Séverine Parent has truly lived life on the international music stage. From a career in classical opera in her native France to performing all over Europe and South America to eventually becoming the Lead Artistic Advisor for Vocal Talent for Cirque Du Soleil, this woman is busy, to say the least.
After having discovered most of Cirque du Soleil's singers -- 0ver 500 voices internationally -- she is now working independently as a performer and as a vocal teacher with her own company, Vocalery. In the few free minutes she has to chat, we caught up with her as she promotes the new show Venezuela in Motion, Vida in Concert which opens March 23rd at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City with an accompanying music clinic on March 24th with Yilmer Vivas, the current drummer for Cirque du Soleil’s show Luzia.
So, just to give our readers the jist of what to expect in both the show and the clinic, how would you plug these events in three phrases?
For the show:
For the clinic:
I love to sing, teach and make connections between talented people so they can develop their career expressing themselves through their instrument. This is the reason why I supported these events in New York, to make people aware of the infinity of talent there is still to be shown, and to connect artists through their profound desire to express themselves through music.
You travel all over the world performing, training and inspiring people. Is there one part of your career you favor, performing? Training? In both you inspire, so that’s a given.
From my many travels around the world, one thing has always struck me. It is not about me. Alone, I cannot do anything. Everything is in how you create connections with people, with artists. I have always wanted to help people give their best onstage and offstage, to be able to live the life they want, as they want it.
There is no part I favor more, for me performing, training, creating networks of talented people is part of the same big plan. Make the music and the pleasure it gives the center of my life, but also live, because you cannot make music in a bubble. Nothing gives me more than to discover new forms of expressions, new styles of music. Discovering what we call in our North American society with a little sense of superiority "world music," is a must in my life, and should be in everyone’s life.
In every part of this planet, there are people who make music to actually express themselves at the end of a very long work day for example. They do not read music, but it is their way of expression, something they feel the urge to do. Traveling the world to discover and train artists has opened my eyes to difference, they inspire me every day of my life, and make me a better singer, and a better coach, and a better person. It lead me to honestly believe that any form of expressing oneself is relevant, if it is authentic.
Voice is a unique instrument, that can be used to produce any sound, it gives you much freedom to connect in a simple way to people all around the planet, as it is the expression of one’s soul.
When did you know that singing, among your many talents, was what you wanted to do professionally?
When I was younger, I had many interests in life. I studied in middle ages history at the university back in France, I studied English. Musically I started piano very early and did the conservatory in piano, clarinette, music theory...I have always loved opera, and when I was 16 I started studying classic singing. I fell in love rapidly with the art of shaping the voice, in order to be able to sing without tensions.
When I graduated from university in History (haha), I decided to dedicate my life to singing, not only by performing, but by studying how this wonderful instrument works, how it can be so versatile and free. I was lucky to have parents that opened my eyes and soul to the beauties of this world but also to the injustice of it.
I am very conscious of my luck to have been able to discover music at a young age, to see my first opera when I was four (Carmen), and to travel with them to see many forms of expressions and many amazing shows. My parents inspired my passion for scouting new vocal talent.
Singing has given me the world, literally. I feel that sharing my voice, sharing about voice, blending voices with singers has allowed me to always have fun doing what I do, always renew my passion about it, in all the contexts.
As a vocal coach, some of the best voices in the world as well as new singers give you full credit for changing their singing lives with your approach to vocal training. In a nutshell, what is your approach and how did you come to learn it?
I had the chance, when I was a young opera singer, to meet the renowned French vocal coach Richard Cross, whose approach of the voice was totally new to me. His pedagogy is very unique, as he approaches each singer with a total open mind. Every sound is acceptable, is beautiful if supported by a meaning.
The purpose of our pedagogy is vocal pleasure. Singing is a pleasure first, and the technique exists in order to support this. Technique is the support of the vocal expression, because singing is first of all telling a story. Also the knowledge of the instrument is an important asset. Singing is about developing sensations in the body, in order to express oneself. The instrument is within us, and the mix of knowing how it works mechanically, and developing the sensations to use it to support the artistic expressions is unique.
Discovering the vocal freedom has given me a unique way of transmitting it to others. For me the relationship between a teacher or a vocal trainer and a singer is a two way road, it is about sharing moments, sharing knowledge and music, each one learning from the other, and adjusting along the way to evolve as a singer and as a coach.
At your company, Vocalery, do you limit your training to only professional singers or can anyone train with you?
In Vocalery, we train every person who feels the urge to express oneself with the voice, and we provide a personalized training to each person in order to ease her singing. Personalized training because the exercices are adjusted to each person’s goal and problems.
A lot of vocal coaches/singing teachers advise students to do scales three hours a day, limit talking as it is “bad for your voice,” and never drink alcohol. Do you agree this is a requirement for ‘real’ singers?
Well, I think that everyone must develop their own routine. Vocalisations are important if done with a purpose like work on the support, or on the resonance. Do scales 3 hours a day only to do scales is not as indispensable than we could think. Vocal chords are one of the smallest muscles in the body, as they need to move really fast in order to reach the vibration required for each note. They cannot be developed as other muscles in the body that you can train in a gym.
What is important to develop is the right sensation in order for them to be able to do their work freely, for that I say that an intelligent vocalization is always good, to connect to the support, and let the vibration resonate freely.
Is it really true that anyone can sing and is it ever to late in life to start training one’s singing voice?
I think it is true, as long as you have something to express truly, a necessity to express it through the voice. A singer can make a career with a short range of note, and someone can have full technical access to their voice with nothing to express with it. Any type/sound of voice is acceptable, as long as you really feel the urge to say something with it, in that sense anybody can sing. Never forget that technique is only a support to art.
Your career as a performer, singing coach, musician and even a long stint with Cirque du Soleil as a vocal headhunter you have heard so many singers. What would you say is the number one mistake singers and those trying to sing make, either in training or performance, or both?
I would say that trying to sound like someone else is one of the biggest mistakes. If you want to sing a song of someone you admire, you have to make it your own, not only technically, but meaning wise. It has to have a profound meaning for you, you have to find the corresponding resonance in your own experience, feelings. And also stop judging the sound of your own voice, just accept that we can never sing better than the way we do it in a given moment, as we will probably improve our technical skills tomorrow, but not at the moment of the performance. Just be who we really are and express the meaning of what we want to say, be true, is enough.