Formed in 2018, the unique voice instruction academy aims to create “a brave space for singers” seeking to spotlight their vocals on stage and in the studio.
Grand Rapids Voice Collective is not your typical voice studio.
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While some voice lessons can be isolating, GRVC is rooted in connection and collaboration.
While most voice lessons focus on the standard Western repertoire, GRVC offers each student a customized experience, tailored to their genre preferences and unique vocal goals. And while your typical voice teacher assigns predominantly songs written by white men, the teachers at GRVC work intentionally to highlight music written by women and people of color.
Co-founders Elizabeth Barry and Corie Auger both studied music at Grand Valley State University, but their professional connection came far later. For graduate school, Barry said, “life took us in different directions”: Barry attended Chicago’s Roosevelt University, while Auger attended Penn State University.
“We ended up moving back to Grand Rapids around the same time to do basically the same thing,” Barry said. “We wanted to teach voice lessons and make an impact on the community.”
In Grand Rapids, the two connected. “We would get breakfast and talk about pedagogy and business and teaching,” Barry said. “Over time, that really started to bond us together.”
Barry eventually decided to rent an office space right across from Auger, and the two began collaborating organically on lessons. “We started to cross-pollinate between our studios,” Auger said.
“That’s how it started — me across the hallway, saying, ‘Corie, I have a student, and I need help!’” Barry said.
The pair quickly realized how fruitful their partnership could be. “Wait a minute — we’re literally doing the exact same thing in the exact same space. Why don’t we just actually go ahead and do the thing?” Auger said. “And so Grand Rapids Voice Collective was born.”
This was in 2018. By 2020, they had signed the LLC paperwork to become a business entity. And today, Barry, Auger and their team of teachers have space at 20 Monroe Center NW in the heart of Grand Rapids, where they serve between 60 and 70 vocalists each month.
These singers range widely in age — from young children, who might be auditioning for Broadway shows, to adult singers. “The commonality tends to be that they want to go do something with it,” Auger said. “They want to share it, in some way.”
INCLUSION, ‘REPERTOIRE EQUALITY’ & TRAINING BEYOND JUST CLASSICAL MUSIC
At GRVC, it’s a true collaboration. Students have an instructor who typically serves as their point person, but they can also work with any of the other teachers. “We [instructors] pop in and out of each other’s lessons all the time,” Auger said.
“We care so much more about the progress and the results than who says the thing that helps the student have the ‘A-ha’ moment,” Barry said.
GRVC takes a unique, customized approach to voice lessons, which allows students to learn solid technique while simultaneously pursuing the genres that intrigue them.
“I went to Grand Valley and got a great education, but I only learned about classical music,” Barry said. But it’s sort of rare to find a young person who says, ‘I want to be an opera singer.’ For the students we work with, they [more often] want to sing musicals and pop music.”
“Technique is technique,” Auger said. “People feel like, ‘If I want to learn good technique, I have to learn classically.’ But even that is based in European colonialism, because it’s promoting Western classical music as being the only way to learn technique. But it’s just quite simply not true.” Instead, technique can be learned from any genre.
It’s an issue of inclusion, too. “When we were going to school, we hardly ever learned about non-white [musicians],” Barry said.
“Western music is often on this pedestal,” Auger said. “That doesn’t change unless we just start bringing other music to the fold.” So, GRVC intentionally emphasizes “repertoire equality”: introducing students to underrepresented but equally deserving music by people of color and women.
To see these pieces begin to spread throughout the local music community, Barry said, is “so rewarding.”
FINDING ‘COMFORT IN SINGING AGAIN’
Auger, Barry and their instructors also prioritize being inclusive of every single student. “It starts with our onboarding process,” Barry said: teachers ask for students’ pronouns and any information that students would like to disclose.
GRVC also provides fidget toys in their students, which is “really helpful for both kids and adults,” Barry said. Finally, GRVC ensures that its space is accessible for students who use wheelchairs.
Jaelyn Raiford, who graduated from GVSU with a degree in arts and music, took biweekly lessons from Barry at GRVC.
“It allowed me to find comfort in singing again,” Raiford said. “I had developed quite a bit of discomfort or tension in my vocal practice, so getting to do voice lessons at Grand Rapids Voice was really helpful for me. It helped me to relax and enjoy the process a lot more.”
Raiford’s goals revolve around musical theater. “On stage is always where I want to be,” she said. So, her lessons at GRVC were tailored to this ambition. For instance, last year, Raiford scored the role of Sally Bowles in Circle Theatre’s production of “Cabaret”; accordingly, Barry worked extensively with her on this role.
“I feel like the only reason I had as much confidence as I did while doing the role is because I got to work with Elizabeth on it,” Raiford said.
Now, Raiford is based in Milwaukee, working as a resident intern at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. But her time at GRVC still comes in handy.
“Vocally, it’s very important to have had training,” Raiford said. “Having voice lessons is what helps me to focus and keep my practice consistent.” And even though it’s been a while, Barry and Raiford still keep up. “I keep in touch with her sometimes — sometimes as a voice teacher, and sometimes as a friend,” Raiford said.
Raiford’s story is not an isolated instance: GRVC has students studying music in competitive college programs, pursuing their dreams in big cities and performing in professional shows.
For Barry and Auger, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching their students — current and former — thrive. “We love bragging about our students’ successes. They are our students’ successes, not ours,” Auger said. “We’re guides along the way.”
Get more details, make appointments and find contact info online at https://www.grandrapidsvoicecollective.com/.
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