Finding your voice with Kathleen Connell. 

By Sophie Davis 

Amidst the bustling cacophony of city life, singing teacher Kathleen Connell has become somewhat of a regular in the City of Sydney Creative Studios, teaching students from the level 5.2 music studio each Wednesday and Thursday since the creative precinct opened last May. Kathleen is a much-loved hirer of the CoSCS studios and to celebrate music month I sat down with Kathleen to find out a little more about her. 

Heading into the interview I had a set plan in mind which ticked all the boxes for a classic interview, questions about Kathleen’s background and practice, achievements, and methods. Instead, my plan was derailed as she led me into a fascinating discussion, speaking to the power of the individual finding their voice, by well, finding their voice. 


“I was at a show on the weekend, watching performers sing and I was wondering how singing has changed their lives for them since they were a youngster. How has that journey helped them grow as a person?”
Kathleen queried. “For many people, performing can be very vulnerable, it can be an unsafe place, but it needs to be a safe one.”. 

A 2017 study from the U.K. measured cortisol, the stress hormone, in singers’ bodies before and after they sang. The study found that cortisol levels were significantly lower after singing, indicating that people felt far more relaxed after singing a song by themselves or within a group. But this got me thinking, what about new singers? What about new students who want to challenge themselves but fear the vulnerability of opening up their voices, sometimes for the first time? Kathleen revealed to me that this fear can be quite common among new singers and that everyone’s journey will be different.  

Kathleen says. “In the beginning, it’s just about getting a lot of small things happening, in early lessons we work on allowing the throat and voice to open up. For many people releasing their jaw, opening their throat and taking a deeper fuller breath can be a vulnerable action. So you have to be slow, very conscious, and cautious so that people feel safe singing.”. 

Cortisol levels aside, the process of learning to sing for the individual is rich with cognitive as well as holistic benefits, Kathleen explains, “I think mastering a craft like singing requires the ability to get into a state of flow. It’s something that you need to spend time learning the process and that gets your brain going. You know it’s like sport, you’ve got to do the exercises and the strengthening before you can play the games - and the games are learning songs, learning repertoire. I mix up the elements of technical work so singers are feeling that progress is being made. …but to get to that, you’ve got to learn everything required to get you to that point of opening up your throat, of breathing correctly, getting your articulation right, all of those sorts of things.”. 

Before running her own singing business, Kathleen began her career as a musician and worked for Opera Australia for many years as well as being a freelance singer. Following a professional singing career, Kathleen studied vocal pedagogy, which included how to run an arts business. “It has been quite a journey - but one I have loved, especially working with singers.”. 

As well as teaching online, Kathleen teaches students on-site on Wednesdays and Thursdays from the City of Sydney Creative Studios operated by Brand X. “When a lot of my students first walked in here they were gobsmacked. It had been a long process to find somewhere like this place.” Teaching from one of the hireable level 5 soundproof studios, complete with a brand-new Yamaha upright piano and technical equipment at no added cost.


Kathleen says that the blend of her rigorous experience and pedagogy as a vocal teacher, as well as the quality of the facilities, are what urges her students to work harder. 
“What my students utterly love are when they open up their voices to sing in that room is the quality of sound that they get back, it encourages them to work harder and to work better at their craft. I mean sure, they have to have a good teacher who has fantastic ears, but I think that quality is unparalleled.”. 

Kathleen typically sees her students once a week but is determined to stay flexible to suit life’s changing conditions. “I’m always open to different arrangements, so for some students that might be caring for elderly parents or maybe money isn’t coming through as fluidly as they’d like; for artists that can be challenging.”. For new students who are still umming and ahhing about taking the plunge, Kathleen runs introductory lessons where she talks a little bit about breathing and does some very light exercises. “It gives me a chance to see where that person is at. I show them the process of learning a song, which is quite layered. Singers have to separate the melody, the rhythm, and the words, rather than trying to learn the whole song at once, because all of those elements operate in different parts of the brain, so attempting all at once is just not going to work. So in that introductory lesson, I show people how a normal lesson would occur, how to break down a song and learn it.”. 

For the Idina Menzel’s out there, Kathleen caters to advanced singers too. “They might come along with a song and say to me “I’ve got an audition. And I really want to work on this song.” So we’ll do some warming up and I’ll give them some advanced exercises to get them going. Usually what they bring is not a complete song, it’ll just be parts of a song, so they’ll work on that in detail while I figure out what is the most useful feedback to give that person who has less than a week until their audition.”. 

As we wrapped up our interview I couldn’t help but ask Kathleen if she could settle an age-old question for me: “Can anybody sing?” I asked. She laughed and smiled at me as I waited with bated breath. “The answer is yes. It might take some people longer than others. I’ve had people come in and tell me they have a rubbish voice, however, when leading that person to a place where they can learn to hear themselves and hear changes might take time, be challenging and confronting, but they can do it. In the end, it comes down to commitment and willingness.” I let out a quiet sigh of relief and it turns out there’s hope for us all.  

“I think back on my own life in music and my journey being a singer. I think through the medium you grow and change, you become more confident, you learn more about yourself and you’re more open to other people and their vulnerabilities.” Kathleen says, and I tend to agree. In a modern world where the zeitgeist is shifting to embrace vulnerability as bravery, not weakness, Kathleen’s teaching is a reminder that it's the little things in mastering a craft such as singing that will grow your confidence and find your voice.

If you're in the market to develop your voice, get in touch with Kathleen via her website:

Keen for more music month? Read about our celebrated music tenants Piano+ and Heaps Decent in the 'stories' section of our website. 

Images by Christina Mishell