Did you know that singing is a creative activity that has been proven to make us happier, healthier and even smarter? So belt it out in the shower mama! Join me in learning about Julia of Grace Music Studio NY, the numerous benefits singing has to offer and that it’s never too late to fine tune your singing voice.
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Carol: Hi mamas! It’s Carol Webb. I’m the founder of Just Breathe Mama Coach and I’m a coach for moms. I help them to navigate the overwhelm to create a life that’s more manageable. I really thought this next interview with our guest today would be a lot of fun and maybe even encourage you to let out that singer that might be hiding within. This is Julia of Grace Music Studio NY. Julia teaches private voice, piano, and acting at her studio in Brooklyn, New York. She’s currently working on a reality TV project about her business.
Carol: She has performed in many operas, musicals and Shakespeare plays. She sang at Carnegie Hall every year from 2008-2011 with Remarkable Theater Brigade’s Opera Shorts program plus she has many other achievements. Julia loves helping new moms de-stress with breathing exercises and learn to sing with their babies. She has had a lot of success with helping women connect with their children and grandchildren through music. Some of her favorite sessions have included helping a young mom write an original lullaby for her newborn and helping a new grandmother learn to sing songs that she could belt out with her grandson on road trips. I love that. Welcome, Julia! It’s great to have you here.
Julia: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it!
Carol: I’m so glad you’re here. So I’m curious to know where you’re from and how you became a voice coach, a piano coach and an acting coach.
Julia: It’s a lot, right? Well now my business is completely online, so I can teach people from anywhere which is really cool. So it’s now even more diverse because I do all my lessons like this on Zoom or FaceTime. But I started out in upstate New York, which is very rural, where I grew up was very rural. Even in high school my friends would be like, “Julia, will you help me? Will you help me with my acting? Or will you help me with my singing?” And I was always like, “Yeah, of course I will.”
Julia: It’s the show, we have to do the show because I was always in shows. I went to school for musical theater and I wasn’t really a fan of musical theater per se. What I loved was opera and classical music. But musical theater allowed me to study acting and singing to the highest level. I also, unfortunately for everybody in my class, had to study dance. *laughs* When you go to musical theatre auditions, they say, “Hey, we’re going to sing you and now we’re going to have you read sides and now we’re going to dance you.” So you needed that skill. I needed it, but that’s definitely not my strong suit. Let me say it like that. Although I love to dance.
Julia: I did a lot of performing. I did a lot of national tours out of college. So I went to college, I got a degree in musical theater then I went to grad school, got a degree in classical music and classical theater in London. And then after that I did a whole bunch of touring, mostly Shakespeare and cheesy musical theater, like really cheesy, like tap dancing and like jazz hands.
Carol: Oh, I love that though.
Julia: So in 1999, because I’ve been teaching now for 22 years, I decided that I just didn’t want to be on the road touring anymore. I mean, I loved doing shows, but touring it’s a hard life, you know? So I decided that I also didn’t want to temp. I would do temp jobs in between my acting gigs and between my shows and I didn’t want to do that. I saved some money because I don’t believe in starving artists. You can be an artist and not starving. *laughs* I saved some money and I had a part-time job while I started my teaching business and I thought, let me give it a year and let’s see if people are interested in taking singing lessons. And that’s what I really wanted to teach was singing lessons.
Julia: I wound up teaching acting lessons because people in operas with me would be like, “Hey, can you coach me on this in my Aria? I’m like, “Yeah, okay.” And business people would say, “Hey, I have to do this business presentation and I have to get this client or I’m going to get fired.” “Okay. Well come and let’s work up your presentation.” I’m good at that so I just sort of used my skills, my acting, and my singing skills to help whoever needed help.
Julia: And I started teaching piano and because I teach kids, moms were like, “Can you teach my kid how to read music? I’m like, “I can, but they need to play an instrument in order to read music.” And they’re like, “Okay, can you just teach him some piano?” And I’m like, “I guess so.”
Julia: So I wound up teaching piano and writing a music theory book for little kids because I couldn’t find one that would go at the pace of four year olds. I had a lot of four and five year olds that couldn’t quite read yet. So I kept making worksheets to do with their mom and so finally I was like, “This is silly. Just put it in a book and I have everybody buy the book for 15 bucks. We’ll put it on Amazon.” You know what I mean? It’s called Music Theory Grade 1 and it’s on my website. It’s really to be used with a teacher because there’s no answers, there’s no answers in the book itself. Any music teacher would be like, “Oh, I get what this person is teaching.” I get how to help them.
Julia: For me it really was about, from the very beginning, it was about helping people. So specifically, as I started to teach singing, I heard all these stories from people about, “When I was eight or nine years old, my teacher was like – everybody else sing, but you, you mouth the words” and I’m like, “Oh, terrible! All kids deserve to sing.” So I started to become an advocate for people who thought they couldn’t or were told they couldn’t sing.
