Article by Jamie Zabel
Walking into the Musical Voice Lab for the first time is an intimidating experience. As a newcomer to the program, this is certainly what I felt at first. However, the actual experience, while it may press your boundaries, is nothing but uplifting. Sitting around the circle of participants and hearing the chatter of people around you, you can tell that friends have been made and that trust has been built. This is inevitably the result of the Musical Voice Lab’s fantastically warm and bubbly facilitator, Jane Perrett. Her open and inviting presence, as well as her willingness to help with even the simplest questions about voice, breaks down any walls that people might have coming into the program.
The Musical Voice Lab is a Skill Share project run by the Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society (VACS) that aims to help people discover and develop their voices. As of now, participants meet once a month to learn songs from a variety of genres as well as vocal techniques. Jane is a Dramatic Coloratura Soprano, meaning that she can hit the high notes with ease while also having a rich darkness to her tone. Performing has been a passion of Jane’s for most of her life, starting as early as high school where she would treat her classmates to performances of ABBA’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” and other popular songs. She would always be the first to volunteer whenever there was an opportunity to sing. While her first love is singing for people, Jane “always knew in the back of [her] mind that [she] wanted to teach.” When Keiko Honda, the president of VACS, approached her about running the Musical Voice Lab, she was hesitant but allowed the courage gained from her passion for music to convince her to give it a try. With the Musical Voice Lab’s last session of its first season having wrapped up on January 21, her attempt has undoubtedly been a success. She was told by one participant, in fact, that he had learned more from her than he had spending $600 on private lessons with other voice teachers.
So, what is it exactly that makes this program so successful? Undoubtedly it is a variety of factors, but a main one is the openness of the sessions. Everyone sits in a circle and warms up their voices together, while Jane ensures to stop and assist anyone who needs it. When the time comes for participants to sing on their own, it is nerve-wracking, certainly, but there is so much support in the room that nervousness ceases to matter. Everyone is there because they love to sing and have a passion for honing their talents. Because of this, there is no pressure in the sessions. Jane simply wants people to be comfortable and to enjoy sharing their voices. The motto of the Musical Voice Lab is “Everyone has a voice” and Jane has shown that she is committed to providing the assistance that people need for them to find their own, unique voice.
It is powerful to be in a room with people who share your passions. I believe that this is the source of the Musical Voice Lab’s supportive atmosphere. Everyone has faced the fear that comes with singing on their own and are therefore encouraging of their fellow participants who have the courage to take that step. Additionally, Jane meets singers exactly where they are in their journeys, whether they are absolute beginners or have been taking voice lessons for several years.
And what’s next for the Musical Voice Lab? This year, Jane is hoping to hold some Master Classes for anyone interested in doing solo work and in really developing their voices. As well, she is hoping to play with the idea of harmonies and putting ensembles together. Finally, Jane would like to showcase the talent of her group at the Opera Zone, an event held at the Kerrisdale Community Centre where she has performed many times.
Keiko, VACS’ president, believes that the ensemble, Apple Choir, led by Ayako Komaki might serve as an excellent model for the Musical Voice Lab in the coming year. Her ensemble has performed at the Opera Zone several times and met with great success. Ayako is a phenomenal singer and pianist herself, who knows, from personal experience, that musical groups are an effective means of connecting with others.
Having moved from Japan to the United Kingdom, and then to Vancouver, Ayako has found music to be a channel that allows her to make genuine connections with people, despite language barriers. In addition to making connections, Ayako has observed in her ensembles the power of music to break through the biases people have about their abilities. As a long time teacher of music, she has found that her students’ voices are always bigger than they think and that there is always hidden potential to be discovered, regardless of the limitations her students place on themselves. It is an important part of the learning process to break through those perceived limitations and have the courage to perform. Ayako’s ensemble has achieved this through participation at the Opera Zone. Keiko believes that the experience of Ayako’s ensemble can be an inspiration for the Musical Voice Lab, as participants begin to feel comfortable with their voices and proud to share the talent that they have built.
So, if you have a passion for voice but don’t know how to bring it to life, or if you simply want to spend some time singing beautiful music with some wonderful and supportive people, the Musical Voice Lab is for you! The next season will be starting in March 2017. And if you want the chance to experience Jane Perrett’s spellbinding voice, come to the next Opera Zone at the Kerrisdale Community Centre on February 5.