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Read Barbara Ann Grant’s latest concert review ‘A Revelatory Feast of Opera’. Reviewed in the Nelson Mail 16 May 2016.

May 22nd, 2016

Listen to Barbara Ann Grant’s interview with Nelson radio Fresh FM. You can check out the new brand profile here

March 1st, 2014

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    Singing lessons and learning style – a rich blend is best

    In the nineties it became a virtual cliche of training development to have animated upfront conversations about whether a student was a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner (a ‘see it’, ‘hear it’ or ‘do it’ learner). It was a revolution, in a positive sense, that finally acknowledged that everyone has an individual learning style and ‘one size’ doesn’t fit all when it comes to how effective training is delivered. This is never more true than for the teaching of singing.

    Again, traditionally the teaching of singing has always been an highly imagistic undertaking; imagine breath is like ‘balls on a fountain’, tone is, ‘pulled from the teeth like a string of pearls’, resonance, ‘shoots up the back of the head like a chimney’ etc.! There are a thousand colourful images to convey aspects of vocal technique. However, from around the 1950’s the pedegogical approach to the teaching of singing (see William Vennard, Richard Miller)  heralded a new age in which the mechanistic realities of how the body coordinates to produce and resonate sound vibration shifted the focus and perhaps to an extent invalidated the metaphorical approach to singing.

    In the eighties and nineties, as a young student of singing, I noticed it became increasingly, ‘uncool’ to describe aspects of technique in symbolic language. However, in my own teaching I have always found that the best lessons draw from both sides of the tracks – science and ‘art’, ‘left brain and right brain’, to create the strongest imprint upon the student for radical personal change.

    In both my training consultancy and voice coach life, I’ve found it prudent to, ‘hit ’em from as many angles as you can’. This means that a lesson should not only consist of the ‘tell’, ‘show’ and ‘do’ but also detailed scientific descriptions of how the larynx looks, positions and functions, as well as the breath and wider supportive structures and stance of the body. But, this factual detail needs to be leavened by flights of fancy, wild imaginings and spontaneous gesturings and war dances! It is my firm belief that within the complex human learning process, intelligence resides in every cell. Therefore, to trigger significant and sudden change, the very fibres of each being must be bombarded with as much appropriate stimuli as possible.

    To illustrate, say we were talking about how to maximise resonance and ensure a balanced and brilliant tone with a student who had a tendency to ‘swallow’ their sound. First of all we could talk about concepts like harmonics and formants, we might illustrate this on the keyboard with the student visually observing the keyboard and hearing the pitch progression. We might use an image like the dial of a clock to describe a 12 o’clock raised soft palate ‘domed’ classical sound, a 9 o’clock frontal super bright musical theatre twang and a six o’clock lowered larynx dark ‘dopey’ sound. Perhaps then we could use the idea of sucking the thumb and taking the thumb up to the mouth to get in touch with that spot on the hard palate behind the teeth, where we want to imagine the sound. The student can then try out these resonant ‘positions’ on the clock face and play with how they can change their sound quality according to where they imagine the sound ‘going’.  Another image I’ve used with success is that the sound is being pulled by fish hooks out of the upper cheeks (not a pleasant idea but worked a treat in this particular instance where a student was having trouble getting in touch with their frontal resonance).

    The interplay of the scientific and factual and the imagistic and intuitive – this creates the magic alchemy by which new intelligence informs the body, mind and spirit. This is the learning dance through which radical change find its flash point.