Amber Sudduth Bone has been a member of the vocal faculty at Western Washington University since 2006. She is the instructor for introduction to voice studies, diction and vocal pedagogy, and is coordinator for the voice studios program.
She’s also the stage director for the yearly WWU Opera production; her staging of Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” received first place in Division III of the National Opera Association Opera Production Competition in 2014.
She will perform with WWU pianist Jay Jay Rozendaal in the “Night Beat” series sponsored by Bellingham Music Club at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21, at First Congregational Church in Bellingham. The program includes works by Barber, Menotti, Heggie and Brahms, and also features baritone Nathaniel Voth and soprano Anjani Briggs.
Question: What’s your background in music?
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Answer: I am from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, which at the time was a pretty small town. We had a band in our high school and I also played the piano for fun, so by the time I got to college music seemed like a good fit. I started singing in my second year at the University of Hawaii and eventually completed a doctorate in performance at the University of Washington.
Q: Why did you pursue the teaching of music as a career?
A: Before I started my first teaching position as a graduate student at the UW, I actually was not sure that I’d like it. To my delight, though, instead of feeling like a monotonous daily routine of vocal exercises and pitch and rhythm corrections, teaching turned out to be my favorite thing ever.
At the UW, I was fortunate to take a class in classroom management as an elective, and after that, realized how much there was to learn about teaching methods, assessment, curriculum design, and the psychology of how people learn. So I completed public school certificates in music and social studies, in addition to several classes on working with diverse learners.
I also studied education research methods and that is what led to my dissertation in 2011 on “Time Use, Strategic Behaviors, Technical Content, and Cognitive and Motivational Profiles in Collegiate Vocal Music Practice,” as well as studies for national and regional conferences since then.
My research focuses on how singers learn and how they learn to teach themselves in the practice room efficiently. Essentially, I try to draw connections between the research on music teaching and learning with what we know about the function and acoustics of the voice as an instrument, as well the expression of musical phrasing and the words of the literature.
Q: Why do you enjoy teaching?
A: Every time a student walks through my door, they bring in something new – a new place they are in personally or a new idea to share. I feel incredibly lucky to have so many opportunities to be creative and to help students work through frustrating challenges about technique and musicianship, so that what they imagine about a song is what they are able to express.
Q: What have been some of the highlights of your career?
A: I’ve been part of some very wonderful professional operatic and concert productions, and I know what it is to experience that “high” where you feel so connected to a work of such magnitude (like the Beethoven Ninth Symphony) that it really feels like you are lifted up by the orchestra and choir. It is almost like flying.
I get the same sense of exhilaration, though, from directing and teaching. I love to read, and to constantly mull over ideas about what I could do in the classroom or on the opera stage, and to have the chance to try them out. When I can make something beautiful, and open up opportunities for students to experience this feeling of fulfillment, or even just make the audience laugh, I’m very happy.
I have really enjoyed working on the opera at WWU these past two years. It’s been an amazing opportunity for me to combine everything I love into one art form: psychology, history, literature, music and visual arts.
Researching the background of “Midsummer” opened up the world of Shakespeare scholarship to me, while in looking at “Goyesca” and “Gianni Schicchi” for our production in April, I learned a lot about Spain and Italy and the works of Goya and Dante.
“Midsummer” received first place in the National Opera Association Production Competition, and I really felt that given the difficulty of the score, it was a showcase of the work of our entire music program at WWU, in addition to being a wonderful collaboration with the department of theater and dance.
Q: How do you approach teaching jazz, non-Western music, musical theater, folk, and pop?
A: Well, since I’ve had such an interest in history and psychology, I’m really fascinated by music as a form of communication. In many of the classes I teach, we look at questions like:
• Is musical communication an innate manifestation of human empathy or a learned aspect of culture?
• Can anyone be a virtuoso? What does it mean to be “musical?” How long does it take to learn to sing?
• Are some kinds of music “better” than others? Why should anyone be a singer?
• How do you make “innovative” not equal “ugly”? Is it possible to produce art according to “rules?”
Comparing different genres and traditions is a great way to examine these questions. Music has such power to move people, even without words, and learning how to work hard on it is important because it takes so much time to get over the technical stumbling blocks, to understand the nuances and layers of a composition, and to perform with that direct sense of pouring out what you want to say with total freedom.
Q: Why do enjoy being part of the music program at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship?
A: I love playing at BUF because I get to play in all kinds of genres and really look for ways to tie the music to the message of that weeks’ service. I do perform elsewhere and in town from time to time, mostly on the concert stage, but am pretty busy with my teaching position at the university, directing the opera, and my research, conferences and writing.
Q: What kinds of music do you enjoy?
A: I also have three small children, so a lot of the music that gets played in the car or at home ends up being something that gets them singing and dancing, like the Recess Monkey station on Pandora, but we’ll also listen to things like the Baltimore Consort, Nickel Creek, Paco de Lucia or Pink Martini it just depends on what mood we’re in – we like a variety of things.
The spelling of the singer's name was corrected May 21, 2015.