A common assumption that Laura Davis has to dispel as a voice teacher is that people taking lessons are mainly middle and high-school aged girls training for auditions and school performances. For a while, that was exactly the clientele that she was teaching. But she encountered a shift after moving back to Denver and opening her studio, LJD Studios, in 2018, which some folks find to be surprising. A large chunk of her students are now men in their late twenties to mid fifties who are not professional singers or even interested in performing.
Davis isn’t sure why this shift occurred, whether it’s where her home studio is located or how she’s marketing herself. But she’s noticed a common thread between the men and other adults taking lessons – that their interests revolve around pursuing lifelong dreams, learning, and exploring curiosities.
“I think it’s that we all sort of innately understand that our voices are tied to our identities,” Davis said.
One such person is 29-year-old production worker James Guerrero, who took up lessons with Davis at age 27 with no prior musical background.
“I really decided to think about what my passions were, and that, to me, was rock music,” Guerrero said. “Then I decided to narrow it down a little more – what was it about rock music? If I had to only choose one to master, would it be singing or guitar? And I chose singing.”
Guerrero has been using lessons to master different rock songs, with some of his favorite bands being Blink-182, Sum 41, and Interpol. He was afraid lessons might look the way they do in movies, he said, with strict, serious teachers. But so far, he’s had a lot of fun and will continue to take lessons as long as there’s something new to learn, he said.
Lessons have taught Guerrero to open up more vocally. He started with feeling comfortable singing in only one octave, but has since moved on to three.
“It’s always been in me, it’s just I didn’t know how to really access it,” he said.
55-year-old Matthew Maher, who is a history professor at MSU Denver, has a musical history that partly influenced his decision to take lessons. He grew up in a large family, and as the youngest of six, watched his two older brothers pave the way as musicians in the 70s.
“I remember having a record player like when I was three years old or something,” Maher said. “They both, and my sisters too, had a lot of records. I learned mostly by just listening to music.”
Maher has been playing instruments, composing music, and singing for a long time, and has even fronted various rock ‘n’ roll groups. His active project is The Plastic Rakes, a post-punk rock trio.
But it wasn’t music that gave Maher the idea to start taking singing lessons a few years ago – it was yoga.
Maher had been taking yoga classes pretty intensely for about five years when Davis became a yoga teacher at the studio he frequented. He began taking group lessons that Davis was leading, and she ended up helping him to relieve a lot of pain he was experiencing through yoga.
“She was very attuned to what other people are doing with their bodies,” Maher said. “My shoulder pain – I learned a few techniques from her – it went away and it’s never come back.”
Maher and Davis got to talking after class, revealing that Davis was also a voice teacher. Since she had helped him so much with yoga, he figured that she would be able to help with voice, which was something he had always put second to playing instruments.
Aside from a masters in voice pedagogy (vocal instruction) and performance, Davis is also a E-RYT 500 yoga teacher and uses yoga as a singing tool in her lessons. She incorporates things like breathing techniques all the way to poses.
For Maher, the elements of yoga he uses most when singing is the awareness of one’s body.
“The similarities between yoga and singing, I think it really is about being present. It’s about being in the moment and having that awareness,” Maher said.
Sean McElroy, co-owner of Double A Security Inc. in Lakewood, CO, began taking lessons with Davis a couple years ago. He wanted to continue pursuing a lifelong interest in improving his singing in addition to playing drums and piano. As time allows, he performs with different groups and venues.
At 58 years old, McElroy practices nearly any kind of music except rap. He loves hair metal, Elvis, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, and even tries out classical and operatic styles.
He appreciates how much concentration and control singing takes, and loves the work, McElroy said.
In the end, Davis has developed a toolset for teaching whoever walks through her door for lessons. She’s taken what she’s learned from the various teachers she’s had and people she’s worked with to come up with her own evolving teaching styles.
Davis came from a background where there was a right and wrong way to do things, she said, but she no longer subscribes to that. Now, she’s guided by the notion that if there’s a sound you want to make, she’ll help you find a way to make it.
“Everybody is capable of making music of some kind,” she said. “Anyone and everyone should have the opportunity to experience that if they want to. It shouldn’t just be left to the professionals, so to speak.”