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In 1976 I was like most new vocal graduates, eager to land my first professional singing engagement. Actually, I had been paid during a performance of the Neilsen Symphony as the soprano soloist with the New Orleans Symphony in 1974, as well as during several church soloist jobs since 1968. But I was looking for that big name-splashing-on-a-marquee type of job. I headed for Pensacola to be with my husband, who was a new officer in the Navy ~ not exactly the place to start a singing career, or so I thought.

Shortly after setting up housekeeping, my husband pointed out a classified ad calling for a vocal instructor with a Masters degree to teach voice at Pensacola Junior College. No matter how much I declared that I wasn’t suitable for the job (I only had a Bachelors), my husband refused to accept my lack of confidence and
pushed me to apply for the job. I just wasn’t interested in teaching. In fact, it was the last thing I had ever envisioned for myself as a vocal student. I could sing, but I really didn’t know how to teach it.

Up to that point, I had one teacher who pointed to her palette and said that there was a place for each vowel on that palette and then proceeded to use the entire hour extolling her many accomplishments as a singer, and another teacher who used the “do what I do and don’t ask any questions” method of singing. My coach, who helped me keep from having a nervous breakdown before my senior recital, was more detailed in her teaching, and I learned much from her. Yet I felt I was still nowhere near ready to teach anyone else how to sing. I did
have a small paperback book on the voice written by William Shakespeare (The Wm. Shakespeare? ~ not so sure), and so I began to read it in case I was asked any probing questions about my knowledge of singing.

My resume was completed listing all my singing experience both in church, opera workshop, with the N.O. Symphony, as well as my musical theatre experience, which was quite lengthy, and my award as Outstanding Graduate in Voice from Loyola University New Orleans.

All this experience ~ or lack thereof ~ was covered in the interview, but the department head was not disturbed by the lack because he could hire me as an interim instructor until he could acquire a graduate with a Masters degree. What really synched the deal for me was my answer to one question: “What will you tell your students once you have finished teaching them?” The answer I gave, I had heard many times in my own vocal lessons: “A singer is never finished learning how to sing.” He sat straight up in his chair and declared that I was the only person who had answered the question in this way, and so he knew I was perfect for the job! I exited the interview wiping my brow and praising God for His blessings. Thus began my very tentative foray into teaching voice.

I was given the “dregs” of the vocal department ~ a common occurrence with new vocal instructors. These students had either proven themselves unreliable in previous semesters, were borderline tone deaf, or had no previous vocal training. One girl was a former cheerleader/dancer who had had 8 vocal operations for nodules prior to coming to Pensacola Jr. College! For obvious reasons, this was my only failure in the entire group.

Once in my studio, I was forced to try to explain what had barely been explained to me before. I was determined to try to explain it to the best of my ability, but was afraid to say anything because I didn’t think I could trust my own ear to tell me what was wrong with their vocal production. Then something wonderful happened! I heard a voice beside me say, “Tell her to put her tongue down.” Still not trusting, I waited until I heard the command three times, then I reiterated it. It worked
perfectly! The student instantly produced the more desirable sound.

This happened with every student during every lesson, giving me answers to many different problems, which I could never answer on my own. I attributed these answers to the “muse of singing” at first, and then later thought it must be my own incredible brilliance that came up with the solutions ~ oh what an ego had this vocal-performer-turned-teacher!

I encouraged my students to write down what I said to them, or even tape record their lessons so that they could remember what they learned and could hear how the sound changed once the correction was made. This use of the tape recorder, I had learned during my own study, was a fast way to emblazon the vocal changes upon the mind and into the ear. All of my students received A’s or B’s during juries that May, except for the former cheerleader/dancer. But even she was a proving ground for me to solidify my understanding of how vital it is to protect the vocal instrument against abuse. It also gave me a great story to warn off students from dabbling in being a cheerleader or doing other vocally abusive activities.

After a few years of teaching at home as well at the Loyola University Preparatory Music Program, I finally realized that it was God Himself that had whispered in my ear those telling changes. God had also put into my studio individuals who could further my understanding of voice, by their own problems and direct questions, for which I had to either research the answers or pray for the correct answers. A student who was a secretary offered to help me organize my student progress sheets, which later became my Vocal Practice Record Book. Another student sewed the first Belters Belt and gave me the idea and permission to make them for all my students to purchase. All my notes for each student became my Vocal Trouble-Shooter Chart, and was the beginning of the writing of my vocal technique book Vocal Ease

Idea after idea was furnished by God for posters I wanted in my own studio, as well as various exercises to establish flexibility, resonance, and to remove phlegm, and the subsequent vocal exercise accompaniment CDs I thought would be useful to both the new teacher and the student. Descriptive ideas used in the studio to help the student envision his instrument and its workings were added to Vocal Ease, until the book was a perfect teaching tool.

Then God gave me the idea to test my students when I realized some singers were getting by without really understanding how the instrument worked ~ this despite 8-10 weeks of initial lecture and demonstration, combined with exercises as well as several months of warm-ups and preparation of their solos before ever allowing them to grace the stage in recital. This test became my Vocal Ease Teachers’ Test Packet, and to my chagrin, not many passed the tests initially. After coupling the tests with each stage of progress, the results changed, and more students became better equipped to understand and explain their instrument and the technique. This had been my goal all along. I truly wanted my students to have the knowledge that I was never given in high school or college. I wanted to stop the stereotyping of singers as “stupid”, or as “all resonance and no brains”, or “all ego and nothing else”. I also taught theory, sight-singing, and ear training to help them advance and have better chances of getting scholarships and jobs.

Clearly, God had led me down this teaching path, and once I was willing to put my own singing on the back burner for a while, I was given the opportunity to grow as a vocal technician and teacher. Everything that had been a mystery to me as a young singer was answered, and then more was added to that understanding. 

When hurricane Katrina came roaring through New Orleans and I began to help with the reclamation effort here, I was forced to choose between teaching and helping my city and churches rebuild. Students had been scattered to the four winds and few were returning, so I chose to retire and went about creating an online shop with all my supplies called Vocal Ease Studio Supplies (www.VocalEaseStudioSupplies.net is my webpage and www.VocalEaseStudioSupplies.com is my shopping cart).

Over the years I studied with teachers and coaches that taught the Italian Bel Canto method, the German method, and the English method.  Vocal Ease became a balanced combination of all three methods and has proven itself successful in helping teachers and singers alike to develop their voices in a more stable and long-lasting manner, as well as providing professional tools for the professional results needed in every vocal studio and choral room. I thank God every day for His multitudinous blessings to me as a singer and teacher.

The late Dr. Knudd Andersson of the New Orleans Opera Association said,
"This book deserves to be the vocal text used in every serious music school."

May 2012 Recipient of my award money at the Classical Singer conference in Chicago:

Contact and Ordering Information:

View our online shop at  www.vocaleasestudiosupplies.com.
To contact us:
email patti@vocaleasestudiosupplies.com.
phone (504)779-7464
mail order  Vocal Ease Studio Supplies
 7121 Glendale St.
 Metairie, LA 70003-3103



 

 

 

 


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