Finding voice with Farris

Friday, October 1, 2004

I remember the audience waiting in anticipation for the fifth-grade talent show to begin. I was to go onstage to sing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," and caught myself thinking, "What could be more fun?" Unlike playing the cello, my instrument since age 5, singing was easy. I didn't have to worry about finger position or reading notes. I simply opened my mouth and out came my voice -- the instrument I was born to use -- to the "delight" of the audience.

Then I started taking singing lessons. And my "carefree" attitude toward singing changed. Immersed in a vague new language of notes and scales, the simple became complex.

Instruction gave way to my worrying about sucking in air to give support to my voice -- watching my stomach grow and deflate like a balloon. Entire lessons were devoted to my working on my breathing. Despite an early passion for singing, I was given to either gasping for breaths between phrasing, singing operatically loud, or sounding like a Marilyn Monroe impersonator.

Then I met Judith Farris.

This summer, as a senior in high school, I was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City where Ms. Farris lives part of the week. A professional singer and voice coach from Cape Girardeau and a graduate of Southeast Missouri State, Judith (a friend of my Uncle Terry and Aunt Kim) changed my world while under her tutelage for six weeks.

Studying under the singing coach to such Broadway greats as Peter Allen, Tyne Daley, Mathew Broderick and the cast of Billy Joel's "Moving Out," I knew I was a long way from the school stage in Missouri.

A little more than intimidated our first lesson, it was Ms. Farris' light-hearted, yet dramatic, approach to voice and passion for life that caught me off guard. Instead of starting off immediately with a song, she comfortably sat me down next to the piano and asked that I sing notes as she played them on the piano.

Within minutes of our first lesson, Judith reminded me of why I liked singing to begin with, and had forgotten. "Speak naturally and find your voice," she would say. "And with that voice, you can sing." Ms. Farris helped me find my voice.

And with my voice, I learned to tell stories through song. The complex became simple again. And my love for Broadway shows, and the telling of stories on stage, came home.

Somewhat soft-spoken before (mostly due to having lived in Japan for half of my life), I now have more of a resonance in my chest. My speaking and singing voices are now one. Who would have thought it would take a trip to New York City and time with a native of Cape Girardeau to find the road back home to my voice?

Forever grateful to the coaching of Judith Farris, who always encouraged my abilities, I approach the stage again next week as the lead in my high school play with the confidence that my voice will be heard.

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