CS Music Teacher Feature: Kathryn Cowdrick

‘’The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

― William Arthur Ward

 

A teacher can help mold and guide a student toward greatness. It is often a selfless art with little fanfare or public appreciation. But we love teachers and we want to highlight the great work that so many are doing and the advise they have for all singers!

CS Music has asked Dr. Brad Hougham, Associate Professor of Performance Studies at Ithaca College School of Music, to highlight standout teachers so singers and teachers alike can gain insights into current trends and incorporate best practices into their singing and teaching routines.

If you have a teacher who you think should be highlighted, email support@csmusic.net.

 

CS Music: Who are we featuring today?

Brad: I was delighted when Kathryn Cowdrick from the Eastman School of Music agreed to give the inaugural interview for this series. For the 17 years Professor Cowdrick has served on the Eastman faculty, she has maintained a successful balance of teaching full-time and continuing her own singing career.  

CS Music: Singing and teaching singing are two different skills. How has she done this?

Brad:  Cowdrick agrees that singing and teaching singing require two very different skill sets.  During her time at San Francisco Opera (in the Merola Program and, subsequently, as an Adler Fellow), she shared the stage with Pavarotti, Horne, Te Kanawa, Von Stade, Freni, and Rysanek, to name only a few, and she says that she learned a lot about singing from having the chance to observe these world-renowned artists so closely.

When I asked where she developed her singing teacher skills, she mentioned several influences.  Cowdrick’s education (BS and MS degrees) is in Speech and Voice Pathology, and she worked professionally in that field while a member of the Juilliard Opera Center.  Her training and experience in this area, coupled with her own singing training has afforded her a unique and valuable perspective.   

Her own singing teachers and coaches, of course, were very influential.  Among them were Grace Hunter, George Gibson, and Dan Ferro.  With true collaborative spirit, Cowdrick recognizes the benefit of having more than just one set of ears listening to a singer and says that the feedback students receive on jury sheets and during competitions such as NATS and Classical Singer help her continually learn.

CS Music: What is her core guiding principles as a teacher?

Brad:  Cowdrick believes her students should “Leave lessons determined to be smarter and braver”.  She said “we learn from what is around us, but art comes from what is in us and what is discovered when we are brave.”

She pursues this in at least three ways:  

1- Professor Cowdrick teaches her students to be independent from the first year of study, helping each to create individualized warm-up protocols and understand the purpose of each exercise.  

2- She expects students to develop a working knowledge of vocal mechanics, so that in addition to singing beautifully, they know the structure and function of their instruments.      

Leave lessons determined to be smarter and braver.

Kathryn Cowdrick

3- Students must be engaged fully in their own process, developing their own opinions about repertoire, aesthetics, and vocal identity.  They keep a ‘voice journal’, in which they organize lesson notes, and collect information they learn from other sources.

CS Music: No doubt she has a “great goal” for her students.

Brad:  Yes. The end-game goal is that “knowledge promotes longevity”.   She wants her students to love poetry, literature, theatre, and film, and she hopes to instill patience and persistence, since the pathway to becoming a fully-realized vocal artist is long, and not always easy.  

CS Music: How have her students reacted and succeeded from her teaching?

Brad: To get further student perspective on Cowdrick’s work, I sent a few questions to Adelaide Boedecker, who has studied with Cowdrick for eight years, starting when she began her MM at Eastman. When I asked Boedecker about her teacher’s greatest strengths, she answered, “first is her immense compassion.” Boedecker added that Cowdrick’s degrees in Speech and Voice Pathology coupled with her thirty-year singing career have given her a “matchless perspective on vocal technique,” allowing Cowdrick to “seamlessly” pair her “scientific background with vocal exercises and imagery to form a practical vocal technique that becomes second nature to the singer.” In addition to all this, Boedecker says Cowdrick also taught her solid business savvy. Cowdrick, herself, hopes her curiosity, her love of learning, her imagination, (not to mention her sense of humor) have served her teaching well.  Perhaps it is not surprising that she believes these are also the qualities of an ideal student.

CS Music: What have you taken away from your interview with Kathryn?

Brad:  Perhaps it is best summarized by when she quoted Oscar Hammerstein: “When you become a teacher, by your students you’ll be taught.” (Anna, The King and I) This sentiment informs her daily work in the studio.  She listens carefully to identify students’ individual needs and goals. In their first lesson, students explain their past successes and challenges, and then, together, they strategize. Because of this individualized approach, a single “method” for teaching technique doesn’t work for her.  Instead, she has a series of priorities. For example, she knows where she wants the voice to sit so that tension is reduced and the voice can travel freely on the breath.  In this way, individual qualities or “vocal fingerprints”, as she calls them, are revealed. Once an optimal ‘position’ for the voice is found, she prioritizes ‘release’ over ‘placement’, and finding true chiaroscuro in each student’s voice.  When you meet her, you will have to ask her about her love of looking into the windows of Tiffany’s and how that has influenced her thinking about the voice!

Professor Cowdrick’s proudest moments as a teacher are witnessing her students’ successes, whether it be sharing the stage with Bette Midler in Hello Dolly, holding the rank of Sergeant in the Army Chorus, raising a family while pursuing an opera career, or being accepted to medical school.

CS Music: And in summary?

Brad:  Let’s end with Pavarotti’s quote which she shared.  “I think a life in music is a life beautifully lived, and this is what I have devoted my life to.”

CS Music Note: Professor Cowdrick is available for consultation lessons and inquiries about vocal study at Eastman School of Music.

Brad Hougham

Brad Hougham is Associate Professor of Voice at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY.  A sought-after pedagogue, he has taught master classes and lessons in Canada, China, Germany, Italy, England, and throughout the United States. This spring, he will give performances and master classes at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and he will adjudicate the Saskatchewan Provincial Vocal Competition in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.