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The Singer/Coach Relationship
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Voices9/1/1999

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From the selection/engagement process to the coaching itself and beyond, what contributes to a productive coaching session?

Laurann Gilley, coach
It's a good idea to coach arias and roles that are "in process," before bad habits sneak in. Whatever the singer's level of participation, I think the coaching will be most productive if he or she comes in with a mental list of questions — "Why does Mozart change keys here?" or "How can I sound more angry in this aria without sounding ugly?" Asking questions is the best way for a singer to get deeper into a piece of music, and it's also a great way to draw out the coach's expertise and knowledge.

Danielle Orlando, Principal Opera Coach at The Curtis Institute of Music
Young professionals need to be aware that there is a difference between paying for a private coaching and being coached as part of a training program. In the case of a training program, a training program. In the case of a training program, the coach is hired by the company based on his or her expertise with a specific project or goal to attain. Let the coach do his or her job and choose the agenda, and remember that time is always a key element. The time allotted doesn't allow for establishing a relationship, and this is not the time to become insecure; you've already been selected to be in a special program. During the coaching time we will need to focus on the areas that we think need work, but our constructive criticism is a way of assisting you in further developing your already established talent.

On the other hand, when you take it upon yourself to arrange a private coaching, you set the agenda. Be honest with yourself and know why you need the coaching. If you are going to a coach to plunk out notes, don't waste your money on a top dollar coach — go to a repetiteur or a young coach. If you need to work on your Italian, find someone who specializes in Italian. Know what you want when you hire the coach and be clear about the goal of the session: "I need to get through the whole score today," or "I want to work on these specific passages."

In all cases, know with whom you are working. Do your research. If you are part of a training program, read the coach's biography. If he or she has 20 years of experience, behave accordingly. If you are looking into hiring coaches, find out what their reputations are like and what their strong points are. Use your network to ascertain this information.

Timothy Hoekman, Professor of Vocal Coaching & Accompanying, Florida State University
As a singer choosing a coach, you should consider the skills, reputation, and fee of the coach in conjunction with what you want to work on. Most American coaches are comfortable with English, Italian, German, and French repertoire. If you want to work on your Russian, Czech, Polish, Spanish, etc., you should choose a coach who can really help with those languages, since language is such a large part of style. If you just need to hear the accompaniment a few times to remind yourself of how the vocal part fits in, you don't need to hire an expensive specialist.

It's a good idea to let your coach know ahead of time what you want to work on. You may expect help with diction; phrasing; interpretation; style, including ornamentation (but try writing or improvising your own ornaments first, since you know your voice best); or cues, if you are learning a role. Do not expect the coach to fix your vocal technique. Some of his or her suggestions may help you sing better technically, since good diction and musicianship often help vocal technique, but bring your technical problems to your voice teacher.

Jeff Mattsey, baritone
I have always thought that one of the most important things to consider when choosing a coach is how relaxed and comfortable you are with that person. For a coaching session to be productive, a positive working environment must be achieved. (That's not to say you need to hire a "yes" person to tell you that everything you do is the greatest.) We have all had coaching sessions where we have left with our stomachs in knots and our throats so tense you could bounce quarters off them. Either type of coaching session will be productive, but I'd much rather have a fun time getting to the result.

To make the most of your time in a coaching session, be prepared. Time is money. When coaching from the score, mark page numbers at the end of one section of music to indicate where your next entrance is. Prepare all diction questions in advance so you're not stopping in the middle of a phrase, possibly disrupting any creative momentum you may have going. Have a strategy in mind of how you are going to attack the hour: arias first, then duets; start at the beginning and work till the end; whatever will be clearest for you.

When choosing a coach, find out what style of music he or she is best suited for. You don't want to take your Mozart to a Strauss expert or vice versa. I have a coach to whom I take my Ravel, R. Strauss, and 20th century American music, but I wouldn't want to coach 18th century opera with him; he just doesn't "feel" that kind of music.

Susan Morton, coach — Italian specialist
When preparing for a coaching, know what type of learner you are — visual, auditory, or kinesthetic — so you can go with your strengths and build up your weaknesses. Be honest with your coach so you can get better help, whether vocal, dramatic, audition strategies, etc. Know what you want to cover in a coaching. You might want to look at one piece in-depth or several in less detail. Maybe you'd like to run some repertoire in preparation for an audition or for a broad overview of who you are (or hope to be).

Learn the basics of your music thoroughly — notes and rhythms — so that when with you pay a coach it can be for more high-octane information. I suggest that singers give the highest priority to texts, both phonetics and meanings. Your coach is there for your questions (particularly in places where the language is archaic or obscure), but you don't want to spend too much time on basic translation that you could have done on your own. Do some homework on the role; know what happens on the page before your entrance.

Craig Rutenberg, accompanist and coach
The singer/coach relationship is often shortterm. (I don't necessarily want to retire with you.) Ideally, you should hire a coach for a specific project or two. This means that it is essential that you pick your coaches wisely. Choose a coach that is a proven quantity — one that not only has a good reputation, but a longstanding one with many respected singers and conductors.

At the coaching itself, absolutely know the music and words, but go beyond and give a performance. (It is a terrible waste of your money to have coaches plunking out notes.) Be ready to work extremely hard and to receive honest feedback. The best coaches have many years of experience, and we assume you are coming to us because you think we have something to offer. We will not be shy about telling you what we think, in terms of language, phrasing, style, etc. Be a sponge and try everything. If our suggestions don't work for you, it's not a problem. If we hear a vocal technique problem, we will often say something. Again, don't be afraid to try our suggestions. If you find our recommendations helpful, go to your voice teacher and work further on this area together.

My personal passion is having audio history. Listen to everyone who has ever recorded your specific work before you attend a coaching. It is imperative that you are familiar with the style of the piece, and hearing a variety of interpretat
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