I have recently returned from the most wonderful week of singing tuition at Aberystwyth Musicfest with Mark Meylan and Magnus Gilljam, with regular input from Dr Ron Morris.
Mark is a massive name in Musical Theatre singing tuition, having just returned from working with Emma Thompson for her role in Sweeney Todd in New York. He was one of the coaches on the Les Mis film as well as being the coach for many, many West End shows. I went for lessons with Mark when I was about 23 and felt utterly despondant about my voice. Within a few lessons, and with a lot of practice in between singing along with his famous exercise recordings, I “found” my singing voice. It may be sentimental but I always feel that my singing is in many ways down to Mark (as I’m sure he would say, “oh dear, it’s my fault is it?”, or something equally acerbic), and I have always aspired to being a little like him as a singing teacher, in having the tools to make a real difference to singers’ voices and helping them believe in themselves.
When I started teaching singing a million years ago I called Mark and asked for his advice. His main advice was to join the BVA. I duly did that and from their courses I have learned so, so much. But I have repeatedly called Mark up asking if there is any chance to watch him teach. He has always said that he only really teaches on a one to one basis so there has never been such a chance, until now.
When I heard about the course that Mark was teaching in Aberystwyth, (ironically from the BVA emailing list), I immediately felt that I couldn’t go away from my kids for 8 days. I called Mark and told him how much I wanted to go but were there any other courses he was going to teach on that were a little shorter. He said yes, he was doing a 4 day masterclass in New Zealand. Hmm. Aberystwyth it was then.
Going on the course was one of the best things I have ever done. There were only 5 participants, (which is really strange, but was great for us to all have so much attention), and I am pretty sure we are all friends for life. Such a warm and kind group of supportive students I’ve never known and I doubt I will ever know again. It felt totally safe to try new things and fail, then fail a bit less and then, sometimes have a hallelujah moment that made it all worthwhile.
Mark works in a very physiological way, looking at working with the voice as an instrument and seeing what physical things can be adapted to make your instrument better. We also had a one to one lesson and group lesson with Dr Ron Morris, a top Speech Therapist from Australia which was very illuminating, (to quote directly, my jaw, tongue and larynx are having a “ménage a trios” when I sing!).
We started each day with a breathing warm up from the Accent Method and then gently warmed up our range, support, tongues, jaws and whatever else seemed to need kicking into shape from our work the previous day.
I wanted to go on the course because I wanted to watch Mark work and share everything I learned from this with my students. I have learned loads of new exercises, things to look for in singers, how to do a new student analysis and also been able to see the way that my “singing teacher hero” teaches. It was also really validating to find that I was already working very much on the right track and already know an awful lot. After this course I feel capable of working with anyone, regardless of where they are in their career in singing.
I had no idea that the course would awaken in me a crazy burning need to perform. I am having the courage to start writing songs for my next one woman show and who knows where I will go with my performing. Today wrote a “love song” to my 5 year old, which currently have the working title “he might be cute but don’t be fooled”, to go with the other new lyric “she needs her Chelsea tractor”.
So I just want to finish by saying I have a fire flaring in me to share my learning and my singing. Onwards and upwards. The world feels very exciting.