Elizabeth Daniels, Teacher of Singing

Elizabeth Daniels is a popular and highly-respected teacher of singing in the Washington, DC area, working with classical singers in opera, oratorio, chamber music and art song. I am including here a few short paragraphs about her teaching because she does not have much of a web presence.

Her singing students have won, or placed in, many prestigious vocal competitions including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Awards, Operalia, the Liederkranz Competition, Das Lied International Song Competition, the Jenny Lind Competition and the Seoul International Music Competition. Many of her students have been accepted into coveted opera apprentice programs including those of Des Moines Opera, Sarasota Opera, Opera North, the Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz and the Tanglewood, Ravinia and Aspen Summer Music Festivals.

She was a long-time voice student of the late, great Todd Duncan, George Gershwin’s hand-picked ‘Porgy’ for his opera. Porgy and Bess. Duncan was a well-beloved voice teacher himself.  Liz is the preferred private voice teacher for the Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz program, and was a 2011 Master Voice Teacher for the National Association of Teachers of Singing Intern Program. She has been named a Rosa Ponselle Teacher of the Year and was an adjunct faculty member at Curtis Institue of Music, The University of Maryland/College Park, MD and the Catholic University of America.

I first met Liz 29 years ago (!) at the final auditions for a professional vocal octet sponsored by Wolftrap Foundation for the Arts to be conducted by the late choral conductor, Paul Traver.

Over the three hour audition, Dr. Traver grouped the 12 finalists into various combinations until he found the sound he wanted, and whittled the 12 down to 8. Liz made it. I did not.

But in a classic example of why you “never know what will come out of an audition,” Liz remembered me and called several months later to say how disappointed she was that I was not hired to sing with her. What followed has been 29 years of working together as singing and teaching colleagues, including founding The Washington Vocal Consortium. (1987-2012.) Sixteen of those years she has also been my principle voice teacher and mentor. Since we first met, I have admired her service and work ethic, her musicianship, her technical knowledge and success as a teacher of singing, and success in combining family with a music career.

I chose her as the first singer/singing teacher for my Guest Blog Post Series and caught up with her recently for an interview. Liz doesn’t have a large web presence, but her “marketing strategy” for an over-flowing private studio and workshop schedule, is, as she says, “the singer standing at the other end of the piano.”

Liz goes on to say, “Nothing succeeds like success. If your student is singing well and out working, your name as their teacher gets around. But what many people who want to study with me don’t realize is that every singer is different with a different set of needs. Every singer is a different instrument. I can not guarantee them success, but I CAN guarantee that if we work well together, they will be singing better in three months than when they started.

I am not afraid to give it to students straight. When someone comes in and says they want to sing at the Met, I say that there are so many steps between where they are now and that goal that they need to learn to be satisfied with small success and take one step at a time. It takes years and years to build a voice, no matter what people think. Our culture wants everything “yesterday,” instant this and that.

Cate:
Your own singing career included opera, oratorio and recital. What genres did you enjoy the most?

Liz:
I obviously LOVE opera, but the kinds of opera characters that my light lyric soprano voice were best suited for sometimes bored me, unless they were comedic. Oratorio was very lucrative, but my favorite art form is the art song and the art of the concert recital. I am in love with the nuance, color, and drama of art song, all distilled into a few minutes per song.

As you know, I am a board member of Vocal Arts DC. and Chair of their Education Program. I also run their Discovery Series Vocal Competition, which brings young professional singers into the community to introduce students of all ages to art song.

Cate:
Assuming a singer has talent, what do you consider the most important attributes that contribute to their success as an artist?

Liz:
1) Directed and Focused Energy

2) A natural confidence–some are born with it. It is not conceit, but the understanding that you absolutely deserve to be heard. Some people have to work awfully heard to feel they deserve to be heard.

3) The ability to realistically identify and capitalize on your strengths, and the humility to strengthen your weaknesses.

4) The ability to come up with a concrete plan for not repeating large mistakes. You know the proverbial wisdom–anger turned inward is depression. Well, if a singer makes a mistake–sure, get angry, but that needs to lead you to practice to correct it.   The teacher must help redirect a defeatest or scattered mindset to positive action. This is as important as the technical and artistic training.

5) Willingness to work on health and appearance. Like it or not, we live in a media age and people pay attention to grooming and health.

Cate:
I think that one of your strengths is that when you take a student on, you commit to helping them to the best of your ability. Even when you were performing and raising children, you were present for your students.

Liz:
Frankly, it always astonished me–and this happens often–when a singer says ‘thank you for always believing in me.’ Well, if someone is listening to me, working and improving, why wouldn’t you believe in them? We’re not talking about chasing perfection here–that is always a moving target.

And here’s the magic of the singers’ art–when you are able to sing something very well, the line between technique and expression becomes very blurred–you begin to enjoy the sensations of technique which enable you to sing something that elicits emotion–and you get to the point where you cannot separate that technical, physical sensation from the sensation of the emotion–in a way, the technical becomes the emotional…It’s never a question of giving up one to have the other.