There are two old jokes in my family that get lobbed whenever someone catches a relative singing. One goes like this:
“Can you sing solo?”
“So low I can’t hear you?”
The other, which I’ve heard a million times, is:
“Hey, can you sing tenor?”
Waaaaait for it.
“Ten … or 20 miles away?”
It doesn’t matter how much you love belting out Adele while driving down the Schuylkill, or chorus-grouping “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the Black Sheep with your friends—you still might sound really bad. But can anyone learn to sing with proper instruction? I’m beginning to believe it’s possible after just four lessons with South Jersey teacher Ken Querns. Even better, I managed to find the time because Querns works via Skype. (He travels to his students’ homes, too, but as a technophile, I opted for the digital route.)
“That’s impossible,” sniffed a music-snob friend. “How can he teach you if he can’t see you up close?”
Well, Ken’s years of Skype instruction mean his ears are practiced at diagnosing problems over computer speakers. “That felt tight in the throat that time, didn’t it?” he said to me once, knowingly. He zeroed in on the trouble with my B-flat even before I knew what B-flat was.
Ken put me at ease as I stood straight-backed (tailbone tucked under!) in front of my laptop, making the kinds of silly sounds you make when you’re learning to sing: lip trills! Head voice! Witchy voice! Giggling voice! Mmmmmm. Ssssss. Zzzzz. There’s something liberating about letting your vocal cords loose in ridiculous ways. What you think your voice sounds like—what Ken labels vocal identity—is intertwined with your ego in ways you don’t even realize until you’re learning to sing.
The learning takes years, Ken points out, while gently reminding me that how much I practice matters. But four lessons in, I’ve already pinpointed one of my main troubles: All this time, I’ve been singing too low. (There’s that vocal identity issue.) Guess what, Mom? I cannot sing tenor. Turns out I’m a soprano.
Singing lessons start at $45 for 30 minutes, with prepayment discounts available. K.E. Querns, Langley, Bel Canto Vocal Studio.