Teaching What They Practice
Students discuss the profound impact of living and learning alongside North Park’s “practitioner faculty,” part–time instructors who bring their unique, full–time industry experiences to the classroom. Three of these professors explain why they won’t soon be quitting their day jobs.
A voice teacher in North Park’s School of Music, Annie Picard doesn’t spend long hours worrying whether or not her students appreciate her teaching methodology. In fact, that’s the type of tough love she’s known and respected for. With a master’s in vocal performance from the New England Conservatory in Boston and a doctor of music arts from the University of Illinois in Champaign, Picard has the academic credentials to back her exceptional musical talent. And she finds satisfaction in being honest, forthright, and genuine in her approach.
“When Annie tells you to do something, you have to do it,” says current student Sean Stanton C’2011. “Why? Cause that’s what she’s doing and it works—just listen to her voice.”
Even though she has taught at North Park for 13 years, Picard never ceases to be amazed by the type of influence she wields over the students she instructs. This year she has 20. “If I told them, ‘Go get hit by a car and you’ll sing better,’ they would say to me, ‘What type of car?’” she says half jokingly. “I am humbled by that work ethic. But knowing I have that much influence on someone . . . I also take that to heart.”
Between teaching part-time at North Park and at Moraine Valley Community College (where she supervises an additional eight students), Picard admits she doesn’t have as much time as she would like to perform, although she’s working to change that. “I do have an agent,” says Picard. “I most enjoy doing intimate professional engagements, like chamber music and recital work.”
Stanton says he actually switched his major from flute to voice because of Picard, and she has since spent countless hours helping him with his diction, speaking voice, posture, and breathing— things he says were completely foreign to him as a flute player.
“Annie is able to put into words how she sings, and fortunately we experience a lot of the same sensations while singing,” he marvels. “I gave up going to a fancy conservatory because I believed in what she had to teach me. Her mastery of her own voice allows her to speak with such conviction and confidence when it comes to singing.”
Because Picard teaches her students a holistic approach to singing, Stanton says he has made a number of lifestyle changes—in sleep, diet, social life, practice routine and many other areas. “You cannot just come in for your voice lesson with Annie for an hour a week and expect results or for her to be happy,” he explains. Today he eats only natural and organic foods, sleeps at least eight hours each night, and stays in on weekends to rest his voice and complete his homework. And he works on his speaking voice every day, making it forward, resonant, projected, and free.
“Annie is not just a voice teacher,” says Stanton. “Sure that’s what North Park pays her for, but that is not what she does. She takes every student and makes them work for their voice. She says time and time again, ‘I will work as hard as you do.’”
Picard is quick to point out that singing is much different than playing an instrument, a reality that makes her individual work with each of her students that much more demanding. “It’s very personal because your body is your instrument,” she explains. “I spend an hour one–on–one with each student once a week, so I get to know a lot about them—not just their music but their personality and what is going on with their lives.”
This knowledge is especially important when Picard chooses a personal repertoire for each of her students’ recitals—a thoughtful and deliberate task that she does not take lightly. Last fall, in fact, she was struck with a baffling realization.
“I was watching one of my students preparing for her recital, and I remember thinking, ‘I created all of this work for her . . . I created this obstacle,’” says Picard. “It was an incredible amount of work: singing, program notes, translation, memorization, interpretation. I remember telling her, ‘I am so bowled over that you are meeting this challenge.’ It’s very flattering that they respect me so much and respect themselves.”
A student of Picard’s for three years, Alicia Tilson C’2011 says she hopes to one day become a teacher as “caring, energetic, and passionate” as Picard. She aspires to be an elementary choral or general music teacher somewhere in the United States or overseas.
“The greatest benefit of having a professor as experienced as Annie is knowing that what she is teaching me she also learned herself from her voice teachers and other students, and she wants us to learn it as well,” says Tilson. “During a vocal literature class two years ago, Annie had us learn how to put together a recital and see all the work that goes into this process. From her own experience, she was able to teach us the proper etiquette.”
Picard herself views all of her own past voice teachers as mentors, and credits one in particular with helping shape her teaching style—a New England Conservatory professor, Susan Clickner.
“She was very candid and honest . . . she pushed you a lot and expected a lot from you,” describes Picard. “She also had this intense, larger than life personality, but under that was an incredibly warm, kind human being.” Picard has even hosted a special picnic for her undergraduates each spring over the six years since Clickner’s retirement, in her mentor’s honor.
But Picard also invests in her students for more personal reasons. “I had a very difficult childhood,” she discloses, “and the only thing that saved me week to week was taking voice and piano lessons. That’s the primary reason why I am a musician today. Music was the only thing I could look to for solace and peace. I immersed myself in it. And the reason I teach is that I feel the need to give back to something that has given me so much. . . Teaching is a way to express my gratitude.”