John Seesholtz

Contact Information

Email: John.Seesholtz@colostate.edu

Website: http://col.st/sg0Th

Office: UCA 302B

Office Hours: Friday, 11 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Role: Faculty

Position: Associate Professor of Voice
Baritone, Vocal Pedagogy, Opera History

Biography

Welcome to my faculty page and thank you for visiting the CSU School of Music, Theater and Dance website!

I've decided, instead of a traditional performance bio as found on most faculty pages, I would take the time to tell you a little about myself. In the links above, you can visit my Youtube channel which includes videos of my performances and videos of my current and past voice students. You can also download my CV/resume, which gives you detailed information about my experience performing nationally and internationally.

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I began singing as a boy soprano at the age of eight as part of the UTSA Children's Chorus, now known as the Children's Chorus of San Antonio. I had a strong love for singing, but, to put it bluntly, the gift of a desirable tone was not mine. Plagued with allergies as a child in San Antonio, Texas, (ranked among the top 25 worst cities in the United States for allergy sufferers) my voice struggled for clarity and ease.  Hilariously, my mother described my voice as scratchy and breathy with an air to evoke emasculation, "like the old recordings of Marilyn Monroe singing." While other children advanced from the general children's chorus to the advanced chamber choir, I was asked to stay in the general chorus. The director, Marguerite McCormick, kindly told me that she needed strong leaders in the general chorus and although I was suspicious of her reasoning, her words were enough for me to continue without too much threat to my budding singer's ego. I blissfully sang with sandpaper-like tone from my heart and enjoyed every minute of it. I believe Ms. McCormick saw the uninhibited joy singing gave me and after an additional year in the general chorus, I made my way up to the chamber ensemble. Sadly, from this point, I slowly made my vocal descent from Soprano 1 - Alto II in the years that followed. By the 7th grade, when my voice began to change rapidly, I had lost my falsetto almost completely (a normal occurrence for boys during the voice change); I had to leave the children’s chorus and began singing tenor in my middle school choir. By the onset of my 8th grade year, I was competing in regional choir events as a Bass I.

The voice change was a blessing for me. All of a sudden, my voice was a commodity. I was a boy (one of eight in the choir), I could sight-read relatively well, I sang on pitch, and I even had emerging vibrato. I also discovered my love for acting that year. Surprisingly, I had more success at theatrical competitions early on; however, my heart was always wrapped in music. My middle school choir director, Barbara Murphy, recognized my talents and arranged an audition for lessons at a local university, the end of my 8th grade year. I began taking weekly voice lessons at age 14 with Dr. Gary Mabry, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and continued studying privately with him for the next six years. Dr. Mabry was an excellent vocal model for me, as well as a very kind and nurturing teacher. I experienced the quintessential "awkward teenage years" growing up and he accepted and loved me like I was his very own son. By the time I had finished high school, Dr. Mabry had inspired me to study voice performance at the college level. Even at that age, I had the hope that I would follow in his example, and become a university professor.

It may seem, at this point in my story, that I was set. One would think I was on a clear and driven journey that would catapult me to success. Although I would love to say that this is true, sadly, that would be a false statement. I had a few hurdles to overcome, the most pressing of all – myself. Although I was given UTSA’s top vocal scholarship and was able to maintain a grade point average (ever so slightly) above a 3.0 to keep my scholarship, I had not found a good balance between the predominantly emotional person I was and intellectual person I had the potential to be.

To digress, in the same year that I joined the Children’s Chorus, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and deficient reading comprehension skills (this meant that even when I was able to read words correctly, despite my dyslexia, I was not putting the words together in my mind to create understanding). I was asked to repeat the 2nd grade, and I had to leave the classroom regularly for special tutoring from then until I reached high school. For me, and many of my student peers, this meant that I was dumb. This mindset was certainly not something my parents promoted, and it was always assumed in my home that I would go to college. Yet at school, it was obvious to me that no matter how hard I tried, I was still in “special classes,” which to me meant that something wasn’t right.

On top of my learning disability and self-doubt that plagued me throughout high school and the onset of college, I ran into another hurtle. My sophomore year of college, I started having voice problems. With allergies throughout my youth, I had always felt a certain amount of resistance in my voice, which I now know was inflammation. I also began struggling with acid reflux, left untreated, on top of pushing my voice a little higher than comfortable; I developed what many call, pre-nodes. If you are unfamiliar with vocal nodules, this is when two parallel calluses form on the vocal folds which can cause either a huge break in the voice, or diplophonia (the presence of two/multiple pitches or noises while attempting to speak or sing). It is very rare for men to develop nodes, so for me to have, “pre-nodule bowing,” meant that my vocal folds were in really bad shape. I was instructed by my ENT to take two weeks of full “vocal rest” (little or no talking), followed by two months of minimal talking, and weekly sessions with a speech therapist. I also received treatment for my acid reflux and allergies. My sister had developed nodes towards the latter part of high school which resulted in the end of her vocal journey; I assumed it would be for me as well. I decided to leave UTSA that semester to pursue a career as an Emergency Medical Technician and attended a junior college to take some of my general education classes.

