FB: This is Volume 20-something of the Berklee Oral History Project, I’m Fred Bouchard and our guest today is Lisa Thorson, an esteemed, popular member of the voice department here at Berklee. Lisa’s been on the scene here since 1996, and has had a long and distinguished career as a singer, actress, and music educator. Lisa, so nice to have you here today to talk about... LT: Nice to be here FB: Music! LT: Yeah. FB: Our favorite subject. LT: Yeah, yeah. FB: We were talking before we came in here about our favorite singers and composers and, you know, good repertoire. I, uh, maybe we could jump in with a little bit of that, and talk about the fact that you’re going to be picking up your voice teacher at the train station in an hour or two from now, Jeanie? LT: Jeanie LoVetri FB: Why is she so special? LT: She’s special because, why is she so special. She’s special because, for a few reasons. She’s devoted her life to teaching for the last, I would say, 30 or 35 years, and to the art of teaching. She’s special because she’s a pioneer in investigating vocal science, and acoustics, and physiology as it applies to vocal production. FB: You mean the voice box and the thorax and all that? LT: Yep, all of that. How the vocal folds work, developing different kinds of things that elicit different responses from the mechanism. She’s special because she’s actually codified this and she has three levels of a course that she teaches on the university level, that teaches other people how to do this. It’s specifically geared towards contemporary styles of singing, so non-classical basically, although she is a classical singer by training, but she’s worked with many many Broadway, jazz singers, pop-rock singers. I think she’s really special, when I found out some of my friends and colleagues were studying with her, I said “Gotta take a lesson with Jeanie and find out what’s going on here, what’s different.” I think she’s special more than anything else because not only has she devoted herself to this real thorough investigation into how the voice works, and how to get people to do that. But, should I keep going? FB: Yeah. LT: Or should I stop? With the phone? FB: Whatever, it’ll stop in a minute. LT: But, when you watch Jeanie teach for the first time, she doesn’t do exercises that are complicated with regard to notes. She does things that we would thing would be very simple. FB: You mean like long tones and things like that? LT: Mmm, yeah, but she doesn’t do any, you know, fancy scales... FB: Uh-huh LT: ...or those kinds of, just very what you would think of these sort of average vocal exercise, major scales and arpeggios, you know, those kinds of things. But she asks people to do sometimes very unusual things with their voices to get their cords and their apparatus to function in a certain way so that they can realize what they want to do, in terms of sound. But, what I was going to say is the most special thing about her is when you watch her teach, and even if she’s just working with somebody for the very first time, she sits at the piano, and she just starts to play very slowly, and she closes her eyes. And she doesn’t even watch the person at first, which for me as a teacher is very unusual, because I’m usually watching. FB: Mm-hm LT: Do they have tension in their jaw, do they have tension in their neck, are they breathing, you know, that kind of, while you’re hearing at the same time. FB: So it’s purely aural for her. LT: She, yeah, because she can tell what’s going on physiologically just by the sound that’s being produced. FB: Great. LT: So it’s, and I’ve seen her in 20 minutes do things that seem like magic… FB: Wow. LT: ...with people. She just is, she’s a technical wizard, you know, and she works with some of the best singers that I know, you know, and she’s, for me, in terms of studying with Jeanie, I was counting that before I got here, how many voice teachers I’ve had, I’ve been studying since I was 16, so 35 years, off and on, you know. And I think I had, one, two, three, four, five, six, eight teachers, but I say seven, because one guy almost destroyed my voice my first year of undergrad school at Boston Conservatory, but I’ve had seven teachers, and Jeanie is just, for me is like in the right place at the right time, because of now sort of my teaching career, and also because she’s taken the whole study of the voice to another level, which I find is really exciting. FB: It must be inspirational for your students to realize that you’re still a student, and that, you know, the learning and development of musical skills and techniques is a lifelong experience. How do you impart that kind of wisdom to the kids who just walk in the door the first time, or people, you know, with students that you have one-on-one with? LT: I mean, I always let them know that I’ve studied with a number of teachers, that they have different methods. I’m not indoctrinated into a way. I mean, just because I study with Jeanie now and she does certain kinds of things, it’s not like, you know, I’m holding the banner saying this is the only way. So, I mean, I really like to let them know that they need to get information from a lot of different sources and assimilate it into what works for them. There’s some very basic things that, you know, everybody has in common that they teach, but the art of teaching voice in particular is, um, sometimes you have to say things three or four different ways to somebody to be able to understand what it is that they need to do because it’s very allusive. FB: Yeah, it’s not a, everything’s internal, it’s not like a saxophone technique or piano scales, it’s all inside. LT: Yeah, I mean, you can ask somebody to look in the mirror and say, you know, loosen your jaw, or don’t furrow your brow, or do those kinds of things which will start to add tension, you know, into the mechanism. But it’s not like we have like an ultrasound thing on that you can go, you know. And you’re not, I mean, some things you’re not, you’re not, you can’t move consciously. You can’t. There’s not, you know, you don’t have nerve stimulus to be able to do it consciously so sometimes, you know, it’s metaphoric, sometimes it is physical, but I guess, you know, going back to what you originally asked, I let them, I guess it’s sort of like, you know, learning about improvising, there’s not just one way. And sometimes that’s difficult for students because they want you to say “This is the way, and this is the way. This is the path.” You know. And I do that to a certain degree and then I have to say, “You know, I’m not going to be with you all the time, so you have to learn to start to diagnose yourself.” FB: Yeah, internalize what I’m giving you and then adapt it to your best uses. LT: Yeah, and then also when you go to the practice room, or two years from now if you don’t have a teacher, and you’re running into a wall, you have to be able to self diagnose, and figure out what’s going on and if you can’t figure out what’s going on then you need to go see a teacher. And that’s what happened to me, basically, I mean that’s why I studied with the number of people that I did because sure, I learned how to sing, you know, well, by the time I was 16, 17, 18 years old, but there were things that I couldn’t do. And so when I hit those walls, whether it was, you know, having an accident and having to, you know, sing sitting down, or just getting stuck, or just knowing that I couldn’t be as creative as I wanted to, that’s when I sought out somebody who could give me just sort of like a fresh look… FB: Uh-huh LT: … on what it is. So, I mean, I just say to them, improvising and technique you study your whole life. And maybe not every musician or dancer or actor says that but for me, it’s the way that is has to be.