Interview with Ron Long

Ron Long is an Edmonton, Canada based voice teacher and performer.  He is the first and only Estill Master Trainer in Alberta, Canada.  He regularly teaches Belting and pop Workshops and provides introductory courses for Estill Voice Work. He is also a Certified Yoga Teacher and is a Reiki Master.  He completed a Master of Music from Southern Illinois University of Carbondale in Opera and Musical Theatre.  He is a member of Equity, the Canadian actors union and has performed with Edmonton Opera in many roles. Ron teaches in his home in Edmonton.  Ron’s students include chorus members of Edmonton Opera, local amateur musical theatre performers, other voice teachers and anyone interested in learning more about their voice.

 

0:31
Welcome to the confidence in singing podcast. I’m Aideen and my guest today is Ron Long from Canada. Hello. Welcome, Ron. Great. I’m so happy to be here. I’m so interested to see what happens in our conversation today. For those who, who don’t know you, I’m going to read out a little bit about your background, and then we’ll go from there. So Ron, perfect. Ron is a Canadian based voice teacher and performer. He’s the first and only Estill master trainer in Alberta, Canada. He regularly teaches belting and pop workshops and provides introductory courses for us still voice work. He’s also a certified yoga teacher and is a Reiki Master. He completed a master of music from Southern Illinois in university of Carbondale in opera and musical theater. He’s a member of equity that Canadian actors union and has performed with Edmonton opera and many roles. Ron teaches in his home in Edmonton, his students include chorus members of Edmonton, opera, local, amateur musical theater, performers, other voice teachers, and anyone interested in learning more about their voice. Wonderful. I want to talk to firstly about what is this Estill method of which you speak?

1:56
Well as to I came across, so for the first time about probably eight, nine years ago now. And I was starting to teach in a musical theater diploma program and the I was starting to teach belting and I was like, What is this? What is belting? And how do I teach it and, and so I looked around and I found an Estill course, it was actually in California, right on the coast with a wonderful Estill teacher called Judith Dunbar and started learning about Estill. So what Estill is, is an anatomical approach to the voice and how the voice works. And Jo Estill, who, who created it, she was a voice teacher. At while she was a singer and opera singer, and she she retired from opera singing and she started teaching and she realized that she had no idea what why something she said worked or didn’t work with her students. So she wanted to explore that and she went back to school and she she started going to, to a university to get a degree in, in in voice and she realized that her profs music, profs really didn’t know what was going on in the voice either. So she, she basically became a speech pathologist, and she she studied the voice, she took x rays of the voice and that she did endoscopies where they stick a little camera, down your nose and look at your vocal folds. And she did all of these wonderful studies in the 70s 80s and 90s. And out of that created a whole world wonderful five day course. And the first three days you study the anatomy and you learn that when you narrow your abs, you get sounds like this.

4:06
When you tilt your thyroid, you get yourselves like

4:10
this. And when you tilt your crycoid, you get belty sounds like that. And you can lower your larynx, lift your larynx and all the fun things. So it gives you all these ideas and ways to kind of actually start working with your voice more than just one way because usually what people when they come to singing, they study especially, you know, 20-30 years ago, we we all studied with classical opera teachers and we were taught one way of singing

4:44
Absolutely. Same with me. And so I was frustrated with that. And I don’t know I think a lot of singers in Ireland in Ireland a lot of people sing traditional music and they’ll avoid going to a singing teacher because they don’t want to be trained out Have that natural tone. And I just love the the Estill method is one that I’ve just done a, you know, one short course in, but it’s absolutely transformed how I teach. But what we’re saying is, it’s not about one way of singing, it’s about your choices. And if you don’t understand what it is work, so what it is you’re changing physically, that makes it much harder to have a choice, especially if you’re new to singing. Or if you’re having a difficulty getting a sound that you really want, you want to actually know exactly what’s happening, right?

