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Teacher Feature: Lina M.

Teacher Feature: Lina M.

Our newest voice and piano teacher, Lina, has performed all over the world, including the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, and a wide variety of other venues in both America and throughout Europe. She won first and second place in two separate NATS competitions, one for contemporary music and the other for musical theatre. She won the contemporary music category conquering the infamously difficult “Chandelier” and “Stone Cold,” and for that has our undying respect! We’re so excited to have her as part of our team.

MM: What instruments do you play, how did you get started with each one, and how long have you played them?

LM: I am a vocalist and play the piano. I started singing in church choir when I was four years old, and I’ve been singing ever since! I started teaching myself to play the piano during college and have fallen in love with the instrument.

MM: Who has inspired you musically?

LM: As an artist, my main motivation is to speak to my own experiences and connect with others who resonate with the sentiments expressed in my music. For this reason, I find my biggest inspiration is artists who aren’t afraid to be vulnerable in their music. Twenty One Pilots and Sia are two artists whose vulnerability inspires me. They both fearlessly address their struggles with mental illness and use their music as a platform to reach others struggling through similar experiences. As a creator, I hope to find the same strength in vulnerability with my own music.

MM: What are your favorite musical genres, and why?

LM: Some of my ultimate favorite genres are soul, gospel R&B, alternative, hip hop, atmospheric rock, modern orchestral, musical theatre and dance music. I love each of these genres for unique reasons, but they all share a deep emotional expression in the music. I also love music that lends itself towards dancing, as I’m a choreographer.

MM: What are your current musical projects?

LM: I’m currently writing and producing my own music. I’m working on expanding my musical knowledge by learning to play more instruments (guitar, drums, and more) and reinforcing my musical theory background.

MM: How do you practice, and how do you balance music with some of your other life goals? How do you help your students practice?

LM: When I practice, I set aside a specific amount of time each day and plan to work through a few specific tasks. For example, if I’m going to be performing a piece for a recital, I’ll plan to work through the diction of the piece for an hour one day, review the trouble spots the next day, and so on. In order to make sure my time is well-balanced, I write out my short term and long term musical goals and decide the most efficient way to work towards those while also granting time for my other time commitments.

I advise my students to treat music practice like they would studying. You shouldn’t throw out your voice practicing all in one day, but instead plan to practice consistently for shorter time periods. I also encourage students to make practice fun by incorporating it into your daily routine in unique ways–that way when it comes time to practice you’re excited for it.

MM: It looks like you’ve performed in quite a few places! Do you have any favorites (country, venue, etc.)?

LM: I’ve performed numerous wonderful places, but one of my favorites was in Vienna, Austria. My choir and I performed in a small church called St. Peterskirche. The beauty of the architecture and artwork inside of the church was unparalleled by anything I’ve ever experienced, and the acoustics and atmosphere made the performance feel ethereal.

MM: I heard you won first in the post-collegiate contemporary music category and second in the collegiate musical theatre category for the NATS competition—congratulations! Tell us about the experience! What did you sing? What was the process like? How did you prepare?

LM: I competed in the Bay Area NATS competition in the contemporary music and musical theatre categories. The experience was wonderful. After consulting with my vocal teacher, Donna Olson, I competed in the Spring and Fall competitions of 2016. I was required to select three diverse pieces to perform, fitting within the parameters of the competition’s official guidelines. After selecting my repertoire, I worked tirelessly to perfect the musicianship and performance of my pieces. Each category was performed in front of a different judge panel of 3-4 NATS members, who scored your performance based on technique, style, stage presence, and preparedness.

For the musical theatre and contemporary music categories I performed a selection including “Breathe” from In the Heights, “Stone Cold” by Demi Lovato and “Chandelier” by Sia, and “Once Upon a Time” from Brooklyn.

My first NATS I placed 1st in the Collegiate Contemporary Music Category, and at my second NATS I was lucky enough to place 1st in the Post-Collegiate Contemporary Music Category! It was an amazing experience seeing all my hard work paid off.

Classical Vocal Program

Should I Go into a Classical Vocal Program

The Julliard School Photo, by Don Ramey Logan under cc by 4.0

A couple years ago, one of my most impressive musical theatre students attended a NATS musical theatre audition. A little background on her: When she started with me, she was most comfortable with a healthy musical theatre belt, but by time she did her audition she also had a glistening head voice and could pull off legit like a pro. Their advice at NATS (after hearing her on a Jason Robert Brown song from The Last Five Years of all things)? That she sounded good but should go pursue a second degree in a classical vocal program.

That advice was completely baffling to me. So instead of continuing to perfect her musical theatre craft and building up her résumé by doing some shows, she should spend the rest of her 20’s rapidly going into debt while getting another degree in a genre of music she wasn’t interested in? Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of crossovers between musical theatre singing and classical. Classical singing would continue to help her develop her breath control, lift her soft palate, strengthen her head voice, and a number of other wonderful things that can easily be applied to musical theatre. It’s just not the right move for someone who’s already a trained singer, who’s getting better at musical theatre singing every week, and who’s in a perfect age range to be on the audition circuit.

So When Should You Go into a Classical Vocal Program?

There are lots of great reasons to pursue a degree like this, but you should go for the right reasons. Here are some excellent reasons to consider it.

1. You Love Classical Singing

This goes without saying, but if classical voice is truly what you want to do–because it’s what you love singing, because you’re interested in an opera career, because you hope to one day teach classical voice at a conservatory, or just because it brings you joy, then by all means, do it!

2. You Really Want to Sing (Pretty Much Anything) in College, and This is Your Only Option

Okay, so this might not be quite as solid a reason as #1, but it’s not a bad one. If you just love singing and don’t care what you sing, you’ll still probably have a great experience. Just make sure you’ve tried out some classical music before making any decisions.

