Soprano Kitty-Maria Clarke is no stranger to performing. An experienced singer, she has sung countless duets and appeared as a soloist at many choir concerts over the years. Typically, these performances involve being introduced, going up on stage to perform one song and then coming off again.
But until her recent lunchtime concert at Brighton's St Nicholas Church, Kitty-Maria had never carried an entire recital on her own - a step that she felt was necessary to fulfil personal and professional goals.
"It's almost like a rite of passage for me. I felt that this experience would give me the confidence to know that I can stand in front of an audience and do this."
Believing that "preparation is everything", Kitty-Maria started working with Stefan Holmström, an opera singer and Estill Master Trainer, a few months before her event. She wanted help articulating and solving some niggling vocal issues that she felt were holding her back.
"Sometimes I just felt like my voice was dropping back, especially when I was singing top notes. I'd get stressed, my throat would close up and I'd start singing back in my throat. I could hear what I wanted when I listened to other singers, but I couldn't always do it reliably myself. I'd maybe do something I wanted by accident, but I wouldn't know how I'd got there so I couldn't do it again. I've had massive breakthroughs working with Stefan and now I know exactly what I need to do."
In addition to beating nerves and feeling a lot calmer when singing, Kitty-Maria feels that it's now becoming more natural for her to place the voice forward. Singing is also feeling a lot less effortful.
"I'm not putting so much energy into trying to fight my own body," she said. "It just flows out now and I'm starting to develop muscle memory. It's all starting to happen naturally."
One exercise in particular that Kitty-Maria has benefited from is the Estill Siren, which helps to train reliable pitching. As often as possible, she does a smooth pitch glide through her entire range. This vocal routine is helping Kitty-Maria to place the voice forward and overcome a frustrating break in her voice.
Stefan and Kitty-Maria have also worked together on specific Estill Voice Training structures to balance her classical sound. For example, they have explored thyroid cartilage control for sweetness and overcoming the passaggio, torso anchoring for support and appoggio and aryepiglottic spinchter (AES) control for forward placement.
Stefan's ability to pinpoint vocal issues and offer precise solutions have hugely helped Kitty-Maria to develop her artistry quickly. This one-to-one coaching, together with practicing little and often on her own and giving lots of thought to the event, reduced anxieties about performing and culminated in a fantastic experience at the recital.
"I'd done so much preparation that I was able to let go during the performance, let it flow and just enjoy myself."
The audience at the lunchtime recital were also touched by Kitty-Maria's relaxed, passionate delivery. In fact, many attendees came up to congratulate her afterward in tears.
"I couldn't have imagined the response I got," she said. "It was so touching!"
"Honestly, Stefan's teaching has been like night and day for me. There is such a difference in my singing over just a short period. It's been absolutely wonderful."
Stefan Holmström is a professional opera singer and voice teacher working with speakers and singers of all ages and abilities with a wide range of goals. He offers online and in-person vocal coaching and workshops from his studio in central Brighton in the UK. As an Estill Master Trainer (EMT), Stefan uses Estill Voice Training (EVT) as a baseline for safe and sustainable voice use.