5:34
Yeah, exactly. And for some people, they need to know that I’m the kind of person that really wants to know what’s going on. And and as a voice teacher, that’s, it really has helped me to help other people figure out their voices. But and then you know, there are some people that are just natural singers, and they don’t want to know.

6:00
It’s too conscious minded, then it’s, it takes away the joy, it

6:04
takes away from the joy but, but a lot of people come to singing, and they have a lot of problems and kind of built in unconscious ways of holding their larynx and doing things with their larynx, that just are not helping them to sing well. And so what Estill does is help help people to go, oh, if I lift my larynx a bit, and I tilt my thyroid, I get this beautiful sound right? And

6:34
wow, look at you. So are you saying now that anyone can learn to sing?

6:42
Yes. And I think and what, what Joe Estill herself said is that everybody has a beautiful voice. Right? We all have a beautiful voice. And we all have the right to learn about it and to and to discover it and to and to bring it into the world in a wonderful way. Right? And yeah,

7:08
there’s a place for every voice in God’s choir as they say. Yes, I love that. And then we might come back to talking a little bit more about the Estill method. But I’m also really curious to find out a little bit more about you, Ron and about what your motivation for music came from and where your love for singing has come from. When did it start?

7:31
I started singing in an Anglican church choir when I was a was a boy, I think I was about seven and the choir teacher Eileen Yaxley put me beside, she said that I couldn’t sing in tune at first. And so she put me beside a strong singer, and by and so by the end of the year, she said I could sing in tune. And yeah, so that’s where it started. I was taking piano lessons as well, at that time, and my my music was in my family. My father played the piano, and my and his parents. My grandpa was a fiddle player. And my grandma started on the banjo, and then she got arthritis. So she moved to the guitar. And then eventually she, she was playing the bass, because that’s all her fingers could do. And my brother is a drummer and as played in in drums, he was four years older than me. So he was a he was also an influence. And so when I got to high school, there was a big wonderful choir program that was just kind of starting at that time. And so I started singing in that choir, and the church choir and because I had been singing in church choir, I was one of the few boys who actually could sing in tune it so I was getting solos and, and, and then also there was a musical theater community, amateur community in Lloydminster, where I grew up at that time to that. They put on shows and I got what was the first show it was two by two the musical two by two. It was about Noah and the ark. And I was I was I was Noah’s youngest son Japeth. Yeah. Isn’t that nice?

9:33
Yeah. What did it feel like for you music for what was music? What was the feeling and what was the why did you like it so much.

9:43
Music for me was always this wonderful puzzle. That’s my brain. I love figuring it out. And and it took me a long time to to figure it out. And to get to a point where it’s feels like a flow kind of experience now and the more I sing, the more it’s a flow type of experience, but but for me, I love the puzzle of trying to figuring it out and figuring out how to sing and going to university and doing my undergrad in voice in, in performance and, and it it was always this kind of weird puzzle full of metaphors that I didn’t understand completely and, and yeah, it was just it was just a wonderful challenge. I guess for me. Yeah. It seems so something I was good at. But yeah,

10:46
it’s like a learning thing, or like a curiosity that’s bringing you step by step each time.

10:53
Yeah, and that’s my big motivation. I think it’s a part of my enneagram personality. I’m a five. So I like to learn all the time. And I like figuring things out and understanding them and, and then sharing that knowledge with people. So it’s singing was was the thing that came along that did that for me.

11:17
Yes. And you’ve taken it to lots of different directions. I know as well with directing and working, you worked with choirs and lots of different types of singers as well. Different types of genres. What do you, what’s your passion now? And where what are the other interests?

