Over the last two decades, Soprano Victoria Holland has performed everywhere from Illinois venue Ravinia to Il Conservatorio di Parma in Italy. Though I have yet to catch one of her performances, I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from Holland’s vocal instruction. Confident, knowledgeable and down to earth, Holland revitalized my singing practice. Now she’s offering a vocal skills for adults class, designed for singers of all experience levels. The group class, a nice precursor to private voice lessons or supplement to choral singing runs for eight weeks starting November tenth.
Our Town spoke with Holland about performance, teaching, and just what’s so great about Opera.
Our Town Was singing always an ambition?
Victoria Holland Yes, an ambition but also an escape, especially during my teenage years.
OT You have a PhD in Voice and Opera Performance. Why pursue a higher degree in voice?
VH Most singers aren't fully developed or fully trained after undergrad studies alone. Plus, it's a lifelong learning process. Technique must be continually managed, your world view augmented, you're always growing and evolving. You'll never know everything so consider yourself a student ad infinum.
OT What would you say to an opera novice to catch their interest?
VH Opera hits people differently. And production quality can vary greatly. If you're new to the genre, go to the best houses, like Chicago Lyric, the MET in NYC, and Houston Grand. And choose the opera wisely, according to your interests. We all love stories. Some like love stories, others are fascinated with history, or intrigue, or mysticism. It can be overwhelming, so read about the work and the composer before seeing a production. Though sometimes it's fun to go in unprepared and allow yourself to be surprised and transported into another world. It can be helpful to see an opera in its original language and to start with your native language. For English speakers, I love Susannah by Carlisle Floyd or Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten.
OT You’re been singing for years, are pre-performance nerves a problem?
VH I get nervous in a new situation and when I perform a piece for the first time but the nerves aren't debilitating. Once as a young singer, I was singing an aria that was too difficult for me and I was so nervous I closed my eyes in the middle of the aria and didn't open them until I'd finished. Not my finest moment. Last month I was rehearsing for my first Brahms Requiem and my heart rate raced just before I sang the first orchestra rehearsal, but once I started to sing it normalized. It's the fear of the unknown. I felt fine for the performance. And I have ways to stay relaxed before going onstage.
OT Any memorable onstage moments?
VH My first professional performance was a Mozart Requiem in Memphis at age twenty. It felt so great to sing that piece with an orchestra. I thought, if I never perform again, I'll die happy.
OT What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional singer?
VH As in any career, go in with your eyes open. Learn how to sing clearly and beautifully and in ways that engage and affect your audiences. Enjoy any opportunity to sing and learn from the experience. Stick with it. Most singers with successful careers have been singing for decades.
OT What sort of student should take your class?
VH A student with a passion for singing, who wants to better understand how the human voice works and how to apply the knowledge. A student who wants a broader range, who desires camaraderie with other singers.
OT Why start with group lessons before pursuing private lessons?
VH I love small group lessons because if I teach four private lessons in a row to people who haven't studied with me before, much of what I say and do is repeated. Why not get us all together and share the experience? There is camaraderie and more opportunity for fun. Yeah, students get nervous singing in small groups and letting their voice be heard, but it wanes as we build trust, just as in private lessons. And small group lessons are much more affordable!
OT What’s the best way to gain confidence as a singer?
VH Develop technique. If you put yourself in front of an audience, whether friends, family, an audition, or a professional gig, and you don't know what you're doing, you will be scared and will not sing your best. Part of the process of developing technique is to get up and sing for people. But choose your situations wisely until you are confident. Sing for friendly audiences but also for people who will give you honest feedback.
OT What are your teaching methods like?
VH In my work both as a performer and teacher, I strive for the Italian technique of 'Bel Canto' (beautiful singing) Then, depending on the musical style, I work to communicate the intention of the composer. I approach each student individually, assess where they are currently with their singing and work to understand where they want to go. I teach them to use breath to create sound and how to get out of their own way to communicate effectively with the audience. I continue to learn from books, other singers and teachers, and from life and experiences. I absorb that knowledge into my essential being, where it becomes 'knowing'. Teaching, or the transference of knowledge, is an art form in itself. It is the process of turning this 'knowing' into tangible knowledge, which can be given to the student who in turn processes it into their 'knowing.’ This is the cycle, and it's complicated and messy and, to me, the essence of what life's about.
For more information about Holland's class and to register, follow this weblink: http://themusicaloffering.org/node/35
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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