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Interview with Spanish vocal coach and author Isabel Villagar

In the first of a series of interviews with experts in their field, I have asked the Spanish vocal coach and author Isabel Villagar about how her work with young singers and especially how to prepare them for auditions. She has written six important books in Spanish about singing, covering topics such as singing in a chorus, singing with children, etc. 

  1. How did you get started in music?

Ever since I was a child, there was music in my life. I sang in the school’s choir and then I studied piano and singing, ending up with both diplomas. When I was eighteen I went to university to study engineering. Science has given me a scientific approach to teaching singing. Many members of my family are teachers and I think I have a teacher’s soul. Maybe that’s the reason why I studied singing pedagogy for four years, finishing with honors. I have always put together my career as a singer and singing teacher. 

  1. There is a saying attributed to a general director of an opera house: "Stop sending us singers. Please send us performers." Would you agree with this viewpoint?

Yes, I completely agree. Music without emotion has no sense for me. Singers can sing with a perfect technique but if they don’t move the audience to feel an emotion, success won’t last for them. The public will not pay for singing acrobatics in the long run.

  1. When should a singer start to think about performing?

As a singing teacher, I work both paths: one is the physical body, the mechanism and technique and the other is the emotion and the interpretation. Every singer can work both sides from the beginning. A singer should work expression and emotion in one piece where they are technically competent. This is the reason why I give repertoires that are either easy, medium or difficult. When students master emotion and interpretation in an easy piece, then they know it feels and they can progress to the next level. In the end, they can apply it to an entire role. For this kind of work, emotional intelligence and body perception have a special place in my singing lessons because this work helps the singer improve their technique also.

  1. What about preparation for auditions? What are the best ways of achieving the right mindset and physical preparation?

An audition is a job interview and singers must know that they should try many times and always go in with a positive feeling. Besides, a “no” today is not a “no” forever so try, try and try again for that “yes”. I tell my singers that the week before an audition they should concentrate more on their mindset than their voice. They must rest the voice. It is important to pay attention to the details and internalize the singing lessons. I give lots of ideas on how to organize study flow: voice, musical and mental work. On my website, www.labrujuladelcanto.com , students can download the singer’s wheel (la Rueda del Cantante) and I explain how to use it in my book “Guía práctica para cantar” (“Practical guide to singing”). Note: in Spanish, but understandable for those of us who can't speak that language.

On the other hand, I say that they should enter an audition with a great “YES” in their minds and help the employer. Nobody wants to work with a difficult person. A smile and a flexible attitude are very important.

Here are some tips for beginners:

- Get your sheet music for the role you’ll sing you are auditioning for. If the panel wants to hear something else, you’ll be prepared.

- Be on time and prepared in voice and mind.

- Be polite to the organization and colleagues. 

- Be concentrated and positive. 

- Sing happy!

  1. How do singers tackle problems and find solutions?

The first one is to find a good singing teacher, as soon as possible. This saves time and money. I understood this when I began to study at Montserrat Caballé’s school. The breathing technique that I learned there is for all kind of styles and genres because it is well founded in anatomy and physiology. I find that if a singer doesn’t learn the right breathing technique, voice production, resonance and articulation won’t be good. A good teacher must cover all aspects: music, voice, psychology, pedagogy, anatomy, voice science, languages, repertoire, styles … and must always be up to date. Voice science give us so much information and the 21st-century singing teacher should be prepared for new challenges. Search in NATS, EVTA or similar associations of Teachers of Singing. I always tell students that if they are with a new teacher and in two months they don’t see and feel progress, evolution in the way they sing, they must change. On the other hand, they must feel better at the end of the lesson. Neuro-education tells us that learning is better when the emotional climate is positive. 

  1. Did things ever go wrong for you onstage? How did you master that moment?

No, I haven’t personally had a disaster on stage. But things can certainly go wrong and singers must be alert to the situation, adapting their interpretation and action with a cold mind and a hot heart, so to say.

Thank you, Isabel Villagar, for the interview and your valuable comments.

If you are interested in learning more about Isabel's technique and courses, please visit her website https://www.isabelvillagar.com/ and https://www.labrujuladelcanto.com/

 

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