11:36
Well, I’ve done I’ve performed on stage professionally with Edmonton Opera, I’ve done roles with them. And a lot of fun, they usually give me the comedy English comedy roles, because that’s what I tend to be good at. And, but also exploring musical theater, I’ve done a lot of amateur musical theater here in town, and we have this thing called the Edmonton fringe Theatre Festival, and it’s the, it’s the second largest in the world. So behind Edinburgh. And the so the arts community and our choir community is is huge here in Edmonton. And we have all of this, these opportunities to perform all the time, which is, which is really wonderful. And it’s all at a very, very high level. So yeah, I’ve done that I’ve, I’ve conducted a women’s choir for a little while, which was a lot of fun. And just learning how to conduct was, I was never very good at it, but but I did it. And I’ve directed shows. And, and I’ve also recently music directed Light in the Piazza. So it’s, yeah, it’s fun. That the older you get, the more you can kind of challenge yourself and all these wonderful ways. Yeah,

13:09
yes. And I think for most singers and musicians, we all need to look at other ways to explore the business side of us, you know, from a career perspective as well. And the creative side, different creative aspects of us, because there’s always more and there’s always there’s some, there’s different ways to take it.

13:32
Well, and the business side is also wonderfully creative to write and you can create interesting things. from a business point of view, when you have a music studio, it’s like you and your podcast, right? And yes, and things that I’m doing with community and yeah,

13:52
yes. I mean with with your own teaching, what is it that like, what kind of process Do you take your students on? Like, how can they work with you if they want to?

14:06
The process in the sense like how to how do people start with me or, or? Yeah, well, now because I’ve, I’ve created this community, people can kind of come into the community and, and see how I work, I guess now and, and start there. But I’ve also created an online course, okay, that that people have access to and they can, because like when you come to me, I start talking in Estill language right away and try to explain it. So I’ve put a little intro to Estill and the language in my, like a little course so that when students come they can just do that little quick little hour long course that introduces all the Language and stuff like that. But then, yeah, it’s a slow build up of, of, of technique and kind of going everyone’s different, right? Yeah. What what kind of vocal problems do they have? I have a lot of retired students right now. And so a lot of people as they get older, their larynx drops down and their voices get thicker and thicker and, and deeper. And so it’s learning to lift up their larynx a little bit, and we’re learning to find those thinner sounds that sing better. Yes,

15:36
beautiful. And it’s so interesting to take someone through that process. I think for me, because I studied psychology, and I’m all about the confidence side of singing. I always feel like there’s this personal development journey that the student has to go on in order to achieve what they want to achieve with their voice, because the voice reveals so much of who you truly are. Would you agree?

16:04
Yes, totally. And, and I know for myself, that exploration took me through yoga and meditation, and, and Reiki and energy work and stuff like that, because, because I not only do you have to kind of learn how to, to sing, but you have to learn how to be comfortable and, and full in your own body. Right. And, and to explore that and to, and to have a singing makes you face a lot of things, like a lot of fears about singing in front of other people. And also your crazy monkey mind, right? That just runs in circles. And so I use meditation and bodywork to kind of to move through that and help me and so it’s, it’s, it’s a big part of learning to sing.

17:04
Yes, so let’s, let’s dig in a little bit to that whole point. When we’re saying that we need to, I don’t know, it’s almost like get in touch with yourself and understand your mind and where what what your thinking is or what your blocks are. And when someone comes and wants to sing, they have to first of all, for me, it’s a lot to do with self acceptance. Because when we start learning anything, but specifically singing because we can hear it straight away. And it can sound pretty bad when we’re starting off or so it can be so inconsistent. And as a computer so frustrating because it’s a fine motor skill, like writing. If you write your name for the very first time as a kid or that first time you write the letter A, it’s all over the place. And we as adults forget that, that fine motor skill takes a lot of time and a lot of practice and it needs to be physical practice, that you can’t just read a book and become really good at singing unless you’ve already been singing for hundreds like for 10 or 20 years, you’re going to only be good at singing if you’ve been making sounds and if you’ve been doing something with your voice there’s some physical thing that you’ve been doing that’s allowed you to explore and strengthen that

