What I really learned working with coaches from the Met

— June 23, 2021 —

When I was a junior in college, I had a very audacious and ambitious voice teacher who was making a go as an opera singer. She managed to wiggle herself and two of her budding students (including me!) into a workshop series led by Nico and Carol Castel, legendary coaches at the Met.

It was a very good thing I had no idea who these people were, or who would be there, or what anyone was singing. All I knew was that I was going to have six consecutive Friday night adventures to the Upper West Side and I would get off campus and go to New York and sing and it would be fun!

It was fun. It was also the most intimidating thing I have ever done. I could not have been more green, but it didn’t matter. I did not take away any sour memories whatsoever, because I learned so much, and had no aspirations to become an opera singer in the first place!

But the most indelible moment came not from my own coaching, but from from observing another soprano, let’s call her Deb.

It was Deb’s first turn, she got up and introduced herself. Deb said (with some hesitation) that she had been working on her own, trying to discover her voice.

Deb then announced she was going to sing “(Something That Sounded Like It Was Printed In Fraktur)” from Die Blah Blah by Wagner and said she was looking for help with (Deb’s Musico Textual Issue).

And I thought, “hm, interesting, this is not going to be very good, she is singing Wagner and doesn’t even have a teacher!” 

You would not believe the sound that came forth into this teeny tiny living room. I thought this was the most insanely talented person I had ever heard. Her voice was loud, it could move mountains, it was way too much to handle in that tiny apartment. But she let it rip, no holding back.

Her presence hooked me, it was profound, and I gazed at Deb in wonder: how did she DO that?

I surmise that she did something very, very brave amidst a deeply entrenched musical culture: she allowed the time and space to cultivate her own sense of herself and her voice, what she needed, and discern what she wanted to say and do.

She then sought help when she was good and ready, and could ask clearly for what she needed.


And my biggest takeway from working with the best coaches at the Met? 

Be like Deb.

Honor yourself, and please honor your needs. This may be an unpopular opinion, inasmuch as your ego is concerned. There is a lot of gray area here, and no conclusive answers to your most burning questions in the immediate moment.

There is a lot of inner and outer noise about how and who and what to be. Please hear me: the only voice that truly matters is the one deep within your heart and soul.

What would happen if you let that inner voice guide you, rather than the crowd? What inner magic would be cultivated if you could stir your own artistic cauldron? Take a moment to at least ask the question: how do I envision using my voice right now? 



IMAGE: Photo by Meredith Owens on Unsplash 

Allison Mondel
Allison Mondel is a musician, philosopher, advocate, and mentor. Her greatest delight is to understand how things work, and share her hard-won wisdom with others. She writes about the higher nature of music and the voice, alchemizing personal roadblocks, and the pursuit of one's creative vocation.

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