Katelyn Lee

Voice Faculty
Jazz / Popular Voice
Classical Voice
Program Area: 
Private Instruction
With Music Institute of Chicago since: 

Master of Music in Voice, Indiana University, 2011

Bachelor of Music in Voice, Cincinnati College-Conservatory, 2009

Significant teachers and mentors: 

I have been lucky to have three truly incredible voice teachers. My high school voice teacher, Jane Berg, knew exactly what it took to get into a great college to study opera, and she made sure I had the tools I needed to succeed. She quite literally helped me find my solo voice! My undergraduate teacher at CCM, Barbara Paver, taught me how to breathe and to have confidence in my abilities. She challenged me but was also extremely nurturing and warm during the time I needed it most. My graduate teacher at Indiana University, Costanza Cuccaro, whipped me into shape! I learned how to sing like a professional and she made sure that I had plenty of performance experience while I was there. I learned what it takes to be an opera singer, and I'm truly grateful that I was able to go to a graduate school that provided me with a true glimpse into the real world.

Teaching philosophy and areas of expertise: 

Through classical voice study, students form a solid foundation in proper vocal technique that is applicable to every style of singing. During my years of teaching, I have been continually reminded that students seek voice lessons for many different reasons; some are less obvious than others. My job as teacher is to meet every individual need, and that cannot be done by simply consulting a teaching manual or pedagogy book. It can only be accomplished by forming a personal relationship with the student that encourages free and open communication. Learning proper vocal technique involves a great deal of trial and error, and I strive to find an individual teaching language for each student that inspires confidence, diligence, perseverance, and most of all, joy in singing. I can trace my passion for singing to a very early age. My mother is a music teacher, and I fully believe that the “music gene” was born into me. As a young child, I would sit and listen to the voice lessons she taught in our living room. I was very lucky to observe someone as passionately gifted at teaching as my mother is. Just as young children are said to learn foreign languages more quickly, I believe they are also able to absorb musical principles at a more rapid rate. My early aptitude for music inspired my mother to start a community children’s choir program that I was a member of until I graduated high school. During this time, I was able to observe my mother’s ability to musically inspire students of different ages, backgrounds, and skill levels. This made a deep and lasting impression, and by the time I entered high school, I knew that the study of classical voice would be my chosen career path. Within my voice studio, I try to gauge the student’s abilities as early as possible. During and after each lesson, I take detailed notes which serve as a map of his or her progress. This includes the vocal exercises we worked on, singing principles we discussed (breathing, posture, tone, etc.), and the student’s response to new information. For example, was he or she able to grasp a concept and apply it quickly? I also make note of any bad habits the student seems to have picked up so that I can easily look back and remind myself what to search for before each lesson. In addition, I encourage all of my students to record their lessons and take written notes so they don’t forget the important concepts we discussed. This, I feel, is absolutely vital to the student’s progress throughout the semester. Because I have studied voice seriously myself, I realize that students may feel quite vulnerable in their lessons. When difficult concepts are brought to the table, it is very likely that the student will not do it correctly the first few times. I make a point of encouraging fearlessness during lessons. It helps to remind them that I am a teacher, not a judge. Whatever they say or do in the voice studio stays in the voice studio. I have noticed the use of the phrase “I’m sorry” to be common in students. As soon as I hear those two words, I take a moment to explain that one should never be sorry when trying to understand a new concept. Instead, I suggest replacing it with a question, such as “How can I make this work better?” I have found that eliminating “I’m sorry” makes a huge difference in the student’s attitude during lessons. It gives him or her courage to try something new without worrying what the result will be. Knowledge of various types of vocal repertoire is another aspect of teaching that I feel strongly about. Students come into the studio with different musical backgrounds and interests. Some have a strong connection to musical theater while others prefer a more classical focus. As a teacher, it is important to be open to different types of music. Above all, the student must find joy in what he or she is singing. At the same time, the student must be learning correct vocal technique. I feel it is my job to find repertoire that satisfies both needs. I have also found that more times than not, a student will decide not to like a piece because a particular technical aspect is difficult. Through my experience, I have discovered that a student will be more encouraged to stick with it when he or she understands what the song will accomplish. Students cannot be left in the dark. A teacher must explain what’s, why’s, and how’s constantly and consistently. Especially in younger students, a balance must be found between constructive criticism and praise during each lesson. After all, the goal is for the student to keep studying and improving! In addition to private voice lessons, I have also had experience teaching a German Diction lecture and designing a class curriculum for a full semester as part of a vocal pedagogy course. I feel that a university teacher must be comfortable imparting knowledge in both a one-on-one and a classroom scenario. I strongly believe that I am well-equipped with the tools to do both. Shortly following my lecture, a fellow student said to me, “I would love for you to be my teacher.” That, I feel, is the highest compliment I could ever have received. The student later went on to tell me that I was obviously passionate about teaching, and that positive energy radiated through the classroom during my lecture. I firmly believe that passion is the fuel for knowledge. A student easily senses a lack of enthusiasm in a teacher, and it almost always negatively affects his or her motivation to learn. I strive to teach with joy and passion in pursuit of a continuous progression in each of my students inside and outside of the learning environment. I am fortunate to teach within a field that contributes so meaningfully to students’ lives from the musical performances that inspire them to the vocal technique they build upon. The study of voice is much more than singing itself. It involves a personal, trusting relationship between the teacher and student that must be nurtured and developed. It’s like that old saying, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” In other words, there is more than one way to achieve an aim, and it is dependent on the musical language that best serves the student. I am more than prepared to honor my teaching philosophy while perpetually seeking ways to improve upon it.

Awards and achievements: 

Associate Instructor of Voice Scholarship, Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music, 2009-2014

Young Artist/Role Debut, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, 2012

Young Artist/Role Debut, Cedar Rapids Opera, 2014-15

Professional affiliations & activities: 

Professional operatic soprano who performs frequently in Chicago and travels throughout the United States to do roles in opera, musical theater, and sing concert solo engagements.

Professional chorus member of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Grant Park Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Music of the Baroque, Chicago a cappella, Saint Peter's Catholic Church, Beth Emet Synagogue, and Episcopal Church of the Atonement.

Private voice instructor for the Music of the Baroque Strong Voices Program.

Private voice instructor, home studio, ages 7 and up.

Interests outside of music: 

Travel, trying new restaurants and cuisines, reading, listening to podcasts, running and hiking, going to the theater.

Favorite quote: 

"Never die with the song in your heart that was begging to be sung." -Anonymous

Favorite practice tip: 

Be consistent! Even if you only have ten or fifteen minutes, try to practice every day.

Favorite composer or piece to play: 

My favorite composer is George Frideric Handel. I love singing baroque music because it can be fast and virtuosic or slow and legato. I have sung many works by Handel and have never come across something I didn't like. We also share a birthday!

Favorite musical moment: 

It is very difficult to choose, but I will never forget singing my first professional opera role at my hometown opera company in Springfield, Missouri. I felt like everything had come full circle. It was a truly thrilling experience!