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Melissa began singing in a church choir at the age of four and has been "hooked" ever since. After years of performing in various choirs and taking lessons herself, she went on to earn her Bachelor's degree in vocal performance at Illinois Wesleyan University and her Master's at Illinois State University. Meanwhile, Melissa was also studying piano from childhood through college. Now in her 21st year of playing, Melissa loves to teach beginner and intermediate pianists in addition to young singers. She is a newcomer to the DC area, and has previously lived, sung, and taught in Illinois, Indiana, and Vienna, Austria. Melissa has performed on both the undergraduate and graduate level (and beyond). Her experience includes operas, operettas, recitals, musicals, and choirs. She has performed in venues ranging from the Indianapolis Opera to the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Over the years she has performed in the United States, Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. She also studied piano for many years, and has experience as an accompanist and vocal coach. Other than her pedagogy training and the typical university diction and literature curriculum, she also took 14 years of French, and lived in a German-speaking country for the better part of a year studying the language. Her knowledge of diction and language issues is extensive. This, combined with her comprehensive training in music theory, history, and repertoire, gives her a vast reserve of knowledge and resources for her teaching.
Melissa started teaching during her senior year of college when she took her first vocal pedagogy course. Teaching has been an important part of her schedule ever since. Over the years, she has taught privately, through various community schools, through several national companies, and she served as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at Illinois State University for two years. Thus, she has experience teaching all ages and skill levels. Her students have ranged from beginners to university music majors, from age 3 to age 72.
My method varies greatly depending on the student. I don't use method books with voice students, since the voice is so personal. I don't believe there's any such thing as a "one size fits all" method--lessons should be designed to meet the needs of the individual.
I know that most voice teachers won’t teach kids younger than 12 or 13, and I also know that many parents are probably (rightly) suspicious of the teachers who do, for fear that they’ll hurt kids' young voices. When I work with children, however, I focus primarily on ear training and music theory, knowing that those skills will help them out so much more as adult musicians than prematurely trying to learn advanced techniques. In voices lessons with children, I limit my technique-talk to breathing and vowels. (Of course, for those kids who have no concept of what their head voice is, we work on that, too.) Other than that, we focus heavily on solfège, learning to read music, developing a sense of rhythm and internal pulse, and other musicianship skills. We also learn age-appropriate songs, of course. In lessons with young children, everything is play-based. I make learning experiences into games, and we move between activities quickly to accommodate the kids' attention spans and keep them engaged. I gradually shift my focus to technique and more advanced repertoire once the students reach middle school.
For high school and adult voice students, we focus primarily on technique and learning repertoire. In an hour-long lesson, we might spend 15 or so minutes warming up and doing technique exercises, 10 or so minutes working on music theory, and the remainder of the lesson working on one or two songs or arias we've picked together. Our treatment of the songs will include learning the notes, rhythms, and pronunciation, working on technique, incorporating musicality and artistry, and practicing presentation/acting.
For piano students, I use a mixture of the Faber, Bastien, and Alfred methods, depending on the needs and preferences of the individual student.
In lessons, I strive to keep the atmosphere collaborative rather than dictatorial. I encourage you, the student, to ask questions, and I believe it's imperative for you to understand why what you're learning is important. I do my best to make you feel comfortable trying new things and making mistakes. Ultimately, learning vocal technique requires a delicate balance of putting your trust in the teacher without abandoning individual thought. Knowing this, I try to engender the necessary trust inmy knowledge while collaborating with you to incorporate your own words, metaphors, thoughts, and feelings into your approach. I hope to encourage you to trust me, but not depend on me. I'll equip you with a process—with a solid technique and an understanding of why it will help you, with a good idea of how to practice, with the tools to achieve proper diction and translation without always having to parrot my pronunciation, and of course with the ability to read music and learn new songs without my note-for-note supervision. I don’t hesitate to give my students as much help as they need, but as you grow more advanced and experienced, I become increasingly focused on helping you understand how much you can accomplish in your at-home practice sessions without me. This increases the rate of your progress and ensures that you will not be helpless if you need to stop taking lessons at some point. Singing is great fun, but at times it can seem like hard, frustrating work. Music lessons can either be a huge coup for a person’s sense of self, or they can tear it down and make that person feel inadequate. Knowing this, I strive to keep lessons fun, above all. I believe in my students' talent, and I do my best to be encouraging and supportive, and to instill a sense of pride and achievement.
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