Remembering Frances Crawford February 29, 2016Posted by Judy in Musings.
A very special person passed away this week. Frances Crawford. She was my voice teacher in graduate school. When I came to the University of Illinois, I didn’t know a single person, and I certainly didn’t know anything about the voice faculty. That first summer semester, I just so happened to be taking a Music History course where I happened to meet Kathy Watson, (also a singer), who happened to introduce me to Frances. (As an aside, I don’t actually think that all of those things just “happened”. They were all providential.) I liked Frances from the instant that I met her. She was so welcoming and made me feel like this business of moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone wasn’t going to be so bad after all. I didn’t know anything about her vocal skills or her teaching skills, but I knew I liked her. I knew she made me feel comfortable. And so, I asked if she’d be willing to take me on as a voice student, and she said yes. I am forever changed for having had the chance to study with Frances.
That first year of grad school was quite the roller coaster for me. Thankfully, I had two positive constants: Frances Crawford and Eric Dalheim. (You can read about my experiences with Eric, here.) Frances was always so upbeat and positive. She was a petite woman, but her personality sure packed a punch! Not only that, her knowledge of how the singing voice worked was astounding. Every lesson, I was amazed at her vocal knowledge. I guess I shouldn’t have been given that by the time I met her, she had already been teaching for over 50 years. But amazed I was. I would be struggling to make a particular sound or to sing a long phrase in one breath and she’d say, “Try lifting just this part of your palate.”, or “You aren’t out of air. There’s always more air. Trust yourself.” Once I figured out how to do the things she asked, it was like magic, the problem was solved! She had a seemingly endless number of little tips and tricks up her sleeve. She shared so many of those tips, that when a college friend visited me towards the end of that first year, his first comment was, “Wow! You really have learned a lot this year!”
After grad school, I kept in touch with Frances and took lessons here and there whenever I had an issue that needed some of her magic salve. We saw each other around town, she attended my wedding, and rejoiced with me at the birth of my first born. Time passed, I moved away, she moved away, I moved back, she moved back. We saw each other again about 3 years ago at a BACH concert. That was the last time I saw her.
I learned of her passing on Friday, and it was like a dagger to my gut. It had never occurred to me that, one day, she would no longer be around. Maybe that should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t, and I was stunned. I attended her funeral services this weekend, and have been in a dazed and grief-stricken funk. I’ve been trying to sort out why this has hit me so hard. It’s not like we talked on a regular basis or anything, it had been three years since our last communication. I’ve come to the realization that I feel the way that friends who have lost their parents have told me they feel. Frances wasn’t my parent, but she was. You see, she was a parent for my voice. I met her when I was 23, the vocal equivalent of a teenager, a time when all sorts of tumultuous changes were going on and I was trying to sort out how to live with and use this voice I’d been given. She was the vocal parent: guiding my voice, encouraging me when things didn’t go well, challenging me to do more and be better, rejoicing with me when exquisite sounds poured forth. As any good parent, she also influenced other areas of my life. Being 23 meant that I was trying to sort out how to be an adult and figuring out who I wanted to be. Having her as a constant, positive, energetic and encouraging presence during that time affected me for the better.
Friends who have lost their parents tell me that after the parent is gone, they see their parent and the influences exerted on their lives everywhere. It’s a constant reminder of who they were. Now that Frances is gone, I find that I’m hearing her voice in my head as I’m singing.
Each song that I sing is successful because of some tip that she taught me.
“Just let that note spin on its vibrato.”
“Let those low notes drop down into the basement.”
“That note needs more low support.”
“Imagine yourself as a glass without a bottom.”
“Put more [ae] behind that “e” vowel.”
People say that with time, they have a hard time remembering the voice or facial features of a loved one. I hope that I will never stop hearing her voice in my head. Her voice will be a reminder of all that she taught me. I hope that her voice will forever share the gift of her magic salve.