18:29
yes

18:31
yeah, it takes a long time to sing and I still feel like you know I started singing when I was when I was a kid and I took lessons in high school the bits and then really started studying in university but I still feel you know, I’m about to turn 50 and I still feel like I’m learning about my voice and improving it and making it better. So it it really is a lifelong thing and right now I’m reading a book about singing through change and it’s about menopause and perimenopause and and and how women’s voices changed at that point in their life and and how you have to embrace that and let it be what it’s going to be right because women’s voices they can up usually and get thicker and they lose their high notes and, and so you have to in some ways, learn about your voice and figure out everything that you can do with it, but then also except what it can do and what you’re good at and where your strengths lies. Because that makes

19:46
that makes so much sense because you know I when I went to study music, I did it in my 30s I was wish I was a wishful singer you know I was I want to be a singer but I can’t do that and it was a bit silly because I had been singing You know, it was just I had, I didn’t see myself as ever having potential to do anything professionally with music. And part of me always wish to do something with it. But eventually I did go to college and I ended up doing vocal performance at jazz Vocal Performance MHC. And the jazz genre is a lot of the, you know, the elevated artists or singers of that time were the African American singers and they had quite robust, warm, resonant, deep voices, and often that had been perfected through gospel singing and church singing and very prayerful singing from childhood. Then I went in with my Irish Catholic school girl voice, and quite sweet and gentle and not a lot of strength. And it took me like those first few years of learning jazz music I transposed everything right down into the lowest part of my register. Because I wanted to sound that I wanted that sound but I was never going to quite get that sound so I it’s been a journey, you know? Like you say, self acceptance.

21:15
Yes, very much so and so it that’s the fun part about working with students is is helping them to to come to those realizations and figure out what their what their strengths are and and but then also giving them the tools and to say, you know, it’s totally fine to explore that. But But did I lose you looks like I’ve lost you know, you’re

21:42
you’re okay, because the video will catch up with us. I could still hear you perfect. I

21:47
might have lost you. Still says I’m recording.

21:53
Yep. Ron, can you hear me? Oh, you’re back. Are you back?

21:58
Oh, okay. There you go. Yeah, yeah.

22:01
That’s just the internet. Start You’re

22:06
right, what was I talking about?

22:10
So I had just finished my thought about self acceptance.

22:13
Right. Yeah. So teaching people to sing is helping them to, to those realizations and to add to to give them that space, right, to explore and to, and to find, find the tools and to still say, hey, yeah, I’d like to kind of, I’d like to do a little bit of jazz and see what that’s like. And I’d like to do a little bit of opera and see what that’s like and, and and because all of that stuff when you when you learn it, it does bring something back to what you’re doing and and enriches what you do love to do.

22:51
Yeah, definitely. One of my former incarnations was working in the health field and I got dragged into working as a fitness instructor actually, for short, while for the one thing I would always say to people would be you know, in fitness, you don’t just exercise the arm that needs to be strong. Or, you know, you actually do a full body workout every time no matter what kind of an athlete you might be. And I think that that it that analogy, and it lends itself to singing as well. It’s good to, to use every aspect of your voice and to get that overall vocal fitness and vocal agility working. And that gives you an awful lot more choice and confidence in what you can do.

23:37
It does and that’s what’s wonderful about Estill is that on the last two days of the course you explore different recipes. So you explore a speech recipe, Happy birthday to you. And then a falsetto or a breathy Happy birthday. And sob happy birthday. And twang Happy birthday, opera Happy birthday.

24:05
and belt Happy birthday.

24:08
So amazing for all of those things. Right? And yeah, and that’s that’s the fun part about Estill training is you can show off like that.

24:18
Absolutely. I love it. One thing I would do want to get your take on is when it comes to teachers, especially people who teach choirs are to teach singing, but they don’t fully understand how to help someone improve their pitch or how to help someone’s tone. And I think a lot of younger people that have had teachers that don’t really know how to help someone, they’ve been shut down and told or you can’t saying or and just know the words and I mean, I’ve heard so many different versions of you know, basically shut up and don’t, don’t sing because you’re, you know, or, you know, even that have that phrase Some people would use like don’t quit the day job. And what would you say to someone who’s had that experience who’s been shut down in some way.

