Rachel Velarde

Rachel Velarde

I began my music career in Bloomington, Indiana. After receiving my B.A. in Music from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, I earned two Master of Music degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. Luminaries I have worked with include Vernon Hartman, James Caraher, Lorenzo Malfatti, Shirlee Emmons, Mary Sue Hyatt, John Sikora, David Jones, David Britton, and Carol Smith. I offer private, one-on-one weekly or twice-weekly instruction to students of all ages. I am also Adjunct Voice Faculty at Grand Canyon University, and am beginning the pursuit of my DMA at Arizona State University. I accompany my students on piano as much as possible, and I encourage healthy singing, coupled with a working knowledge of the voice. My goal as a teacher is to give my students a “toolbox” for their vocal technique, so that they can work towards a healthy, free and easy production. My students should be able to sing for a lifetime of enjoyment. Singing is, above all, FUN. If you love it, you can learn it.

I care what you DO want.

Why do we spend so much time worrying about what we don’t want in life (& singing)?  I learned SO much from my three days with Shirlee Emmons at an Arizona NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) workshop in 2007  that it is still influencing my thoughts of how I approach life and teaching.  Her book Power Performance for Singers, co-written with sports psychologist Alma Thomas, focuses on how to think so that we perform better.  Unfortunately, we lost Shirlee in 2010, but her thoughts and words are still a daily inspiration to many throughout the singing community.

One of the biggest thoughts I learned from Shirlee that I try to focus on, in singing, teaching & life in general, is that “We don’t care what we don’t want.”  Basically, let’s not focus on what went wrong, let’s focus on what went right and how to repeat it.  To that end, I ask questions of both myself and my students: What happened?  What worked?  What could you do to make it better?  Where did the sound go?  How did it feel?  How did it sound?  What were you thinking about? [···]

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Today – a list of questions to ask ourselves

As private studio teachers, what are we here to do?  Of all people, we surely know how hard it is to make a living in the arts.  What are our expectations of our students’ future?  Do we tie our students’ success into our perception of our own worth?  Do we only teach the students we see as “talented” or will we teach anyone who has the desire to learn?

Future expectations:  What is our goal for our students?  Is not the student who truly desires to improve and works their tail off to gain incremental ground in understanding as important as the student who shows the potential (and the will) to have a career in music?  What about our avocational students who are in lessons just because they enjoy the time taken each week for music, even if it is the only time they touch their instrument?  Should we not take the time to enjoy their time?

Talent: What do we do when we find a “talented” student who just refuses to work?  How do we respond?  Do we get frustrated with them?  How do we help to encourage them to practice/improve?  Is this even our job – to identify and encourage talent?  Even with a “talented” student, what criteria do we have that helps us to identify that talent?  What right do we have, ethically, to tell a student that they have talent, versus not encouraging another student to such a high degree? [···]

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The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature is a fascinating book with the premise that there are six functions of song (music) in human culture.  He backs up his ideas with scientific data, and he frequently uses tales from his own experience as a musician and record producer (in his pre-research scientist days).  He works to answer the questions “Why is there music?” and “Are we musical because our brains made us that way, or are our brains adapted to music because we are musical?”  He explores the social advantages to being a musical being and through the six categories of song, he presents a very cohesive and coherent argument.

The six categories of song, as posited by Levitin, are: Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion and Love.  Songs of Friendship are songs of camaraderie, togetherness and creating a functional large group.  The selective advantages (Levitin talks of evolutionary advantages) of being in a group that works together for a collective whole are obvious.  Society as we know it could not exist if we were unable to get along within larger collectives of people.  A big way of getting a group to work as a unit is through music.  Think of the last time you were at a baseball game and everyone sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”  The entire stadium is able to work together as a unit.  Also, “Music has historically been one of the strongest forces binding together the disenfranchised, the alienated.” (61) [···]

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