Adrienne Angel has been described as “The best voice teacher in the world!” It's a big statement by the woman referred to as the Queen of Broadway: Bernadette Peters. Peters should know better than anyone else – she's been a student of Angel since 1983 and still sounds incredible at the age of 67.
Peters isn't the only famous student of Angel. Her past and present students include: Cher, Ann Reinking, Mary Tyler Moore, Christine Baranski, Kenneth Branagh, Armand Assante, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Krakowski, Cybill Shepherd, Jason Alexander, Joel Gray, Swoosie Kurtz, Joan Jett, Sheena Easton, Bridget Fonda, and Jessica Walter. It's an impressive list of celebrity names – and explains why she's referred to as the best in the world. But it does beg the question: Just how did Angel become voice teacher to the stars?
Angel originally started out as a performer. She was well established into her professional career when her own voice teacher, Seth Riggs, boldly informed Angel, “I'm moving to California and you're taking over my studio.” Riggs is a legendary voice teacher himself – and already had a list of celebrities he was working with. Becoming a voice teacher was not part of Angel's plan for her career – she was a performer, not a teacher. Riggs convinced Angel that she actually knew more about voice teaching than most voice teachers in New York. So Angel spent some time watching Riggs at work before he handed over his studio with quite a large number of established students. Although it was initially somewhat intimidating, Angel quickly realised just how much she loved to teach and that this was indeed an incredible gift she had been given.
Initially, Angel tried to combine her work as a voice teacher with a professional career as a performer. When she left to perform on tour she missed her students, but when she focused only on the voice teaching she missed performing. Ultimately, after her role in the Sandy Duncan production of Peter Pan, Angel realised she needed to give up her extraordinary performing life to stay home and be a voice teacher. Angel says her work is almost like a religious calling – very appropriate for someone with the surname of Angel.
Starting out in classical musical theatre, Angel learnt not only what to teach, but also what not to teach. She realised she had a gift in teaching others what she had learnt over the years. Her student list grew mostly by word of mouth. Cher became a student of Angel's as the result of a discussion by Bernadette Peters with her own personal trainer – who also happened to be Cher's personal trainer. Cher was looking for a voice teacher and so Peters' trainer recommended Angel. Cher has been her student ever since.
I asked Angel what is was like to work with these big name celebrities – expecting there might be some divas amongst them. Angel assured me, quite honestly, that all her students are really good to work with and all very well behaved. She said they may be difficult with other people but never with her. She said they are coming to her for help with their voice and therefore are very appreciative of her expertise and guidance. Some of her students are professional singers, like Peters and Cher, but some are simply actors or dancers who need to improve their singing for an upcoming role or audition. Sometimes they are sent to Angel from a movie studio. One of her most delightful students to work with was Kenneth Branagh, who she says is a superb baritenor. Despite working with Branagh, the movie company decided to have Elton John sing the songs allocated to Branagh instead.
In her experience, Angel has found the bigger the talent, the nicer and more humble the person, and the easier they are to work with. They listen to her advice and are appreciative of her input. On her latest album, Closer to the Truth, Cher writes: I want to thank my personal angel, my vocal teacher, Ms Adrienne Angel, for keeping my voice stronger than ever! And yes, “the tip of my tongue is forward and against the base of my teeth.”
Talking to Angel, her love for her work and her students is evident. As she talks about how proud she is of each of them and what lovely people they are, it is very clear why some of the biggest names in showbiz have remained with Angel for so many years. Angel is delightful. She is also incredibly knowledgeable and an excellent teacher. Australians have a unique opportunity to learn from the best by attending a masterclass with Angel when she comes to Australia in April this year.
The masterclass is open to anyone. She encourages singers, performers, dancers, actors and other voice teachers to attend. Angel says she often attends the masterclasses and lessons of other teachers. Angel visited Melbourne in 2011 and is hoping people who attended will return. The masterclass will run from 10am to 1pm and then Bernadette Peters will join her on stage from 1pm. It's a double deal: the world's best voice teacher and the Queen of Broadway on stage together!
In the masterclass, Angel will explain what she refers to as the “7 Deadly Sins” of vocalism. She says if you can avoid these things you will have a good future. She will have a number of singers present on stage whom she will critique, give some advice to and then see if anything changes. The masterclass will also cover vocal exercises and posture.
The other benefit of attending this one-off masterclass is it will give participants an idea of what to expect of a voice teacher. Angel says she is often asked by people how to find a good voice teacher in their own area and so she hopes to set some standards for people to look for. The masterclass is really designed for people aged 15 years and up. She loves working with beginners but they need to serious about what they are doing and make the personal choice to want to be a singer or performer (rather than a mother choosing it for their child who may not really want to follow this path.)
The lesson I took away from our conversation is that even the best still need a voice teacher. Angel likened it to the recent Olympics, where even the elite athletes had their coach nearby. She said a voice coach is someone who can listen and be objective – perhaps just noticing small variations here and there requiring improvement. It may be when a performer becomes very busy and is tired or becoming sick. Angel will notice just slight differences that need attention.
It's not often a performer can receive expert advice from one of the world's best voice teachers. No matter who you are, you're bound to come away with something helpful from this masterclass. Don't miss it!
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