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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Latour

Lessons Learned: Confessions from a Middle-Aged Voice Teacher

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

I was recently informed that I was nominated for the 2021 National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Cal-Western Regional Teacher of the Year Award.

To say I was shocked is an understatement. I am still a bit dumbfounded, but of course, I am deeply honored that I was even nominated. I am used to being the outspoken rebel who is always in trouble. I did chuckle, though, when I found out that one of the nominating teachers described me by aptly stating, “Dr. Latour puts her students first, and she is not afraid to ruffle a few feathers on their behalf.” Fair enough. Guilty as charged.

One of the supporting documents I had to submit was a teaching philosophy. Did I even have a formal teaching philosophy? I had vague recollections of writing one over a decade ago, but it was completely obsolete.

Time to start from scratch. This sent me down a rabbit hole of reflection, and it really made me ponder about how much I have grown as a teacher. The pandemic forced me to evolve. This has been a challenging and crappy year on numerous fronts, but upon some honest soul-searching, I discovered that I have so much for which to be thankful.

The following is part of what I submitted as my teaching philosophy:

It’s not about winning first place, garnering praise for a Metropolitan Opera debut, performing on Broadway, or even having an international singing career. It’s about fostering a life-long love of music, finding confidence through singing, mentoring future voice teachers, and even helping the avocational adult singer discover their knack for German Lieder. It is about collaborating with other voice teachers, effectively communicating with parents, and forging meaningful relationships with local choir teachers and music theatre directors. It is about making a lasting contribution to the world through service to others, through building community, and through helping singers discover their unique and powerful voice.

My teaching philosophy has completely transformed since March of 2020. This has been a year of tumultuous change, uncertainty for the future, and the overwhelming desire to meet this challenge head on. This year has taught me to be a survivor, a fighter, an innovator, and an advocate for others. My teaching philosophy goes beyond just teaching, but has grown into using my voice for change and for making the world a more beautiful place through music.

Meeting the challenge of teaching online has been an enormous surprise. It has changed the way I deliver content, it has enabled me to discover new methods of effectively helping my students, and begrudgingly, it has forced me to embrace technology as an effective tool in the studio. Teaching online has enabled me to tailor learning to the needs of an individual student on so many new and innovative levels. Whether a singer be a kinesthetic, visual, aural or cognitive learner, I have stumbled upon novel ways to engage students. Every student can learn. It has truly been an incredible, fun and frustrating journey.

Caring about the whole person, not just a singer’s vocal development, is also important. It enables you to establish trust so that a student can seek their potential through self-knowledge, awareness and being open and available to new, and sometimes uncomfortable, experiences. Becoming a problem solver for your own voice requires you to acknowledge mental discomfort versus physical discomfort. This can lead to astonishing break-throughs.

Being an effective, informed and empathetic teacher starts with modeling behavior. Learning about the voice is a life-long endeavor. I take great joy in this, and I am constantly trying to improve my teaching. Attending conferences, staying up-to-date with the latest voice science research, developing my technical skills in classical and musical theatre genres, and being active in professional organizations has been instrumental in my continued development.

Singing and teaching is a life-long journey that I readily embrace every day. I am not the same teacher I was five years ago, let alone three decades ago. I am excited to see how I will continue to evolve to better serve my clients in the years to come. And if some of my students do sing at the Met, perform on Broadway, or go on to have fabulous internationals careers, then that is perfectly wonderful, too!

Branding photos by Tomasz Rossa

Hair by Michelle Troy

Make-up by Makeovers By Brandy

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