Congratulations to Dominique Labelle, winner of Schulich's 2017-18 Teaching Award in the performance area.
Since joining the Schulich School of Music in 2014, Dominique has consistently gone above and beyond what is required of her. Her dedication to her role as teacher, mentor and advocate is admired by students and faculty alike. As described by Gina Hanzlik (MMus ’18), “Dominique is sought out by the highest level of incoming students because her excellent reputation among current students and alumni is far-reaching. She is known for encouraging her students to be independent in the development of their personal style and artistry.”
We spoke with Dominique over a recent email exchange to learn more about her career as an educator at the Schulich School of Music.
What is your teaching approach?
Five words: discipline, knowledge, passion, courage and generosity.
When one understands the importance of singers in the world, and how they can transform it, one takes their growth and formation very seriously.There is no greater joy than to witness a young singer becoming efficient at singing and communicating their love of words, as well as the experience in watching them perform music to their peers, and eventually to greater audiences.I feel privileged to teach students enrolled at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University. They are extremely talented and motivated.
Each voice is unique. Because this amazing instrument not only belongs to the musician, but also IS the musician, I prefer using a nurturing approach when teaching voice. I find myself amazed every day, as I spend many hours listening to voices asking me how to grow, to come out and live. During private lessons, I work on specific technical aspects of singing and on building a vocal discipline. While studying a variety of repertoire, my students explore concepts related tounderstanding the cycle of breath, support, vowel purity, resonance efficiency, evenness in vocal registers, good posture while keeping the instrument relaxed and flexible, good singing habits, impeccable musicianship, diction and style.
In my weekly Studio Class, which I use as a lab, I let students present their musical selection. While listening to them attentively, I address one issue at a time. I stay away from embarrassing topics like jaw tension, posture or pitch, and focus on clarity of thought, communication, emotional intent and freedom. I bring my students out of their comfort zonethrough exercises such as asking them to sing while lying on the floor, pulling a heavy rubber band to engage the whole body, looking directly at a colleague, walking back and forth under my guidance to let go of control, dancing or putting their heads inside the piano to hear their voice as integral part of the music. I always ask for feedback from the student who went through the exercise as well as the whole class to reinforce the process. These two perspectives (the pedagogical aspect of the private lesson, and the experimental focus of Studio Class) are complementary to one another.
Since I am a new teacher, I cannot say that my approach to teaching has improved much, but I am learning to slow down and to use issues that are brought to my immediate attention by the student, rather than focusing on ideas that have more to do with my own expectations. I am also discovering various ways to communicate knowledge to my students. I appreciate the many discussions shared with colleagues at school and around the world. I find them extremely helpful in guiding together our wonderful students.
There is still so much to learn. I would like to deepen my understanding of how the body works as an instrument. For example, I would like to learn how to better assist students who have had dental work and are struggling with jaw alignment. Expanding my knowledge of breathing is a priority and I intend to take classes in kinesiology as well as travel to Italy, India and California to study it. These are my projects for my first sabbatical.
How does your performing career influence your teaching?
I believe that remaining active as a singer is beneficial to teaching. I love to rehearse and sing. It keeps me close to the source and reminds me why I teach. There are so many experiences that inform my teaching: the expectations of world renowned conductors, the demands of music on the voice, the joy of working with incredible colleagues and the commitment one must give to the art of singing to achieve success. My students will find their own path and it is my hope that the incredible journey I traveled as a musician, and the experience and knowledge I was able to save in my backpack, is a source of inspiration to them.
About the Schulich School of Music Teaching Awards
Each year the Schulich School of Music recognizes faculty members and student instructors for their outstanding contributions. The Schulich School of Music Teaching Awards recognize excellence, commitment and innovation in teaching, and the importance of these qualities in the academic experience of students at McGill. Prizes are awarded annually to each winner at Spring Convocation.