I was twelve years old when I started hounding my mother for voice lessons. Mama, whose father denied her piano lessons, was an accomplished mandolinist, the instrument her father chose for her. She was also a formidable rival for any loving Tiger Mom. She posed an immediate caveat to my endless badgering. No singing lessons could replace the piano lessons. Her determined daughter, having discovered at age eight the power of the loudest voice in the church children’s choir persisted until Mama relented. My formidable imagination was stoked by all the encouragement from my Greek community telling me I was the next Maria Callas! So it was, this volatile, extremely outgoing child found herself in the studio of the remarkable Priscilla B. Larrabee.
“Mother Larrabee,” as we all called her, posted behind her piano the Code of Ethics for NATS members, and channeled every student to respect and understand a high level of discipline. She was well into her 70’s when she accepted me in her studio. Her sparkling blue eyes, snow-white hair, and mild yet authoritarian manner initiated my early misconception that all good voice teachers had to be “old”! She became a profound influence in my life—taking me to hear the amazing Callas in concert when I was 15, arranging for me to study in White Plains, New York, at age 16, with her teacher Caroline Beeson Fry, another white haired matriarch of teaching and integrity equally committed and involved in NATS. In the summer of 1958, her studio was full of singers from the Metropolitan Opera woodshedding roles for the next season. It only took six weeks for me to become completely smitten with opera. Both of these fine teachers insisted, as Mama did, that the piano must be continued. By age 17, I had been blessed with an incredible start to a singing career. My training continued at University of Michigan, Northwestern University and later in France.
My teaching experiences are rooted in the scholarship of Richard Miller, Hermanus Baer, Eileen Deneen, Lorraine Nubar and Gerard Souzay, all committed NATS members. A major turning point occurred in my career when Monsieur Souzay invited me to work with him, and to perform Ravel’s Scheherazade at the Academie de Musique in Biarritz, France. Our first meeting was a NATS master class in Milwaukee where I performed Hugo Wolf’s Auch kleine Dinge. His affirmation that the most important part of my singing was a finely controlled pianissimo and a profound understanding of the text became the beacon enlightening me as an artist and teacher. For over 45 years, NATS competitions, master classes, conventions, and publications have permeated my life’s work. From the butterflies of performing at NATS events, to the excitement of running regional and state competitions, serving as a mentor, presenting master classes, and for many years serving as a NATS Chicago board member, the National Association of Teachers of Singing has been there for me. The sense of community integrated into continuing education created a foundation for my personal and professional growth. My NATS experiences are intense and important memories. Lifelong friendships with colleagues, endless discoveries, laughter, and joys have been shared and cherished. Of course, there have been challenges and frustrations, but the Code of Ethics Mother Larrabee cherished has led me through my career, and allowed me to look back with gratitude on the important service NATS provides to all its members.
My time in the studio is never fatiguing. I love to teach - always have and still do! Working with the human voice and young talent, researching new repertoire, or pondering a poem with a student stimulates and enlivens my day and my life. May Sarton’s poem Gestalt at Sixty describes perfectly my interactions with students and NATS.
Lovers and friends
I come to you starved
For all you have to give,
A good instrument for all you have to tell me,
For all I have to tell you.
No one comes to this house
Who is not changed.
I meet no one here who does mot change me.
All who are involved with NATS are privileged to enjoy a life’s calling to the discovery and beauty of song. I am honored and proud to be part of its amazing legacy.