(Photographed Above: Jeanie LoVetri and Heather Keens)
Your work as both a singer and pedagogue has spanned several continents; can you tell us about your work in the U.K. and how this compares with the work you are currently doing in Australia?
Having been born in the UK, after Music & Opera training I acquired work in a Contemporary Opera, where I met my husband, who was the composer of the piece. He is from Australia. I worked in a subsequent five shows, which in the 80’s were considered ground breaking experimental theatre shows with music & singing. They might be termed Music Theatre as opposed to the commercial title Musical Theatre. I also toured Italian Opera in between working these shows. I did very little teaching then. The teaching work I was involved with was usually because I’d been approached for help from fellow peers who were also performing. I worked with a couple of successful pop stars on technique, etc.
I arrived in Australia in 1985 for a holiday and ended up singing with a prominent opera company as a ‘cover’ (Suzanna in Figaro). A year later we moved to Australia with the intention of staying for two years. We ended up staying for 13 years. This is where I began casually teaching singing at Universities, between shows and contracts. I taught on the first ever Contemporary Popular music course in Australia. I’ve always listened to and sung all styles of music from a young age and was able to adapt my classical teaching for other styles, focusing on technique. From there we moved to a leading Conservatorium in Brisbane, where I became a casual singing teacher on the newly re-vamped Jazz and CPM course.
On returning to the UK in 1998, I continued teaching as a part time singing teacher at a couple of leading Universities while shuffling performance work. I found that specialization in any one style or genre had become more difficult due to Arts budget cuts. I was teaching everything from classical, jazz, music theatre and pop. I decided to study again and completed a Masters of Voice in London to increase my pedagogical knowledge.
I returned to Australia in 2013, where I’ve continued performing, teaching, running workshops and being an adjudicator. It’s a very creative environment, however, with as much talent as anywhere else in the world.
As a former teacher at several of the top universities in the U.K., what do you think some of the most important competences a singer needs to be successful in today’s market?
I believe some of the skills and competencies needed by young singers are:
• Find a teacher you work well with and trust — one who helps you improve through good technical advice and isn’t worried about sending you to other professionals for help with areas of difficulty.
• Be passionate about what you do and train yourself to work hard.
• Keep fit and eat healthily. (I have not always followed this advice).
• Stay in touch with current professional groups in your area. Chat forums are great for finding out about auditions, courses etc.
• Keep working on yourself as a performer, even if the opportunities for work have dried up. If you’re in Music Theatre or Opera and between contracts, find a job to sustain you that will benefit you in the long run (work part time in a Gym or as a Theatre usher in between auditions and jobs).
• Last but not least – get together with others and make your own work. I believe this is the future in the Digital era. It keeps your CV topped up, gives you opportunities to hone performance (and you never know who will be in the audience). During my first life in Australia I formed a successful Cabaret group with a dancer friend. We kept our skills working and developing and learned a lot about ourselves.
• Follow your instincts, listen and develop a HEALTHY ego.
You maintain a very busy schedule as a singer, researcher, and voice teacher; what projects are you currently working on?
I’ve always had a passion for ‘the new’ and the experimental side of performance. I found out early on that I’d never make a happy ‘covers’ singer. That included churning out the role of ‘Cherubino’ in Figaro, which eventually turned me ‘nuts’ after my fourth contract. My early influences were my teacher Marion Studholme; Stockhausen; Meredith Monk; Bowie; Kate Bush; Mirella Freni; Laurie Anderson and my husband. I currently love the work of Bjork and Lady Gaga in the commercial world, although I find the non-commercial performance in this area more interesting. Melanie Pappenheim, in the UK does amazing work, although I am also horribly envious of her talent. I toured a one-woman show in the UK and gave one performance of it here. It was voice and digital media. We used video, slides and Ableton Live looping. It was experimental and rather disjointed, initially. The highlight was singing a duet with my own vocal folds. First, Dr. John Rubin, an ENT in London, made a recording of my folds, keeping his hand still for 4 minutes, and then I sang while loops from that video were played.
I’m currently working with two highly talented Aboriginal Australian performers. One is a female contemporary dancer who sings beautifully — and a male singer with a rich and versatile voice. He has an amazing band called Radical Son. My husband is writing sound-scapes based on their vocal improvisations. We are working lots of ideas and eventually hope to create a show around “Land, the Australian environment and the ‘untangling’ of our current hostilities towards race, culture and modern life values”. It’s proving to be an exciting project and we are showcasing it in Sydney at the end of the month to a number of trusted professional colleagues. I’m also re-visiting my PhD, which I started in the UK and hope to finish here.
When did you meet Jeanie LoVetri?
I first met Jeanie LoVetri in the UK, at a Voice conference at the Royal Academy of Music. It must have been late 90’s or early 2000’s. Her presentations always seemed so logical and pertinent. I was much in awe of her when I met her again in York. I gave a paper on teaching accents and dialects to Musical Theatre singers and she was the only member of the conference to ask me questions. Luckily they were great questions and I relaxed into my topic with her. I remember a fellow colleague was presenting a paper on ‘Belt”. They were having trouble with playing their video. They asked me to ‘belt’ a live rendition of ‘Fifty percent’ from Ballroom instead, (after one too many wines the night before). All I could remember thinking was ‘oh no, I’ve got to belt in front of 200 voice professionals including Jeanie LoVetri!!’
How has Somatic Voicework™ helped you as a singer and a teacher?
I attended Somatic Voicework™ training in January of 2017, in Toowoomba at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. I was in a bad place then, mentally and emotionally and probably behaved like a jaded teacher with attitude problems, who thought she knew everything. I was a little suspicious at first, but as the course unfolded, I found lots of new ideas, approaches and solutions to teaching that re-invigorated my thinking and challenged some of my methods and approaches. Jeanie’s work is based on logic and caring for the singer as a whole performer person.
I found the practical approach to mixing helped with what is a complex area of voice in any style. It gave me time to listen and retrain the skill of listening. So often, in the vocal studio, listening is the most important skill a teacher has. However our perception of what we are hearing and what is really going on, can be misconstrued, due to other pressures such as exams, role learning, work constraints, health etc. I talk about this with colleagues all the time. “Waiting for the bus” is a vital mantra. I don’t always get the luxury to use this approach fully, but I certainly introduce it to my work when I have a new, inexperienced singer start lessons.
I have always believed in working and nurturing the individual but sometimes in a 30-40 hour week this becomes difficult and it’s easy to grasp at some of the old approaches in a desperate attempt to sort something quickly. I think at times we can feel jaded when there is so much voice science out there to make sense of, especially when it’s changing all the time or rehashing information we already know instinctively. The voice studio needs to be a nurturing environment. Jeanie’s approach supports this in so many ways. I felt that she didn’t judge me, treated me as an equal, and was positive and open in her discussion of topics, even though she’d probably been there before, a million times over and sometimes disagreed.
I recently read a comment Jeanie had made to someone about a particular approach to singing. Part of her reply was “remember it will probably take two years for this student to develop this approach safely and securely”. So true, Jeanie, so true. Thank you.