Alison Fraser is featured in today’s Playbill Diva Talk column. I was particularly struck by her talking about her teaching:
Question: The last time we spoke I know you were still in school. I’m wondering if you are still in school or if you finished.
Fraser: That’s done—but I teach there now. I thought about going for my MFA, but all of these shows came up, and I thought, “Well, you know what, I think I have to really take advantage of the fact that I’m wanted right now,” so I had to put that off, but the schooling experience is so fantastic. You can change your life at any juncture of it, and that’s what I did. I turned my life around four years ago by deciding to go back to school, and now I’m a professor at Fordham. I teach a course called “Song as Scene,” and what I get to do is I get to talk to these wonderful students about my philosophy of performing, of conversational singing, of making sure that there’s honesty behind every syllable, of making sure that you’re not just singing for the sake of making noise, which I see so often, especially on things like “American Idol.”… I just say, “When you are in my class, I want to know exactly why you are singing it,” and that to me is much more important than vocal-pyrotechnics, even though vocal-pyrotechnics I admire tremendously—I wish I could do it—but my proudest moments are when I have kids that walk in that think they can’t sing, and I’m like, “You know what, you can sing and this is what we are going to do for you. We are going to choose exactly the right material, and we’re going to make sure that you understand every syllable of what you’re saying. We’re going to make sure that you are comfortably musically—if it’s too high, we’re going to take it down. If it’s too long, we are going to shorten it. We are going to find you a beginning, we are going to find you an ending, and we are going to make damn sure that the urge—the need—that you have to sing this song is evident, that your intention is completely clear.” Matthew McGuire, the head of the theatre department at Fordham, just gave me this wonderful opportunity, and I’ve taught three semesters now, and I’m really having a great time. I’m going to be teaching again in the spring, and that’s daunting, too, because that’s on my plate, so it’s more difficult for me to go out of town, but I really feel strongly about teaching and I feel like I have a peculiarly individual approach to it… This young girl came in singing “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” and she’s a spectacular singer—a great, great singer—and a beautiful young girl. But you have to say, “This isn’t a happy song. This song is not happy, and I have some background here. I sat in rehearsal for many, many weeks, and I know what this song is about, and I know how Arthur Laurents directed it, and I know what he meant when he was writing it, and I saw what Patti LuPone did with it, so let’s try this one again.” If they come in with something that I have a personal relationship to, it’s fantastic. I think I had two kids sing “Hold On,” and I can say, “Well, I know that last note is really hard, but here is a way of approaching it.” Bringing my personal experience to the classroom is fun, but also, I love it when the students bring in material I had no idea about, and one of my other things I say is, “Make sure that the singer is worthy of the song.” For example, if you are not a particularly skilled singer, don’t come in with something that was written specifically for Kristin Chenoweth because there is one of the great voices of our time. Pick something that is a little less vocally challenging. Also, make sure that the song is worthy of the singer—don’t come in with a minor song and expect me to be impressed, unless you really knock my socks off. Start with a good song. Make sure the singer is worthy of the song and that the song is worthy of the singer.