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Teaching / Master Classes - Kevin McMillan


“Our time with one another was one of great growth and change for me personally and vocally. I feel that Kevin has seen me through all of these changes with complete professionalism as a teacher, with the constant support and encouragement of someone who truly cares about my personal development and success as a singer.”

- Aaron Agulay (a new member of the
International Opera Studio Program in Zurich)


Teaching Philosophy - Kevin McMillan

The ultimate goal of any elite singer should be relatively simple - to do service to the art placed before him by the composer and the poet. In order to do this, it is essential to study in detail the techniques and traditions of elite vocalism in the Western tradition.

The elite voice can and ought to be treated like any other instrument in the classical music tradition. When the technical function of a voice is solid and well-informed, then artistry can flower most beautifully. This is no different from a pianist, violinist or trumpeter who strives to achieve a professional standard in his/her technique so that real artistry can occur. Technical study is essential to achieve true expression.

This study can be bewildering at times. There are few other fields of endeavour in classical music study that are so fraught with misinformation, mythology and mystique. I strive to codify, clarify, simplify, and de-mystify the singer’s study. Also, the antiquated model of the all-knowing master teacher has long been a source of frustration for singers. My approach to the instruction of the voice is consciously structured to create a collaborative atmosphere in which the free exchange of ideas between student and instructor is modelled and encouraged.


Teaching Experience

  • Associate Professor of Voice
    School of Music, James Madison University
    Harrisonburg, VA
    2009 – present
  • Masterclass at the Staunton Music Festival ‘Springfest’ 2010
  • Masterclass at the Staunton Music Festival 2009
  • Adjunct Professor of Voice
    Don Wright Faculty of Music,
    University of Western Ontario
    London, Ontario
    1998 – 2009
  • Private students
    1988 – Present
  • Adjudicator, Conservatory Canada Examinations
    2003 – present
  • Masterclasses, University of Manitoba 2009
  • Adjudicator, Burlington Rotary Music Festival 2007
  • Adjudicator, Winnipeg Music Festival
    Winnipeg 2005
  • Adjudicator, Niagara Falls Kiwanis Music Festival
    Niagara Falls 2004
  • Clinician, First Annual Don and Lillian Wright National Vocal Masterclass
    London, Ontario 2003
  • Masterclasses, University of Windsor
    Windsor, Ontario 2003
  • Artist in Residence, Memorial University, Newfoundland
    St. John’s, NL 2003
  • Clinician, Ontario Registered Music Teacher’s Conference
    Timmins, Ontario 2002
  • Masterclasses, Victoria Conservatory of Music
    Victoria, British Columbia 2002
  • Masterclasses, San Diego State University
    San Diego, California 2000
  • Masterclasses, Queen’s University
    Kingston, Ontario 1999
  • Masterclasses, University of Saskatchewan
    Saskatoon, Saskatchewan 1998
  • Masterclasses, University of Alberta
    Edmonton, Alberta 1998
  • Masterclasses, Bishop’s University
    Lennoxville, Quebec 1998
  • Masterclasses, University of Manitoba
    Winnipeg, Manitoba 1997
  • Masterclasses, Guelph Spring Festival
    Guelph, Ontario 1997
  • Masterclasses, Mt. Royal College
    Calgary, Alberta 1996
  • Masterclasses, Alberta College
    Edmonton, Alberta 1996
  • Masterclasses, University of Regina
    Regina, Saskatchewan 1996
  • Masterclasses, Brandon University
    Brandon, Manitoba 1996
  • Masterclasses, Lakehead University
    Thunder Bay, Ontario 1996
  • Masterclasses, University of North Dakota
    Grand Forks, North Dakota 1996
  • Masterclasses, University of Western Ontario
    London, Ontario 1992 – 1996
  • Examiner, Western Ontario Conservatory of Music
    1992 – 1998
  • Juror, CBC Radio Competition for Young Performers
    Ottawa, Ontario May 1995
  • Juror, Masterclasses, CIBC National Festival of Music
    Calgary, Alberta August 1995
  • Masterclasses, Memorial University
    St. John’s, Newfoundland 1993



Read More - Teaching Philosophy

In his Epidemics, Bk. I, Sect. XI. Hippocrates wrote: Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future; practice these acts. As to diseases, make a habit of two things - to help, or at least to do no harm. These are guiding principles for my studio work with singers.

"Declare the past..." Every singer arrives at the studio door with a different personal history, knowledge, experience base, emotional status and level of competency with their instrument. I therefore open a dialogue with my students immediately to document and acknowledge their histories so that a strategy for the future can be crafted.

“Diagnose the present...” A voice teacher has three basic tools at his/her disposal: seeing, hearing and feeling. I watch and listen carefully, using all of the knowledge and experience available to me, so as to prescribe an appropriate course of action. If I discover that I have diagnosed a problem incorrectly, I am the first one to acknowledge this error and seek a different solution, as many times as are necessary. A kind but honest and detailed discussion of the diagnosis and potential remedy is therefore essential to the establishment of good rapport between student and teacher. At all times in my instruction, I work in close partnership with students so that I might understand their perceptions of the problem and the solution clearly. Then, and only then, can we create together an individualized program for student growth.

“Foretell the future...” I strive to use my own experience and knowledge base to sense the potential of the artist before me. Once that potential becomes apparent, then realistic, attainable goals can be established for artistic development. Having analysed a student’s potential, it is then my role to act as an ongoing advocate for the student’s talent. My goal in each case is timely and sustainable growth.

To effect such growth efficiently, I try to help the student understand the well-established realities of human vocal function -- from a scientifically-sound and historically-informed perspective -- in direct and technical language. The major elements of that instruction include:

  • Appoggio breath management
  • Posture and stance
  • Resonance balancing to achieve voce completa throughout the range
  • Clarity and efficiency of phonation
  • Maintenance of an acceptable vibrato
  • Establishment of dynamic and expressive control through practice of the messa di voce
  • Laryngeal balance and stabilization
  • The establishment and maintenance of velar closure during normal vowels in all vocal ranges
  • Normalization of tongue postures
  • Vowel tracking and clarity of diction/enunciation, making extensive use of the International Phonetic Alphabet
  • Systematic adjustment of vowels and breath management through the zona di passaggio to achieve appropriate resonance in the upper range
  • Range extension and voice classification
  • Agility
  • Sostenuto
  • Legato

At each stage, I also address the expressive impact of a student’s performance, which includes the following aspects:

  • Careful analysis of the dramatic context
  • Historical informedness
  • Language - through poetic understanding, accuracy and efficiency of enunciation, and expressive inflection of text
  • Extensive work to align the artist’s interpretation of the text with the intentions of the poet and composer
  • Body language
  • Psychological and sociological awareness
  • Helping students find an internal emotional reference to relate to the expressive task at hand
  • Concise delivery of this expressive/emotive experience to an audience
  • Coordination of these elements through expressive rehearsal

Information and experiences are shared as freely and as simply as possible so that students can not only steadily increase their knowledge base, but can become increasingly self-aware so as to begin the life-long process of self- instruction for continued artistic development.

“To help, or at least to do no harm.” If something isn’t dysfunctional, it does not make sense to repair it. However, to perceive a problem -- be it artistic, physical or psychological --and to not provide an honest, practical, timely and effective remedy makes no sense either. This, above all, is the fundamental principle of my studio teaching.

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