Vocalist and teacher Michelle Lang is the latest addition to the faculty at Hendersonville-based WNC Music Academy. Even during this pandemic, the Academy has found responsible ways – online lesson formats, privately archived videos of recitals, socially-distanced private instruction – to allow its students to continue their musical education and creative expression.
Ms. Lang comes on board at a challenging time, but she’s prepared to meet the challenges head-on. In addition to providing voice instruction, she is already laying the groundwork to relaunch the Serenata Chorale in fall 2021, once the Covid-19 vaccine has been widely distributed throughout the population.
You have a background in vocal performance. How do you balance characterization and acting with the singing component of what you do?
Balance is key for all humans, especially singers. What separates good singing from great singing is if the vocalist knows which elements to highlight and when. This takes a lot of repetition and creativity; one of my favorite methods is rapping the text of whatever song I am learning with a metronome.
If I am actively trying to be someone else on stage, if I am not taking ownership of the emotions I am both feeling and portraying, then it doesn’t matter how I move and express my body in front of hundreds of people! Costumes also really help with getting into character.
Looking back on your own music education, what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
The value of a supportive and encouraging mentor. When times were rough and I felt like giving up, my choir director always provided a reflection of the light she saw within me, which allowed me the will to keep pushing forward.
When you are singing a work that’s not in English, is it a challenge to connect with the emotional content of the lyrics?
In some ways I actually prefer singing in a foreign language, because the majority of the audience isn’t expecting to understand every word you are saying! I have more room to connect with expressing beyond language, which is where true magic and fun begin for me.
Most singers get stuck on the belief that they have to be perfect to have an impactful performance, but as long as you look like you know what you are doing, you can usually do pretty well.
What are the advantages of studying vocal technique as opposed to simply “winging it”?
Most singers we hear and idolize in popular music seem to just be “winging it” technique-wise, so I encourage students to do deeper research on artists they fall in love with. Does this technique sound sustainable? If you imitate them, does it hurt? Do they have a background in studying voice? If so, with who? If not, have they had periods in their career where they developed voice-loss or vocal nodules (nodes)?
Studying vocal technique with a teacher allows a singer to hear a reflection of their growth, and offers a stable and consistent place where the singer feels seen, heard, and supported—something that has value way beyond what happens on stage or in the studio.