Frith Trezevant: Singing Teacher based in Bristol, providing Singing Lessons in Bristol and the South West. Image shows Frith making notes with one of her students.
   

 

" Thank you so much for being my singing teacher. I have loved having singing lessons with you - you have always made them really fun with your wicked sense of humour!  Your encouragement and teaching has continued to fire my love of singing - and I know it is certainly something which I will carry on with! "

an unsolicited quote

 

Frith Trezevant, Singing Teacher and Vocal Coach.  Photo Credit: Music Teacher magazine

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Frith's Blog

 

Working with the older singer

April 16th every year is World Voice Day, and the British Voice Association is focusing on voice and aging as its contribution to the day.  The leaflet produced this year outlines some of the many challenges facing older singers, and there’s a warm-up on the website, led by Rebecca Moseley-Morgan who has a strong academic interest in the older singer.

As we age, our voices change to a greater or lesser degree, due to loss of muscle strength and muscle mass, the slow diminishing of breath capacity (we lose 10% of our capacity every 10 years from the age of 25!), health changes, hormonal changes – it’s quite a long list.  But that doesn’t mean that we should stop singing.  In fact, it’s a case of ‘use it or lose it’. 

The enjoyment of singing together is a vital part of many older people’s lives and the prospect of being re-auditioned for their choir – and possibly failing the audition – brings a fair few students to my door.  Many of these singers had lessons in their youth but never again in their adult lives.  Some of the men sang as trebles and never had a lesson with their adult male voice.  So what problems to older singers have, and how can lessons help?

The things that singers bring to me are mostly range loss issues (being unable to find higher pitches or to join low and high registers in women’s voices), instability (a developing wobble in the sound) and problems with tone. 

Often, range problems arise simply because the singer doesn’t know how to access their ‘cry’ or ‘whine’ voice at the top, or how to change gear into their speaking voice at the bottom, or doesn’t have a clear idea of how to support their breath so that their voice works freely.  I use primal sounds to encourage the singer to let their voice rise naturally as it would when whooping or calling, and, amongst other things,  rolled r and lip trill exercises to encourage the larynx to tilt forwards as pitch rises, so that higher notes can be accessed, and then to un-tilt for the low notes. 

Whooping can be very liberating indeed and I highly recommend it! (Moderately! Please don’t go on a whoop-fest and do it for hours on end!)

" ... the older singer brings something special to their music.  A life lived. "

The idea of ‘singing on a yawn’ has had wide currency over the years and is still taught.  The yawn set-up encourages the root of the tongue to press down on the larynx and many a young singer gains a good deal of favour for making a ‘mature’ sound by singing on a yawn, so this habit can become ingrained.  In the older singer, the tension between the larynx’s need to move freely and the inhibiting pressing down of the tongue, along with a low breath flow, may result  in a ‘wobble’ developing, where a too-slow and too-wide vibrato is produced. No choir leader likes this sound!

Undoing the pressing tongue can take a bit of doing.  The cure is to use voiced fricatives (V, Z etc), a generous breath flow, glides and exercises that encourage a soft, fat tongue.  These are nothing if not tedious,  but when the tongue is released, the gains are well worth the effort.  The voice sounds younger, has more stamina, gains in range and vowel clarity.  What’s not to like?
Often, singers have sung on strength alone for many years, and as they age and lose stability, they tend to grip everything – belly, throat, neck, jaw – in an attempt to hold it all together.  Working with Accent Method breathing works a treat with these issues and singing becomes easier as well as better. Sometimes, the gripping is because there is no connection to abdominal support. When these voices get joined up, they can sound thrilling and full and free. 

But not all voice issues are technical.  When there is a specific health issue that is affecting voicing, it is always a good idea to take that back to an experienced health professional, usually at a Voice Clinic as sometimes voice issues are a sign of something outside of technique. 

British Voice Association: The Voice and Ageing. Click to link to pdfBut the older singer brings something special to their music.  A life lived.

All songs are about love and death or both.  All of them.  If the song is about bananas, it’s either about loving bananas, or hating them, or telling of a fatal banana incident.  When an older singer sings a song that they have lived, the effect is often electrifying.

Recently, I attended a regional Festival of Music and Drama, and in the course of the afternoon, there was an Open Recital class.  Three recitals were offered and at the last, a gentleman of a certain age got up to sing.  He would have been over 70.  He was dressed for the part – dark suit, notation-embellished bow tie, the shiniest patent shoes.  His programme was “Six songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’”.

