Imagine singing “My Funny Valentine” in front of a live audience while you lean on a baby grand piano, wearing a slinky red dress.
Depending on how you feel about your singing voice, that vision either strikes great excitement or sheer terror in your mind, or perhaps a combination of both.
Participants in Claude Stein’s Natural Singer workshop will have an opportunity to sound off their vocal fantasies or face their singing phobias when the workshop returns to Camp Hill for a second year.
The main focus is to help both beginners and experienced singers find more confidence in their voices. While there isn’t a baby grand to accompany singers in their performance, Stein does bring his keyboard.
“Natural singing is singing from the heart with the natural ability we all have,” explained Stein, who has a formal music education and 20 years’ experience as a singing teacher. He steadfastly believes that everyone can sing and, with a little practice, sound impressive.
“A good voice is expressive and truthful,” Stein said. “It’s not about whether your tone is perfect.”
According to Stein, we all have musical instincts, an innate sense of timing, phrasing, and style. The problem is we haven’t been encouraged to use them.
Stein said that people are afraid to sing because as children and adults we are told not to sing. He said that others silence themselves because they are scared of sounding bad or looking foolish.
“People don’t sing because they don’t know that it’s OK to practice. They get frustrated when they hit a wrong note,” Stein stated.
Stein, who coaches artists on record labels such as Atlantic, Elektra, Sony, MCA, and Warner Bros., draws on traditional music and theatrical techniques to persuade participants to sing, as well as a lot of fun and games.
“In order to free the natural voice, people need to be accepted and encouraged at whatever level they are on,” he explained.
Stein has led workshops at The Juilliard School, The New York Actor’s Institute, and The Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem, among other institutions.
About 40 percent of workshop attendees are nonsingers or beginners, 10 percent are professional singers who want to improve their techniques and the other half are those who used to sing but gave it up for some reason.
A typical workshop begins by introducing participants to technical concepts and vocal warm-ups through group singing. Participants are asked to write down goals for the day, speak about what they’d like to work on, and then sing a small part of a favorite song. While they sing, Stein works with them on personal and technical issues to help them discover what keeps them from singing better.
“It’s rewarding to see people who think they can’t sing in a few hours sounding great,” he said.
For some attendees, the workshop goes deeper than singing.
“It’s more than singing. It’s a way for people to grow personally,” said Helen Linwood of Mechanicsburg, who attended a workshop last year.
Linwood used to sing in USO shows but got away from it after she had a family. Over the years Linwood lost confidence in her voice. “Claude has a way of bringing things out in people, of breaking down emotional and mental blocks,” she said.
After going through the Natural Singer, Linwood felt new self-assurance. “I’m getting my voice back again,” she said.
Stein became interested in teaching after he met a coach who helped him become less judgmental and free up his voice.
“Singing with a studied, perfect tone is far less inspirational than singing straight from the heart,” he said.