Julia: Even those who doubted themselves like, “Oh, I can’t sing. I don’t have a great voice.” And I was like, “That’s just not true! Anybody can learn.” So it was a theory when I started 22 years ago, it was a theory. I hadn’t proved it. 22 years in, I can say definitively, anyone can learn to sing. Even if they come into the studio and I’m like, “Okay, sing this” *plays piano key* and they can’t even find the pitch. Even that person can learn to sing well.
Carol: Really? I wouldn’t have guessed that. I thought you always had to have a slight natural talent to start with and then you work with that. But anybody can? That’s very encouraging.
Julia: There’s only one thing. If there’s a problem with the voice box itself where somebody can’t inflect, for example, they can speak only on one pitch. Like if they were talking on just one pitch and they couldn’t inflect, then I wouldn’t be able to teach them pitch. Let me say this, I haven’t had a client like that. Literally everyone else that can speak and “go up here, go down there” *speaks with high and low pitch* they can inflect their voice, they can sing.
Carol: Oh, amazing! Well that’s lovely that you encourage people to do that as well. So you said you even teach four and five year olds. What’s the age range of people that you can provide lessons for? Is there a limit? Should you not do it once you hit 40 years old? I don’t know. *Laughs*
Julia: That’s so funny. Such a good question too! So my oldest student is 90.
Carol: Oh, wow! That’s great!
Julia: There’s literally no age cap at all. So the lesson that I would give to a four year old is going to be different to a lesson that I would give a 90 year old or a 40 year old. But the truth is a lesson that I would give to anybody is going to be different than a lesson I would give to someone else because people are very unique and where they’re at in terms of their physiology, how their voice feels to them, how they feel mentally and emotionally about their voice.
Julia: So the woman who wrote a lullaby for her baby did not consider herself a singer at all. And she was just like, “I just really want to sing something to rock my baby to sleep.” We went through a whole bunch of everybody else’s songs, like this song and that song and she just kept saying, “My baby just really likes it when I just hum anything! Like it’s not even necessarily a melody.” I’m like, “Yeah so let’s write something that has a melody that you can remember so you don’t feel like you’re humming the baby to sleep, not on pitch.”
Julia: That’s where it started. We wound up writing a song because when we hear other people’s songs we want to imitate that singer and what the baby wants is you, your voice, your vibration, not an imitation. And they can tell! If you’re holding the baby and you’re talking in a regular way, they know your vibration, right? And if you start pretending like this *speaks in different voice* they’re like, “What is that? Why you doing that?” *laughs*
Carol: Yeah, they know their mama’s voice for sure. That’s amazing.
Julia: It’s a very particular frequency and it’s soothing to them. So we wrote a song that had not a big wide range, it had four or five notes, so around a speaking range that somebody would sing in. And we wrote a beautiful lulling melody and she just felt like, that was her baby song. Isn’t that cool? When that baby grows up, they’re going to be like, “Mom, you wrote that for me?” I mean, that’s amazing.
Carol: Super special that you could be a part of that too. I love that. So with your voice lessons, are there different styles of music that you teach? Because I know that you said you did a lot of opera and theater. Is there a specific style you teach then or do you teach a wide range?
Julia: I teach everything. At this time, of all of my students, I have one, a woman, she’s in her late twenties, who just started to get interested in classical music. We just started to work on some Debussy, but literally everybody else is like, “No, no, no, no. I want to sing Adele and I want to sing Alicia Keys! I want to sing country music, pop music, R and B, jazz! Oh, I really like Frank Sinatra!” Whatever it is. It’s very eclectic. So I can teach somebody how to sing on happy birthday. It doesn’t matter at all what the song is. We pick stuff that they like. So they practice and that’s how you get better.
Carol: Yeah, they’re going to enjoy it then, of course. That makes a lot of sense. So can you tell me about the voice lessons you offer? If somebody purchases a voice lesson or a package of lessons, what do they do? Do they have to fill in a questionnaire and then how do you go through your sessions?
Julia: They don’t fill in a questionnaire because singing is so personal that if somebody contacts me, I like to talk with them on the phone. I like to talk with them on the phone and ask them what it is they’re wanting exactly. Sometimes my new student phone calls can take up to an hour. It just depends. People want to talk about what it is they’re looking for. And then the structure of the lesson is always half technique, like exercises, and half repertoire or songs. So the goal is how do we take this technique that we’re learning and apply it to the song, but it doesn’t matter what the song is. Does that answer your question?
Carol: Yes, it totally does, thank you. So what other programs or lessons do you offer online?
Julia: I do a free sing along every Saturday at 3:30, but that’s free.
