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March 31, 2023

Her vibe was more impressive to me than her teaching skills, to be honest. I’d already seen this woman in action one time before; her vocal technique stressed the usage of an area below the diaphragm, which she would refer to as the “Super Belly Button”. Her many students appeared dedicated beyond belief when she turned that initial 90-minute show into a group lesson. But this matinee at the Triad Theater a couple of months later was more of a book-release party. She thanked me profusely for working the bar for was likely to be little money.

Then Mary Setrakian smilingly dropped a twenty dollar bill into my jar and hopped onstage to greet an adoring crowd.

This time I was able to join in when her presentation once again veered into vocal exercises. And I couldn’t have been more impressed with the line-up of individuals taking turns to offer their appreciative comments. One was a current Broadway performer who wistfully demonstrated the difference in sound between his old and new way of singing. Another was a rock and roll singer who expressed awe at her discovery - after one session! - that her voice had a range one full octave higher than she’d previously utilized. Every other speaker offered similar stories with a mixture of incredulity and profound gratitude.

And, to state the obvious, they were all amazingly capable singers as well.

I learned from that second session that Mary had been hired to help prep Nicole Kidman for her role in “Moulin Rouge” and got the hint this was only the tip of the iceberg as far as interesting stories go. While dedicated to her many students from around the world, she currently had an extremely long wait list for new ones, which felt understandable while watching her in action. Her own voice was lovely and strong. This was one of those low-paying matinee shows I was happy to be a part of.

A co-worker actually snapped up the last remaining copy of her book before I could do the same thing. But Mary didn’t leave before once again thanking me profusely for whatever little role I’d just played in her big afternoon. She seemed to be under the impression that I’d worked the Triad for far longer than was actually the case, which was fine by me. She said she looked forward to seeing me again.

And the following day, what seemed like a far-fetched idea hit me. Maybe I should get a hold of her to gauge the feasibility of setting up a one-on-one session of my own! Perhaps I could play her an original song or two; she might give me an idea of how to present them better. True, she had this daunting waiting list, but as of this moment she still likely had some idea of who I was - so if I was ever going to make an out-of-character move like this, the quicker the better!

Before giving this surprising notion a chance to slip away, I found myself searching online for her website. I found an email address for her business. I immediately wrote a query email - which she returned, with her customary exuberance and grace, right away!

Yes - she was indeed extremely busy - but of course she could make time for someone like me!

So - two weeks later, I took part in my first-ever vocal lesson!

I have the whole thing recorded and will at some point revisit the full ninety minutes. But, in short, I found the experience to be completely worthwhile. A little tweak here and there on my breathing and delivery. Some helpful suggestions on how to project a bit more forcefully, which should help in finding my “true voice”. And some longed-for encouragement about both my singing (she said I had perfect pitch!) and piano playing.

She appeared to enjoy the two original songs I chose to play as well!

(Which were “My Yoga Teacher” and “How I Hate to See my Mother Cry”, for those of you who might be interested…)

And to top things off, Mary gave me a copy of her book, which now rests on my piano. Though this was unintentional on my part, her smiling face continues to offer further encouragement each time I find myself banging out an old tune in both a familiar and new way. I’ve only finished the first chapter so far, but anecdotes about her experiences with Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mary J. Blige, Bernadette Peters and a host of Broadway performers await.

I’m in good company, it seems.

Mary seems to think having a show of my own at the Triad Theater could be an easily attainable goal. Who knows? In a strange coincidence, our longtime soundman John-Pierre discovered my songs here on only a day or two after our lesson. He’s been full of over-the-top encouragement since. I have no interest - or capability - in becoming a Broadway-type singer, but the idea of presenting my own songs in a way that will make others want to listen is certainly appealing.

Finding one’s “true voice”…

I guess it’s never too late to try!


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