(Photographed Above: Jeanie LoVetri and Dr. Elizabeth Ann Benson)
You are currently writing a book, what can you tell us about your upcoming release?
I have been interested in different vocal pedagogy methods ever since I started teaching. I started at an excellent community music school, and my students really wd at an excellent community music school, and my students really wanted musical theatre. I had three lovely degrees in classical singing, and had only really taught classical previously. Because I worked for a school, I had to teach any student that they put in front of me in the style that each student wanted to study. I learned very quickly that I didn’t know enough, and I set off on an adventure to figure out how to belt and how to provide solid technique for my students in any genre of music. It took some time, but I found my way. I have formally trained in three major methods. As I studied these three methods in detail, I began to see common threads among them, but also some significant areas in which they differed. I believe that a book that identifies these commonalities and differences among major methods would be really valuable to the voice teaching community. I have gathered a huge amount of data from exemplary teachers about what they are actually doing in the studio, particularly when it comes to CCM singing. Many of the CCM books that are available are vague about how people are teaching vocal technique. Moreover, there are many different approaches. I am interested in the nitty-gritty details, and I think other teachers are too. My hope is that it will be published sometime next year.
A while back, you had the opportunity to be one of Jeanie’s interns with the NATS intern program, what was it like to work with Jeanie in such an intimate setting?
(Photographed Below: Jeanie LoVetri and Dr. Elizabeth Ann Benson, NATS Intern Program, 2015)
I was selected as a NATS Intern in 2016. I had attended the CCM Pedagogy Institute in 2015, so I was already familiar with Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri Method. The NATS Intern Program is absolutely amazing and I am so fortunate to have been selected, especially since they only accept three CCM interns. My entire application essay was about working with Jeanie LoVetri. I wanted the experience of teaching in front of her, and being under her microscope. One of the other singers in our “pod” had also already trained in Jeanie’s method, so it was really great to work from a common vocabulary, and shared values and priorities. I think the most valuable lesson I took from that experience is to be vigilant about how I give feedback. I used to say “You are doing x,” and now I say “The larynx is doing x.” Many students blame themselves and feel inadequate when they can’t make a new sound. Acknowledging that they are not choosing to do anything with the larynx, it’s just doing what it has been trained to do, is huge. Giving them permission to “wait for the bus” is such a relief for them. Throughout the program, and beyond, Jeanie was extremely generous with her time and knowledge. She took us to lunch and dinner and let us ask a million questions. I can’t tell you how rich the experience was. She continues to be a treasured mentor and huge source of support for me as a young teacher.
How has Somatic Voicework™ helped you as both a singer and a teacher?
(Photographed Below: Leischen Moore and Dr. Elizabeth Ann Benson)
As I mentioned, I have formally trained in three major methods, and I am familiar with about six others. While there are valuable elements to most every method that I have explored, my personal feeling is that Somatic Voicework™ resonates in my own singing more so than any other method. I am someone who experiences vocal registers, so I need a method that will acknowledge them as foundation. Jeanie’s work has also helped me to be more patient. I really have to make an effort to wait for the bus, especially with my own voice. In the teaching studio, every voice in front of me is unique. I am glad that I have a large toolbox to draw from in my teaching, but I find that I use tools from Somatic Voicework™ more than those of any other method. Gentle and gradual adjustment toward new vocal fold and vocal tract behaviors through indirect stimulation is extremely effective. I am definitely an over-thinker, both as a singer and as a teacher. Striking that balance between understanding how things work but also being able to make them work differently without manipulating anything is very tricky. I think Somatic Voicework™ nails that, and produces the best results.
You run workshops on demystifying belting, and belting for classical singers, what should someone expect if they attend one of your workshops?
There is a lot of demand for classical singers crossing-over into CCM styles, and they have an increasing desire to sing those styles authentically. I took that exact journey myself, so I understand how to navigate through. I teach a workshop called “Debunking the Belt.” In classical circles, belting is such a taboo subject, yet I think many classical singers are very curious about it. In this workshop, I define belting (which can sound very different from one larynx to the next) and share listening excerpts of the many different aesthetics within “belting.” I then walk the group through a physical and vocal warm-up, and several registration exercises to begin to access a belt sound. We learn the registration exercises as a group, but then I hear each voice sing individually and offer suggestions. The format changes to a master-class style after that, so each student can work on implementing the new sound in repertoire. New sounds take time, of course, but I point them in the right direction. After one of these workshops, students should have some tools to access a belt sound, but I encourage them to continue to work with their voice teachers to develop it further. The most common challenges I encounter with classical singers learning to belt are (1) pervasive head-register dominance and (2) a larynx stuck in a low position. These habits have to be addressed separately, and directly. I taught this workshop recently in a masterclass format in Chicago, and many of the singers were thrilled to hear a teacher talk specifically about vocal anatomy and physiology, vocal function, and vocal defaults. In the Somatic Voicework™ community, we always talk like this, but I sometimes forget that it is not the standard everywhere. Another workshop that I have recently added is a college prep workshop & auditioning for college musical theatre programs. This is meant for high school students, their parents, and their teachers. I give a power point presentation on what to do and what not to do through the college audition process. It covers elements like choosing schools, choosing repertoire, interacting with your pianist, choosing an audition wardrobe, and responding to interview questions during the audition. Then, I hear the audition selections in an audition/masterclass format and give feedback. It’s particularly helpful for students who are about to audition for college to have a dry run of their audition materials in a safe space, and to receive honest feedback from someone who doesn’t know them. I also include music resume feedback as part of this workshop. Boy, there are a lot of expectations on how that resume should look, but very few resources for students trying to prepare a music resume for the first time. The resume is the first impression, along with the headshot, so it’s important to get it right.
You have so much on the go, what else have you been up to?
Ten years ago, I would never have imagined that my singing life could include such a program. I am thrilled to have the freedom and the knowledge to sing whatever I want to sing. I thank Somatic Voicework™ and Jeanie for providing so many tools and such a wonderful community.
Please check out more from Dr. Elizabeth Ann Benson: Website: http://elizabethannbenson.com/