Published on July 10, 2016
Pleased to post an interview with Prof. Carole Fitzpatrick, soprano and vocal pedagogue. #fellowshipofthelarynx
TVF: Where do you currently teach?
CF: At Arizona State University
TVF: Please tell us about your vocal training and performance history.
CF: I studied Voice Performance at the University of Texas at Austin (where I'm from) and then moved to New York City to follow my voice teacher, Doris Yarick-Cross. I did freelance choral gigging there, and worked as a word-processor (this was the olden days). When my teacher took the position as head of the voice program at Yale, I decided that was my cue to get my Masters degree, and then I also finished the coursework for my doc there. I then saved up my pennies for a year and went to Germany and did an "audition tour." I got lucky -- struck by lightening, really -- and got hired by the city opera house in Dortmund, Germany to sing my debut role, "Micaela" in CARMEN. I ended up staying in Germany for 17 years, singing "first Fach" in Dortmund, Osnabrück, and finally in the State Theatre of Nürnberg. (First Fach essentially means singing the lead roles.)
TVF: How many years have you taught singing? What is your teaching philosophy? What genre of singing do you teach?
CF: I taught privately for many years in Germany, and then in 2005 was fortunate enough to get a position on the faculty at ASU. My teaching philosophy is pretty simple: good, healthy singing is good, healthy singing, and most of that can be applied to any genre -- although I teach primarily classical and musical theatre singers at ASU.
TVF: Do you believe that anyone can learn to sing?
CF: Yes -- I do, after a fashion. Can everyone make a living at it? Not on your life. Almost everyone can learn to sing healthily with their voice, but that doesn't mean they'll be suited for the stage!
TVF: In your experience, what are some of the most common pitfalls in vocal training?
CF: There are a couple of things. One is learning to sing without learning to be a musician. It sounds silly when put that way, doesn't it? But MANY people learn to sing in a vacuum -- don't even learn to read music, much less learn how to play a chord on the piano. And learning by imitating other singers (singing along with recordings only) makes it hard to find your voice -- both literally and figuratively. Another thing is wanting to go too fast too quickly -- singing repertoire that really isn't suited to you, before you're ready.
TVF: What does it take to become a good singer in your opinion?
CF: It takes real self-discipline (which, fortunately for me, can be developed!), hard work, knowledge of self (knowing your strengths and your weaknesses), it takes a quest for knowledge (the moment you think you've learned everything is the moment your brain starts to atrophy!), and yes -- of course -- talent. But really -- talent's only the beginning.
TVF: What do you think about current vocal training programs in the academia? What would you like to see changed?
CF: I think many schools (ASU included) are working to make their programs more multi-faceted. We have to work at preparing our students for the myriad of options that are out there today -- it's one of the reasons I like the ASU set-up: a student can study and participate in Musical Theatre and Classical repertoire, no matter what their actual degree-plan is. This is still fairly unique in academia, and I believe it's the only way to move forward. Many schools will still only "allow" students to study one or the other, and "ne'er the twain shall meet." This is old-fashioned and short-sighted, in my opinion.
TVF: What are some of the difficulties that young singers or emerging singers face in the performing world?
CF: The competition is fierce -- and getting fiercer by the day. You have to take control of everything you can take control of: vocal ability, languages, musical skill and preparedness, research, etc. Also -- the world expects you to fly here and sing there on a second's notice, and that's wearing vocally, physically, and emotionally. Free-lancing (the norm in this country) is just plain hard.
TVF: What advice do you have for child singers and their parents?
CF: A man called me one day and asked me to teach his 8-year-old daughter. I said I didn't teach students that young -- in fact I usually like to wait until after their voices have changed. He said, "well, she's already had five years of lessons." !!!!! I said, "Sir, you called me, so I'm going to give you my best advice: take your child out of voice lessons, put her in a good children's choir (there are a number in the Phoenix metro area) and give her PIANO lessons. She'll not only learn skills while having fun, she'll meet other girls and boys interested in the same things! (That'd be my advice. I apologize to the teachers who might read this who teach younger students -- it's just my take.)
TVF: What is the requisite(s) for a singer of any level?
CF: Joy in singing. If it's not fun for you -- for heaven's sake, don't do it. As a career it doesn't pay enough (except for that very small group of international stars) for it not to be joyful, and if it's just a hobby, find one that does bring you joy!
TVF: Not everyone can have a career at the Metropolitan Opera. In your opinion, who can?
CF: Somebody who gets struck by lightening. Truly -- come on, getting to sing at the Met is just lucky. Why, however, is that the goal? My goal was always simply to make my living singing, and I did that for a very long time. Would it have been fun to sing at the Met (or La Scala, or Covent Garden)? Certainly. The fact that I didn't, in no way diminishes the fulfillment and joy I had in that career. (Also -- it's VERY tough for anybody but the biggest voice singers to sing at the Met -- even in Mozart. It's a barn.)
TVF: What career options do singers have if they can’t have a major career?
CF: I assume you mean "a major SOLO career." I have a number of students making a very nice living as professional choral singers at the moment -- there's a resurgence of professional choirs right now, and it's fun to watch. There are also careers that involve a bunch of things: performing in all sorts of genres and venues, teaching, coaching, mentoring, etc. The possibilities are endless!
TVF: Who are your favorite singers?
CF: Mostly from my school time: Lucia Popp, Mirella Freni, Beverly Sills, Edith Mathis, Kiri Te Kanawa, Margaret Price, and let's not forget Julie Andrews!. (OK, all sopranos, but I'm a soprano, what do you expect?)
TVF: What sparks "joy" for you as a person?
CF: I'm fortunate to be able to say, "a lot of things" to answer this question. Since I've been talking about singing and teaching though, the first thing that jumps to mind is, watching/listening to a student sing something, or perform a role, that I know they simply couldn't have done a year or two years before, and the reason they can is their hard work, with some help from me. That's just a gas.