When new students begin taking individual voice lessons with Judith Turano, it doesn’t start out the way they expect.
There are no songs, at least not right away. Turano’s instruction starts out with breathing and lessons in how to control the breath and the body. The students sing and make other vocal sounds, of course, but the absence of written music can go on for several weeks.
“I tell them they have to be patient,” she says. “If they stick with it, and as their support gets stronger, only then do they begin working on songs.”
Turano exhibited similar patience in her career before teaching: She was a professional singer for over 35 years, performing over 40 roles in her career and premiering many new and newly-rediscovered works. She later founded an opera festival in the Southwest United States – the Four Corners Opera, which was based in Farmington, New Mexico (her hometown) and Durango, Colorado – and ran it with her late husband, a Philadelphia native.
Now having been involved in teaching for over 20 years, on top of her international singing career, she feels she’s truly arrived. “Nothing else gives me as much satisfaction as working with my students,” she says. “Everything I’ve done in my career has led to this.”
She takes tremendous pride in the accomplishments of her students, many of whom go on to major in music and participate in opera workshops and festivals. By the time they head off to college, she says, “they understand how to walk onstage with confidence.”
One critical tool for building stage presence comes each summer, when she offers a voice workshop for a select group of her students; out of her 35 to 40 students schoolwide, between eight and a dozen take part, each of them working intensively on diction, interpretation and textual understanding while trying out new pieces each week for Turano and an audience of their peers.
During an August workshop session at the Germantown Branch, both Turano and the students seemed to bring out the best in each other. Her feedback on the songs, and her encouraging instructions during and after performances, helped shape the students’ singing. Simple statements – “Make me believe you!” “Open up!” “Let it go!” – had visible and audible impact; one student’s grandmother stayed to hear him sing, and she couldn’t believe the transformation.
Not all musical growth happens so quickly, but Turano is thankful whenever it occurs. “It’s so rewarding,” she says. “I feel so lucky to be able to do this.”