In our first ever "College Week," The Ensemblist is celebrating the myriad of ways aspiring theatre artists receive an education in the arts. Today, we hear from Cortney Wolfson (Kinky Boots, The Addams Family) about her experience at the University of Michigan.
Sophomore year at U of M, each student is assigned a vocal studio- meaning you find out who your voice teacher will be for the next three years. I was assigned to the voice teacher I’d hoped for and was ready to be transformed into a Broadway Princess overnight. After a few lessons, however, my teacher gave a little pushback. She assigned me some songs I wasn’t crazy about and, in a matter of words, challenged me to work harder in order to sound better. I was completely shocked. I was angry with her. "She’s making me sing stuff I don't want to sing.” The song that sticks out is Cole Porter’s "Where, Oh Where” from Out of this World. I hated it. The melody lingered in my lower mix - a place that felt uncomfortable and just sounded “bleh”.
I complained to my roommate and a couple others, who encouraged me to flirt with the idea of switching teachers. The relationship between student and voice teacher in a music theatre program at age 19 is pretty much THE MOST important relationship in that person’s life up to that point. I decided I was going to switch at the start of my Junior year, and since I had to finish out the year where I was, I continued to practice like she told me and put the work in to still make an “A”.
At the end of our Sophomore year, our vocal evaluations arrived. This is the midway point of your college career, where you’re asked to sing, dance, and act for the entire voice and music theatre faculty, in order to assess where you are and where you belong in the years to come. My teacher asked me what I wanted to sing, and to my surprise, I chose “Where, Oh Where”. In all of my complaining and practicing, I learned to strengthen the part of my voice that felt weak and unimpressive. I’d unintentionally trusted the process that she’d presented and in turn, I’d become a better singer. I learned that she wasn’t the problem- my fear of being perceived as untalented was.
I stayed with her - Melody (best name for a voice teacher EVER)- f or the completion of my career at UMich. She became a friend, a therapist, and a very trusted advisor throughout those years. She taught me the simplest lesson of all- PRACTICE TO GET BETTER- and I’m grateful every day for it!
Listen to our episodes on college theatre programs here.