My ongoing experience w/ singing classes - Part 1: studying with the late and legendary Judy Davis

When I first moved to the United States and started performing live, it was clear to me I could benefit from vocal instruction. After sampling a couple not so great teachers - one had me lying on the floor pushing a 10lb bag of rice with my belly, not sure what that was supposed to accomplish - I followed a friends' advice who kept telling me to take classes from Judy Davis cause she was the best vocal coach in the world. There was a 3 year 550 applicant deep waiting list to get into the Judy Davis studio that year, 35 of us got in. I later found out that Judy said I got in because "anyone who speaks 4 languages can sing". I know I didn't get in because of how I was singing then; I was shy, mousy, very confused by the difference between English and French sounds, though I spoke both languages. I took singing classes from Judy Davis for 10 years. And if she were still alive she would be calling me an idiot right now, or something to that effect; Judy told it like it is, and one thing she always told us not to do is to tell anyone we took singing classes. She said when the praises came in just to act like we were born that way. Judy also called herself a vocal plumber, that's what she humbly said she did. But she did a lot more than that; she not only took my vocal range in my real voice from around 5 notes to around two octaves, she taught me about entertainment. She taught me about subplots. She taught me to think about what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it. And about how I wanted to treat my audience. Judy always said: if you lose them it's your fault! She said people came willingly to your show, they paid, and if they left it's cause you didn't entertain them. She wasn't big either on performers who sing with their eyes closed all the time, or who act like they're doing their audience a favor. I like to think I would've come up with all these notions had Judy not been a huge part of my growing up as an entertainer, cause I so agree with her. As an entertainer you have to give to your audience to connect with them. The fact that they give back is gravy. So I studied religiously with Judy for 10 years. You weren't allowed to miss one class, because as you learned the "vocal eases" that Judy had developed, indispensable information was given in each class. So whenever I traveled, and in 10 years I did quite a bit of traveling, I would join the class that was at the level where I'd left off.  I got to study with a lot of different singers and just like Judy said, I learned a lot from watching them too.  Judy taught me more than I can ever list. She was a bit like my shrink; when I got admitted to her class, my first band, that I naively thought I would be with til we made it huge, had just broken up. And week after week Judy was merciless, didn't spare my feelings, but made sure I left the class feeling on top of the world, having learned something, full of hope and inspired. And she was funny too. If you bored her when you got up to sing for your peers, an exercise I found terrifying, she would pretend to pick her nose. I spent years thinking everyone else knew what they were doing and I didn't. Then I found out other people felt that way too! I'll never forget when Judy met my family, she told the class that usually in a family there's at least one person who doesn't look so hot, but she sweetly said "not in the Bellino family. You think Clara looks good, you should see the rest of the family! Not a single bad apple!" She made me laugh. By the time I graduated she called me the mouse that roared. When I went up to the piano to do my exercises some students would leave the room; we practiced very focused sound and though her exercises are called vocal eases, they were NOT easy on the ear. I remember once, while on a summer tour,  I was doing my "vocal eases" in our apartment in Paris on the 6th floor and had the windows open. My band mates came home laughing; they said out on the street two elderly men sitting on a bench were trying to figure out where that sound was coming from. ..Judy even taught me to tap dance; in our classes singers auditioned for Beach Blanket Babylon and other plays so Judy figured she would make sure we were prepared. At 80, wearing stilettos, she danced better than most of us ever could. Judy was one of the first choreographers for MGM. And she told us that that's where she found a need to develop a singing method; a lot of the dancing chorus girls and actresses also had to sing. Judy taught the Judy Davis method and never retired. And then she had the nerve to pass away:

(01-31) 04:00 PST Oakland — 2001-01-31 04:00:00 PST Oakland -- Judy Davis, a legendary vocal coach whose students included Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Mary Martin, Grace Slick, Eddie Money and many other noted and lesser-known singers, died of heart failure Friday at her Oakland home. She was 81.

An expert in the physiology of vocal sound projection, Ms. Davis was famous for teaching singers how to breathe properly, enunciate and strengthen their vocal cords in order to project freely and control the sound. She devised a series of vocal exercises that are used by singers around the world.

 

RIP Judy, you certainly earned your rest.

Comments

Jan Wright April 01, 2013 @11:37 pm
I attended classes for four years , Her son Kris was my best friend, I played pool with her husband Frank at Judy's mansion in Oakland. I was a painter and painted her Master bedroom and her ceilings. She took over and painted the rest of the house. She made me laugh absolutely every class I attended. Frank passed while I was still attending classes. Kris died accidentally shortly after I quit going to classes. Judy played for me , and I sang for Mary Martin. Mary was in her 70's when she came in for a tune up for a benefit for people who saved her life after the accident she had in S.F.She flew from the ceiling and wore her original costume from Peter Pan. One girl from my class Said "Mary I hope I have your energy when I'm your age. Mary retorted "Honey you don't have my energy now." Judy Loved it. They were best buds. Judy's method gave you the equipment to do what you wanted when you wanted. You folks have described her well and she deserves more credit than I could ever write. She once sang for us after I begged her. With a raspy voice she had a delivery second to none. She is missed after all these years.
Paula Bradman March 11, 2011 @11:35 am
Hi Clara, I was very touched by your lovely tribute to Judy Davis....I remember when you and I met a couple of years ago we were excited to discover we had both studied with her. Reading your blog brought back many memories of my time with her as well and reminded me of some of the great things I learned from her that I had forgotten over the years. One thing I will always remember that you touched on in your story was even when she was giving me tough constructive criticism in front of the entire class I always walked out of there feeling like I was special and wonderful that I could walk through the world with pride....she was magic that way and I'll always treasure her for that. Thanks again for your beautiful words...... xxoo Paula Bradman http://www.haightashburyorchestra.com
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