Leeds College of Music Contemporary Pop Choir recently welcomed Mark De Lisser as guest director for a very special, one-off show at The Venue. Mark has had a successful career in helping singers develop - from being a vocal coach on The Voice to directing highly-acclaimed choirs across the UK.
Having enjoyed success with his recent book, 100 ways to inspire your choir, Mark’s next project is as an arranger and vocal coach on the brand new BBC show, Pitch Battle, which sees vocal groups and choirs in competition over six weeks this summer.
During his trip to LCoM, we spoke to Mark about his approach to coaching, and the fact everybody can sing, with the right development…
Q. What’s your process as a vocal coach?
A. Firstly we sing! It’s not about what you can do, it’s not about how good you are, it’s about what your mechanism is doing. I look to find out what habits you have you got, what good points you have, and where the opportunities for development are. Often when clients come in to me, they say “I want to sound like – so and so.” We should actually be embracing what we have – ultimately this way your voice will become more acceptable to you.
Q. You’ve worked with some high profile singers over your career…
A. Jessie J was one of my first clients – she was only about 15 or 16 at that time, and she was already a phenomenal singer. It was really challenging to work with her because she was so good! With Jessie it was actually about trying to rein her voice back a bit. At first she hated it – but ultimately this was about giving her another tool to work with as a singer, something different.
Q: Do you think everybody can sing?
A: Yes, it all just depends what your perception of singing is. My two year old son sings children’s programme themes all day long, and nobody ever judges him! As we get older, people start comparing themselves to other singers. They listen to Aretha and think; “Oh no – my voice doesn’t sound like that!” Yes, some people might have tuning issues, some voices sound brighter, some sound duller. However – everyone can sing! The first thing we do when we come out of the womb is produce a cry – a prolonged tone, which is like singing!
Q: Do you like hearing yourself sing?
A: Not at all! I like listening to my voice when I’m demonstrating something – I know I’m not singing from the heart. Letting people listen to you sing from the heart is really difficult! I’m sure there are great singers out there who don’t like their voice – everybody is their own worst critic!
Q: What are your top tips to help singers improve?
A: You’ve got to get out and perform! There is a saying that one performance is worth ten rehearsals – because you’re exposing your talent to the world. Secondly, once you’re already performing – find yourself a coach. Record your voice and listen to it – then let the coach help you fix the things you know you can do better.
Q: What are the benefits of singing?
A: There are great physical benefits; you need increased lung capacity for singing, there’s more oxygen flowing around your body so it releases more toxins from your blood. Also, singing is a form of release. With singing, you can really get something out of your system. In a choir, you might be singing the same song as everyone else, but your story is different to everyone else’s. You can say what you have to say through a song. It’s the best way of getting rid of issues and demons in your head – just sing it out!
Pitch Battle hits the BBC this summer – follow @PitchBattle for more details…
To find out more about Mark De Lisser click here.