Monday, September 10, 2012

Singing Lessons with Jeanne Velasco-Vicars of Showstoppers

Last January, Dealspot sold vouchers for singing lessons at Showstoppers Center for Music and Arts. The lessons would be handled by Ms. Jeanne Velasco-Vicars and the technique she would be using was called vocal sound management. According to the description, vocal sound management can correct vocal faults and effect vocal adjustment in the shortest possible time. So with this technique, the student can expect to learn to sing in tune, prevent getting hoarse, increase vocal range and volume, improve enunciation, enhance vocal expression, and clean up his sound.

The teacher, Ms. Vicars, is the voice coach of several celebrities such as Katryn Bernardo, Jennelyn Mercado, Sarah Geronimo, and Isabella de Leon. The office was located in Delta in Quezon City and the rate was P750 per hour per student (regular rate), P375 through the Dealspot promo. I texted Ms. Vicars to confirm if the lessons would be one-on-one and she said yes. I bought six vouchers -- three for me, three for bf. Our first lesson was done in the Delta office, the second after they moved to Timog (in the unit where Ms. Vicars also lives) due to rising rental cost in the previous office.

Bf and I both love music but we're not the singing type. We don't even like contemporary pop and Rn'B. We don't have any ambition to sing professionally. Although they're undeniably great singers, I don't dream of singing ala Charice or Regine Velasquez (my singing idols are more like Chris Cornell and Sebastian Bach, even if they're of the wrong gender). Anyway, my goal was pretty simple: I want to sing in tune. And of course, our overall goal: to try new stuff.

So how did things go? Well, both good and bad.

The positive side

When I first texted Ms. Vicars to confirm if the lessons were indeed one-on-one, I was not actually expecting her to reply. Since she has worked with popular celebrity clients, I expected her to be a bit snobbish to non-celebrity ones, especially since I texted her after office hours. Besides, many companies which offer deals in group buying sites put cellphone numbers as contact info but don't reply when you text them. But Ms. Vicars replied courteously after several minutes and until our last communication, she would reply nicely and would explain things when necessary (no one-word replies).

Getting singing lessons was a bit intimidating for us so bf and I wanted our lessons to be back-to-back. We could then go together, wait outside for the other to finish, then go home together. Ms. Vicars volunteered to extend the claiming period for the vouchers to accommodate my request.

During our first appointment, there was a sudden heavy downpour, so heavy that there was a flash flood along Quezon Avenue even though the rain lasted less than half an hour. Bf and I arrived in the Showstoppers office with the lower half of my jeans completely wet. It was embarrassing but the people at Showstoppers did not seem to mind. We were a bit nervous meeting Ms. Vicars for the first time but soon found out that she was friendly and chatty. We did not feel that we were treated differently just because we were ordinary folks having lessons at half the price.

Ms. Vicars' approach was different from what we expected. She did not make us sing do-re-mi or do vocalization exercises as she believed those were unnecessary. Instead, hers was a more direct, less formal approach. She asked us to choose our songs, searched for karaoke versions of those songs in Youtube, and made us sing along.

I only told her that I wanted to lose my tendency to sing off-key but by hearing me talk and sing, she accurately judged that I have sinus problems and easily get hoarse when singing. Apparently she also suffers from those pesky sinus problems and shared the names of her over-the-counter medicine, which she claimed were effective. She also suggested that I needed realignment and made me lie on the floor then did some chiropractic moves on me. I don't believe in chiropractic but I appreciated her efforts. The next few days I  felt that I was less off-key. I don't know if twisting me helped or if it's some sort of placebo effect or if it was just wishful thinking.

The negative side

When I bought the vouchers, my expectation was that the schedule would be regular. The dealspot promo did not specify any limitation on the class hours so we expected that we could have our lessons on 3 consecutive Saturdays. When I contacted Ms. Vicars to set our schedule, she informed me that we could only have our lessons during weekdays 9am-6pm. Good thing Showstoppers was located not far from bf's office and that our schedules were more flexible than other working people's, otherwise we would have been put in a tight spot. Such a limitation should have been made clear in the dealspot promo since most adults have day jobs.

Getting (and keeping an appointment) was also a pain. While Ms. Vicars' friendliness did not make us feel like second-class students, her attitude towards appointments certainly did.

Here was our timeline:
April 13: We had appointments on May 2, 9, and 16 4-6pm
April 14: We were rescheduled to May 4, 11, and 18 4-6pm
May 3: We got bumped to May 11, 22, and 25 4-6pm
May 11 lesson pushed through.
May 22: Ms Vicars got sick so our 2nd lesson was rescheduled to June 1 5pm
May 28: We were rescheduled to "next week" to make way for rehearsals of summer recitalists, exact date and time to be texted later
(no text until June 11 so I texted her, just in case she forgot about us)
June 11: She was taking care of legal stuff in the province and would meet us "next week"
(no text until I followed up on Aug 16)
Aug 16: We were scheduled on Aug18 6pm (Saturday, she is not available during weekdays anymore)

With such an irregular schedule, what kind of progress could we expect?

Ms. Jeanne Velasco-Vicars
Ms. Jeanne Velasco-Vicars
Showstoppers Timog office
Timog office/Vicars residence
Showstoppers Timog office
Timog office/Vicars residence

The first session was good and enjoyable despite the several times we got rescheduled, but the second one was not as good. Ms. Vicars was distracted and unprepared. She lost my file and spent a long time looking around her computer, thinking of what songs she wanted us to sing (it would have been a lot better if she chose the songs before our arrival). Then she got sidetracked and discussed with us a problem they were having with their accountant, showing us their spreadsheets and explaining what should have been done. We wouldn't have minded listening to this accounting issue if she brought it up after our session, instead of in the middle of it. She also kept on texting while we were singing. She could argue that she was listening to us but still, I found it a bit rude and I felt foolish singing while she was texting. She also lamented about another student, who apparently got angry and wanted a refund because he/she felt neglected after Ms. Vicars' long absence. We think Ms. Vicars was expecting us to be sympathetic to her, but I'm sorry, our sympathy lies with that other student.

Another problem we encountered was that my and bf's consecutive one-on-one lessons became a group lesson. Instead of us individually spending an hour with Ms. Vicars, Ms. Vicars saw bf and I at the same time, for 1.5 hours. That was the arrangement for the first lesson since, according to her, it was a lecture and more of an overview. No problem there, but we were surprised that the second and third sessions became group lessons too. She rationalized it by saying that you also learn from the coaching of your friend. True enough, but when I asked her before buying the vouchers, she confirmed that the lessons would be one-on-one. Besides, I still believe that a student will make more and faster progress if the teacher will focus on him and tailor the lesson around his strengths and weaknesses. This was apparent in the second session, when Ms. Vicars asked bf to sing, focused on me, then asked bf to sing again at the end of the session, almost as an afterthought and as if just humoring bf. Bf did not get any feedback that session and I felt bad for him.

Our next session was supposed to be on Sept 1. I suggested to bf that I would wait outside the unit and he would pretend to arrive alone so that he could have a real one-on-one with the teacher (then he would leave and wait outside as I have my one-on-one) but by the time Sept 1 came, we have become disheartened and lost interest, so we just forfeited our vouchers.

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