25:10
Um, I, I’ve worked with I and I work presently with students who have been told that and, and you have to kind of create this accepting place for them. And, and a place that that allows them to, to explore and feel safe and feel comfortable. And at but, you know, everybody should we learn to sing, you know, technically there’s only a very, very tiny amount of people that can’t actually sing in tune that can’t match pitch, everybody can. And, and it it’s a matter of finding, I guess the right teacher, that that’s going to a make you feel safe, and be give you the right information to help you slowly get better and to and to encourage you and to realize that, that it is a process. And that process is what is fun and and is what is the most important. You know, people come into singing and they all want to think they have to sound like this, you know, Pavarotti or, or Christina Aguilera right, but, but it takes time and it takes and it’s and it’s that process. That’s important. And it’s fun. And, and what you learn and grow about yourself is is what’s great and not not to be worried so much about you know, do I have to sing in front of people yet? No, you don’t. When you when you feel comfortable, and you feel good. And also, there’s one of my ladies who sings in, in my, my community she, I have this monthly recital that I do every month and with my students and you know, she’s not a very good singer, but she comes and she sings. And she does it with such enthusiasm that everybody just loves her. Right? Yeah. And you know, so what if she didn’t hit that notes or the snow was a little flat over there? Right? She’s having fun.

27:30
Absolutely. And that’s the most important thing. And I think even standing up in front of someone to say something or to sing something is is takes it takes a bit of bravery and kind people will applaud that bravery no matter how you sound. And certainly if you put some heart into it, and some emotion into the song that can actually be it can it can allow for a lot of things to be forgiven. And that’s the way that I generally teach is I get people singing from the heart ASAP and and then we work on technique and we get to get you doing it first and to a level that is enjoyable for you and for others to appreciate. But then you’ll still be on a longer process also.

28:19
Yeah, you know that what what is important is communicating in singing and and, and communicating what is the emotion and the feeling and your heart and, and not not so much the perfect pitch or the singing it perfectly? Right?

28:38
I agree with that approach. And I know that there are purists out there that you know, and certain people will be irritated by off pitch thinking that they don’t you know, we have to choose our audience, right. But I believe that there is an audience for everyone, whether it’s, you know, just yourself or your grandkids or your singing community. And that’s why I love doing what I do, because it does create this space safe space, where people can explore their voice and not be criticized and not be expected to be really good or perfect or at at professional performance level when that is very much at like, would be would be very difficult for people when they start off.

29:23
Mm hmm. Yeah, it’s Yeah, don’t expect perfection, but communicate and love what you’re doing and that will shine through

29:33
100% at Can I ask you though, before we we start to wind things up. What did work doing your Reiki and yoga really give you in terms of your singing Like what? Like, would you like me interested? Just curious because you said that that really helped you. But you didn’t specify exactly how

29:59
that’s is a very intangible thing. Well, yoga gave me body awareness and, and, and an ability to understand my breathing better. And what I was doing there and to strengthen my body because you have to be, I think fairly strong and your body in order to sing. And so you have to be careful though with with yoga breath because they teach a lot of relaxed or not not so it’s relaxed belly, but it’s just belly breathing, and sometimes that gets people off on the wrong way. I think anyways, and Reiki, Reiki helps me to, to be more sensitive to energy and to people’s energy, and to see outside of myself, in a way, I’m a very kinesthetic person. So I feel things I don’t really see, I guess, but it helps me to be a more sensitive teacher. And, but also creating, I think, in a, in a way a safe space and, and, and the understanding that intention creates energy and that, and when you create a good intention for things, it creates a good energy. So yeah, that’s really beautiful. So yeah, reiki, it’s a it’s, it was a bigger part of my life, but it now it’s just a part of my life. So it’s something I do, but maybe don’t think about as much.

