Please Meet the Incomparable William Mayo
He is the Vocal Instructor at Limelight Performing Arts Center. Bill goes way back with Limelight’s owner Ann Pinto McCarney – in fact he was once her vocal instructor many moons ago. Bill is a busy guy — a member of the professional actors union (AEA), a member of the Temple University Voice Faculty, a voice teacher at Limelight, and the Musical Director at our West Chester Summer Stage and Limelight PAC. He is also at a handful of other theatres where he puts his best talent to use, teaching, motivating and inspiring voice students to reach their absolute best in voice performance. Bill has such a wealth of experience and we just had to share it with you all. Enjoy!
You have been teaching voice for many years and it is clearly obvious the joy you have with instructing your students — what is the most exciting part of vocal instruction?
Actually, the reward for me is two fold: Providing a beginning student with an informative start on how voice production takes place in their own voice and leading a student to an “ah-ha” moment in their singing.
How old were you when you started to sing and when you knew this would be a lifelong passion?
I actually came late to singing compared to some students. I entered college on a trumpet scholarship and after my first semester, I realized that I had a voice and that I wanted to pursue it.
When you were a young singer — did you have any mentors or instructors that really impacted your approach or philosophy to singing?
Yes, the organist at my second professional church singing job became a lifelong musical mentor and friend. He was a Curtis Institute of Music graduate and was and still is inspirational concerning voice and music.
Tell us about your credentials and education for teaching.
I currently have a Master’s Degree in Opera Theater and a Professional Certificate in Vocal Performance. I lived, studied and performed in NYC for ten years before coming back to Philadelphia and teaching in the Voice Department of Temple University which I’ve done for the past 30 years.
What a great accomplishment! Share with us some of the highlights of your own signing career?
While in New York City I premiered several new compositions for voice, opera and oratorio. I sang for two years on the National Tour of the historic Men of Song. We were a quartet of professional singers who backed up one of the leading Bassos at the Metropolitan Opera. In those two years I believe I sang in all five provinces of Canada all but four states of the United States. After I returned to Philadelphia, I had the honor of auditioning and being chosen to sing at Vice President Biden’s father’s funeral. I then sang for his mother’s 90th birthday party two years before she passed. That was quite an honor.
Wow – what an honor indeed! What can a prospective student expect to learn while under your vocal instruction?
I teach all of my students how their voice works, all three aspects: Breathing, phonation or making sound and resonation, the natural amplification of the human voice. I also include musicianship, style, diction and posture and song presentation.
What are the top 2-3 things you see today’s singers doing that are not healthy for their voices?
Young singers for the most part, don’t see the relevance of connecting breath support with the act of singing. Young female singers, try so hard to mimic the current female singing stars that all they want to do is use their “belt voices” often disregarding the need to develop their “head voices.” For me, those two items are truly the main issues. You MUST develop the whole voice not just part of it.
Good point! On that note — what tips do you prescribe to your students to protect their voice?
First and foremost, study voice privately so that you can learn how your voice actually works. Avoid screaming and talking too much. Singers must monitor the use of their voice and take care of it. Also, sleep. Young singers need plenty of sleep.
You spend quality time with your students teaching them to breathe and sing properly — why is that so important and how do you keep the student interested when all they want to do is sing?
You develop the technique of singing so that your voice will be free enough to tell stories by way of the music. The better your vocal technique, the freer you are as a performer to tell your story through song. I always try to give students songs that are just in reach of the level of their technique.
I love that — “the better your vocal technique — the freer you are as a performer to tell your story through song”! I know you are all about helping students characterize their songs — what are some of the ways you instruct your students when preparing for an audition?
All songs are stories. If there weren’t any melody, the words would probably be a monologue or a scene with other characters. Singers have to treat their songs as if they WERE monologues with emotional levels and a beginning, middle and an end. We also talk about the emotional design of a song. Rarely is the character in a song just ONE emotion throughout the whole song. Just like a spoken acting seen, the song takes the singer through a range of human emotion and these shifts MUST be identified in the song. You just can’t sing pretty notes!!
I have read articles in the past where business executives will take singing/vocal lessons as a means to improve the strength of their speaking voice — projecting, enunciating, breathing — the works. As a result — some execs have described improvements in their posture and body language when speaking in front of large groups as an added benefit. How often do you hear students share with you the benefits of lessons in their personal/business life aside from just improvements when singing?
Often. The study of vocal presentation benefits everyone in every capacity. I have worked with CEO’s, teachers, actors, public speakers, students and people from all walks of life. Your voice is one of the most PERSONAL unique “identities” a person owns. Using your voice with quality and confidence promotes assurance and positivity in everything we do. I believe we ALL benefit from speaking and carrying ourselves in a positive manner!
From a performing perspective — explain the joy you get when teaching a student during the entire cycle — from struggling to get the lyrics and notes correct to belting out the big number with full confidence on stage?
The satisfaction of helping a young singer develop confidence while performing is immense for me. It’s why I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. There is no nobler aspiration that I can think of than wanting to be a “teller of stories.” Creating ART raises the HUMANITY of all communities and enhances the dignity of ALL human beings. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
There you have it folks – some sage advice and tips from the Master himself… Thanks Bill for sharing – hoping we will see you onstage very soon sharing your vocal talents as well. Hmmm – maybe something at Limelight perhaps?