A guest blog from an advanced singing student who chronicles her journey from beginning singing lessons to now having her own professional successful community singing teaching career, significantly raising the amount of singing happening in the community and increasing the sense of fulfilment for many. She began as someone who loved singing but felt a little insecure and now shines in all that she does.
A good teacher can change your life. They see something in you that you might not be aware of, and they do everything they can to help you see it, even if they are not yet your teacher in any official capacity. It’s just what they do. That is true of Robin, and the wonderful transformation he helped me achieve.
Singing in Choirs
I had been a member of Barnard Castle Choral Society for a few years before Robin joined us as Head of Music at Barney Prep School, and became our (brilliant) accompanist.
As the weeks went by, we started chatting in the tea breaks, and Robin, who had clearly heard me singing my heart out from the front row, invited me to come and be part of the choir he was putting together for Romaldkirk festival.
International Singers and Festivals
This was a brilliant idea of Robin, his friend Martin, and the formidable curate of Romaldkirk church and, between them, they achieved the small miracle of booking the brilliant (and usually retired) singers The Hilliard Ensemble, and the star trumpeter (and, as it turns out, a talented hosepipe player!) Crispin Steel Perkins. It was a fantastic atmosphere, and I had a wonderful time singing Vivaldi’s Gloria with the choir.
My curiosity and confidence was raised sufficiently enough for me to ask to attend the masterclasses taking place the next day. I didn’t have a car at the time, and there are no buses to Romaldkirk on a Sunday, so I walked the 5 miles there through the countryside. It was November, cold and rainy, and I turned up covered in mud. That’s how hooked I was! I knew there were no spaces left, and I hadn’t prepared a piece to sing, but I sat my muddy self at the back and watched in awe at the apparent witchcraft taking place, as Monica the marvellous soprano turned ordinary human voices into those of angels.
At the end, there was 5 minutes left, and brilliant, hard working Monica asked if there was anyone who wanted to sing. I didn’t open my mouth, but my body involuntarily moved upwards, putting me in her intense but kind eyeline – there was no going back. I simply said that I wanted to know what was the next level for my voice, to take it from being correct in pitch to shimmering like an opera singer (I’m paraphrasing, I’m sure I said it much more clumsily at the time in front of the crowd.) So I sang, and it was terrifying, but OK. Monica advised me to clean up my vowel sounds, and I didn’t really know what that meant, but I definitely knew that I wanted to.
Beginner Singing Lessons
I thought that my singing had appeared rather average, but then after the candlelit concert, over a glass of wine and amongst the tiny bats flying around, Monica asked me in her wonderfully direct German style, “What are you doing with your life?” She said that my voice was decent, and encouraged me to explore my singing further. I went to bed on a cloud, and the very next day I asked Robin if he would take me on as a student, and he kindly and immediately agreed.
At the time he was extremely busy working full time at school and teaching in the evenings. He gave me the slot where he used to have a bit of time to himself and his evening snack, so that I could come and see him between me finishing work and us starting choir.
Holistic Singing Lessons
Robin has written an article about how teachers need to also be counsellors, and this was true with me. I was grieving for my Grandad, a very important person in my life, I’d just come out of a very difficult relationship, and I was at the start of a period of great personal discovery and growth. Robin instinctively chose songs for me that as well as developing my voice, helped me find my inner strength, and explore and express my personality. He gave me lots of encouragement in every area of my life, not just my singing.
Singing Lessons for Vocal Technique
He gave me an excellent technical grounding, using lots of fun practical techniques, many of them invented by him, because as well as being a thoroughly nice chap, he is (in my professional opinion), a master of musical magic. As I received requests to teach students myself, lead bands of my own and perform professionally, Robin supported me and freely shared his invaluable advice. He also continued to create and support great opportunities for me.
Advanced Singing Solos
The next year at Romaldkirk Festival, we sang evensong with the Hilliard Ensemble and Robin gave me a solo line. This meant I had a masterclass with the ensemble, an absolutely wonderful opportunity.
When I was asked to sing Mozart’s devilishly difficult Mass in C minor at an informal concert, even though at the time it was very much on the edge of my perceived ability, Robin didn’t bat an eyelid. He simply learned the also rather difficult piano accompaniment, helped me bring out the music and wished me well. And I have to say, I very nearly knocked it out of the park (even the twiddly bit at the end!).
Ongoing Singing Opportunities
Someone in that audience very much enjoyed my performance, and earlier this year I was invited, on her recommendation, to sing at a high profile memorial service. She said that I had “the voice of an angel”. I knew there was no one who I would rather have by my side to accompany me than Robin, and so we did our first professional performance together. It was so wonderful to see ‘the Doc’, as I call him, after COVID-19 and my questionable rural internet connection put a pause on our lessons together (I’ll be coming back to Robin to do my vocal Diploma just as soon as we can sync our diaries!)
Over the years Robin became a good friend, and I was delighted to attend his wedding to Kelly, where he went out of his way to make my rather shy partner feel welcome.
Singing Teacher Career Aspirations
It makes me smile to think that this year we both left our day jobs on more or less the same day, to run our own musical businesses full time. I know that my music business would not have evolved so enjoyably or successfully, without Robin. He is a brilliant teacher, a brilliant human, and I’d recommend him to anyone who loves music.
Rosie’s prime objective is undoubtedly to bring joy and happiness to peoples lives. If you live near the Barnard Castle area and are looking to join a community choir or for some very holistic singing lessons, then Rosie’s website is https://www.happyinharmonymusic.co.uk/
Dr Robin Harrison PhD BMus(Hons)/GradRNCM FNCM ARCO LTCL DipLCM PGCE(QTS) MISM coaches and teaches singing online and face-to-face from beginners to professionals in all styles: