I might be a student of the voice, but I was never really an opera singer. The brief period when I studied opera singing was occupied largely by Lucille Evans. What I really I wanted was to sing lieder, but there are 10s of dollars in lieder singing and I ended up being a chorister in part because it was more lucrative. That drove my voice teachers a bit nuts. I didn’t enjoy being LOUD. The voice teacher who cured me of that, at least temporarily, was Lucille.
Lucille Evans was recommended to me by Michael McMahon when I was looking for my first voice teacher at McGill. I trusted the recommendation – he knew so much more than I did and still does and I’m glad I followed his advice. Lucille really cared about her students. We felt that again and again. In return, I cared about her and appreciated what she taught me.
Lucille was very straightforward. She was never unfair with me, manipulated or used me, although I didn’t like it when she stuck a finger against my top teeth for nearly a year. That ended when I started activating my embouchure more to her liking. She never lied to me or played mind games, but she would hit my shoulders to square them up. Coming from a relatively placid Manitoban scene to Lucille was a shock to the system in some ways, but once I got to know her and Bob I appreciated their no-nonsense approach. They were very kind people but they knew what it took and they were doing their best to get it out of me.
And she made good soup. Her lemon squares were divine. She had a love for life that was infectious, and a love for clear, foundational, classical singing that wasn’t overly complicated. I didn’t like the way she would yell for me to energize, but I understood why she was doing it. At least, I understood eventually.
In so many ways, Lucille’s studio was “No BS Land.”
Lucille never once spoke to me about musicality. That was for Michael McMahon and her husband Bob. She spoke to me about expression, how to make the voice an expressive vehicle, and how to prepare the voice in specific ways. How to prepare a breath. How to go by feel and not by sound. How to energize. How to leave it alone.
Here are some of my favorite Lucille and Bob stories :
Once my best friend, Jason, came for a visit from Waterloo and she let him sit in on my lesson. I was in third year. As we walked out he said to me ”I would have paid to hear that and felt like I got my moneys worth.” That was a nice comment – a confirmation I was in the right studio.
I was singing Winter Words by Britten and Bob stopped me – “it sounds robotic” he said. I was horrified, but when with reddening face I requested further explanation he sang : “IF YOU SING EV-ERY NOTE WITH THE SAME IN-FLE-CTION YOU WILL SOUND LIKE A RO-BOT. AND YOU SOUND LIKE A RO-BOT.” And he made me laugh and I understood the lesson and had an easier time as a singer.
My graduation recital from undergrad was strong enough that I heard someone say ”wow” from the audience after I sang two Bach arias. It was dark in the hall, but I knew it was Pascal Charbonneau. I honestly had no idea how it went, I just had to take his word for it that it was good. That was Lucille’s technique, which had more in common with the Alexander technique than I realized. “Get Out Of The Way” was incredibly simple and took forever for me to embrace completely.
I loved our studio masterclasses with the two of them. They were fun and encouraging and heartfelt and genuine. There was no artifice and no yelling, except in encouragement.
It amazed me how easily she could take a voice from another studio and “finish” it. Sometimes it took no longer than a 20 minute moment. I watched a tenor find his High C in 10 minutes. I saw a baritone morph into a tenor in 20. This sort of thing happened every year. She was a great finisher.
Once she sang a low D in my lesson better than I could and gave me a cocky look.
Once Lucille – a glamorous woman of an earlier era – strutted over to the full length mirror in her studio, stuck a calf out of the slit of her dress, appraised herself and said to me in her dark, husky Quebecois voice: ”Not bad for 75.”
She had a fantastic bearing, three times my energy, and 10 times my swagger. She came from a family of giant personalities, but was not outshone by any of them. Thats exactly how she liked it. She helped many voice students get jobs all over the world. Patricia Roach. Barbara Daniels. Jessica Muirhead. Devon Wastle. Lesia Mackowycz. Many more…
Thanks for the lessons, Lucille.