Linda Eder on Her McDonogh School Master Class by Teresa McCormick Ertel

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McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Maryland is known for its well respected music and choral program. Today several vocal students at the school were given the opportunity to perform for and receive instruction from Broadway and stage legend Linda Eder. I had the chance to ask Linda Eder about it.

Linda Eder and Teresa McCormick Ertel. Photo by Suzi Eldridge.
Linda Eder and Teresa McCormick Ertel. Photo by Suzi Eldridge.

Teresa: What brings you to McDonogh School?

Linda: Over the summer, while recording my brand new Christmas CD (Christmas Where You Are), I met a young woman who was in the choir singing back-up. That woman was Ericka Leonard, teacher at McDonogh School. Ericka asked if I would be willing to give a Master Class on singing and vocal performance for some of the young singers at McDonogh and I was very pleased that we could make it happen.

When you were in school did you have a similar experience with someone famous and well respected?

Unfortunately no, but I was lucky enough to have a young, enthusiastic, and wonderfully talented choir director in high school who was a major influence and mentor, Dr. Tom Rossin.

How important is it for children to be immersed in the arts and to learn how to sing properly?

It’s of course important to learn to do anything properly if you want to do it well, but anything that is physical also has a safety element to it so it’s even more important. When you sing you are using many muscles in the head, neck and torso, and what actually produces the sound is just two somewhat fragile vocal chords that are easily damaged. You can’t go out a buy new ones.

When you were going through vocal training, what were some of the pieces of advice that your teachers told you that were the most helpful – that you will be passing on to the young singers at McDonogh?

I am basically self-taught, but my high school choir teacher taught me to breathe properly early on and that is of course a huge element to singing. Without air and the ability to control that breath you can’t sing well.

The most important thing that he taught me was the most important thing of all – to be “musical.” It’s such a simple concept and yet if you are not innately a musician then it can be beyond your grasp no matter how much you work on your voice.

Linda Eder. Photo by Teresa McCormick Ertel and Suzi Eldridge.
Linda Eder. Photo by Teresa McCormick Ertel and Suzi Eldridge.

Who were some of your mentors and influences when you were growing up? What singers did you enjoy when you were the age of these McDonogh students?

My three main vocal influences growing up were Judy Garland, Eileen Farrell, and Barbra Streisand. Today I love a wide variety of voices and performers, but those three shaped my voice early on.

Do you visit a vocal teacher on an ongoing basis?

No, as I said I am self-taught but I certainly encourage students to study – just to also be careful who they chose to study with. As in anything there are good vocal teachers and bad.

If you had a chance to say to the kids, “These are wonderful singers you should listen to and can learn from” who would be on that list?

I say that no matter what style of music you like you should work to develop all the facets of your voice because you can use that ability in any kind of music. So listen to and practice classical singing, listen to jazz, pop, and country. You want as many colors in your voice as possible and you want as many influences as possible so that ultimately you can be yourself.

There are so many great singers out there today. One that I am really enjoying and who I think is a remarkable talent is Sara Bareilles. She is incredibly musical and also sings in a way that I think is so healthy and wonderful sounding.

Linda Eder,  Ericka Leonard (a back up singer for Linda), and Suzi Eldridge, Choir Director at McDonogh School. Photo by Teresa McCormick Ertel.
Ericka Leonard (a back up singer for Linda), Linda Eder, and Suzi Eldridge, Choir Director at McDonogh School. Photo by Teresa McCormick Ertel.

What do you want the singers and kids to learn and take home with them when and after you are conducting the Master Class?

Singing is what I call a “musical sport.” It takes time and work to develop the specific muscles used in singing. To be an effective performer takes musicality and honesty and that means learning how to really listen to yourself. Find a way to be yourself. The most interesting person you can be is you. We can only fool people for so long. An audience doesn’t want to be “sung at.” People don’t really care how high or how low we sing. What we all want is to be moved emotionally and taken on a journey.