My process

My early training cultivated in me both self reliance and a strong musical instinct. Ability to read at sight along with excellent rhythm gave me the tools to explore music quickly and I relish that.  My vocal development and consolidation of vocal technique was always connected to the desire to encode and reveal the truth buried in the score  This process is what continues to fascinate me both as a singer, teacher and conductor.  The creative process of preparing a work involves balancing and extending the physical capabilities of the body to meet the musical demands of a score.  The aim ultimately is for technique and musical expression to become indivisible.

There is a visceral delight in singing music one has never heard before and being responsible for lifting it off the page, bringing it to life through ones own very being.  The lightening rod connections between eye and inner ear, brain, imagination and breath resulting in utterance and revelation through sound is a process awe inspiring enough in itself.  But music making is a sophisticated undertaking and the task of refining and polishing, understanding and honing the overriding arch of a work is even more rewarding.  When this is secure we are then free to widen our focus and make music with others and eventually invite an audience in.

Before the pinnacle of the art of singing can be reached it is necessary to dissemble.  A teacher must first separate out all the component parts and address them one by one while never losing sight of the whole.  The voice teacher is not just responsible for building an instrument and training a vocal athlete.  The voice teacher is also responsible for cultivating musical understanding and inevitably taste. 

This way of working can and should be applied to singers of all levels.  The art of teaching is knowing how to pace the learning, what to teach when and how. 

My teachers

My teaching draws upon a lifetime of singing and making music and of course this very personal journey informs how I now teach.  I am especially grateful to all the teachers I met early on in life and played a big part in forming me as a musician and as a human being.

I was born on the outskirts of Sheffield in a village called Aston in what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire.  My father was a general practitioner who also happened to be a wonderful pianist and musician.  In those days doctors were on call for 24 hours a day, 2 or 3 times a week and every other weekend.  In order to keep himself awake and possibly sane he would play the piano deep into the night, everything from Rachmaninov to Scot Joplin.  Music was all around me and I absorbed it.  I learnt to listen.  

I discovered my voice as a tiny child and played with it constantly.  There were recordings in the house of Victoria de los Angeles, Anna Moffo, Callas and Galli Curci.  I was captivated by those voices and imitated them.  The purity, ease and flexibility of the italian bel canto filled me with rapture.  I learnt to invent counterpoint singing along to the Beatles.

At the age of 6 I began piano lessons with a wonderful musician in Sheffield, Avis Benn.  She was quite a character and I found this formidable, emancipated woman with her stories of all women bands touring through Portugal, playing piano for dance classes, silent movies on Saturday mornings and causing a stir in a backless dress when she performed her first piano concerto in Sheffield City Hall, quite an inspiration.  She didn't manage to teach me to play the piano very well but she did instill into me the value of a beautiful legato line.

At the age of 9 I started singing lessons with Greta Rawson in Sheffield.  She had studied at the Royal Academy in London with Isobel Bailey who's famous motto was "never sing louder than lovely" and I think she had her in mind when she was teaching me.  Each week a new excercise from the 19th century Franz Abt Singing Tutor was marked with a stubby blue pencil for me to sight sing in the lesson and then practise at home.  When that book was finished we graduated on to Concone 50 lessons for high voice.  She taught me to breathe "from the diaphragm" and insisted I should never go higher than a top c and only under supervision.  Basically she kept me safe.  My dad played the piano.  We raided Banks music shop in York every 6 months or so and sightread our way through a vast amount of repertoire.  

At the age of 16 I gave up.  The age of rebellion against all things childish.  I had been singing since I could remember and didn't really know why I was doing it.  It had to be rejected in order to be embraced with awareness.  My parents didn't say a word.  They sat it out.  Within 6 months I was asking for another teacher.   Luckily I found Jean Allister in Leeds and she took me seriously as a young woman and as a musician.  

Whilst at school I took weekly percussion lessons with the peripetetic teacher for Rotherham Local education Authority, former principle percussionist with Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Len Addy and played percussion in the local youth orchestras, brassed bands and Gilbert and Sullivan Societies.  This was an invaluable and most enjoyable practical addition to my musical training.

My A level music teacher at Thomas Rotherham Sixth Form College was Sybil Pentith.  Academically rigorous and a passionate teacher, she took our small music class of half a dozen students way beyond the bounds of the syllabus. Constantly arousing our curiosity and expanding our horizons she surprised us with music of all ages and genres.  The first time I heard a harpsichord was when she invited her old friend Alan Cuckson to come and play Domenico Scarlatti for us in our classroom.  I still remember the sheer visceral pleasure of that experience.

I was offered an undergraduate place at the Royal Academy of Music in London but was advised by Constance Shacklock who was sitting on the admissions panel not to take it.  If I was clever enough to get into University I should do that and go on to music college later.  Wise words indeed.  I spent 3 truly blissful years at Manchester University reading musicology with inspiring scholars, among them David Fanning (Schostakovich) David Fallows (Dufay), James MacMillan (composer), Keith Elcombe (Bach), the much loved Professor Ian Kemp (Hindemith, Weill, Berlioz and Tippett)) and the Lindsay String Quartet.  During this time I continued my singing lessons with Jean Allister in Leeds.  I graduated with a first class honours degree in Music.

With a Countess of Munster Award and a full scholarship I took the plunge and went to London to study as a post graduate voice student for 1 year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.  There I began working with Laura Sarti.

Laura born in Trieste.  She was a teacher with character, a great ear and sense of style.  She was steeped in the bel canto tradition and had studied with Luce Manén, whose influential book The Art of Singing published in 1974 remains an important landmark in the history of vocal pedagogy.  I studied with Laura for 9 years. 

By this time I was starting to have a flourishing career flying here, there and everywhere and working with with fine artists in repertoire I loved.  Life as a busy touring performer covering a wide range of repertoire in all sorts of acoustical spaces was thrilling and demanding but I wanted more concrete technical information. Lucie Manén had been a pioneering researcher into the technique of bel canto and I was eager to catch up with current research.

At this point I sought out the Australian singing teacher Janice Chapman who was at the time teaching at her private studio and involved in interdisciplinary research in London. We worked closely together for the next 7 years and I endeavoured to draw upon her expertise and immediatley put it into practise making music.  Her book Singing and teaching singing, a holistic approach to the classical voice now republished in its third edition is an eloquent summary of this valuable work.

As a teacher I draw on the wealth of knowledge I have garnered from all these people over the years, the many musicians I have had the pleasure to make music with and my own experience and insight into this fascinating art form.





 













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