Frequently Asked Questions
Who can take voice lessons?
ANYONE! You may have sung your whole life as an amateur or professional. You may have been told not to sing because you have trouble matching pitch. Maybe the thought of singing out loud gives you nightmares! If you are interested and open to learning and finding or refining your voice, voice lessons are for you. If your child is younger than 5th grade, often group experiences like choirs are more beneficial and cost effective than weekly lessons, but occasional sessions are helpful especially when kids are preparing for an audition.
What do you do in voice lessons?
The first part of the session begins with warmups focused on techniques to ground, free, and balance the voice. The second part of the session is where we make music together. We first select music together that is of interest to the student and fits their goals. Then we explore and experiment together through song. I am an accomplished pianist, which makes an enriching and uplifting experience for the singer.
What is the purpose of voice lessons?
The beauty of individual lessons is that each session is tailored completely to the student, with the ultimate goal of helping each person sing songs with confidence, connection, and beauty. Students can either have non-performative goals where we simply make joyful music together, or students may desire to hone their performing skills, preparing for auditions and concerts.
What is the difference between lessons and coaching?
The goal of coaching is less technique based. The session is focused on music learning and polishing with the piano accompaniment. A student may already have a voice teacher and wants to work with a pianist, or a student may want to prepare for an audition or learn a role.
I have been teaching private voice lessons for over twenty years. My vocal students have studied Musical Theatre, Classical, Folk, Country, and Pop styles and have received roles both professional and educational, received top ratings in competitions, become All-State Choir members, recorded albums, and earned music scholarships for collegiate music study.
I believe firmly in the healing power of music and singing, and that finding your true voice can be transformative. I approach voice lessons with a great amount of care and respect for the whole person and believe that everyone possesses the ability to learn to sing if given a safe space.
I have a great deal of experience playing and coaching Musical Theatre and Opera. I was an Adjunct Professor in the Theatre Department at the University of Memphis where she taught voice to musical theatre majors. I also teach voice at Kirkwood College. I have extensive classical singing experience both performing and teaching and have experience performing and teaching belt and a wide array of vocal styles. My piano skills are especially helpful if a singer is interested in preparing for auditions etc. as I am able to play the full accompaniments with singers. If preparing for an audition I can make audition accompaniment recordings, practice tracks and help student select and prepare 16/32 bar cuts.
I teach from my lovely home studio in Iowa City just three blocks north of downtown in the beautiful Emma Harvat House, built in 1919 which is on the National Historic Registry. Emma J. Harvat was the mayor of Iowa City and the first female mayor of a town more than 10,000 in the United States.
“I hadn’t sung in decades when I started working with Mary Jane to get my voice back in shape. She’s been so supportive helping me re-discover the joys of singing, and she’s introduced me to new vocal techniques I never knew about, much less thought I’d master.
I love the breadth of musical styles Mary Jane has introduced me to, from Handel to Patsy Cline!”Marie
“In over 30 years of studying and performing, I have never had a better voice teacher than Mary Jane. From her ability to convey in plain language how to work with my instrument, to her thoughtful choice of repertoire, to her fantastic accompanying skills, Mary Jane is the entire package. I literally cannot recommend her highly enough and wish I had met her many years ago!”Adam W.
“Gratitudes Day 17: Singing
Some backstory… I was born with hearing loss due to nerve damage and so have worn hearing aids since I was 4. Pretty much my whole life I’ve been lead to believe I couldn’t hear pitch or was tone-deaf. In school a friend in choir convinced me to try out for it. I went for a one on one with him and the music director tried having me sing “Silent Night” and I wasn’t getting it and he dismissed me. So, that reinforced that belief.
I mean, I liked to sing along to songs and stuff but was resigned to not doing it well or just by myself. I enjoy karaoke but one time out with friends someone in the group who meant well picked up a second mic to assist me, I decided that I should just stick to songs that were more spoken than sung or were more in my limited range.
I did try out for musicals and have actually been in some ensembles because while my singing may not have been the best, I can learn a dance routine. During the songs, I’d hold back almost to the point of lip syncing, so that I wouldn’t drag down the quality of the ensemble or be the one who was standing out.
So this past summer, I thought, well, maybe there’s some techniques I could learn that would help not be so sucky and at least not ‘hide’ on stage. I had one of Mary Jane Knight’s cards that she’d left in the City Circle green room while we were both in “Scarlet Pimpernel”, and it’d been sitting in a pile of other things around my desk. I reached out to her and explained my situation.
She agreed to meet with me and after some exercises and such, she informed me that not only could I sing, but I have a good voice.
So I started getting regular sessions with her, keeping it to myself until I was sure that maybe the first session wasn’t a fluke or something. We began working on some songs that I might be able to use in auditions. We used one early on until we decided maybe it wasn’t quite right for me yet. Now I have a couple that I feel comfortable with using for auditions.
Now, usually when I’m driving, I’m constantly looking for songs on the radio that I know and will try to sing with them, even if maybe they’re a bit out of my range. But I keep trying and pushing. Sometimes I just queue up some karaoke tracks on YouTube and try those. Now when I karaoke, I try to step out of my comfort zone and do songs that I don’t think I’d have been able to do before.
I’m very grateful to have a vocal coach like MJ, who has given me techniques and feedback and most importantly, confidence in singing.
A few weeks ago I joined the Eastern Iowa Quire, to get more practice with singing and boy, choirs are a whole new thing, but I’m learning a lot!
Earlier this week I auditioned for a show that I was pretty sure I didn’t have a shot at, but wanted to keep pushing for experience and getting out there. Lo and behold I was cast in “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”! So, I’m excited, terrified and all the feels and I owe a great deal of gratitude to MJ for everything she’s done. I’m grateful for her and vocal coaches who work to bring out voices in people. I’m only sorry I waited so long, but here’s to the future! “Brian