I love musical theatre. As a kid, I dreamed of singing the part of Elphaba in Wicked. I related so much to her. I was always a different shade than my classmates, a little quieter, and a little nerdier. Plus, I admired that she could do magic. While I did some musicals and talent show performances as a young person, my vocals were never terribly strong and after some adolescent embarrassments, I relegated musical theatre to a beloved hobby. Something to sing along to in the shower or during karaoke, but never something to perform in public. I simply wasn’t a singer.
A couple years ago, I moved back to New York City after a few years in the Bay Area and started wondering if I’d given up on my dream of singing onstage too easily. It couldn’t hurt to take some lessons, could it? Eventually, I met Zo, an effervescent performer and teacher, on a Facebook group. They were offering voice lessons. After some back and forth, we finally met for our first lesson last summer. I instantly felt safe in their presence.
While I miss going to my voice teacher’s beautifully appointed apartment, enveloped by their books and sweet cats, I am grateful for our Zoom lessons during quarantine. They help keep me grounded during this terrible time.
Zo Tipp is one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met. Their sprightly, joyous presence is both energizing and grounding. Trained in theatre, classical singing, Feldenkrais, yoga, and more, Zo has an uncanny ability to suss out what I need in a lesson. Sometimes we talk about the musical theatre performers I love, sometimes we spend 40 minutes doing a Feldenkrais body scan, and we always find more sound than I came in the room with. Through our lessons and my independent practice, I have found a new way to connect to my body and my voice.
“That was high C!” Zo exclaims after we finish a lip trill exercise. As someone who has always identified as having limited range, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn how much sound and how many notes I am able to release. While the sound isn’t always “pretty,” it is becoming full and rich and expressive. I still don’t know if I’ll be able to be cast in musicals. But I’m putting in my best shot.
One of the things I hadn’t realized before taking vocal lessons with Zo is that everything that makes my body mine — my anxiety, my tension, my soreness — are all connected to the way I produce sound. Whether consciously or not, I held a belief that if I just tried harder I could sing better. But the reality is that I wasn’t able to find clearer, more resonant sound until I let go. Like many facets of life, singing requires you to “work smarter, not harder.” Body scans force me to confront the places that I’m holding, where I’m facing imbalance, the parts of my body that are working unnecessarily. Am I clenching my jaw when I tap my toe? Can I drop my shoulders? Can I let my hips relax?
Releasing unfettered sound is an incredible joy. There are moments, sometimes full minutes, when I am able to drop my insecurity, relax my body, and simply let the sound out. I hope to find more and more of those moments in my work. (Also, I’m buying myself a digital piano for my birthday to improve my at home singing practice and take up one of my other favorite hobbies again.)
I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that they should take vocal lessons. They are not only great for singers and actors, but for anyone looking to be more…in tune with themselves. As New Yorkers, we get used to a breakneck pace of activity. That doesn’t leave much room for connecting with our humanity. Like yoga or meditation or other types of mind-body connection, vocal lessons offer the opportunity to slow down and listen to yourself. You’ve got a lot to say, after all.
I’m so grateful for Zo and the opportunity they have given me to connect with this part of my spirit and my creativity. I look forward to the day we can meet in person once more, their piano notes and my imperfect but perfectly happy singing ringing through their apartment.
Love and theatre,