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-odinator of an Arts Education Centre.
I trained in voice and piano at the 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. 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 become self employed as a piano and singing teacher, based in home. (As well as playing piano in a restaurant in the early 80s, I had taught piano and singing whilst bringing up my children in Norfolk. I had held musical workshops around Norwich including a social services family centre, special schools and in a psychiatric hospital.)
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.
Over twelve years of teaching singing, I have supported many people to audition for top performing arts colleges and to take grade exams. Most recently, after a long period of study a young pupil came up trumps with a very high distinction at Grade 8. 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.
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 myself and to be supported within UMCM to continue on my own journey as a performer. I sing a wide range of music from classical arias to medieval pieces, my own compositions and arrangements, jazz and at the moment early Joni Mitchell songs. I tend to focus on one type of singing for a period of time and train my voice into that field. I have collaborated with many musicians in duos and groups. I am currently developing a new performance with a bass clarinet player.
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.
I have also helped a lot of people with special difficulties with their voices to overcome these, or at least have a try. Working with people who have tuning problems has been a specialism. It is possible for some people to learn how to hear their tuning problems and to resolve them. 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.
In addition to individual lessons, I have been invited to hold workshops all over the place. I also hold Master Classes from time to time and we are currently engaged in creating an eBook on the art of singing.
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.