As part of Health and Wellness week, we interviewed Marisa De Silva about the Alexander Technique and how it can support your students' vocals and overall wellness.…
My musical story isn't fancy or spectacular. I didn't have this incredible voice, perform in any major roles or travel the world singing. (Well, I did once with my college choir). I have never won any major competitions (unless they were choir competitions). I didn't take the “Performance” route in college, and not because I didn’t think I could sing well, it was because I had a very intense desire to teach. My story, though painful at times, is intended to inspire and give others hope!
In college, I was told by a voice teacher on staff, that I sounded so bad after a voice jury, she wanted to pour Drano down my throat! (I lived in the Texas Hill Country and, like everyone else, suffered from bad seasonal allergies, which had a major affect on my singing). She couldn't see how I could possibly be successful as a singer or a teacher. She strongly recommended that I change my major. It was my wonderful college choir director, who inspired me to continue on. He said my failures would make me a great teacher, and I would be more sympathetic and understanding with my students. It is partly because of him, and partly because of her (to silence her voice in my head and to prove her wrong), that I do what I do today.
My success has come from my failures!
I had a good voice as a child, and sang often enough to know that music would always be part of my life. My choir journey started in 4th grade and continued throughout all my years of school! I tried out for countless things: school productions, All-Region Choir, solos, NATS, and pretty much failed every time! I only excelled in ensemble singing. I was also a good dancer and got lots of dance and chorus roles, but that was the extent of it. With so many failures, I naturally developed a huge fear of performing solo in public and refused to so, unless it was a requirement to graduate!
I started getting so discouraged and asked myself why my voice was declining over the years, especially when I thought I was doing everything my teachers were telling me to do. I just didn’t get it! I know my college voice teacher, who was an amazing man and taught me so much about music and repertoire, probably thought I was crazy at times. I would run out of lessons in tears when I just could not understand what he was trying to get me to do. He was a very patient man and gave me lots of grace, but again, I just didn’t get it. I thought I was so stupid and completely lacked the ability to sing. At one point, I actually considered quitting school and becoming a hairstylist. After all, I gained more respect from another one of the voice teachers by cutting her hair on a regular basis, than by my singing ability!
Just out of my pure love for singing, I kept at it, succumbing to the fact that I would probably be a great choir singer all my life. I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Music Degree and was certified in the state of Texas with an All-Level Teaching Certificate. I moved to Houston, where I taught middle/high school choir and sang with the Houston Symphony Chorus for 5 years. I was even the Alto section leader! Then I moved to Austin, and taught choir to all ages for about 6 years. My choirs were award-winning groups and I had a great time working with them! I worked in some great (and one not so great) public schools and when I moved to Austin, I started an organization for homeschoolers in the Central Texas Area, which became a premier activity for homeschoolers.
During my first years of teaching, I thought that I didn’t need to be able to sing well or to understand singing in order to teach choir. I quickly discovered the error in that thinking! One day, I had to teach a student a voice lesson during my conference period. It was on a day when my former high school choir director (who I respect immensely) came to work with my high school choir as a guest clinician before a major contest. I realized, out of great embarrassment, that I had no idea what I was teaching my student and was mortified that he was within earshot! I whispered the whole lesson, praying that my former director couldn’t hear what I was saying!
I enjoyed teaching choir, I loved my students and I really felt I was doing some great things. Most of all, I knew I was making a difference in so many lives. However, what I came to realize was that somehow I was “missing the boat”. I loved how some of my students sang, but I couldn't figure out what they were doing to sound so good! I asked other choir teachers that I respected, and they admitted that they didn’t know either. I kept searching for answers and was very intrigued by my desire to learn more, but I just never found anything other than what I already knew.
After my 11 years of teaching, I took a ten-year break from singing, due to frustration and poor technique. I experienced lots of tension, pain and I sounded bad! I also took a six-year break from teaching to be a caregiver for my terminally ill father. After his passing, I eventually returned to teaching. I knew I couldn’t go back to the way I was teaching before and I desperately needed something new! I started my search all over again. I listened to singers that I liked at church and found out they were studying with Gene Raymond. I called and booked a lesson and felt immediately comfortable with him because he was so easy-going and non-judgmental. Plus, he taught at my former high school! I studied with him for 2 - 1/2 years and was thrilled with all the things I was starting to do that I had never been able to before! My voice was not only healing, but it was growing. I look back and think that some of the best days of my life involved singing and having those “a-ha” moments during lessons with Gene, Jeffrey and other Master Teachers!
As I committed to the precertification process, I had been teaching a few students and began to focus on building my voice studio. I started applying the technique and saw a huge improvement with my students. It was very exciting and somewhat mind-boggling. What is even more thrilling is to know that my students are now winning those special solos, lead roles and awards that I never won!
Now, I’m happy to report that I sing all the time. I sing much better in my 50’s than I did in my 20’s! My voice is strong, clear and pain free even though I still deal with allergies. The fear of performing and failing is gone and I love to sing in public!
Because of IVA, and all the extensive amount of training I have had, I feel much more confident in my teaching.
I don’t ever have to whisper through my lessons for fear that I will be heard and judged, because I am no longer blind. My studio is very full and I have people waiting for lesson spots. I love the excitement I see in my students’ eyes when they understand what they doing and they can feel their progress. I love their successes and I am really looking forward to the future. Many of them are going on to do some huge things with their music and I get to be the proud “Mama”. The most interesting thing is now I have taught some of my old friends from high school and college, as well as other singers that were trained the same way I was originally, and it’s amazing to know that they were all feeling the same way that I was. Wow, who knew?! One of my greatest satisfactions is being able to re-teach some students I taught before IVA!
My goal for the future is to continue singing and teaching, however, I really want to build a program to implement this technique into our school system in Texas, so that other students don't fall through the cracks, as I did. I want teachers who are questioning their knowledge and skills to have these incredible tools! I want every young singer to have the opportunity to learn this technique and have access to these tools far earlier than I ever did. I want my students to have confidence in their singing so I am working hard to do my part in that. First off, I have vowed only to be honest but to do so with love, and never to tell anyone that they need Drano poured down their throat! I am so glad I have had the voice of some wonderful teachers and Master Teachers in this system to replace the ugly voices from my past. This is what I am meant to do. This is my passion and for that I am very grateful to those who have put this program together so that I can continue to grow and be an effective person in the lives of my students. This road certainly hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it!
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