if he would instruct me. Neither of my parents were musical so they had virtually no idea of what to look for in a voice-teacher. It turned out that although his singing was phenomenal, this young man had next to no experience teaching. He owned no piano or keyboard (which wouldn't matter because he could not play), we never warmed up, and in the course of one year we did approximately three songs which were poorly chosen for my skill level. All in all it was a very poor learning experience, although; one thing for which I will credit him is that he opened my eyes (and ears) to classical music and opera, which is something I have loved my entire life since.

It wasn't until I was 14 years old that I started going to a professional vocal instructor (I had also begun playing piano in that time). She was a full time teacher with a bachelor's degree in music education who had also been teaching private voice lessons for over 20 years.

I should break to mention that as a singer I greatly lacked in any natural ability whatsoever. Matching pitches was a near-impossible task for me, my sustained tone sounded like shouting and to top it off I possessed the range of about half of an octave (roughly 1/3 of a normal healthy voice). I am sure that if I would have auditioned for American Idol (assuming it existed in 1993) my performance would have surely made it to the “worst of” reel.

Over the next four years I worked very diligently on my music. I practiced at least an hour a day on my own, I joined the high school choir, and began acting/singing in community musical theater productions. Over this time my range expanded to close to two octaves, I was able to match pitches and developed vibrato in order to warm up my virtually non-existent tone. Studying piano helped greatly as well, as I started to understand music more and more my memory of notes and melody became more natural.

After graduating from high-school I auditioned for a vocal scholarship, which I was awarded. I had developed a passion for composition which consumed almost ever last bit of my attention and I therefore stopped singing in the community theater, although I continued in the college choirs. I did not resume my voice studies until I started working for Arizona Music Academy as a voice instructor. It was largely because I was encountering students who shared many of the challenges I faced as a young student and wanted to have a clear and concise way of overcoming those hurdles. Students taking up singing now are fortunate to be living in such a scientific age where there seems to be a multitude of options for studying any music. But it can also be difficult knowing where to begin where it seems like there are endless avenues. My next blog will be about advice on getting started.  

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