31:49
Yes, well, everything’s evolving, and things come around again, sometimes when the, your curiosity takes you that direction, again, I’m sure you’ll go there. Okay, well, we’re going to wind up soon. But I would love for you to, first of all, tell us how people can work with you, and within the community, or you know, how they can get in touch with you. And then secondly, to tell us a little bit about this piece that we’re going to be playing at the end. And a little bit about your journey, because I know that the the piece of music we’re going to be playing is is from a show that you actually wrote. So if we could cover both of those points, and then we’ll wind things up.

32:31
So the first way thing is, the way you can get a hold of me and study with me is through my website. So singing with ron.com. And on there, you there’s a PDF that you can download, and it explains everything about private lessons. But you can also join my community that I’ve created. And every morning, we do a 15 minute warmup. It’s based on so and so kind of voice principles. It starts at 9.30 Mountain Time and it’s on zoom, but I stream it to a private Facebook group, which I think you’re in right? Yes, yeah.

33:16
Yes, I’m in your community. Yes.

33:19
And then on Tuesday nights every Tuesday nights, I have a question period twice a month. And then this coming Tuesday is something called pop check. Actually my partner Noel named it pop check. And it’s, we listen to pop singers and analyze what they’re doing from an Estill point of view and go oh, there is belting here, or they’re adding twing here or there. I didn’t know that. I need to go into that. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. Yeah, so that’s Tuesdays at seven. And, and then the final Tuesday of every month is a recital. And we pick monthly themes. And so this month is 17th and last month with jazz, so that’s a lot of fun. And so that’s the community also there’s other little things that happen as well. But that those are the main things and that’s 10 bucks a month so it’s it’s cheap to join and

34:21
even cheaper if you’re in Ireland because 10 Canadian dollars is not a lot in Irish euros or even an American Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re under charging I’m telling you now everybody listening don’t be surprised if the price goes up in Yes, it’s a lot value to be giving.

34:39
Yeah, well it’s it’s you try to create something and so it’s Yeah, it’s how do you put a price on it and figuring it out. But But yeah, so that’s that and then the the piece of music that we’re going to hear at the end is from a show. I didn’t actually write the song but the I wrote the show And it’s the show is called Handel the musical. And it’s based on research I did that Handel might have been gay, he never got married, and he was very, very private about his, his life and not a lot of stuff are known. But he there’s little hints that that people have kind of taken. And so I wrote this show where Handel asks God to come back to perform a Broadway show. And because he feels that God owes him because Handel’s Messiah and and the hallelujah chorus and so God agrees, but God decides that he’s going to decide what the songs are. And so God keeps choosing all these gay themed Broadway tunes, and slowly Handel talks about his life and sings the songs and comes out of the closet by the end of the end of the show. So this is me dressed up as George Frederick Handel singing way ahead of my time, which is not from an actual Broadway show, but it’s it is from a Broadway I forget what the Broadway show is, but it’s I actually don’t know at all. It’s a very cute funny song about being. He’s not like the other cave men. Yeah, so he’s telling his dad why he’s different than the other, the other cave men wonderful. It’s real cute. Yeah.

36:43
Well, it’s been such a pleasure having you on the show. And there’s a lot of wonderful kind of, of inspiration in your story. And I think it will give my listeners a hint as to what’s possible, even if you haven’t been a singer, in your mind, or as part of your identity that is call still be worthwhile pursuing.

37:08
Yeah, totally. It’s very enriching music and singing is so enriching to your life, and you don’t have to be the best. You just have to do it.

37:17
Wonderful. It’s absolutely been a pleasure. Thank you to everybody who’s been listening, we really appreciate you listening to the show. And all of the information about Ron will be with the notes with the different ways that you can listen so some of you might be on Spotify or watching the YouTube video. So all of the links should be right there and that you can get in touch with Ron and/ or myself because I do teach as well. And we’d both be very happy to talk to you and see if you’re interested in working with either of us. So thank you, Ron. And Good night, everyone.

37:55
See you Thank you.

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