Carol: Yes, I saw that! On Instagram, right? Yeah.
Julia: Yep. On Instagram and on Facebook, I simulcast. So you’ll see me going back and forth from this camera to my phone and then back and forth like this because I’m talking to Instagram and Facebook at the same time. And I am not a technology person. So if you told me a year ago that I’d be doing that, I’d be like, “You’re out of your mind. I don’t even know how to work Facebook live!” Necessity is the mother of everything, right?
Carol: Now you’re an expert!
Julia: You just do it because what else is there to do? I definitely wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I do that. That’s something free. I consider myself a spiritual person which is why my business is called Grace Music Studio because by the grace of the divine, I have a job. But I’m not into, “My religion or this religion.” I’m not into dogma. I’ll say it like that. So, my 90 year old student is very, very Christian. That’s her path, that’s what she digs, you know what I mean? And years ago, I was meditating and when I was done meditating I was like, “Oh, I should really Christmas Carol. Like, why not? I have all these people who are learning to sing and how can we give back to the community?”
Julia: And so I called my 90 year old student. She was like 78 at the time, she was pretty vital. I was like, ‘Do you know any other people? You’re pretty vital, so we don’t need to come to your house but maybe for people that can’t get out of their house to go to a service or something, maybe we could Carol for them, go to people’s houses and Christmas Carol for an afternoon.” And it turned into this big project which we have done every year.
Julia: I think this is our 13th year, this year. Because of COVID we had to do it this year on Zoom but that also was not my idea. That was her idea. I was like, “Well, we can’t do it because of COVID.” And she’s like, “Well, can we do something on Zoom?” The 90 year old is saying to me, can’t we do something on Zoom?! *laughs* Yes we can! Yes we can!
Carol: That’s amazing! That’s just so heartwarming. Who doesn’t love Christmas carols? It doesn’t matter what religion you are or if your spiritual. It’s just beautiful to sing along to and to listen to.
Julia: So that’s the other thing that I do and that’s also for free. It’s not just students, it’s like, “Hey, my friend from college, want to come Christmas carol?” You know because everybody can sing, everybody can give back.
Carol: Right, so true. Is there a top question that you get asked by your clients?
Julia: There are two top questions. The first one is: “I don’t have a good voice. I”ll never have a good voice. Maybe you can teach me to a certain degree, but I’ll never really sound great. Right?” My answer is no, not right. Learning to sing on pitch, in the center of the pitch with a supported sound, all of that is technical stuff. So when you hear somebody singing, you’re like, “Ooh, I like that.” What you like has a whole list of things, skills that you can learn. So that’s the main thing people always ask me. “Can I learn, even though I don’t have a great voice and can I learn to sing well, am I going to sound good?” And my answer is, yes, you can. Does it take time? Yeah, it takes time. Just like anything else, right?
Carol: Yeah, you put your mind to anything and you can actually do anything. I didn’t know that singing was one of them though. *laughs* To be honest with you, I didn’t!
Julia: That’s what my show is about. I’m interested in enlightening people about the fact that only talented people can sing is a lie. So I’m interested in people just knowing the truth. That’s all. It’s not this big crusade. It’s just that I happen to know stuff that most people don’t know and so I want to share it because I want people to feel like they can be part of music. They’re not shut out. They’re included. They get to be a part of it.
Carol: Yeah. Instead of standing on the sidelines just watching, you can join in.
Julia: Because we’re all required, especially mamas, mamas are required to sing all the time. “Mama sing me a bed time story.” “I have to do my one year old’s birthday party. Who’s going to start the singing?” You know what I mean? I wish I had children, but I have nieces and nephews. I never got to have kids, but I adore children and I’ve been around a lot of mamas and more than guys, mamas are expected to sing especially when their kids are little.
Julia: So to feel like, “Okay, I know what I’m supposed to do. Or at least I can sound good enough. Good enough that I’m not going to feel ashamed of myself or whatever.” Like the student that wanted to sing with her grandson in the car. She’s like, “I turn the radio on and he sings, but I don’t.” I’m like, “Okay, well let’s fix that.”
Carol: Yeah, you don’t want to feel that way. And your grandson doesn’t care how you sound either.
Julia: Exactly, he doesn’t know! But it wasn’t for him, it was her. So I was like, “Okay, what do you guys listen to in the car?” We practiced it and she’s like, “Hey, I’m starting to sound pretty good.” I’m like, “Yeah, go rock on!” *thumbs up gesture*
Carol: That’s amazing! Her confidence! Oh, that’s great. It’s it’s for you. Even though you’re maybe thinking about other people and thinking “Oh, what do they think of me? What do they think of me?” But it’s really actually for you and that’s the important thing. Oh, so what are the biggest benefits that moms would receive from taking your classes? Is it that confidence?