The poetry is by A E Houseman and was written in 1895.  With an emphasis on adolescence, the transience of love, military themes and dying young, it became popular during the Boer War and afterwards during World War I. The composer, George Butterworth, died on the Somme in 1916.

Technically, the singing was not perfect, but this man sang with a soft and plangent tone from the very start.  Maybe he overdid the force in one of his selections, but to hear his singing of “The Lads in their Hundreds’’, with its tale of the ‘lads who will never be old’ was to witness that loss remembered far along in years, and the faithlessness of lost love in ‘When I was One and Twenty’ with its line “And I am two and twenty, and oh, ‘tis true, ‘tis true” sung with long remembrance of time past, ran deep. 

This singer had lived with, through and alongside these poems and had taken a lifetime to learn and embody them.  I was moved to the heart by his turn of phrase, the truth of his utterance, the sincerity and dignity of his bearing, singing of unbearable loss.  I will never forget him.

Frith Trezevant © April 2017
Click the BVA cover to open their pdf on The Voice and Ageing.

 

Southampton Festival of Music and Drama

Veronica's Success

My student, Veronica Lee, competed very successfully at the Southampton Festival of Music and Drama this month.  Here is some of her story.  It’s a bit different.

Veronica is a 74-year-old lady who started singing at the age of 63.  She sings with a choir,  still works ‘helping the elderly to stay independent, so I can pay for my singing and run my car’, and travels a round trip of over 70 miles to have her monthly lesson with me.

She is a regular competitor in the Federation of British and International Veronica Lee: Southampton Festival of Music and Drama. Award WinnerFestivals’ competitions - ‘ My biggest challenge is my memory!’ - and had gained 3 marks at the top of the Commended category (86) and one distinction (88) at her last outing. Her aim was to get better marks – and to win!

We began working together just over a year ago, and I was impressed with the freshness of the top of Veronica’s voice.  It was beautiful.  Getting the rest of her voice to match that quality was the challenge for me.

Veronica is keen on technique, and she practices.  ‘I’d like to do more work on untilted singing and on tongue root’, she announced at the start of a lesson four months ago.  That lesson also included work on her vowels and on maintaining a high tongue, working with ‘twang’, and making sure that she sang to the ends of the notes.  January’s was a milestone lesson, when Veronica began to feel how easy it was to sing with abdominal connection.

I was delighted to receive an email this weekend, letting me know that she had won the French Art Song class, with a Distinction mark of 89.  ‘It is the highest mark that I have ever been awarded and I am really pleased with my progress’.   Veronica sang ‘Les Berceaux’ by Faure.  The adjudicator was an Assistant Chief Examiner for Trinity examinations.  ‘She gave me a hug as I left and said I didn’t sound like a 74-year-old.  I beat a singing teacher and the Adult Singer of the Year from 2015 in that class, and they were both really good’.

I’m as proud as I can be of Veronica’s success.  It proves that you are never too old to learn, and that we can all be better singers.  But more, I’m impressed with her energy and enthusiasm and open mind.  Well done, Veronica!  You’re a star.

Frith Trezevant © March 2017

NB: Veronica's success was also celebrated by the British Voice Association for World Voice Day. HERE

 

Genesis 16

Frith's students accepted for Genesis 16

Congratulations are due to Jessica Haig and Nathan Harrison, two of Frith's private post-grad students currently studying at Cardiff University. Jess (mezzo soprano) has won a place with Genesis 16 for 2015-16 and Nathan (bass) was shortlisted. Genesis 16, the education outreach programme run by The Sixteen, take just 24 singers from a series of national auditions. 
Genesis 16 is the UK's first ever fully-funded programme of its kind and alumni from the first three years have already had much success since graduating.
During the course of a year, a series of week-long and weekend courses are led by key figures from The Sixteen, including founder and conductor Harry Christophers and Associate Conductor Eamonn Dougan.
Click here to visit the Genesis 16 website:

September 2015

 

Nailsea Festival of Music


St Cecelia’s Day, and Benjamin Britten’s 101st birthday.

The competitive festivals in Auckland, New Zealand, gave my two sisters and I our start in performing.  We would be entered every year, in the May and August school holidays, in the Singing, Speech and Drama and once (just me, once was enough) in the Piano classes.  Without being falsely modest, we three often won our classes.  But what the competitions taught us went beyond the etiquette of winning or losing gracefully.  Stage craft, how to find your feet after fluffing your lines, facing performance nerves, how to prepare, taking criticism.  All important lessons.

