By Renee Salick Ed.D
Dr. King, it is a privilege and honor to have the opportunity to share your career highlights with our audience. As an internationally recognized teacher, you fly into L.A. to work with our young artists three days every month.
How do the great vocal teachers get great? May we recap a bit of your formal academic path?
I was hooked nearly from the beginning. I went to college at Auburn University in Alabama and began by studying biochemistry. When I made the critical discovery that it would never be my passion, I joined the choir and auditioned for the voice program. After acceptance, I started intensively studying voice. Within six months, I was on stage singing in my first show, Gianni Schicchi. I cringe when I think of how I must have sounded then! After that, I entered graduate school at Florida State University and began singing.
In a few short years, you gained noted expertise as an acclaimed singer and esteemed vocal teacher.
Music is a small world, and your students can be your best advertisement. I was teaching a student who was in the finals at the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum competition. The person running the opera studio asked me outright if l would teach for them. She said, “We keep hearing exceptional things from your students!” I agreed to fly from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where I was teaching, to Houston once a week, and give it a try. Rice University became involved and asked me to formally interview with them for a faculty position. I did, and eventually became the Lynette S. Autrey Professor of Voice, and Chair of Vocal Studies at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice.
Singing has provided me with a diverse career. I have been fortunate to sing in Italy, China and throughout the U.S. Once I came to Houston, my teaching left little time for singing. Now, in addition to my responsibilities in Houston and L.A., I am on the artist faculty for Aspen Music Festival, the Ravinia Festival and the International Meistersinger Academy.
Bravo for your combined talents in singing and teaching. Does it work to combine these talents?
Teaching and singing are pretty mutually exclusive. You won’t find a lot of great singers who are also great teachers. They are spending all their time being great singers, which is inward looking. You have to be really good in order to give to the audience what the audience and the music demands. Teaching is the opposite of that—showing someone else how to maximize what they do really doesn’t have anything to do with what you yourself can do.
What do you do to convey the "power of voice" that many students say they get from your unique teaching method?
“Power” is resonance. It is producing the most brilliant sound for the least effort. It’s like swinging a baseball bat or a golf club; the harder the swing doesn’t produce the best result. Producing an operatic sound is a game of momentum and velocity, not effort.
Teaching young singers is a multi-layered and long-term project. Helping each singer discover how to use their voice properly in service to the music takes years of understanding how the voice functions and then, like sports, becoming an elite vocal athlete. This is why the great singers always seem to embody the music without the audience seeing or hearing the technical challenges.
What are you focusing your talents on these days?
I work extensively with young artists at LA Opera and Houston Grand in addition to my teaching at Rice and my other appointments. We have been really fortunate at LAO that singers have won major competitions such as Operalia, Metropolitan Opera, International Belvedere, and been engaged for artistic representation. Recent young artists include Ben Bliss, Nicholas Brownlee, Janai Brugger, Josh Guerrero, Brenton Ryan and Amanda Woodbury. LAO engages on the mainstage some of the approximately 100 singers that I teach–Ana María Martínez, Ryan McKinny, Jamie Barton, Tamara Wilson, J’nai Bridges, and more.
On the personal, home side and hobby side, what are the influences in your life?
After college, I married my beautiful bride, Amy. We live in Houston with our two sons, Matthew and Stewart. Golf is my number one hobby when I am free in Houston. Fly fishing is my boyhood hobby, and I still do it whenever I have down time in Aspen. As a member of the artist faculty of the Aspen Music Festival, I am in Aspen every summer.
Planning your schedule must require finesse in order to achieve at least one of your primary goals, "a comfortable life's balance." Does this get easier from year to year?
I wish. I do love it all.