It was during that semester that I read my first pedagogy book. I recall I was browsing at a local book store after buying two classical CDs (something I didn’t do often), when I saw a book on the Caruso Method of Voice Production mixed in with the other pop culture music books. I was intrigued and felt compelled to buy it. It was roughly mid-term when I finally read the book; I was immediately taken by it and the vocal approach it described. Once I had gotten the OK to start singing again, I immediately tried to implement some of the techniques. I remember my mother had to remind me to rest my voice as I would get excited to sing and sang for too long, against doctor’s orders…many connections were made quickly between what I had learned in lessons, what I had learned from reading this book, and the concepts shared in my speech therapy sessions. It was then that I realized that I wanted to go back to UTSA and finish what I had started, that I would be unhappy without music in my life, but this time, I would do better for myself. I decided that I would study privately with the vocal pedagogy instructor at UTSA, Juli Wood. I had seen and heard her do amazing things with students, including her work with my friend Jennifer Black, who would go on to be a National Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions two years later. I was determined to work harder than I had ever worked before. Ms. Wood was able to speak the language that I needed to continue my growth. I enrolled in her pedagogy class, concurrent with my first semester of voice lessons (in which I taught my first voice student), and we were able to discuss the concepts from class in lessons which truly put my technique on overdrive. Within a few months, I competed and made the finals at the TexOma Regional NATS competition, which for me symbolized my full recovery.

In the semester that followed, I took my first voice teaching job at a small music store, with voice students ranging from ages 8-52. I loved it, and the more I learned about the voice from Juli Wood and pedagogy books assigned in class (Vennard and Miller), the more I taught and applied the successful techniques in lessons with my students. In the years to come, I had a lot of help from friends who taught me how to write better papers, and from teachers who encouraged me. With much effort by my final year at UTSA, I was making all A’s.

By the spring of my final semester at UTSA, I had been teaching lessons for roughly two years, and had built a small voice studio. I decided to become a student member of the National Associate of Teachers of Singing (of which I am now the treasurer for the Colorado/Wyoming NATS Chapter) so that I could bring students to the yearly competition; I was also competing in the Senior Men's division under Juli Wood. For the entirety of the competition day, my focus was solely on my students, and I was elated when one of my students, Megan Pachecano (who now has a master's degree in Vocal Performance from Manhattan School of Music), made the finals. I was beaming, so much so that as I made the finals and performed, I felt completely uninhibited and elevated. That day, I not only placed first in my division, but I won the distinguished award for most career potential in the Junior – Graduate divisions. I remember that evening vividly, sitting in my car after the awards ceremony with my plaque and certificate in hand, in a moment when I should be savoring the success of my awards, all that I could think about was Megan, and how proud I was of her. I knew then that voice teaching was my true path and I fostered that path for the remainder of my studies, culminating in my graduation from UTSA with my undergraduate degree in voice performance.

I have taught many students since that first lesson in pedagogy class in the Fall of 1998, from singers who have struggled with major pathologies to students who have placed at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. I continued, after UTSA, to maintain a small voice studio as I worked through my degrees at University of Michigan (student of George Shirley and Martin Katz) and University of North Texas (student of Stephen Austin and Eva Puccinelli). I pushed through my doubt and struggles with dyslexia (retaking diction courses to assure that my dyslexia would not be a hindrance as I studied roles and taught students) and graduated from University of Michigan, one of the top five music schools in the country, with a 4.0 GPA. I was given the top vocal scholarship at UNT, a Teaching Fellowship, and the opportunity to sing many opera roles, as well as an opportunity that led to my professional Italian debut as Guglielmo in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. After my 2nd year, I had performed four opera roles, achieved a 4.0 GPA, and was awarded "Most Outstanding Graduate Student" by the school of music. Following these accomplishments, I took my first collegiate teaching position at Oklahoma State University in 2007. My dissertation and work at UNT lead to the publication of two articles published by the Journal of singing, "The Origin of the Verdi Baritone," and "An Introduction to the AIDS Quilt Songbook and its Uncollected works." I am now considered the authority on AIDS related music. I have continued to perform and teach over the years and recently was given the opportunity to perform one of my dream roles as Iago in Verdi's Otello. Although I enjoy performing and publishing, teaching voice and continually learning about the anatomy, acoustics, and function of the muscular/skeletal, neurological, and respiratory systems has continued to be my foremost passion. I teach two voice science/pedagogy classes at CSU of which are respectfully titled, "Comparative Pedagogy," and "Advanced Comparative Pedagogy," so that students know and understand the diversity of this craft. I get to live my dream of being a college voice professor/mentor.

I would like to look back on my life and feel that I have made a lasting and positive impact on others through my teaching, publications, and performances. I have made a commitment to a life of endless learning and enrichment, and I hope to be an example for all classical music performers, by helping them feel and understand classical music as I do and then to foster it and keep it ever present in our world of music.

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Thank you for taking the time to read my story. If you have any questions about this, or study at Colorado State University, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Dr. Seesholtz

Education

Doctorate of Musical Arts, University of North Texas