I watched and performed in a masterclass at NMSU on Friday with Chinese voice teacher Li Zhang, or Lily as she is affectionately called here. Her teaching style is very simple and is very effective.
Her technique is based off of a hierarchy of three ideas:
- The most important point is the foundation of the breath.
- In the middle is the “vocal conduit”. I have also heard this called the “vocal column” or “column of air”.
- Once prompted by another teacher, she described the “mask” as being a necessary third step but should not be focused upon without the other two in place.
I like this hierarchy, but it is admittedly metaphorical. When she was working with me, I could respond quickly because I had already learned the terms. If her descriptions were her only method, then the MC might not have gone as well. But instead, she used her other major talent (besides singing beautifully). She has a remarkable ability to imitate exactly what a singer is doing and then guide the singer with her hands and her voice toward the better production. Singers responded very well to this.
She was also remarkably honest with her momentary pupils. Lily told one student that she had thought that the student’s voice was inherently not very good until she realized that the student was just not using her breath well enough. She then was very complimentary. She told another young student that her piece, “Una voca poco fa”, was too advanced for the student at this point. In general she was positive about all the students, myself included, and was encouraging.
Another point of interest is this: she admitted that she had once had such serious vocal problems that she had to have surgery. After surgery her new teacher had her sing exercises on [i] vowel for three years. She made the claim that [i] had a way of focusing the vocal folds and counteract breathiness. So, today, I had my students sing on [i] vowel, and in several cases, the results were profound.
We never stop learning!