Exploration of Our True Voices: The Beginning of the VACS Musical Voice Lab

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By Susan Tsang

“Skillsharing” might sound like a strange, and even confusing term when you first stumbling upon it. To simply put, people skillshare when they exchange their skills with one another, whether they are singing, improvise acting, or cooking. Skillshares is only a part of a bigger picture of connecting the community through meaningful interactions. Vancouver Arts Colloquium presents a series of skillshares workshops that link people in one place to build our skills as well as the community.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 4.52.03 PMOn June 18, as soon as the Upcycling Fabric workshop led by the creative Colleen Rhodes had been completed, people trickled into the room for the Musical Voice Lab to learn from the skilled Dramatic Soprano Jane Perrett. Our group consisted a wide range of people aged from ten to sixty but we openly shared our experiences (or lack of experiences) with one another. We got to know each other as past choir members, curious people, some who had taken lessons before and ceased singing for years, and I belong to the last group. Like everyone else, I was excited to pioneer the unexplored territory of our voices.

Most of us had found out about the workshop through Jane. We were attracted to her uplifting voice and exhilarating opera performances. Along with her friend Leo (also a singer and an instructor) who played the piano and offered tips, we were set to generate music together. First, we touched base with the basic Italian “i” (pronounced “e”). Jane instructed that saying “i” correctly is the foundation of singing; knowing how to imitate properly with our voices is helpful for beginners to polish the basic skills. The process was a novel and interesting one because it was like learning a new language, we tightened our lips muscles to spew out the “i” that sounded like strong punches. After we mastered the single sound, we moved onto singing a string of “mi me ma mo mu”. Voicing out those silly sounds was not the challenging part; the most nerve-wrecking mission was standing up in the semi-circle to have a mini solo. A lot of us started off in a shaky tone, but we gained our confidence as we placed trust in Jane to guide our singing. We cheered each other on and appreciated the hidden talents in a light-hearted way. Following Leo’s climbing crescendo on the piano, each person pushes their notes higher along the instrument from c to g and beyond. It was thrilling to hear our voices in unimaginable ranges. 

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 4.52.14 PMWhether we received praises or useful feedbacks, the group was prepared to finally use the warmed up voices to ensemble our own unique harmony. When a participant expressed a key concern of hitting all the right notes, Jane said, “You can practice the piece over and over and listen to the song.” If we listen carefully, we can hear our voices flying backwards, gliding smoothly through air, instead of strained voices going up and down. Besides producing the right sound on our own, we were required to listen closely to one another to make one perfect sound. Our ears are necessary for doing anything right—those were words to live by to create any harmony. 

For the last part of the session, we graduated from harmonizing a single sound to singing “Edelweiss” as a group. Even though not all of us knew the words to the song, we enjoyed putting all of what we had learned to sound like an amicable chorus. After the song was over, Debra Sparrow shared a story of a gift of gratitude she had accepted in the form of an old Bible full of edelweiss between the pages. She marvelled at the rarity of the flowers that grew out of reach on mountains. The edelweiss are like our voices. We have to climb high to attain them but it is not entirely impossible to unearth our true voices. Once we have discovered them, it would be something that we can all hold dear to. 

 Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 4.53.31 PMThrough harmonizing with our precious voices, we contributed our singing skills to craft something astounding to our ears, something bigger than our own. A skillshares workshop successfully joined people together to share their experiences and advices in a comfortable space. We gradually became fearless of demonstrating what kind of singing voice that we had to offer to the group. The possibility of our voices were boundless and one of our brave attendees showed her potential right away. She was the first participant of the Master’s Class where participants performed a piece in front of the entire class. Though she started out on a shy tone, she displayed that she was capable of covering all the notes and letting loose herself to tell the story with intriguing hand gestures and imploring expressions. After the first session, the group was ready to explore different genres of singing, including opera singing, in the upcoming workshops. We all welcome you to join us on the journey of skillshares every third Saturday from 3pm-5pm until January at David Eby MLA Community Office.