Clarice Weiseman tells her students to embrace all different kinds of music, to explore new territory.
“We sing pop music, we sing musical theater and we sing classical music,” she said. “And a lot of times, when students start taking lessons with me, I use classical music as kind of a learning tool. There are a lot of great classical pieces for young singers. And I find that a lot of my students end up loving the music, even if they’ve never been exposed to it before, because it is beautifully written, and for most of them, it’s easy to sing.”
Weiseman, a vocal instructor at the Music Academy of North Carolina, has made her career as an opera and musical theater singer, but also regularly dabbles in other styles herself, finding inspiration in artists ranging from Kristin Chenoweth to Lianne La Havas.
In a recent interview, she spoke about those influences, about drawing encouragement from her students, and about how she cares for her voice.
How did you get your start in music?
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I’m from a little place called Milan, Mich., went to Eastern Michigan University for my undergraduate degree, and then moved to Greensboro to get my master’s degree in voice performance and pedagogy at UNCG.
Music has always been sort of a constant in my life. I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t doing something musical. Probably, the first person who got me into music was my first music teacher in preschool. His name was Mr. Lawrence. And he would come in once or twice a week and sing songs with us. I just remember that being my favorite time of the week.
When I was young, I took piano lessons, then I started getting into musical theater and choir. In high school, I started taking private voice lessons, and I was like, “You know what? I think I want to do this forever.”
Who are some of your influences?
Well, on a day-to-day basis, I would definitely say that my musical influences are my students and colleagues in the places where I teach. It’s just awe-inspiring, the music that you can make with each other.
Growing up, one of the people who influenced me was Kristin Chenoweth. She can just do everything — musical theater, classical music, you name it, she’s probably done it. Bernadette Peters is also someone who’s performing I have consumed a lot of. She’s just so expressive and amazing onstage. And Diana Damrau, who is an opera singer and has a gorgeous voice.
How would you describe your music?
I do everything. I sort of got my start in choirs when I was younger, so I was thinking a lot about classical music. Then, I got into musical theater, and then started sprinkling in a little bit of pop music.
My degrees are in classical singing, but I was fortunate enough to have teachers and friends who were encouraging us to do everything under the sun. We were never told we couldn’t do any type of music.
I primarily stick to classical and musical theater, but I do dabble a little bit in pop and country music and other types of music.
What’s your creative process like?
When I start learning a piece of music or a role, I try to focus on the text and the music separately.
The text, I try to find the emotion in the text and the meaning behind the text. I do a lot of research on the composer’s intentions. If it was a poem or part of a larger work before it was set to music, I try to look at that as well.
Then I put the music and words together, and spend a lot of time studying others’ interpretations, and talking to friends who have done the songs or the music before. Once I learn the bones of the music, I am really focused on the emotion of the music and bringing that out in my performance. I think that’s the most important part, to have a compelling performance.
How do you care for your voice?
It’s really nothing crazy. I’m sure a lot of people have seen on the internet to avoid all dairy products, or to “drink this everyday, and it will sound like there’s gold coming out of your mouth.”
For me personally, I stay hydrated. I drink primarily water, but if I do end up drinking something else, I drink a little extra water to continue to stay hydrated. I try to stay away from situations where I would strain my voice, where I would yell or scream. If I go to a rock concert, I’m the one person there who’s not screaming my lungs out. You only have one voice, and you need to take care of it.
I also take care of my body by exercising, because my whole body is my instrument, it’s not just my voice. So I try to eat good foods, stay hydrated and not scream.
Are there certain vocal exercises you do before a performance?
I generally start out with some lip trills, tongue trills, to sort of get my voice warm. That’s a good, soft thing to do to get my breath going. Then I shift into scales, arpeggios. For a performance, I might warm up for 20 or 30 minutes?
What’s your favorite role or piece to perform?
There’s this piece I’ve performed for years and years, called “The Apple Orchard” by Lori Laitman. She’s a contemporary American composer. She’s absolutely amazing. Her writing for the voice and the piano tugs at all the right heartstrings. It’s gorgeous, gorgeous writing. This poem that she set to music is by Dana Gioia, and the piece is about this person who had a chance to take on love, and they didn’t, and they talk about that day when they had that chance. My favorite line in the whole piece is the last one, “Perhaps that was the point — to learn that what we will not grasp is lost.”
My favorite role that I’ve ever performed is probably Susanna from “Le Nozze di Figaro.” She is awesome, just so intelligent and charming and cunning. The opera itself is really long, but it’s so, so fun, and the music is challenging.
Do you ever sing karaoke or sing in the shower, and, if so, what do you sing?
I do all the time. Not so much karaoke right now, but I really do love to sing everything. When I sing in the shower, it’s a lot of stuff that my students have been working on and that just gets stuck in my head because that’s what I do all day. If there’s this particularly catchy song, a show tune or an art song, that gets sung in the shower a lot. I also like to sing a lot of Lianne La Havas, who’s one of my favorite non-classical artists. Also (indie pop group) Lake Street Dive?
What’s the most unusual thing that has happened at one of your shows?
I was in an opera and one of my castmates forgot their recitative, which is opera’s version of speaking — it’s really fast with this accompaniment underneath it. Fortunately, we were being accompanied by a piano, so the pianist could kind of help improvise with us. I found myself onstage trying to improvise recitative, which is not something you learn in school. Luckily, we got back on track and we got to a point where both of us could continue.
What’s next for you?
I got some auditions on the books right now. Everyone in the singing business has kind of been slowed down due to COVID. But there are a lot of auditions coming up. And my teaching schedule is absolutely packed, which is awesome. I’m hearing a lot of other singers down the hall and drum kits and pianos. So, hopefully a lot of teaching, auditioning and performing is in my future.
— As told to Robert C. Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org