what i didn’t learn in college

so even though i was working a job and a half those first two years at st. gregs/library it was pretty decent as i had some schedule flexibility.  i wasn’t allowed to put in more than 40 hours per week at the library and since i worked most weekends, i had to take time off during the weekdays.  this was great when i was needed for special extra days at school, and allowed me to also start accompanying a few lessons in the music department again.  once i would go full-time at st. gregs, then i would continue to do some lessons that were after 3 pm.

during this time dr. schultz went on a sabbatical.  her replacement was a young female who had a doctorate from umkc and had been teaching at william jewell.  i can’t remember whose lessons i played for at first (might have been sarah thomas), but the things i was learning were amazing.  so i asked for lessons.  let me back up.

i came to northwest with no formal voice training.  my teacher was mr. mitchell.  i will say i owe so much to this man in many ways.  the chances he gave me with accompanying the choirs as a freshman.  the literature he threw at me to play.  the patience.  and quite seriously, i have NEVER worked for a better conductor.  he was so easy to follow, and tough, but new what he wanted, and every rehearsal was super structured, no time wasted, and you could see how each rehearsal was really based on the previous day’s work.  as far as voice lessons he was very knowledgeable.  he was the only teacher at nw i ever saw use a 3-D model for explanation.  but he would probably admit that by about my sophomore year, he was ready to retire.  the common nw voice structure (i played for all studios) was 10 minutes or less of technique and 20-50 minutes of repertoire work depending on the time period.  no one at this time was having studio classes weekly.  usually once a semester town or schultz might have one before juries, but many semesters there were none.  every once in awhile there would be an outsider who came in to do a master class.  this was a big deal as afterwards there would always be a lot of talk about how great or horrible the clinicians were.

until i started taking lessons with dr. rebecca folsom (i would learn more in my first 3 lessons than in five years at nw) i had no idea what i wasn’t getting.  while going through the program i had major respect for all the teachers.  some of them i still do….but the bottom line is, none of them really taught much technique, and some of them taught some easily disputed technique.  and the only major pedagog who was ever mentioned was richard miller.

i did however learn a shit ton of literature.  weymuth was great for literature for high school teachers.  until there senior recitals, most of the lit was hs appropriate, and then an occasional song cycle or aria would be thrown in.  town was good for oratorio selections, male operatic works, and obscure british and american composers.  patty was the aria queen and also assigned a lot of french (though never poulenc).  mr. mitchell was probably the most well-rounded, but was the only other teacher to ever assign french, loved german song cycles, and american composers.  i am thankful to have come away with the rep.

but to realize how little i really knew about the voice (still considering this is an impure science) and how teaching voice had been approached over time, was quite a slap.  becky had studied with inci bashar at umkc.  i took a few lessons while she was covering at nw, and then continued to take some afterwards, driving down to jewell, usually on fridays, so that afterwards my roommate and i could also go to inci’s masterclasses at umkc.

when i got hired at nw, i’m sure a lot of people who had gone through the program thought “why should she get hired?  i know as much as she does.”  seriously, if i hadn’t have started these lessons, gone to umkc masterclasses, started studying other pedagogs (at becky’s prodding) i would totally agree.

it was soon after this that i began teaching privately, mostly to maryville high school students that i had had as 7th and 8th graders at st. gregs.  so much to learn, so much trial and error.  i would continue to take lessons in kc when i could, and on days off or breaks, i would go down and spend a day watching becky teach her regular college students.  after she moved on (she was hired at boston conservatory) i would start taking a few lessons with another inci protegee, mary jane wilder, who taught at mid-america nazarene.  i would also go and spend days watching her teach.  alissa walters’ open door policy continued my growth, and i managed to get a few lessons out of her too.  and, as pretentious as they are, i will say the NATS national conferences actually had some presentations that were new and valid information for me, which was a nice contrast to the state music conferences where i felt were just the same material being regurgitated.

northwest had some other areas that i think were exceptional: theory classes were strong, music history was valid, and there were opportunities for independent studies.  but if i had it all to do over, i think to be serious i would pick a conservatory setting.  it took me awhile to get over all the things i wasn’t given in my education, but i am thankful for what i was given, and thankful to find a door to what i needed to succeed at what i would begin to do for the next 10-12 years.


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