Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor: What perfect timing with your issue about singing the National Anthem! I found the article to be interesting and informative, as it is a popular topic these days. I will be performing the National Anthem this month. I have been told that the stadium holds 7500 and generally sells out. As I have shared the news with my colleagues, the very first question they ask is, “So, how did you get that job?” I am certain that they will find your article interesting as well.

My question for you is “What to Wear?” As this is something that I have never done before such a large audience, I am not sure what would be the best attire. My audition and recital wardrobe consists mainly of dresses that are on the dressy or more formal side (requiring heels), and that seems to be “too much” for the ballpark. Shorts, on the other hand, seem to be “too casual,” especially after years of performing with the mindset that a long dress looks better on stage, etc. I certainly want to dress appropriately. Is it too hokey to wear red, white & and blue? I would like to come off “mainstream” but still be recognized as a performer.

P.S. Many, many more thanks for providing us with such a great magazine…the topics are always current and of interest. I have gained much understanding on the business of singing and all that it involves. Please, more articles on those of us with children, juggling schedules when the kids are small, coping with being overwhelmed, and how to just keep your head above water without blowing it! —Lisa DiFilippo Raborn, via e-mail

I have noticed at the Rockies games that the singers usually go for “upscale casual.” That could be a sundress and sandals, or for men, slacks (khakis, Dockers…) and a non-T-shirt top. You are right, a dress would probably be too formal. I think jeans and T-shirt is probably too informal. I think red, white, and blue, or any combination would be fine. Since Sept 11, no one seems embarrassed to show our patriotic colors. Congratulations and good luck on your solo! —Cynthia Vaughn, author of “So You Want to Sing The National Anthem.”

Editor’s note:The following letter is from Lucine Amara, who was on the cover of Classical Singer magazine in October 1998 as one of the remarkable sopranos of our time. She sang leading roles at the Met for many years and is still singing very well although she is in her seventies. She often sings for functions in New York City.

Dear Editor: I was HORRIFIED at the report about the abuse from some of these “teachers.” I have been seriously toying with the idea of writing an article regarding my very strong feelings on this whole issue. Some of these so-called teachers should be taken out and horsewhipped! As you know I am the Artistic Director of the the New Jersey Versimo Opera. Every year for 12 years we have had a vocal competition. The technical prowess of the singers has gotten worse and worse. Years ago it was rare to find a singer not using belly-breathing. Now it is rare to even find a singer who knows what it is. We constantly see singers using the “smile position” for the “A” and “E” vowels,: another great “no-no.”NO-NO! Who the hell is teaching these people??? My other great complaint is a lot of these conservatories telling kids not to move their arms or hands when they sing. You don’t stand like a statue when you talk to your friends, so why would you stand like that to present an aria unless, of course, your character IS a statue! This “emote with the voice” is a bunch of crap! The whole body is involved in great singing. They cannot be separated. This is the reason I find a lot of today’s singers are constantly “in gola” and chest breathing. Don’t these teachers know that anything breathed above the diaphagm cannot be controlled by the diaphagm??? Folks, this is not rocket science! These are the physical mechanics of the human form.

The other item that makes me furious is coaches who think they are now voice teachers. I could name some names, but for obvious reasons I shall not. If the teacher cannot demonstrate what the student is doing wrong and vocalize the correct placement, they are (as far as I’m concerned) USELESS. We learn many things in life by mimicking. That does not mean, however, the student should attempt to “mimic” the teacher’s sound (this should also be made absolutely clear by the teacher) but try to access the placement of that sound. Every voice is different, and minor adjustment must always be made for this. There is never any reason for a teacher to abuse a student, either emotionally or physically. When in a learning position everyone is insecure and unsure of themselves. This is the time the student needs the most support. They don’t need to be pumped up by lying to them, nor do they warrant abuse. When a teacher is reduced to blaming the student, it merely shows their inadequacy as a teacher. I know a number of well known teachers who constantly berate their students as stupid and blame them for everything. What a tragedy and travesty! I don’t care how famous a teacher is, NO ONE has the right to do that to another human being. Find another teacher.

That brings me to my next point. I have never been one to recommend people very much unless I truly believe they can deliver what they say. My adopted daughter, Evelyn La Quaif, who is a fine soprano in her own right, is also the only teacher I recommend to anyone. Her teaching technique is clear, concise, and most importantly, supportive. She teaches EXACTLY the way I sing and have sung for 55 years. Whenever I have to sing these days Evelyn warms my voice up. When I am sick with a cold, she often gives me pointers on how to keep the sounds flowing through the passaggio. I know she finds this amusing and a little unsettling as I am supposed to be the “diva.” However, every day I hear what she does with her students, (I often stick my nose in and make comments) and I agree with everything she teaches. The proof of the pudding is how quickly her people improve. Nor does she charge an arm and a leg;, another sore point of mine. Where do these teachers get the nerve to charge the outragous fees they do? How do they expect young singers to foot these bills? In the old days we had patrons. These no longer exist: another tragedy. So unless these poor kids work the streets (ho ho), most day gigs are NOT going to cut it!

Well, thank you for letting me vent my frustrations regarding teacher, abuse, etc. I am not alone in these thoughts. Many of my colleagues agree with me and have told me so. But I guess we are old fashioned and the “dinosaurs” of the opera world, and what we think doesn’t count anymore. However, with all the houses that are now secretly using michrophones (which would be, in my era, considered a sin deserving 12 stations of the cross), I think my point makes itself. —Lucine Amara, New York City

Your words carry a lot of weight because of what you’ve done and the fact that your voice has lasted so many years. Physically and emotionally, you’ve obviously got the right formula. Many thousands of young singers are going to read this particular issue as it goes to all the colleges and universities with vocal programs. It is the reason we saved your letter for this issue. Thank you for taking time to support classical singers. We hope you’ll continue to let us know how we’re doing. Editor

CJ Williamson

CJ Williamson founded Classical Singer magazine. She served as Editor-in-Chief until her death in July, 2005. For comments on this article or other articles, e-mail editorial@classicalsinger.com.