This past weekend, I had lunch in Washington, D.C. with my voice teacher from college, Myra Tate. Much more than a voice teacher, Myra helped me, after two years of rigid, top-down conservatory training, to regain my vocal and personal confidence.
While a long lunch wasn't enough time after 13 years apart, we caught up, shared our experiences and discovered new insights together. Here's some of the precious dust from the surface we scratched together:
- Stay Positive I've always felt that Myra never got the credit she deserved for her incredible talents. Yet every time I would go there-- in an effort to compliment her -- she'd thank me and move on to the things she was currently working on and dreaming about. She reminded me in those moments that you never learn anything by criticizing others and that frustration is never the best way forward. Both take time away from new thoughts, ideas and creativity.
- Don't Sugar Coat the Past In recalling a rather personal story, Myra reflected that she could have done a better job than she did. I found myself quick with advice on self-forgiveness, You didn't know then what you know now, ideas and the like. Myra simply smiled and reminded me that it's OK to see the past for what it is. Peace comes when you accept yourself fully -- mistakes and al l-- learn the lessons and move forward.
- Check Your Personal Baggage and Pre-conceived Notions at the Door emotional, intellectual, vocal and otherwise. We had a great time talking about the incredible leaps in our students when we've been able to be completely blank. It's only then that we really hear what someone is sharing and asking of us and are therefore better able to be there for them.
- Vocal Baggage This is particularly true when it comes to the voice. Not only do we all experience singing in a unique way, everyone has his or her own best way of communicating about that experience. It's important to listen to and learn each person's vocal language (verbal and non-verbal), rather than jump in with our own ideas, language and beliefs. While helpful for some, words like high and low and discussing the separate head and chest voices can create a great amount of physical tension for many people. Better to lead by first listening.
- You Are What You Eat Eating clean foods make for a clean body, which make for clear thinking. Why create more hurdles in life by giving your body and mind less than the best fuel available? Respect and honor yourself.
- The Four Agreements A discussion of Miguel Ruiz's book gave us both a smile and a shake of the head in amazement. They really are an incredible foundation for a great life:
Don't make assumptions
Always do your best
Be impeccable with your word
Don't take anything personally
Over dessert, the conversation migrated from a mutual sharing, to Myra asking my opinion on client issues and technical vocal matters. I found myself feeling incredibly flattered my teacher asking for my advice!
And then it occurred to me: In one swift, gasp-inspiring Aha! moment on my drive back to New York that is what a great teacher does. Even all of these years later, Myra was still teaching me, just as she taught me years ago in college, just as her memory and ideas continued to teach me over the years: by listening, by empowering by encouraging new ideas. She allowed me to be her student once again during lunch, then gently encouraged and humbly allowed me to return to the teacher I'd become. This essay first published April 1, 2009 on The Modern Vocalist.com the Internet's #1 community for vocal professionals, voice health practitioners and pro-audio companies worldwide since November 2008.