Julia: That’s a big benefit. So many far reaching things and this is from feedback from students over the years. Specifically moms say that they are, especially new moms…so if you get a chance to take a shower, which apparently that’s a real thing, like, “Oh my God, I can take a shower!” And you have enough energy to sing, which sometimes you don’t, but you turn on the radio or whatever and it’s ‘me’ time. It’s like, “I can have fun singing and doing ‘me’ time and not have my husband in the other room or whoever in the other room like, “Hey, be quiet! You stop! Stop singing!” You know what I mean?
Carol: Yeah, it’s a great time! Just belting it out in the shower while you’re there. And you know what, it also changes your energy too. It probably would lift you right up once you start singing.
Julia: A hundred percent, there’s all this research. That’s another benefit. So confidence, ‘me’ time, actual endorphins are released, feel good chemicals are released in the brain. Oxytocin is produced when you sing also when you dance or singing and dancing. You know, like when you’re washing hair *laughs*
Carol: *laughs* That’s even better! A double dose! Fantastic. Can you today, offer a little tip or technique for those busy mamas who want to try it out at home or with their little kids?
Julia: Yeah, so a fourth benefit is the breathing exercises that we work on in singing they help chill the nervous system out. So most moms, they’re totally overwhelmed. They’re just completely like frazzled. It’s hard to anything. Of course, now you’ve got this life that’s not in you cooking, but is outside and now you’ve got to keep it alive, outside. It’s so intense. So any breathing exercises that moms can do help chill them out will be beneficial, not just to them, but to the baby because the baby can feel when the mama is stressed out. They can feel that. So, I’m going to actually get up and we’re going to do a little breathing exercise.
Carol: Okay, great!
Julia: Go ahead and hop up with me. *we both stand up* So we can show all your viewers that anybody can do this. If you have a small baby, you can do this lying on the bed or the couch with the baby on you, like literally on your belly. There’s nothing that we’re going to do that’s going to disturb even a sleeping baby. The idea is that we want to breathe, not into the chest, but into the belly. So any moms that have done lamaze for birthing, they might be like, “Oh yeah, it’s kinda like lamaze.”
Julia: So you want to place one hand, if you’re standing up and you’re not with your baby, place one hand on your back and one hand on your belly. And if you’re lying down, you’re going to just place both hands on the baby, if it’s on you. And so you want to feel, as you breathe in, you want to feel like your belly can relax and breathe into the space of the belly opening. So the first thing is we want to get the diaphragm and the solar plexus to release enough for the belly to be able to expand. So as we breathe in, we’re going to breathe in and out, good job. We’re going to do that again. Breathing in. Yeah, you got it and out. You”ve already got it, you’re a natural.
Carol: *laughs* I like doing breathwork.
Julia: Awesome. So if you’re lying on a couch, lying on the bed with a baby on you, this is where you’re going to concentrate now on trying to breathe into your back. So it’s not just your front, that’s expanding, but your back and also your sides. If you were going to go from the sides *places hands on sides of body*, it would feel like that the ribs go out.
Julia: But the hardest place to feel the breath is in the back. So for right now, in order to feel it in the back, we’re going to bend over, right? Obviously you can’t bend over if you have a baby on you, but if you’re standing, you can bend over *places hand on lower back* and you’re going to try to breathe in and see if you can feel this hand, this back hand expanding. So go ahead and breathe in and out. And you can feel it like filling up like a balloon, breathing in and out. Come on up slowly so you don’t get dizzy. Yeah, you felt it!
Carol: Yeah, I did. Definitely! That was really good. Thank you.
Julia: You’re so welcome. Well, I do a lot of breathing techniques. That’s just one of them and that’s an easy one that somebody can do.
Carol: Oh, I like that. I do belly breathing as well sometimes. It feels really nice and it’s nice when you use your hands because you can really breathe into them and the sides and the back. I like that, using the hands as a guide. Oh, that was nice, thank you.
Julia: You’re very welcome.
Carol: Well, that was so wonderful talking to you Julia! Thank you so much. I wanted to let all the mamas that are watching know that you can follow her on Instagram @gracemusicstudiony and on TikTok at gracemusicstudiony. And you can also find Julia’s classical CD, ‘Green’ and her instructional DVD on how to sing called ‘Singing Easy As 1, 2, 3’ and it’s available for purchase on her website as well as all the other information about her voice lessons at gracemusicstudiony.com. Again, I’ll put all the links below for you. I want to thank you once again. It was a great interview. Thank you so much for joining us!
Julia: Thank you! I’m so excited that I got to talk to you and you’re in Canada. So Brooklyn to Canada, Canada to Brooklyn! We’re just a stones throw. Thank you so much!
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