Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dolora Zajick knows big voices ... and isn't afraid to train them.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter were privy to this little anecdote from & about Yours Truly. Upon leaving the Christmas Eve Service at St. John's in Brooklyn, I tweeted:


We bigger voices tend to hear this quite often. And, if not this specifically, we hear that we are singing too loudly, that we are ruining our voices, or that we are unrefined.

A few years ago, I was singing with a small opera company which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. While in rehearsals, the cast members were given the opportunity to audition for the larger company in town. I'd like to point out that I use the word "audition" rather loosely considering the person for whom we sang had absolutely no baring on who they hired as janitors, much less on casting decisions.

But, we showed up and sang anyway.

I sang two arias and felt that they both went very well. At the end of my second aria, the auditioner said to me, "I'm not sure who you're studying voice with, but you either need to change teachers or reassess the way you sing. If you keep singing like that, you wont be singing past your 30th birthday."

Let the record show that this year marks the 4th anniversary of my 30th birthday ... and I'm still singing.

I think we would all be shocked at how many larger voices are either dismissed or crammed into a smaller box. Most of the time the reason is because people don't know what to do with a larger voice because larger voices take longer to develop and are more difficult to refine and cultivate.

Mezzo soprano Dolora Zajick knows this first hand. In a recent article written by Brian Manternach for Classical Singer Magazine, Ms. Zajick says:
“I was lucky in that I had a teacher that understood what my voice was from the very beginning,” Zajick says. “I was in pretty good technical shape when I arrived to New York. But it wasn’t refined yet. There were a lot of people at the school that did not understand me and there were a handful that did. I ran into a lot of flack for the size of my voice,” she continues, “but because of that handful of people that understood, I stuck to my guns. I was told a thousand times that I was ruining my voice, but my voice teacher said I wasn’t, so I believed her.”
Ms. Zajick has taken that experience and built on it - not only creating an international operatic career, but also forming The Institute For Young Dramatic Voices, which began 3 years ago. The Institute's website says in part:
There is a severe shortage of large, dramatic voices in the opera world today, especially for the great roles of the Verdi, Strauss and Wagner repertoire. A dramatic voice is one large enough to be heard over these composers’ heavy orchestration. Lighter, lyric voices are often pushed into these dramatic voice parts to fill this void - often shortening their careers as a result. The Institute for Young Dramatic Voices aims to remedy this situation by finding, nurturing and inspiring the next generation of Wagner, Strauss and Verdi singers, so that these unique talents may reach the world’s great opera stages.
As General Director, in addition to being a member of the voice faculty, Ms. Zajick has assembled quite a list of faculty members including Kathleen Kelly, Joel Revzen, and Peak Performance Coach - Dr. Jon Skidmore, Psy.D.

The Institute for Young Dramatic Voices, which takes place during the summer in Orem, Utah, has four program levels: Discovery Level - Ages 15-20, Introductory Level - Ages 15-22, Intermediate Level - Ages 23-29 and Advanced Level Ages - 27-34. If you don't fit into these age groups, there are several possibilities available to audit the program. Auditors are allowed to observe classes and lessons each day, including the daily warm-up with Ms. Zajick.

Again from the Classical Singer article:
Zajick acknowledges that while the Institute is certainly not for every singer wishing to pursue an operatic career, she is thankful for the good fortune in her own life of having teachers who understood how to guide her voice as it developed. “But,” she says, “I saw a lot of colleagues that weren’t that lucky. When I was older, I could tell the difference—but when I was these kids’ age, there’s no way I would have been able to tell the difference. So, I’m here to guide them. That’s the purpose. And I firmly believe that if you give me 10 years—and that’s seven years more from this point—I can increase the number of Wagnerian and Verdi singers. I know that’s a little bravado, but I think I can do it—if I live long enough!” she laughs.
We wish the Institute all the best and can't wait to hear some of it's alums in the near future.


Links:

For more information on The Institute For Young Dramatic Voices, please check out their website.

For more on the Institute's faculty, including bios and links, visit their faculty page.

To read Brian Manternach's article in Classical Singer Magazine: Handled with Care: Dolora Zajick and The Institute for Young Dramatic Voices, click here.

[Photo - Dolora Zajick by John-Francis Bourke]

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