Felicity (centre, arm raised) at one of her early NYCGB courses (Bruton?) in the late 1990s. Image: Anna George (also pictured, seated front, wearing headscarf)


6 December 2018

From 1995 onwards, hundreds of National Youth Choir members would find that no course felt right without the presence of singing teacher Felicity Cook. In one-to-one teaching and in group warm-ups (or lie-downs!), her unfailingly warm, kind and encouraging approach always left singers feeling educated, energised and happy. As Fliss steps down from NYCGB to take on new areas of work, we speak with her about her memories - and request a few final words of wisdom.


How did you become a singing teacher and did anyone in particular inspire you along the way?

I started my musical career as a clarinettist, studying singing and clarinet as joint first studies at the Royal Academy of Music. Playing orchestral and chamber music was very important to me and yet singing was the challenge I needed and wanted. I taught woodwind instruments for a number of years, but it was clear that my life in that world was not to be. Singing, performing and general confidence were always the big issues for me, so eventually, I found myself absolutely loving the teaching of singing. My inspiration along the way has been my students! I have a great passion for the healing power of singing and the voice in general and THIS is what grabbed my heart and mind; to facilitate the development of young people through the power of the voice. 

Where and when was your first NYCGB course as a singing teacher?

Oh what a lovely question! It was in Ascot I believe. It was the Christmas course and I knew no one apart from another singing teacher on the course, the much-loved Jayne Highfield! I remember glowing with joy at being part of this incredible engine of pure delight! I also remember thinking... " help... do I know anything at all about teaching singing, really? Do I?" You can stop holding your breath, thinking that maybe I really didn't and was there under false pretenses for I quickly found out that I did! (Phew.)

What was the experience of giving individual singing lessons like, and what did you enjoy?  

In my early days of teaching for NYCGB 23 years ago, so 1995 in fact... before many of you were born (rolls eyes)... research into the voice was only just becoming more mainstream. Students weren't terribly aware they had a tongue, let alone able to identify its position in their mouth (I exaggerate only slightly!) Once accessed and used in the most optimum way, their faces would frequently produce such looks of wonderment and intrigue as to why this new thing had worked. The same or similar would occur with the use of fricatives to free up the sound.... the joy in a student's eyes when the difficult rising phrase no longer felt like a mountain, but more like a floating cloud with attitude! 

How would you describe the NYC sound and what makes it special?

The NYC sound has evolved over the years, yet there remains a core blend which melds into a spectrum of colour, unique, full and glorious. I remember observing a member of staff tuning chords with one of the choirs. The intricacies and subtleties produced extraordinarily clear harmonics which I barely have words to describe. However, I shall make an attempt by saying that there is in it the essence of something much greater than the sum of each individual voice present; 'the stillpoint of the universe'. I truly believe there are times when NYC has produced this. 

If you could go back in time and give yourself some teaching advice right at the start, what would it be?

No one ever teaches singing knowing the whole story and probably never will. So never feel afraid to learn on the job! Yes, there are fundamentals we need to know in order to be responsible in the care for another human being's voice until they are able to do it for themselves. Teaching can be isolated, so relish those moments you get with your peers. NYCGB courses, for example, allow teachers wonderful opportunities to exchange incredible ideas and materials for the development of one's own craft, where you are both fresh from teaching an amazing array of voices. Those conversations with other teachers at NYCGB have been a huge blessing to me. 

Could we ask you for three final pieces of vocal care advice or philosophy for all NYCGB singers?

Goodness, where to begin!? I feel I have bombarded people with vocal care ideas over the years, so today I am going to express my feelings on what sustains a long and joyful career as a singer and/or teacher. 

In this society, we place the goal (or 'end gaining' as Alexander Technique teachers would say) as our primary function. This way of living is driven purely from the head, leaving the body being pushed around by what we THINK is the right thing for us, and leaving the truth of what the body needs behind us. As infants, we feel, but as we learn and grow this is overridden by the apparent need to conform, to achieve, to be first, to be the best. So what does this have to do with singing? Well, in my experience, observed on a daily basis in my private practice and at my work with NYCGB and with Choral Scholars at many of the colleges at the University of Cambridge, it is so easy to become fixated on 'getting it right'. Yes, of course, we want to sing the right notes, do the most amazing trills and melismas, understand and produce impeccable text.... yet, that striving detracts from the core of where, in us, singing comes from. So: find the place of freedom within the body not only through physical alignment, as in disciplines such as the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and Pilates, but also still the mind in order to feel when something is right for you. This is not found through pushing or shoving or bullying yourself, but by listening to what feels balanced within your heart and mind, together. Keep it playful and joyful - then all else is likely to free up in you and your voice. (Beams)

Visit Felicity's VoiceWorksUK Facebook page


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