BWW Blogs: Meet NYC Robert Marks - Becoming a Vocal Coach: My Story
I've been asked many times how I happened to get into the business of helping performers show themselves off to their best advantage at auditions and performances. Not having been a singer myself, it's a logical question. The quick answer is that in a way, I fell into this profession. I was only 16 years old at the time.
I started taking piano lessons when I was very young, and music appeared to be one of the few things that came easily to me. My parents had always been avid theatregoers, and I was fortunate enough to see many Broadway shows from 1960s-on. While I enjoyed what was happening onstage, I was really mesmerized by the orchestra. In those days, they could be seen and heard live, not hidden away with the sound emanating electronically.
When I turned fourteen, there was a sudden opening for a musical director for a local theatre group. They were rehearsing Damn Yankees, and needed someone cheap and available to teach the music and accompany the performances. Luckily, I got the job, and figured out how to do it as I went along. Those performances led to my being asked to do musical direction for other theatre groups, a summer camp, and even an off-Broadway show.
When any of the performers from a show I was working on needed help preparing for a singing audition, I was the person they called. After all, I could afford to be inexpensive: I wasn't paying rent, so I charged only five dollars an hour! When my sister asked to go to a voice teacher, I went with her to her first lesson. Her new voice teacher (the late and legendary Sue Seton) asked me what I did. I replied that I helped singers find and arrange their music, and accompanied them on the piano. She responded, "So you're a vocal coach?" I had never heard the term before, but from then on, I knew that what I did had a name.
I began college as a music major, which seemed to be predestined. However, my interest in musical theatre pulled me towards the Drama Department, where I happily accompanied most every class, singer, and musical production. Having little interest in the music department's two choices (classical or jazz), I finally left school after my second year. Only in recent years have colleges started offering degrees in all aspects of musical theatre. I think the last decade has produced more singing teachers than singers. I finally did get my B.A. in speech pathology, a major I chose so that I'd know more about the anatomy and physiology of the voice.
I've spent the past forty years happily coaching singers of all ages and experience levels. Last month I surpassed 80,000 sessions! I've learned a lot along the way, a great deal of which came from my wonderful clients and students.
Robert Marks at 15 Years Old