Before the move to West Midlands in 1987, my income came from playing piano in restaurants and teaching piano and singing, whilst bringing up my children in Norfolk. I held musical workshops, including a social services family centre, special schools and in a psychiatric hospital. Moving to Coventry to take up full time work was a huge change and I soon found myself swept up into the world of special educational needs, which was very demanding and an incredible learning curve for me.
In 2004 I left my long term career in Special Educational Needs, having worked as a specialist in supporting young people with emotional and behavioural problems for Warwickshire Education Department in a wide variety of roles, including Class Teacher in a special school, SENCO, Education Officer and Co-ordinator of an Arts Education Centre.
I trained in voice and piano in the early days of Colchester Institute and later studied for my MA and counselling diploma at University of Warwick and I have been singing and playing piano all my life. So I always knew that I had my music there waiting for me and it was with some joy that I left the statutory sector to return to self employment as a piano and singing teacher, based in my home.
Soon I realized that this revived pursuit of singing teaching was not going to be a part time occupation. I found myself teaching on six days a week with a large client group. At this time, as well as the classical teaching, I attracted many young people were entranced by the possibility of fame via X Factor and so many of them presented themselves in that excited state which conjures up visions of themselves on the TV screen. I supported people through this process, which I am sure you will know mostly turned out to be a disappointing affair. Some really excellent singers were turned down, despite presenting themselves beautifully and even some having those titillating exciting life experiences that seem to necessary to relate. Mostly these candidates experienced enormous waiting times and instant dismissal. Some got through to the next stages and even to the so-called “Boot Camp”, but noticed that they were sidelined in favour of folk who already seemed to have been selected for special attention. They felt that they were just being selected to make up numbers. In the end I concluded that unless you were a very compliant character you were not going to get anywhere. Thankfully my pupils have seemed to be more feisty and less naive than that, but their disappointment was palpable. Amongst the pupils I attract nowadays, interest in these competitive programmes has waned now thankfully.
Over thirteen years of teaching singing, I have supported many people to audition for top performing arts colleges and to take grade exams, including several gaining distinction. I believe that in the singing grades it is important to bring a depth of study to the exam room. Often the aural tests and sight singing are viewed as needing less preparation, but this isn’t true. It must be a regular part of lessons and homework. ABRSM provide some wonderful support with apps now and this helps home study. I usually steer pupils to take Grade 3 as the first step then 5 and then move on to 8. This means they don’t have the tyranny of music exams over their heads constantly adding into the GCSE and A-Level studies. Music grade exams count towards university points so they are a valuable addition to school studies. ABRSM have recently updated their syllabus thank goodness!
For the main part, I have been working steadily with people to develop confidence in themselves and in their voices, so that they can perform somewhere. Sometimes pupils will get a chance to perform their exam pieces in a concert, but mostly we are developing repertoire tailored to each person’s ability and musical interests. In some cases this will be a very extensive project. I always expect that it will include at least one classical piece.
The rich opportunity to perform your exam pieces to a real audience has supported many pupils to develop much more confidence under exam pressure. We formed the charity UMCM to organize concerts in and around Coventry and many of my pupils and ex-pupils are getting great opportunities to perform regularly alongside more experienced performers. The art of performance is one of developing confidence and processing constructive feedback. Singing is a uniquely concentrated pursuit. Focussing on your vocal instrument and telling a story to your audience require very special attention to detail. This work is incredibly rewarding and the results can be thrilling when a pupil takes up the challenge to work to their full potential.
I continue to perform, singing a wide range of music and I am lucky to have formed several musical partnerships:
Dust is a duo with myself and Sarah Laughton on bass clarinet. We play a quirky repertoire of medieval, renaissance, original and impressionistic music.
Favaio is an ensemble playing baroque music with a contemporary twist, with Elizabeth Marsh on flutes, Sarah Laughton on bass clarinet and Adam Hibberd on keyboard
Between Us is the jazz duo with Adam Hibberd. Our jazz set features some classic jazz numbers alongside a Billy Joel number and couple of Joni Mitchell’s.
As a pianist, I accompany my pupils and other musical learners, but I no longer teach piano. I found it more rewarding to select just singing for my specialism. In my work as a singing teacher I have helped people with special difficulties with their voices to overcome these. For instance, it is possible for some people to learn how to hear their tuning problems and to resolve them. But this is very concentrated work and can only be achieved with patience and over time. It is true that everyone could sing, but sometimes those voices just don’t seem to want to be liberated. I have worked with many people who want to find out if there was a way for their voice to come to play. Sometimes they have been ridiculed by teachers and family and sometimes they are extremely shy. In most cases the voice will come out to play and in some cases the voice has developed and flourished. Other people just enjoy singing for themselves for a period of time to see what its like.
So Unlock the Music has proved to be a very apt logo for my work over the years and I always look forward to meeting my next pupils.