The CCM Institute at Shenandoah University has become my home away from home. Since my first summer there in 2009, I've fallen in love with the people and the work. I went there to study contemporary vocal pedagogy, but I started my path as an artist there, too.
On the surface, it is simply a place to learn how to teach popular music singing styles (the vast majority of academic programs don't touch them). But in the process of teaching how the voice works in these styles, the vast world of music is also being valued and affirmed as something beautiful and important and diverse and accessible. The teachers who attend are surprised to find themselves opening to the possibility that they've really wanted to sing this music all along, but weren't given the opportunity or the encouragement by their teachers. They open up. They try new sounds. They learn how to foster authenticity in singing and in artistic identity. They learn how to hold a safe space for developing artists, including themselves. By the end of the week, the connections are strong and plentiful.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to join the faculty last summer. It's crazy to me that my name appears beside the vocal pedagogy giants on this team. They're so knowledgable AND so warm. After 10 years together, we're truly a family.
Artistic Director Matt Edwards carries the bulk of the teaching for the week. Executive Director Kathryn Green works behind the scenes to make sure all of the logistics work. It's a gargantuan amount of work for both of them. I'm amazed by how they make it happen.
The rest of the faculty teaches segments on their specialities (science, pedagogy, styles, improv, etc.) while also running breakout sessions and teaching private lessons. My responsibilities for the week included teaching breakout sessions on vocal function, giving private lessons, playing piano for all masterclasses and open mic nights, co-teaching a class on rock/pop styles, and co-teaching a session on commercial gigs, songwriting, and running a private studio. When we're not learning together, we're all hanging out, catching up, and getting to know each other, usually out by the pool at the hotel. It's a crazy, non-stop 9 days, but it's a blast from beginning to end. The collective energy keeps us going.
The Institute made a shift a few years ago to being a place where many contemporary singing approaches are recognized and discussed. Artistic Director Matt Edwards is passionate about the field being one where we learn from each other for the sake of the craft. The Institute began giving the Lifetime Achievement Award last year to people who've made major contributions to the contemporary vocal pedagogy field.
This year, we honored the amazing Mary Saunders-Barton with that award. Mary teaches at Penn State, and started Bel Canto Can Belto, which was one of the first vocal cross training programs in the world. She also recently published a great book on vocal cross training with Plural Publishing. She was SO lovely in every way. Great teacher and wonderful person. Learned so much from her.
We also had Dr. Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock as our guest speaker on roots music. In addition to her great lecture, she led us in singing in African and African-American styles.
For the first time, we had group singing as a part of each open mic night. It gives the participants a chance to just sing for fun. We're not always great about that in academia...so it was a breath of fresh air to do this with peers and colleagues. Thanks to colleague and dear friend Julie Dean for making that happen this year. Here's one of our group sings:
I was over the moon to meet vocal jazz composing/arranging/everything giant Greg Jasperse, who was a participant this year. The WV All-State Chamber Choir did one of his pieces a few years ago under the direction of Mike Engelhardt. The Institute got to experience Greg's amazing piano playing at the open mic nights and jazz masterclass, and he sang and played a beautiful reharm of Skylark at one of the open mic nights.
I also got to meet participant Carla Stickler, who plays Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway. Elphaba is always used as an example of extreme high belting in our videos, but this year we got to hear Elphaba in person, off-mic when Carla agreed to sing for us. It was eye-opening (ear-opening?) for everyone to hear what the voice is doing with and without amplification in "Defying Gravity."
And it's always a blast to serve as pianist for Sheri Sanders' master class. LOVE that woman. Her work in diversity and healing through the medium of musical theatre is astonishing.
It's tough to put into words all that makes that week great, but I hope that gives you a glimpse. The Institute is really special to me, so I wanted to make sure I shared it with you guys. :) Hope you're all having a great summer!