The competitions also gave us close friendships, some of which have been life-long.
So today I bundled myself in the car and took off for Nailsea to be an observer at their 9th annual Festival of Music.  Nailsea School was the venue and the event was impeccably well run, with plenty of helpful volunteers signposting the various classes and marshalling the competitors after lunch and tea breaks.  A cafe was running in the reception area, with drinks and rolls and cakes for the sustenance of the all-day parents and supporters.  The event felt firmly grounded in this community.

This festival is going from strength to strength.  At the last minute, another adjudicator and accompanist (my friend Carol) had to be hired and a room found due to the large number of singing entries.  Fantastic!

I could write my own review of what I saw and heard, but I think what the day’s experience gave me is a sense of how important it is that these festivals are supported.  These are the grass roots and young shoots.  The youngest competitor I heard would have been aged about 7, the oldest about my age (57 tomorrow!).  Some of these people are hard core.  They do this every year.  They sing in choirs, take lessons (and pay for their children to have them), go to concerts and opera, buy CDs and downloads and sheet music.  This is part of the substrate on which the edifice of music in this country is built.  Nurturing it is paramount. 

In this competition, nurturing came to the fore.  Each competitor was mentioned by name as the adjudicators summed up.  And such adjudicators.  Fair, warm, honest, good-humoured, highly skilled in their art and in their ability to draw something from each performance. For each, an appropriate comment and some encouragement.  I  particularly liked these ones:

"Let the song find its voice in you"

"It’s just another performance.  Don’t make it more important than it is"

"Now what do we have to do to take the next step?"

"There was nothing remotely X-Factor about any of it."

When one set of classes was running ahead of time, there was even a little masterclass, with all the spectators taking part in tongue tip and tongue tension release exercises.   Terrifically helpful tips from a very knowledgeable and experienced singing practitioner.

So.  Good luck for your 10th anniversary on 21/11/2015, Nailsea.  I’m looking forward to bringing along some of my own youngsters and enjoying what I hope will be a bumper festival.

November 2014

 

Vocal Process Webinar Experience

New learning experiences are always interesting, sometimes challenging.  I’ve had one of these this month.  I’ve discovered the webinar, and I’m becoming a fan.

Vocal Process offered me the opportunity to view and review their web offerings, and I jumped at the chance, in the knowledge that these practitioners are invariably well prepared and soundly grounded in their subject. 

My main apprehension was my computer, a machine achingly slow and short of memory - and then my working of it.  Don’t ask me to do anything more complicated than using the thing as a word processor.  I’d rather eat glass.

I tried out a live webinar – number 18, Taking Vocal Technique into Song – and number 6 –  Changing your style without losing your voice - and I listened again to number 18 when I wasn’t tired after a day’s teaching (my sorry condition on taking the live version).

We all need to keep abreast of the latest work in singing technique but courses are expensive and don’t always fit into busy lives.  Just getting home in time for the initial webinar was a near run thing, but connecting up and running was easy, with foolproof instructions.  Working at home is common to most of us now and the added advantage of no transport/parking/catering costs has to be factored in to the cost of taking training like this.  It’s remarkably competitive for what you get.

I found listening again more instructive than I had initially thought.  As Gillyanne says in Webinar 6, here we have structure and detail.  I had started using some of the concepts delineated on the first course in my teaching the next day - ways of thinking and expressing that I had found succinct and useful – and on listening again I encountered more of the same as well as new ideas that set off my own thinking.    It’s great to have more than my initial understanding to be going on with.  Thanks, guys!

The atmosphere on a live webinar is – well – lively.  That is partly down to the presentation.  It’s chatty.  It’s well produced without being slick. Although there is no live video, the graphics are well connected to the material, and participants get to send written comments (some of which are discussed as they come in) and to take part in polls along the way.  Ideas get spread around and you feel encouraged to contribute. And there’s no-one else to hear if you get it wrong!

The mind maps are a tool that I’ve seen Jeremy and Gillyanne use before and I’ve had them on a handout.  Having these on computer is an advantage in my view.  They are bigger and clearer, and of course they act as springboards into your thoughts around the subject, and into new questions.

