Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Blog: Robert Marks - Vocal Coaching Young Performers

When I first opened my New York City studio in 1977, I had just been hired as one of the pianists for the new Broadway musical, Annie. Many of my fellow voice teachers were quite upset that kids were being asked to belt in that show, feeling that only classical "head voice" singing was healthy. Also, at that time, most voice teachers and coaches would refuse to work with any student who had not reached puberty. They were under the impression that voice lessons could "ruin" a child's voice, which for many years was a widely accepted belief.

 My feeling was that if kids were going to sing at auditions and performances, why not have them do it in a way that was as healthy as possible? How could learning proper breathing, minimizing throat tension, and putting songs in appropriate keys be bad? And was all belting to be discouraged? I came to the conclusion that belting, as a vocal style, was not destructive, unless it was done too long, too loud, or too high. I felt that using chest voice in a healthy way, like a young Shirley Temple or Judy Garland, could be taught and practiced. However, this went against what many of the older, opera-trained teachers were taught. 

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and there are many highly qualified teachers and coaches helping their students develop healthy, contemporary singing techniques in all vocal registers. And because of current microphone technology, Broadway kids no longer have to sing at the top of their lungs to be heard throughout the theatre. Working with young performers brings me a great deal of satisfaction. They're eager to learn, and usually don't have much of the emotional baggage that can develop after years of dealing with the ups and downs of the entertainment industry. 

I'm often asked about selecting appropriate repertoire for the young vocalist. Several factors have to be considered, the two main ones being age and voice appropriateness of the material. I equate choosing songs to choosing clothes: they must be appropriate, complement the individual, and might need some alteration. Certain repertoire is just wrong: a middle-school student toting "Ladies Who Lunch" in her songbook probably needs to rethink things. Moreover, song selection should be varied. Not every song can be an eleven o'clock number, full of dramatic heft and long sustained notes. It's valuable when a singer has many different kinds of songs under her belt to exhibit different strengths, performance styles and techniques.

I treat all of my clients with the same honesty and respect regardless of their chronological ages. Over the years, I've had students from 8 to 80 years old, and welcome the diversity. But vocal health is always the main emphasis. As the physician's Hippocratic Oath states, "First, do no harm."

With Ethan and Zach after the Broadway Performance in CHAPLIN

With Camille Mancuso and Tyler Merna of Broadway's MARY POPPINS

With Sam Poon of Les Miserables National Tour

With Zac & Beatrice of A Christmas Story

BroadwayWorld Shop
Shop BroadwayWorld

Shop this season's new musicals! Get dressed up for a night at the theatre, or just a night at home, with merch from some of Broadway's biggest hits including SOME LIKE IT HOT, KIMBERLY AKIMBO, and more!

Start Shopping

Related Stories
HADESTOWN Star T. Oliver Reid Stops By THE ART OF KINDNESS Podcast Photo
This week, Robert Peterpaul, in association with the Broadway Podcast Network, welcomes Broadway star T. Oliver Reid to The Art of Kindness podcast, which promotes kindness in the entertainment industry and beyond.

Michael R. Jackson & Common to Join Second Stage Theaters Winters Ball Photo
Second Stage Theater will host a Winter’s Ball geared towards young professionals and arts patrons, featuring Michael R. Jackson and Common. The fundraising event will take place on Monday, February 27 at The Pierre Hotel. See

MEAN GIRLS Movie Musical Now Casting Local New Jersey Actors Photo
The Mean Girls movie musical is seeking local actors in New Jersey this spring. Paramount Pictures is searching for local actors to appear as extras in the Middletown, New Jersey this March and April. The new film is set to star Angourie Rice as Cady Heron, Auli'i Cravalho as Janis, Jaquel Spivey as Damian and Reneé Rapp as Regina George.

Tectonic Theater Project Responds to Removal of THE LARAMIE PROJECT Photo
Students of the Senior English Composition class at Kansas' Lansing High School will go without their 'Social Justice Expository Unit' following a recent vote made by the Lansing Board of Education.

From This Author - Guest Blogger: Robert Marks