3. You Love Learning New Genres

Maybe you don’t know a ton about classical singing, but if you love learning new genres, new aspects of music history, or just new things in general, it’s pretty likely you’re going to enjoy this!

Who Shouldn’t Go into a Classical Voice Program?

For all the wonderful reasons to go into this, there are plenty of reasons not to as well!

1. You Want to be a Pop Singer (or Any Other Type of Non-Classical Singer) But Want to Learn Good Technique First

No! If you want to learn healthy pop vocal technique, go into a program (or simply to a singing teacher) who specializes in healthy pop vocal technique. There are plenty of wonderful crossovers among the genres, like pitch, support, and breath control, but there are just as many aspects of classical singing you’re going to need to undo once you go back into pop singing.

2. You Want to Sing and Think This is the Best Shot at Getting Paid For It

No, sorry. As tough as it can be “making it” in music, making it in classical singing is one of the tougher vocal fields. The Met pays a full-time living, but the vast majority of opera houses out there don’t. Even if you want to teach singing one day and hope to start your own business doing it, you’ll get more work if you’re great at teaching commercial genres.

3. You’ve Heard that if You Sing Classical You Can Sing Anything

Again, no. Sure, you might be able to hit all the notes in other genres, but the way to get good at a genre is to practice that genre. The way to get good at a few genres is to practice those few genres. There’s no one genre you can sing that’ll make you good at all genres (and to be honest, musical theatre would get you closer to that goal than classical, since it spans more styles and vocal qualities).

To be clear, I’m not at all down on getting a classical vocal degree. I think it’s wonderful for many people. Just go into it because you enjoy the pursuit of it and not because you think it’s what you should be doing. If you love classical singing or want to explore new genres and expand your technique to new areas, then by all means, go for it, but don’t do it because you think it’s what you need to do before singing the type of music you like. It’s a disservice to classical music, which is so much more than a means to an end, and a disservice to pop music, which has its own set of great techniques.

Tiffanie Battram

Student Spotlight: Tiffanie B.

I’d like to start by saying that Tiffanie sells herself very short in this interview. While she makes it sound like she’s done nothing but psych herself out of auditions for the past few years, that isn’t a complete picture of Tiffanie. 1) First off, she’s one of the fastest improving students I’ve seen in years. She learns about how her voice works with an enthusiasm and thoughtfulness that’s extremely rare at any age. 2) She recently got finished both completing an acting intensive at South Coast Repertory and performing in Into the Woods. 3) I was so impressed with her as a student that we hired her to run our after-school singing classes, and since then she’s been one of the most beloved, popular teachers we’ve ever had running the program. 4) Her versatility is truly astounding. Not only does she do all of the above, but she’s also a freelance graphic designer. The only thing that gets in Tiffanie’s way sometimes is that she doesn’t know how well she’s doing.

MM: How did you get started with music?

TB: I didn’t dive in until later as an adult, really. I did piano as a child, and even violin for a *very* short time, but I was *very* over it quickly. My mom was glad we didn’t buy one! I was more involved in the acting side of it all as a child, like I was in Bye Bye Birdie. Acting was this strange, happy world. I suppose it’s sad looking back on it. That was my life until the end of Jr. High, when I felt like I had to choose between sports or arts. And lacrosse had all my friends. It’s not a big looming regret, but just something you wonder about.

In college I took my first singing class, ever. I loved it, but I was still focusing on my main coursework, what I felt like I should be doing. After college I was getting a high-powered job, also what I thought I should do. I moved to LA and worked at a movie studio 15 hours a day, sitting all day. I was very unhappy. And going to these premieres, I felt like I wanted to be on the other side of the red carpet. I joined the Hollywood Academy of Music group to sing pop/Disney songs, it was just a great way to blow off steam. But it made me curious too, so I started researching the technicalities of singing and taking online classes.

I started thinking I wanted to go back to school, but it was too expensive, so instead I began studying privately with Molly. And I had this sense that I was coming to everything with a late start, so I really had to focus on understanding everything, and stopping myself with every little issue to fix it. Learning to keep going through mistakes was big, even my brother was telling me to stop stopping. Molly encouraged me to do the NATS test, which was a lot of work.

MM: How do you share/perform? What are some of your goals?

TB: Right now I don’t really, I need to do better. Everything I do is just for me right now. But I want to audition or record, I’m just not good at it. My mom couldn’t figure out why, but it’s just that I psych myself out. Auditions leave you really vulnerable. This is your art and your passion, and it’s being judged. But teaching the after-school programs with you has been interesting for that, I see how even at that age we are our worst critics. And I’m telling them it’s not about if you mess up but that you recover so others don’t notice, and I tell them how phenomenal they’re doing and I guess I should be taking some of my own advice.

I’d like to record my voice and my ukulele and share it. I’ve never done an open mic so I’d like to get myself out there that way.

What are your favorite songs/books/hobbies?

TB: I’m reading a book about evolutionary science and psychology. I’m a chronic overthinker so I really enjoy getting into why we are the way we are. I’m also reading 100 Essays That’ll Change the Way you Think. But I love mysteries, too. There’s a series about the Collector that’s good.

As for hobbies, I’m big into sewing. I do graphic design, too, and I guess I’m a bit of a DIY crafter, too.
I listen to a lot of alternative music, like Halsey. She’s the girl in “Closer” from the Chainsmokers. But when I’m stressed I’ll also just listen to a lot of yoga melodies in my car. And of course, a ton of musical theater! Hamilton’s “I’m Just a Fool” is a great song.