I had fun with the tasks at the end of webinar 6 – singing in other styles.  I’ll definitely be spending some time this summer playing with repertoire I would normally have labelled as outside my comfort zone.

Overall, this was a very positive experience.  In an age of call centres and passwords, my preference is to work with people rather than machines.  I found the webinar harmonised personal appeal with electronic convenience.  What’s not to likel

 

 

 

This article appeared in the Music Teacher magazine.

Monday
Veronica Vesey-Campbell and I are working with the National Youth Training Choir South on their course in Banbury.  An early morning run and real coffee sets me up for a day’s teaching which starts with a whole-choir warm-up at 9.15.  It’s a mixed choir of youngsters aged 14 to 18.    

My day’s work is to give 19 20-minute individual singing lessons.  Some of the singers are new to the choir and they are first on the list.  The lessons are 4 in a row, and then a 20 minute break so by 1 o’clock I’ve seen 8 of them.  In 20 minutes of listening to a prepared song, I will have had time to work on bringing one aspect of technique into focus.

An hour’s break and it’s back-to-back lessons again.  There’s a short report to write for each one and the intensity of the work is telling.  After dinner I head off to bed.  It’s only 7 o’clock! By 9 I’m awake and getting ready to meet my colleagues from Training Choir North in a comfortable hostelry in the town.  M is for Merlot ...

   
Tuesday
Another morning run – the hill climb back from the village defeats me today.   Warm-up and 8 lessons, and suddenly it’s mid afternoon and we’re running two workshops with half the choir in each one.  Veronica and I decide on a master-class format : 8 singers will get the opportunity to work on technique in front of their peers.  It’s a big ask to get young singers to learn by listening but by the end of the afternoon they have heard some great singing from their friends and the applause is warm and genuine.

Wednesday
After 19 lessons I feel like a gibbering wreck and retire to bed early again.   The beds in the dorms are narrow and high.  It is cold and I am shivering under 4 school-standard duvets.  Someone is playing the French Horn in the room above.  How am I ever going to get to sleep?

2 ½ hours later Veronica taps on the door and we meet in the common room for wine and crisps and shared stories.  The course is going very well and Veronica has been working alongside the conductor in the rehearsal.   It takes an extraordinary confidence to allow someone else to give practical help in the rehearsal situation.  It’s an enormous privilege for the teacher and there’s a great satisfaction in making a small technical adjustment that creates the sound the conductor is looking for.

Thursday
A day teaching at home.  The house is freezing this morning.  The wood-burning stove has been a godsend this winter.  Glenys has her three-yearly re-audition for her local choir coming up.  She’s a bit nervous. “I’m 72.  Should I stop singing?”. No! Definitely not!

Glenys has always thought that she should sing on as little breath as possible so her throat is working with an inadequate breath supply.  She is a retired physiotherapist and it’s easy to get her more connected to her body.  The sound is more stable every time I hear her.  She’s terrifically keen, laughs a good deal, and practices every day.

William sings tenor in the same choir and has his audition at the end of the year so there’s plenty of time to iron out the transition into the top of his voice.  He’s squeezing his throat a bit in order to sound big.  We work on making an easy, connected approach to the top of his voice and the sound is warm and flexible. 

These longer days mean I can take a run with the dogs around Eastville Park in the evening.  Today’s reward – the sight of a moonlit heron standing stock still in the river. 

Friday
Admin morning – I feel stressed out just looking at it all but it’s a new tax year and I have to get sorted out.  I’m increasingly frustrated at the proliferation of tariffs for electricity/gas.  What tariff would you like your singing lesson to be on?  
Standard Domestic Tariff: I turn up but don’t say anything and maybe do your ironing.
Green Tariff:  I plant a tree when you make a mistake.
Paper Free Tariff: No sight reading or sheet music.
Off-Peak Tariff: cheaper lessons at times when I’m exhausted.
Gold Standard Tariff: I actually teach you something.
Silver Standard: you get to sing songs but I do nothing to help you improve.
Economy 7 Tariff: 7 lessons for the price of 10.
Energyplus: we run 5 miles before starting our vocal warm-up.
Fixed Price Tariff: I phone the local singing teachers incognito to find out what they charge and make my lessons cheaper/more expensive. 

I get over myself and book my transport for the NYCGB concert on Sunday in the Royal Albert Hall. It’s been a long week but it’s going to be a fantastic weekend. 

 


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