Concert Reviews

“…hauntingly beautiful music strikes a chord with [Palmer’s] audiences…”

“…soft, sweet voice of soprano Kathryn Palmer suits [this] repertoire… Palmer shows technical ease, a constant assurance and a loving attention to detail.”

“[Palmer’s] singing captured the text with warmth and understanding, underlining the melodic beauties of the score … The result was a performance that captured the imagination of the audience and triggered a substantial ovation.”

“Kathryn Palmer’s injection of personality into her solos made the sweet ringing quality of her voice express the profound joy more emphatically.”

“… has a voice of considerable distinction … charm and beauty in the performance… [She] produced limpid sounds of which any singer would be proud. ”

“… a beautiful concert. I think this is going to be one of the highlights of the year. Kathryn Palmer gives such an intimacy to [the songs] they come off beautifully… A wonderful work, and so expressively done.”

Letters from Students

From the kids:

Thank you for a wonderful year. I like spending my Thursday evenings with you and always look forward to my lessons. I can't wait to see you next year. M.B.

...I think you are an excellent teacher but more importantly a wonderful and sweet person!! N.A.

From the teens heading off to university: have put so much effort into giving strength and confidence to my character, and singing of course... I will miss you dearly.  M.P.

You are a wonderful teacher. I really appreciate all the effort you put into helping me become a better singer, but I also appreciate the dedication you have shown towards me as a person.  L.O.

For the past 7 years you have been an extraordinary part of my life. I have looked forward to every single one of my lessons, and enjoyed each one more than the last. I have learned more about music and gained more appreciation for it than I thought possible...Thanks to you, I will have something wonderful to carry with me for the rest of my life.  K.D.

The last 5 years have been the best of my life. With your help and guidance, I've reached places many people only dream of! I will never forget you or your lessons.  I.M.

From the adults:

Your patience and understanding seem to be never-ending!! I really appreciate your commitment to get me through this [exam].  L.D.

Thank you for the gentle and positive way in which you taught and reinforced various aspects of the singing art....Your caring manner will always be remembered.  L.L.

You never know what insights you’ll have at a lesson with Kathryn!  D.N.

From CAMMAC music camp (for adults) evaluation form:

Song Interpretation class:
This was for me an excellent class.... Kathryn [has a] positive, supportive, sensitive, and thoroughly knowledgeable teaching style.

Opera class:
Kathryn's passionate and animate teaching and coaching has changed forever my opinion of [opera]...This class was one of the high points of my musical life.

Finding the Inner Angel

Finding the Inner Angel
By Kathryn Palmer
Illustration by Larry Humber

Reprinted from The Globe and Mail

I don’t think I can give a music lesson on paper, but I’m going to try. Twice this month I was contacted by mothers with similar concerns for their children’s voices. Child #1 had auditioned for a musical and was told “Obviously, singing is not your forte.” Fortunately, the child’s attitude was, “Mom, if I can’t sing, I need singing lessons.” I shudder at the thought of how many other children simply accept the pronouncement as final, and don’t sing anymore. This is borne out by the countless adults who have said to me, “I wish I could sing. When I was a kid, my teacher told me not to sing because I was off-key.”

Singing is not a privilege, it’s an innate right. You would never tell a child “Your speaking voice is too shrill. Please whisper from now on.” or “You can’t run fast enough to be on the track team, so don’t bother running anymore.” Yet we have the nerve to ask people not to sing. When someone is learning to play the violin or clarinet, we don’t expect them to produce a pleasant tone. Why so with singers? Some people have naturally beautiful voices. Others have to be taught how to develop an acceptable sound. My job, as I see it, is to take whatever voice is presented to me, and help fulfill its potential – make it as beautiful and healthy as possible. I would no more turn away a “bad” singer, than ask someone to cover their face because their features displeased me.

Child #2 has an audition coming up. Her mother is an outstanding singer. The child is having severe problems. The mother’s heart is breaking. “I think she might be tone-deaf.  I just can’t get her to sing the right notes.”

Now comes the part where I need an audio component to this newspaper. If only you could hear how these 11 and 12 year olds sang to me: in low, chesty, half-shouted voices, parroting the ‘belting’ they hear in Broadway musicals. They had only a minimal range, and no high notes whatsoever. The trick is to coax a high voice, a ‘head voice’ out of a child who has never rendered one. It’s a completely different approach – like asking them to walk backwards instead of forwards. When it happens, the reaction is usually “oops”, followed by giggles and embarrassment. But at the first peep of head voice, I fairly leap off the piano bench exclaiming “Yes! That’s the voice we want. That’s your angel voice!”

It’s not quite as dramatic as the scene in the film The Miracle Worker where Helen Keller suddenly understands that the word ‘water’ actually represents water. But to my ears, and to the ears of the astonished mothers and daughters, it’s definitely a Helen Keller moment. It opens up a whole new world to them. These formerly mud-bound voices now go sailing off in the vicinity of high C.

As we worked with their new voices, I tested their previously poor ability to match pitch. Either they hit the note dead on, or they immediately acknowledged being off, and tried again successfully. Not only were these girls not tone-deaf, they were extremely musical.

People who work with children’s voices do them a huge disservice by allowing, and even encouraging them to sing in a loud, low, forced voice. Teach them to sing gently and properly, with their naturally sweet sound. When they are teenagers or older, they can choose to add more chest voice or a more ‘pop’ sound. But without access to their high voice, there is no choice.

My adults present an entirely different ‘stuck-in-the-mud’ problem, more emotional than vocal. They are often embarrassed and apologetic about taking singing lessons. Mortified that their friends or fellow choristers will find out, they fear the misperception of being enamored of their own vocal prowess. While they would not be ashamed to study piano, or Italian or painting, voice seems to be a category unto itself. Classical singers are renowned for having egos that are either excessively large or excessively fragile. They don’t call us divas for nothing!

Ironically, all my students do, in fact, have good voices – good enough to have been accepted into various community choirs and productions. Shouldn’t this give them some confidence in their abilities? Apparently not. “I got in by accident.” “They must be desperate for basses.” “I guess it wasn’t a real audition,” they explain.

The most upsetting for me is an alto who claims she was accepted into an excellent choir by mistake. She does not hear the strength and beauty in her voice. She agonizes on a weekly basis over whether or not to continue her lessons. On one hand, she wants to improve; on the other hand, she feels that only people with wonderful voices are entitled to lessons, and thus, she disqualifies herself. She willingly admits to loving her lessons. She simply cannot justify them. Perhaps I can – for her and for anyone who longs to sing but is afraid to try, afraid of not being ‘good enough’.

You study voice because it unlocks the physical barriers that prevent you from singing freely and enjoying music to your fullest capacity. Perhaps you have tasted the exquisite delight of blending your voice with a dozen or a hundred others, and now you are hooked. You want to sing like an angel, but if you fall short, as we all do, it’s no disgrace. We can’t all be Pavarotti or Celine. In my student days, I once bemoaned the fact that I would never sound like my idol, the magnificent Dutch soprano Elly Ameling. A friend observed, “We already have an Elly Ameling. What we need now is a Kathryn Palmer.” Every voice, like every face, is uniquely beautiful. Let no one tell you otherwise.

You sing because it makes your spirit soar. You sing because music expresses the love, the hope, the pain, the joy, the despair that may go unspoken in your life. You sing because it quenches you to the core of your being. You sing because your soul will not be silenced.

If I enable even one new voice to brighten the musical firmament, I have earned my keep.

Kathryn Palmer is an Ottawa singer,
composer, and voice teacher.