Bill Townsend – Voice Teacher, Piano Teacher

Voice and Piano Instructor
B.M. in Vocal Performance;
Oberlin Conservatory
Opera, Musical Theater, Pop

20160825-030I teach piano and voice. I completed my undergraduate work at Oberlin with a Bachelor’s of Music in Vocal Performance. While there I also studied piano and vocal accompanying. I have performed in musical theater, cabaret, and opera singing roles in works from Sondheim to Mozart. While at Oberlin, I performed in a major operatic role every year, accompanied in the vocal department, and participated in several operatic summer festivals, singing roles in Mozart’s Cosi fan tute and Die Zauberflote. Equally comfortable with pop and musical theater technique, I was given an encouragement award from the Lotte Lenya International Competition’s 2015 judges for my performances there. I currently resides in the Philadelphia area giving recitals, accompanying, and auditioning.


When did you begin playing piano and singing, and why?
I began singing in seventh grade, when I was about 13 years old. I was cast in a school musical, and found out I had a voice, and loved to perform. After that I began studying with a serious voice teacher, who introduced me to opera, and my love for lyric theater began there. I loved the melding of a beautiful melody with great text, and the power to change a room. Piano I came to later, in about 9th grade. I feel strongly about learning piano as a teen or an adult, since I went from not knowing a C-scale to Rachmaninoff in about a year with diligent practice, and lots of patience. It’s all about taking a deep breath, dropping into your body, and playing those scales!


What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?
My main experience is as a vocal soloist and collaborative pianist, as well as playing some solo recitals. Otherwise, I was pretty serious about saxophone, but that was in another life.


What are your personal goals as a musician?
My personal goal is to perform operatically, and to bring the classical repertoire into accessible performance venues for people to enjoy. I then hope very much to embark on a long teaching career.


Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked?  Something you’ll remember forever?
I do. It was with a piano teacher I met in Princeton, New Jersey. He taught me how to remain connected to gravity, whether I played or sang, and how to trust the body to do what it is able to do, which is to play. It was amazing to realize how much extraneous strain and effort we put into our music making, and how easy it was to plug in and let it happen, rather than forcing it. You get better tone, more gratifying practice, and a much more engaged performance! Sometimes, less is more.


What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?
The best advice I ever received was to “know what your shopping for”. I think this can take you everywhere in music. In a practice session, “what are you shopping for? What do you need from that time? It sets specific goals, and is an engaging way to work with the material, rather than entering it with a “I just need to sit here and get it right I guess” attitude. Knowing what your shopping for, aka, knowing what you want music to DO, and how you want to do it, will lead you to the best playing, the best teachers, and the best listening.


What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?
The most “challenging moment” still happens to me all the time, and it’s when I realize I simply can’t force my body to grow and learn faster than it can. You only do damage to yourself by trying to push a cart sideways. Take it slow, feel the music at your own pace, breath.


What is your biggest musical achievement?
My biggest musical achievement is also ongoing. It’s whenever I sit down with my musical materials, and am able to “plug in” and just do the work. This comes with letting go of expectation, of perfection, and letting your body take the notes and techniques in.


Favorite thing about teaching?
I love watching someone “own” themselves for the first time. To get all of life’s apologizing out of the way, and watch as they make their voice, or the piano at their fingertips, come to life. It also teaches me better than any lesson I take on my own. As musicians, we’re all peers.


What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?
Always play. If you’re mindlessly replaying a phrase or piece, even a scale, it won’t take you very far. Always play music, always say something, even when learning very slowly.


Personal music projects: i.e. bands, groups, shows, recording, etc. (if any):
Right now I’m working on a series of recitals that will bring American classical music and Musical Theater repertoire to a reimagined idea of what a “voice recital” has to be for the modern audience.