Students from the Celia Cruz High School of Music received tips on breathing, voice, and performance from one of the Metropolitan Opera’s top vocal coaches, Deborah Birnbaum. The interactive workshop, the second in two years, was sponsored by Bank of America, a supporter of the Met Opera’s High Definition Live in Schools series.
Student Bianca Perez shyly raised her hand, signaling that she would be the first to stand before her class to sing. As she prepared to perform, Perez placed one hand on her midsection and gently swayed from side to side. Her voice was but a whisper and barely filled the space. When she was finished, her peers clapped enthusiastically.
After acknowledging the young girl’s talent, Birnbaum quickly zeroed in on the girl’s nerves, which she surmised were affecting her performance. She then peeled off some tried and true tips to deal with performance anxiety. She directed Perez to pick a point beyond the audience and to project her energy and voice to that place.
After some breathing exercises, and some light-hearted laughter in between, Perez took one last stab at the solo, demonstrating a marked improvement from just minutes earlier.
This scene repeated itself three more times with students Stephanie Nelson, Stefrances Martin, and Rosa Meyo. With each one, Birnbaum was able to identify the flaw in the performance and give direct and concise advice on how to overcome these obstacles.
Nelson received a lesson on extending the vowels in a song; Martin was instructed to find ways to stay connected with the moment whether she was singing or not; and Meyo learned the power of breath in song. The results were dramatic—each girl improved significantly with only a few minutes of instruction.
An internationally established teacher, Birnbaum is an expert on breath technique. She is highly sought after as a teacher and clinician. During the workshop with the students from Celia Cruz, Birnbaum used a variety of tools, including laughter, a straw, and a balancing stick, to win the girls’ trust and set them at ease.
“This workshop really aims to enrich the School’s program, and to pique the students’ interest in opera,” said Jacqueline Bergland, the choral director at Celia Cruz Bronx HS of Music. “The students really appreciate the instruction and look forward to Ms. Birnbaum’s return.”
The Met’s “High Definition Live in Schools” series is a national program that provides students, teachers, and administrators with educational resources tied to select live transmissions of Metropolitan Opera performances.
Lehman’s Lovinger Theatre has served as a venue for the Met’s Live in HD series since the program’s launch. The next and final performance of the series to be shown at the Lovinger is the Met’s production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare on Saturday, April 27, at 12 p.m.