My singing has always been important to me. Often, music is a precious companion, the one thing that will always be there no matter where I am or what I'm doing. Over the years, I've tried to improve my singing whenever possible. Through multiple unintentional spans of time when I didn't sing at all followed by periods of re-training and learning, I was able to forget some of my bad habits and learn better technique. In July of 2006, I was still not at the place I desired to be and hungered for further improvement. I needed a teacher.
My previous teacher had taught me well but you can only learn so much from one teacher and I needed more. I needed someone who could take me to the next level. Finding a teacher is always a gamble. You can never know until after you've begun working with them whether or not they'll be good for you but if you don't gamble, you'll always lose. I had to try.
In the months leading up to July, I had been watching episodes of the American Idol 2005/6 singing competition. The competitors were all exceptional performers. One of the competitors in particular really impressed me. Her name was Katharine, Katharine McPhee. While watching the show, I learnt that Katharine's mother Peisha was a vocal coach (i.e., a singing teacher). A little research on the internet revealed that Peisha McPhee was also an accomplished and respected cabaret singer.
People have asked me how to know if a teacher is good. I would first suggest that you observe the teacher's students. If the students perform well, that's a good sign. If the students have traits and abilities that you yourself admire and would like to develop, then that's an even better sign. This was very true in my case. Katharine was amazing. More than one of her performances gave me goose bumps. She was awesome and I wanted some of what she had if even only a small piece. Peisha therefore became a prime candidate in my search for a new teacher. In fact, she became my only candidate.
Studying in the U.S.A. with a vocal coach as celebrated as Peisha would be a dream for me, but an expensive one. There would be the air plane ticket, the motel accommodation, food and of course the tutor fees. It wasn't a decision that I could make lightly or quickly and so I began to ponder the decision, weighing the costs and the potential gains.
A week later while pondering the decision to study with Peisha, I received a phone call from someone in Hong Kong, an assistant to a local stage director. He was planning to put on an English musical stage play here in Hong Kong next year, and he wanted me to star in it! To me, that was magical, the chance to act and sing on stage. But it was more than that. It was divine affirmation that I should go to the U.S.A. and study with Peisha; assuming that she would accept me.
Now nearing the end of July, I used the email address from Peisha's web site and emailed her, telling her who I was and what I hoped to do. At first, Peisha was not sure about taking me on. There are after all lots of crazy people in the world. It wasn't until she had looked at my blog, viewed my singing performance from Teresa Tang's memorial concert, and seen my Indonesia photos that she saw my passion and agreed to help me. Over the following 6 weeks, we communicated many times as we tried to arrange a suitable schedule for both of us. I changed the schedule at least three times, trying to work around one TVB series 「寫意人生」 that I was filming at the time and another TVB series (「獄焰驚情」) that would begin filming sometime in October. Peisha herself was a very busy person and her schedule too was not entirely foreseeable. But the effort paid off and we eventually had a workable schedule.
On September 20, one day later than originally planned so that I could see the talented 周華健 in concert at the Hong Kong Coliseum before leaving, I left Hong Kong for an adventure. I had no expectations, and no preconceptions of what I would see, learn or experience in L.A. My life has taught me that it is very difficult to predict the future. It is better to go with an open mind, to enjoy the journey and the experience, and learn all that you can.
On Thursday afternoon, September 21 of 2006, having disembarked from my plane three hours earlier and just minutes before booked into a nearby motel, I walked up the footpath by the side of Peisha's home, up to her studio at the back of the house just in time for our first scheduled lesson. In spite of not having slept for more than thirty hours, I felt exhilarated and excited to be there.
As I walked up to the studio, Peisha walked out to greet me. A huge wonderful smile on her face, looking radiant in the afternoon sun, and perhaps just as excited to see me as I was to see her, Peisha held out her hand and greeted me with an abundance of positive energy and joy. It was the beginning of a brand new journey, and the beginning of a precious new friendship.
I stayed in L.A. for four full weeks. I studied privately with Peisha one hour a day, five days a week. I also joined three other cabaret classes that she and a friend taught; one advanced class in her studio on Tuesday nights, and two classes at the Los Angeles Community College on Saturdays where they have taught their cabaret classes to budding performers for more than twenty years. Every hour of learning was invaluable, and sometimes grueling and exhausting. Privately with Peisha, I was able to cure bad habits and build good technique. The improvement over the four weeks was astounding. In the cabaret classes, I learnt much from Peisha, her talented friend, pianist, teacher and music director Mel Dangcil, and the other students.
I learnt a lot more from Peisha than just singing technique though. She taught me about confidence, attitudes, delivery, self-worth and much much more. You can never predict the future, and in this case, I came out winning big time.
Originally planning to return to Hong Kong on October 15 for the new TVB series, I extended my stay in L.A. to spend a few more days with Peisha. Those few extra days turned out to be invaluable because we were able to do something very special. You won't want to miss my next article ;-)