Charlotte Surkin

photograph of Yo kano

How did you first hear about the Lighthouse; what do you teach and how long have you been teaching at the school?

I’ve been teaching at the Lighthouse Music School since 1996, as I had already been preparing students for their GED with Stan Hirschberg (Academic Services) in the mid- 80’s. When an opening arose in the Music School for a voice teacher with my specialty in working with ‘healthy voice’ issues, it was helpful I was already here. I teach voice lessons to adult students 3 days per week-- singers at every level of ability, from beginner to advanced to professional. I also curate the student recital series (afternoons throughout the semester), bring in guest conductors for our Choral Master Class Series, and I am the web contact person for the Music School, coordinating through the Marketing Dept. to post on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

What do you think is the number one issue for visually impaired musicians and how is it different than teaching musicians with non-challenging sight issues?

For people with sight issues, there is only one difference in the process of teaching; having a little more physical contact to explain the preparation of sound. Some people with vision loss do have medical issues that impact their singing. For example, some medications affect the voice causing hoarseness or stiff vocal folds. Through working with specific vocal techniques, I can usually help people overcome any limitations that arise from medicine. Musically, my work involves adjusting to the ways students can receive material and access music, whether large print (most people like the words only in print, then learn the music by ear). I usually play the piano and sing through their music. The students record their lessons and practice at home with their recordings. Some of my students can read Braille music and Braille words.

­Tell us about your career background.

I came from a musical family and early in life found a comfort zone on the stage. I have been singing in operatic roles all my professional life, including Opera Memphis, Santa Fe Opera, and find myself often cast in “mother roles,” such as the mother in ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ In the last 25 years or so I have been singing more oratorio (concert versions of religious vocal works) and have sung the alto solos in Handel’s “Messiah” at both the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C and Carnegie Hall in New York. Currently, I’m one of the alto soloists at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In addition to teaching at the Lighthouse these many years, I have taught as an adjunct professor at Westminster Choir College; Wagner College; Marymount Manhattan College and Collaborative Arts Project 21 (CAP21). Because I’ve taken two “vocology” internships at two major hospitals in Manhattan, I have had the opportunity to really explore my work in teaching students with “vocal problems.”

Here at the Lighthouse, I have many students who’ve been with me a long time – this is a very nice aspect of Community Music School instruction. One can really develop a relationship with individual students and partner them a long way. It’s also really clear to me that students with visual impairments are just like any other music students, and it’s rewarding to witness our students interacting with the general public so often and so well.



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