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Celebrating ANATS


This was speech was written and presented by Dr Jean Callaghan, one of the founding members of ANATS at a celebration of ANATS hosted by the NSW Chapter on 22 November 2008.

Today is Saint Cecilia’s Day – the perfect day to be celebrating music, and singing, and the teaching of singing, with colleagues. Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, honoured in literature by Chaucer’s ‘Seconde Nonnes Tale’ and by John Dryden’s ‘A Song for St Cecilia’s Day’. Dryden’s 1687 poem was set to music by Handel in 1736. St Cecilia has also been celebrated in the music of Purcell, Britten, Herbert Howells, Alessandro Scarlatti, Charles Gounod and in the 1984 Swedish hit, ‘Sankata Cecilia’.

Dryden’s poem begins: ‘From harmony, from heavenly harmony, This universal frame began’. Then tells how Music ‘From harmony to harmony, Through all the compass of the notes it ran, The diapason closing full in Man. ,,, But bright Cecilia rais’d the wonder higher; When to her organ vocal breath was given.’

And that’s what we, as singing teachers, celebrate: the ability to use the vocal organ to resonate with the universal, to communicate music, words and emotion, to use that embodied musical instrument to reach other human beings. We want to give our students the tools to do that to the utmost of their ability. To this end we came together 20 years ago to access all the information, expertise and experience we could to promote the art of singing in Australia and to educate ourselves as teachers to do that.

At different times, and in different places in Australia, singing teachers have felt the need to get together to share knowledge and experience. I was involved, in Perth back in the 70s, in the formation of an association of singing teachers. But by 1988 the need for a national association was strong enough that staff of the National Summer School for Singers in Bathurst, NSW, in association with Janice Light (Operatic Productions, NSW) and Jan Delpratt (Queensland Conservatorium) contacted as many singing teachers as they could find and invited them to a two-day seminar as part of the School. A meeting at that seminar agreed that an association should be formed and that co-operation with our colleagues in New Zealand was important. A Steering Committee was elected to contact teachers in Australia and New Zealand, to draft a constitution, to register the Association and to circulate a newsletter to members. I was a member of that Steering Committee and the Convenor of our first conference. Janice Light was the Treasurer, Virginia Niven the Secretary and Rosemary Hudson, Margaret Kozlowski, Ronald Maconaghie, Laurie Orchard and Bob Tasman-Smith were committee members.

At our first conference, in Melbourne in September 1988, ANZATS (the Australia and New Zealand Association of Teachers of Singing) was formed. A National Council was elected and took over the responsibility of setting the long-term goals of the Association and getting it functioning for the members. Events were planned for New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Wellington, New Zealand.

In April 1989 the Association was incorporated under the NSW Associations Act. Janice Light became our first national President and Bob Tasman-Smith Deputy President. Janice continued as national President until the end of 1989, when John Germain took over, with Bob continuing as Deputy and Janice taking the role of Treasurer. Soon after the incorporation, formation of State Chapters became a priority, with meetings being called by National Council members in each State. In New South Wales, 11 members attended an initial meeting in June, 1989, with committee members Kay Edwards, Margaret Kozlowski, Lyell Austen and Grace Edwards organising a first event for ‘ANZATS Sydney’, a presentation of two voice videos at the home of veteran member Dorothy Mewes in November 1989. This initial event reflected the excitement in the voice world at the information on voice emerging from scientific research and the challenge to singing teachers of assessing its implications for their teaching. Twenty years ago the results of voice research using new technologies such as videoendoscopy were just becoming available to teachers. Teachers of the singing voice have always been interested in how that hidden instrument works, but we have the advantage of living in a time when there is far greater knowledge available on how the physical instrument works, and even now some information on how the mental directs the physical. Events based in some way on the relationship between voice science and vocal pedagogy have continued over the years, including an excursion to Brisbane to explore Adele Nisbet’s Voice Station at the Queensland Conservatorium, and sessions by visiting experts such as Jo Estill (US), and Janice Chapman (UK), So that start to our Sydney Chapter was significant and that interest in the anatomy and physiology of the voice has been a continuing theme in our Association. These things are, of course, no substitute for the teacher’s analytical ear, musical knowledge, and interpersonal communication skills. But they certainly help, not least by acting as a bullshit detector!

In 1990 the NSW Chapter held four events: one with AMEB examiners discussing the syllabus; one a lecture by Jo Estill on her research and approach to teaching; a masterclass for HSC voice students with Steve Watson and Elizabeth Todd; and a day of lectures and masterclasses by visiting German-born teacher Lisa Hagenau. These, too, are continuing themes: sharing knowledge on how best to prepare students for exams and auditions; investigating different approaches to teaching; and taking advantage of the expertis