I was a little shell-shocked after reading the comments on Aeron's June 15 post. I hadn't looked at them when I wrote last week about my enjoyment of her column, and I was amazed at the vitriol. I have taught only a few brief seminars myself, and each has taken a gazillion hours of preparation, as well as intense, sustained focus and concentration during the actual teaching hours. I am in awe of real teachers' dedication and stamina.
So I want to use this week's post to express appreciation for a great teacher I am in the process of taking leave of.
Three years ago, when I registered for my first singing class in over 20 years, I had to walk around the block several times to get up the courage to walk in the door. I had been traumatized by a voice teacher, until my singing voice got so small and weak it almost disappeared. I hadn't tried to sing in front of others for years, until Ben started asking me to sing with him. The thought made me so anxious I knew I needed professional help.
A friend walked me to the first class, to be sure I didn't succumb to the urge to hightail it home at the last minute. When Martha, the teacher, asked each of us to articulate what it was that we wanted from the class, all I could think to say was, "I want to be able to get through a song without passing out."
That almost didn't happen. When I got up to sing my first song, my throat and chest tightened up to the point where I could barely squeak out a sound.
Martha didn't blink. She pointed out that it's easier to achieve volume if you're breathing, and had me do some breathing exercises. Then she had me try the song again. It was weak, but it actually sounded like singing.
The following week, she took away the music and music stand I'd been hiding behind. "You know this song," she said. "Look at your classmates as you sing. They won't throw tomatoes, I promise."
Not only didn't they hurl things, they were actively supportive and kind. (In fact, several of them have since become good friends.)
Each week, she set the bar a little higher for me, and despite my protestations that I could never do whatever task she set me, she insisted and cajoled and, sometimes, bullied me until I did what she said.
The payoff has been immeasurable. She has brought my voice to places I never imagined it could go. My confidence level has soared, and this has radiated into other areas of my life. Two friends from class and I formed a singing group last year, and have performed professionally. We recently added a fourth member and are working up a new, more intricate repertoire. Another partner and I perform duets in nursing homes and senior centers. I am having the time of my life.
And over the years, I have seen her work the same magic on many other singers, both newbies and more accomplished performers. Wherever we were, she worked tirelessly to push us to the next step.
One of the marks of a successful teacher (or parent, or therapist) is that in time your students/children/clients grow to the point where they are ready to move on. I have decided to engage in the next level -- a performance class that focuses on polishing audition pieces. I have Martha's blessing and enthusiastic support. I will miss her but I will take her great gifts with me. I know I will be nervous in the first class, but thanks to her, I also know I will be able to channel my nerves into the emotion of the song and sing out, loud and clear.