Music is not a Talent to be Developed, but a Gift to be Shared
Mel Karajas’s interview with renowned voice coach Per Bristow in The Playground drew a lot of interest, inspiring this story from Simply Music Teacher Jacqui Graham. She draws parallels between Per’s approach and the design of Simply Music, and makes a wonderful case for the joy of “singing with freedom”. Even if your musical focus is piano or another instrument, the personal liberation available from enjoying your own built-in instrument is a precious gift.
“You have a melodious voice, dear, but it’s not a STRONG voice,” said my elderly father, who has reached that age where tact is optional. I winced, for I knew he was right: my voice, though not unpleasant, was thin, reedy, and had a nasal intonation that I despaired of ever correcting.
As a child I was surrounded by people who made music. Naturally. Spontaneously. Unselfconsciously. Hand my dad and his brothers a guitar, a harmonica, and a couple of spoons, and you had yourself a hootenanny. Rattling down the highway in our old station wagon, my parents and sister and I would run through our repertoire of folk songs and popular tunes. In church we belted out the old hymns with joyous abandon. But as I reached the teen years, my shy nature took over and I could no longer sing in front of others.
Now I enjoyed singing in a community choir, where my voice was just one of many; yet I envied the strong, soaring voices of the soloists. How could I get to sound like that? Where was the rich, resonant, confident voice that I dreamed of?
Over the years I took lessons from teachers with varying approaches, working hard to improve myself, but the results were always disappointing. Somewhere along the way I had lost the joy and spontaneity. Singing had become a project, not a pastime; a goal, not a journey.
One day, shortly after my father’s blunt assessment of my vocal skills, I stumbled across an online promotional video for yet another voice training program – something called “Sing With Freedom“. Well, that sounded promising. But wait – this Per Bristow guy was saying that the traditional vocal training methods – rigid posture, breathing techniques, scales – were actually a detriment to learning to sing. Hmmm… where had I heard that before?
Jacqui singing “My Grandfather’s Clock” with student Tessa, 7 and her Mom Sarah.
Another dream of mine – to learn to play piano – had recently become a reality through the revolutionary methods of a guy named Neil Moore. Forget scales, hand positions, boring theory homework! Set aside the written notes! Get right onto the keyboard! Trust your innate musicality! And here I was: growing, exploring, achieving a liberty on the keyboard I had never known – and teaching others to do the same!
So I signed up for “Sing With Freedom”. With a name like that, it was no surprise that the first lesson taught you to sing LOUD! Per’s approach is to give you an awareness of what is going on in your body, your throat, and your brain – then he steps aside while you play around with these new ideas, in effect becoming your own voice coach. I sang everywhere – in the kitchen, in the car, in the grocery store. “Oh, I like that tone. Hmmm…how did I get it? Let’s see if I can make it happen again.” Remarkably quickly, I began to get the results I was after.
Per’s positive attitudes don’t stop at singing; they have spilled over into the rest of my life. I am comfortable singing with my piano students. I am calmer, more assertive, content with my place in the universe. No more envying the choir soloist – I am having too much fun right where I am!
Per’s most valuable lesson is that music is not a talent to be developed, but a gift to be shared. “Sing to me!” he laughs, spreading his arms wide. Self-consciousness vanishes when you turn the focus away from self. So just smile, open up your mouth, and sing!
Time is almost up to register for Per’s Melbourne event on 12th March, 2016! His offer to Simply Music students and teachers of 25% still stands, just enter the discount code SIMPLYMUSIC when booking.