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Bill Reed guides singers toward Broadway Voice coach Bill Reed watches his students warm up for their first lessons, starting with yoga at the 2014 Musical Theater Performance Intensive Workshop at Spotlight on Dance's studio in South Burlington.(Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)SOUTH BURLINGTON Bill Reed's world changed in one moment as a graduate student. Fifteen classical singers from around the world were in an Italian music class at The Juilliard School, performing for a renowned teacher. All of the students sang an opera aria except for one, a huge man from Mississippi who Reed called a "towering figure." The man was pacing and shaking, and started to groan more than sing when his turn came at the end of the class. Reed realized the man was working hard to find his voice as he sang not an aria but an old spiritual tune. The performance wasn't great, Reed said, but it was powerful. "I found I couldn't keep my eyes off of him," Reed said. "Jesus was sucked into that classroom." The man became more confident, and Reed had his own hallelujah moment. "I realized for the first time in my life I heard the human soul. It was who he was," Reed said. "He taught me in that moment what singing was all about, and he taught me what a man was. I made a right hand turn in my life sitting in that seat. "The shift," Reed said, "was that it's not about the music for a teacher. It's about meaningful discoveries by the singer who then develops the confidence and the courage to share." Reed broke off from a path toward classical singing to become a teacher of Broadway singers. His career has taken him from teaching at the well known New York City theater school Circle in the Square to helping burgeoning Broadway performers from his home of the past three decades in Vermont. Local actors such as Liana Hunt of Morrisville ("Newsies") and Kate Wetherhead of Burlington ("Legally Blonde," "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee") have found their way to Broadway after studying with Reed. Dozens more continue to learn from him as they pursue their own dreams of musical theater stardom. His methods focus not just on the art of performing but on the science of performing; he stresses to his students the need to understand how their bodies function to shape their work as singers and actors. He emphasizes what a student has to offer rather than making him or her solely into a prim and proper classical singer. He helps his students become Broadway belters, a genre he said is often derided in classical realms but is closer to a person's natural singing voice than is opera. "A 'good' singer or a 'nice' singer is a boring singer," Reed said in a recent conversation at his home studio in South Burlington. "No one is going to pay $250 for a Broadway ticket for a nice singer. Don't give me nice!"Just as he was torn for a time as a young adult between classical and Broadway singing, Reed was caught between two worlds as a child in the 1950s and '60s. "Those were burning interests." His father, Vernon Reed, understood that bridge between classical and Broadway singing; he was trained in opera but sang on Broadway in the original 1957 production of "The Music Man." The Reeds moved from the northwestern corner of New York State to the metropolitan New York City area when Bill Reed was in eighth grade so his father could be closer to the heart of his singing career. The younger Reed abandoned thoughts of becoming a hockey coach and pursued a singing career. He first came to Vermont in his 20s to sing and work on the staff of the Marlboro Music Festival as a stage manager who assisted the festival's founder, Rudolf Serkin, and renowned cellist Pablo Casals. He had his own two decade career as a choral performer and with opera companies. He performed on stage with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo and sang at Lincoln Center. But as he started a family and began in his late 30s to recognize his limitations as a performer, Reed scaled back his singing appearances. "I wasn't compelled ever to perform," he said. He was compelled to teach. Reed established a private voice studio in New York City and was a founder of the musical theater program at Circle in the Square. He moved to Vermont in the mid 1980s to spend time with his ailing father, who had moved to the Burlington area with his wife after buying stores in the state. The younger Reed was looking for a new start; he had turned 40 and his youngest daughter was battling illness. "I hadn't had a break of any kind since I was 16," Reed said. "I had been Mr. Go Go Go Go Go Go." He bought property in Hinesburg and commuted to work in Manhattan. "I was always part cowboy and part city boy," Reed said, "and the cowboy part wasn't having any fun." He vowed to keep his professional life in the city and personal life in the country separate. The path to artistry Gradually, though, aspiring Vermont singers found their way to Reed's door, first in Hinesburg and later when he moved to South Burlington. Reed began building his local clientele in addition to his all consuming work in New York. He has led a Musical Theatre Performance Intensive program for young singers and actors for 27 years in New York, Amherst, Mass., and the past several years in Vermont. The most recent of those programs took place in June, beginning with a Sunday evening "Rising Stars" concert in South Burlington at the Spotlight on Dance studio featuring more than a dozen of Reed's young clients past and present. Ceara Ledwith, a junior theater major at the University of Vermont, sang Christine Lavin's "It's a Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind," a comic song with lyrics focusing on a woman who tries to hide the disdain she holds for opera, skiing and sushi, all things the man in her life loves. Ledwith, who will perform next month in the Vermont Shakespeare Company production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," acted at least as much as she sang, with her face and body language capturing all the humorous irritation and terror the woman in the song feels. The final performance of the night came from Victoria Fearn, a 14 year old soon to be freshman at South Burlington High School who sang a stunning version of "Let It Go" from the animated movie "Frozen," with each note and each gesture finding the drama in the song without slipping into melodrama. If Reed wanted to hammer home the point that his incoming summer intensive students could become commanding performers, he couldn't have done so any more effectively than by having a 14 year old nail that song every teenager knows. "Were you inspired? Weren't they amazing?" Reed asked the 50 students including Victoria at the start of classes at the dance studio the following morning. "And they all started right here." He deferred to Sally Olson, managing director of the Bill Reed Voice Studio, who led a series of yoga exercises she said "helps you focus on being in the moment" while performing. Reed returned a few minutes later when the students were relaxing in the "dead body" yoga pose, and kept the reflective, mellow mood going."Just let go," says voice coach Bill Reed to his students at the end of a yoga session at the start of the 2014 Musical Theater Performance Intensive Workshop at Spotlight on Dance's studio in South Burlington. Reed says yoga helps students relax, be in the moment and be more aware of their bodies, their breathing and other things that are critical to sing and act to their fullest potential. (Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)

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