Teaching Philosophy, Michael Donovan
I believe in the unique qualities of each individual student with whom I work, be it in larger class settings or in a private tutorial. A collaborative and nurturing process through sharing skills and technique is essential to empowering the student. This process should always keep the primary objective in sight: the attainment of a wide a range of expressive abilities for communicating ideas, emotions and stories.
While I am demanding, I am consistent and fair with all, regardless of level of accomplishment. In the performance arts, helping students cultivate a constructive and healthy relationship to their bodies is crucial to the process of mastering their instrument. The singer cannot be confident, nor can he or she "deliver," without a healthy sense of self and body.
When teaching music history, music theory and ear-training techniques, one must keep in mind that these subjects are meant to deepen one's understanding, appreciation and, yes, enjoyment of music. History can only resonate with students if the material is made relevant to contemporary issues. Theory and analysis can also steer the student toward a deeper experience of music, instilling a shared sense of the subjective experience of both playing and listening to music. Imparting to students a sense of the historical context and universality of music can provide a broader perspective on the social and cultural significance of the music they study and perform.
More than anything, my vocal technique is informed by Bel Canto principles of singing: the achievement of legato phrasing through proper breath control, resonance and the production of a vibrant, "spinning" tone. A holistic approach to the singing voice can minimize the occurrence of sub-habits that can impede a student's progress. Thus, a working knowledge of both Alexander and Feldenkreis helps in establishing proper posture and alignment in my students from the outset, for the position of the singing body can profoundly impact breathing and resonance, stamina, and even emotional connection. I have also been very successful in applying a method of mode isolation (Wesley Balk) to the singer-actor's practice process, a way of isolating the different facets of the singer's complex tasks, facilitating the achievement of a transparent and economical interplay between the kinesthetic, emotional and vocal demands of the operatic stage.
The breadth of stage experience and training I bring to all genres of the classical voice repertoire (opera, oratorio, art song and new music), and my fluency and literacy in the singing languages, allow me to set realistic goals for my students as they strive to cultivate a vocal production with the necessary dynamic range and flexibility to meet the various demands of all styles.
As a voice teacher, my pedagogy should continuously be informed by the newest voice science. It is now possible to supplement this artistic and sometimes intuitive practice with concrete and fact-based knowledge of the physiology and acoustics of the human voice. My experience with overtone and undertone singing (studies with Michael Vetter), as well as the study of the identification and conscious isolation of formants in the human voice (Miller, McCoy, Gray Miller) give me a unique perspective on the cultivation of a wide palette of vocal colors, as it relates to expression, proper vowel formation, and resonance. In other words, the important intuitive oral aspect of voice assessment is strongest when informed by hard facts--the two are not mutually exclusive!
My musicological research as well as compositional and performance projects such as Schubert Now will carry on, providing a sense of continuity to my growth as an artist and scholar. In my experience, a nurturing and constructive working environment is fostered when both teacher and student have ongoing concurrent processes of growth.