VanAlstine Voice Hosts Free May 28 Vocal Workshop at Grove Studios
Ann Arbor vocal coach and VanAlstine Voice owner Stephanie VanAlstine is hosting a free vocal workshop, “Freedom Through Flow,” for local singers at Grove Studios on Saturday, May 28. We recently chatted with Stephanie about her professional background, her VanAlstine Voice company, and her plans for the upcoming workshop.
GS: How has your 2022 been so far? What’s been inspiring you these days as a vocalist?
SV: 2022 has been, in a word, interesting! It feels like we are always just starting to get a grasp on what it might look like to have live performances in a COVID world, and then another confusing spike or new understanding sends us through a loop, but we keep learning and keep moving forward.
I’ve been inspired … by the ways in which I see artists creating new ways to get their art seen and heard and also by the actual true disappointments I see in my singers’ faces and how they pick themselves up and don’t allow it to stop their creativity.
GS: How did your musical journey start? How did you hone your vocal skills over time? What vocalists inspired you along the way?
SV: It’s really hard to pinpoint a moment when my musical journey started. My mom will tell you all about the voice lessons she had me taking at 5 years old, but to me, it feels like music has just always been a part of my identity. I can look back at the turning points in my life, and a big one for me was my freshman year at Pioneer High School when I was cast in ‘Les Misérables.’ I had never been in a musical before, and it completely rocked my world. The music of that show still makes me emotional to this day.
That’s where I was hooked, and I kept singing more and more musical theatre, which eventually led to me going to Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and taking part in as many musicals as they would graciously cast me in. It was there that I really started to find my confidence and felt as if I had started to find my real voice as myself and where people were telling me I was truly talented and could have a future in this industry.
That’s also where I also learned the power of having a good teacher. I had so many incredible teachers who pushed and showed me what I was actually capable of. In addition, there were some vocalists who inspired me a bit along the way, but it was these folks who really did the inspiration-heavy-lifting. Phil Simmons, Ryan Lewis, Pirooz Aghssa, Jennifer Graham, Pam Cardell, David Blixt and Terry Heck-Seibert were some of the most influential people in moving me forward. I have them to thank in starting this career path for me.
GS: How did your musical journey lead you to pursue a master’s degree in music and study vocal performance for music theatre as well as receive an advanced certificate in vocal pedagogy from New York University? How did that program help take your vocal abilities and training/coaching skills to the next level?
SV: While I was finding my voice and identity at EMU, I still felt as though a small part of the puzzle was missing for me. I had heard many times over the years that ‘your voice just has so much potential,’ and I was thinking, ‘Great, how can I just go ahead and REALIZE that potential?’
It was wonderful to know that people believed in me, but it was frustrating to feel like no one had the answers to help me reach the next level in what I wanted to do. I spent five years out of college discovering myself and my life, including moving to Los Angeles and living the Hollywood life, before truly realizing that I had to return to my musical theatre roots.
When I discovered the program at New York University (NYU) included both the vocal performance track with a specialty in musical theatre and a certificate program that would train you to work with singers as a voice teacher, I was totally sold. I knew I wanted to work with others and train voices and have some sort of career stability while I pursued performance. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I put all my eggs in NYU’s basket and told myself it was there or nowhere.
The day I was accepted was out of a dream. It wasn’t something I had ever imagined for myself. When I mentioned before about having unrealized potential … I realized they had answers … real actual answers … in the way of vocal technique and science that made total logical sense and made artistry more readily available. I was in heaven while I was in school there. I was soaking up every tidbit of knowledge like the most eager sponge in the ocean. It made me the teacher that I am, armed with so much understanding of how the voice works and what singers need to succeed, as well what my own voice needs to be the best it can be. It changed my life.
GS: How and when did you come to start VanAlstine Voice? What do you enjoy most about helping people develop their vocal abilities in the following areas – musical theater, classical/voice opera, pop/rock, jazz and choral music? What else is on the horizon for VanAlstine Voice later this year?
SV: I started VanAlstine Voice when I graduated from NYU in 2018. I hit the ground running in New York City with my business as soon as I was out of school. My goal is to provide exceptional voice training to singers to support myself while I audition and pursue my own performance career. Growing this business has been a huge learning curve for me and one I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I moved to Ann Arbor in September 2020 when we decided that living in New York City during a pandemic wasn’t feasible for us anymore. I have been so thrilled to offer my skills to the local singers in the area. Bringing this knowledge I have now back to my hometown has been incredibly fulfilling, and getting to grow my performance career in Michigan at the same time is the absolute icing on top.
When it comes to working with different genres, I always say the same thing to folks, the folds do what the folds do. In other words, the vocal folds function the exact same way no matter what genre of music you’re singing. Now, obviously, tons of other things change depending on genre (resonance strategies, amount of vocal pressure, vowel shaping, etc), but the healthy function of the vocal folds crosses all genres. So that’s where we start regardless of what you want to sing.
Now, of course, my one true love is musical theatre, so those students are near and dear to my heart, but here are some examples of a few active students in my studio right now: a heavy metal singer recording his next album, a choral singer working on moving from alto to soprano, and a pop singer finding new expression in her original songs. For all of them, my absolute favorite thing is finding the perfect individual equation that makes their unique voice unlock and flow. I like to say my job is to give myself chills every day.
So much is on the horizon for VanAlstine Voice this year! This summer, I am super excited to be offering a group class called “Foundations of Vocal Technique” for folks who are like I was before I went to grad school. Maybe they too have been told they have tons of potential and haven’t realized that potential yet. In that class, we will be going in depth with each singer’s voice and finding the perfect warm-up and cool-down regimen for each student. We also will be coaching songs and learning more in each class about the function of the voice.
I’m also excited to be offering my free workshops on a regular basis and expanding my voice lesson programs to include more options for folks who want to study voice at any level! I really believe in accessibility of this information, and the support I’ve received from Grove Studios has also made that possible.
GS: What can attendees expect from your May 28 “Freedom Through Flow” workshop at Grove Studios? What do you hope they will take away from the event?
SV: This workshop was a huge hit back in New York City. I am so excited to start offering it more regularly here in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area! In this workshop, you can expect to learn way more about your voice and how it works than you ever have in your life (unless you have already attended vocal pedagogy classes, in which case let’s meet because I want to hang out with you).
We will be using vocal exercises, tools, and understanding to access new parts of your voice that you may have never thought possible. Flow is two things: (1) it is the airflow we use while singing, which is the gas to this vocal engine, but (2) it is also the state we enter when true creative artistry is being achieved. I hope that participants will leave knowing how they can find this state and feel inspired to make more music and use their voices however they choose!
Saturday, May 28 | 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Grove Studios, 884 Railroad St., Suite B, in Ypsilanti