I've been meaning to write this blog for awhile. It's about my wife, Elizabeth Koch. Many know her as "Beth" (friends and family from Burlington, IA) while most students call her "Liz". She's a voice teacher - but really I think she's a Voice Whisperer. More on that later.
She's the "talented" member of the family, as in our family, because she actually is -- plus that's how I refer to her when I describe her to my colleagues, friends, strangers, and students. I mean it, with deepest sincerity! I've also arrived at this description from a rather objective place (those who know me, understand that my judgement about talent has nothing to do with whether I like, dislike, love, or hate a person!), that being from our first meeting in 1983 until now - 27 years later.
Most of my early career was spent being her pianist. I got most of my gigs by virtue of playing for her and getting some notice, which would lead to more gigs. When I was at Juilliard, I was the boyfriend of the soprano singing "Vanessa" while Richard Bradshaw conducted. When I was playing at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and we'd go to opening night parties for operas she was singing in, I was her husband ("and what do YOU do?" the patrons would ask me...) Back in our undergraduate degree, she sang Antonia, Gretel, Drusilla, and Mimi, plus won 4 NATS in a row, got a full-ride to MSM, etc. She was the big deal there (along with a number of other great singers!) and I was happy to play for her. I learned a great deal of rep - to this day I still hear her voice in certain arias like "Dove sono" and "Donde lieta". The level at which she made music, operatically speaking, was way beyond my abilities. A rather large number of people would cry when she sang, because the colors and sounds of her voice, plus her ability to turn a phrase into a living experience, was so intense. In a word, beautiful.
I'll stop gushing now. The interesting turn of events, which led me into conducting at places like Memphis and Tulsa, then later running the Glimmerglass young artist program, also led to a turning in how people (both insiders and outsiders) viewed the two of us. No longer were patrons asking me what I did, they were turning to Elizabeth and coyly asking her "what do YOU do dear?"! She became the wife of the Director of this, or the wife of the Director of that. She did it with grace and always a smile - even after we'd had kids and the real answer was "I'm a really tired Mommy who's up late tonight after watching an opera and now eating a meal at midnight with rich people who don't really want to know what I do?"!
During this time, she stopped singing. One of her last performances was also one of my last professional conducting experiences: she sang the Mother in Dallapiccola's "Il prigioniero" in a double-bill with Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. She got great reviews in little papers like the NYTimes and such. That was also the summer we got pregnant with our youngest son. One kid works, but two kids is really hard to make work and still sing (unless you're famous and have loads of nanny's!) However, she started teaching - and THAT is what she's extremely talented at.
I'm a good coach - better than many if I may be so bold - but her ear is amazing! Whether it's developing an understanding of how to teach a technique that works for Belting (as in musical theatre) as well as Opera (yet a different kind of belting!), she's evolved into a voice teacher who enables singers to craft a technique that works within them and works for them. After seeing some amazing changes happen - after a few lessons - with so many singers now, it's clear to me that she's the one that should be out there teaching full time.
I think this because I hear such wonderful singing coming from so many of her current and former students. Sara Milonovich comes to mind. Buy her CD of folk/bluegrass music and you'll be rather impressed. Download Aaron Tveit singing "There's a World" from Next to Normal and you'll hear someone who has total technical control over his voix mix. Go hear Veronique Coutu sing with Frederica von Stade on June 25th in Brevard and you'll hear someone who sounds so much like Elizabeth when she was 29 years old it's frightening! These are just a small number of former students who blossomed with her.
About the Voice Whisperer thing. If you've seen the Dog Whisperer in action, then just transfer that to a voice teacher and imagine Elizabeth with a student. With a sense of calmness and ease - and initially just a few exercises and suggestions - she moves a singer's voice into a more flexible, freer place which allows them to breathe and sing with less tension and more expressiveness. I've played the lessons, heard them from the other room, and seen the results - some of which are so shocking and transformative I can't believe it's the same voice! She does it all with humility, a sense of humor, and an earnestness that the work is important, but not brain surgery.
I write this, as a bit of a public display of affection, but also as a warning. If and when the time arrives and she decides to teach full-time, I'll be the first to pack up our bags and follow her. I played for Marlena for two years and LOVED it. I can do the same for Liz!