Sitting at my desk, rarely taking the opportunity to leave for lunch, I was intrigued when I saw the Elm post, “Broadway 101 Event at Hippodrome: Learn to Sing with Becky Mossing.”
One of my five children, now a college freshman, has been studying classical voice since early middle school. For years, I have sat on the sidelines listening to her instructor teach her and observing her performances. But for me, a “shower singer” who can barely remember the words, I thought this would be a great opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and into my daughter’s shoes. I clicked the link to sign up.
On the day of the event, we were escorted through the side door of the Hippodrome, where we could sneak a quick peek at the inner operations of the theater, an exciting opportunity to be sure. We quickly took an elevator up to a small rehearsal room that featured an upright piano and mirrored walls and was encircled by a two-tiered ballet bar.
Mossing introduced herself and began sharing her operatic knowledge with our group of attendees from across the University of Maryland System. It was the second event in the series, arranged through the UMB Council for the Arts & Culture, and she indicated that it was going to be a hands-on — or should we say “voice-on” — vocal lesson.
Mossing started our experience by explaining that she likes to teach through visualization, creating many visual scenarios that help her protégés identify with the principals and technique she fosters. So we immediately got into singer-stance, a neutral position that was like a tree — knees slightly bent, but not locked, and loose limbs. This anchored us and gave us the perception of power and strength while creating a pathway for better energy flow with our breath.
Next, we envisioned a large, fat straw pulling air into our mouths, channeling it through our airways and filling our abdomens. Even though we all understood that breathing involves air entering our lungs, Mossing wanted us to learn that what we really need to do to be in control of our singing is to direct or “channel” that energy into our stomach area. This technique actually results in more oxygen filling our lung space, which enhances our ability to peacefully push out the melodic “me, may, ma, mow, mu” sounds she next instructed us to emit. We visualized our “sound” (aka our “voice”) filling all of the sinuses in our faces and heads. She demonstrated how to casually release the sound from our throat and let it spill over our lips, causing a vibration as it was liberated.
As the lesson continued, we were asked to identify a strong female singer: Collectively, we selected Beyoncé. Mossing explained that one of the most important aspects of singing is that we need to develop great technique, but technique alone will not make us great singers. It’s the combination of learned skill with passion that gives connectivity to what we are singing. So we all channeled our inner Beyoncé and continued to use our “head voices” as the lesson carried on.
We were each handed a copy of “What I Did for Love,” one of the musical scores from A Chorus Line. Most of the attendees were familiar with reading music and the musical selection, so the fun began! We read through the music and began to sing. Mossing kept reminding us to use our head voices. We repeated stanzas and focused on controlling our sound as opposed to “belting” out the tune. After 15 minutes of rehearsal, we actually sounded quite good.
We ended the lesson with a fun exercise — each attendee selected a sound to make vocally. We went around the circle, one after another, adding on to the existing sounds. The first person started by repeating “beeeeeep-bop,” the next person added “whiirrr,” someone chimed in with a low “laaaaaa,” and next, a high-pitched “ding.” The additions continued until collectively we produced a melodic tune.
We were all quite impressed with our accomplishments during the hourlong lesson. It was great to take a midday break from our work to not only become educated in the fine art of opera, but also have fun while meeting new colleagues. Certainly, no one is ready to perform at the coveted Super Bowl halftime show in February, but a few participants left planning to sign up for additional vocal lessons. Holly Hammond, laboratory research specialist at the School of Medicine, summed it up as follows: “This class was wonderful! … [It was] a real day maker! Thank you so much for the Hippodrome series! [It is a] very wonderful benefit of employment at the University.”
For more on the Council for the Arts & Culture, and to get information on other upcoming Broadway 101 events at the Hippodrome, visit the council’s web page.
— Dana Rampolla