Written by Tamara Perez
Last week we had the pleasure of speaking to singing teacher and vocal coach, Mary Hammond during our industry talk. Mary started playing piano at the age of six and she encouraged us to keep up any musical skills we have. It could always come in handy in the future for example actor-musician shows. She later attended the Royal Academy of Music and that is where she studied piano and singing.
Having been a singer herself, Mary was able to offer us advice such as not eating too late and resting the voice and not talking too much if we could tell our voice was tired. She reiterated how important it is for us to keep up our regular singing practice. Especially at times like these, it is important not to leave it up to the last minute. We need to remember to drink enough water and generally take care of ourselves.
Soon Mary started teaching and understanding more about the voice. She remembers becoming interested in the way dancers held their bodies and connected this to how you could hold your body when singing. She became a member of what is now the British Voice Association. While there, she began learning more about the physiology of the voice and urged us to try to understand more about the voice and how it works.
Mary then worked on Les Misérables and helped to get the actors to connect their voices to their bodies. The show originally had more movement, so Mary was brought in to help with the singing since the actors would get tired. She also began working with artists such as Chris Martin. She expressed how she likes to work with artists who write their own music, and work on maintaining their individuality whilst developing the voice.
The Royal Academy of Music later invited Mary back to establish a one-year Musical Theatre course, which she ran for 18 years. Taking what she had learnt from the British Voice Association, she was able to teach new things about the voice and how it works. She reassured us that we can ask questions when we do not know something and grow our knowledge from those around us.
Mary told us that she likes to work with voice and how you can act through it. She stated that she likes to take pieces of a song moment by moment and work on adding vocal colour to it. In Mary’s opinion, you cannot fully convey a story if your voice is not telling it. She works on how you can show how you feel through your voice and works on how to get your voice to be obedient to you to express this. She said that achieving that comes through regular practice. Mary also said how important it is to do scales and regular structured exercises every day. We need to work on all the registers in our voice and make sure they are all strong, particularly middle range for female voices and higher chest registers for male voices.
We then got to have a discussion with Mary about networking. Mary encouraged us to meet people and make sure they know that we exist in the industry. Often, we are too polite and think we might be being too pushy. However, we can introduce ourselves to those whom we may want to work with in the future and perhaps ask for five minutes to hand over a CV. We can also use our show and voice reels to show our previous work. Another great way of meeting people is from the work that you do. We will get to work with some amazing people in the industry and we can get to know them from doing those jobs.
Mary, who has previously been a session singer, was asked by one of the students how they could get into session singing. Nowadays, it seems to be word of mouth. This links back to us going out and networking. Mary suggests that there may be a list on Equity but a lot of people now need people with good sight-reading and pitch so this is also something we could work on.