This week’s guest is David Sisco.

This is part one of a two-part interview with David Sisco, a New York-based voice teacher, who regularly lectures nationally and internationally on all things relating to singing voice pedagogy. David describes himself as a multi-hyphenate artist whose life work centres around exploring music, drama, writing, and teaching, finding great inspiration and commonalities in each. During this interview, David speaks candidly about his own personal and professional journey, which led him to an enduring career in the performing arts. He discusses how he developed his teaching skills, and that he calls himself an equal opportunity borrower because his teaching approaches have come from a variety of different sources. David firmly believes that we, as voice teachers, must become life-long learners and we need to invest in ourselves, so we can invest in our students. Furthermore, David states that it is important to honour knowledge and that as a voice community, we must continue to learn and grow together.

During our conversation, David talked about his teaching philosophy and how can we hold safer spaces for our students where they can allow themselves to become more vulnerable and to tell their stories, with honesty and without judgement. David affirms that we should be encouraging our students to become more curious and explore the possibilities of their voices and allow for playfulness.

Finally, David speaks openly about his beliefs regarding the status quo of voice programs within higher education, where students are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a university degree. He discusses the importance of providing context in student learning and that we must help our students understand the industry in which they are pursuing a professional career.

Remember this is part one of a two-part interview with the brilliant David Sisco and part two will follow next week.

David’s Links:

In this episode
08:15 — David’s Earliest Memory of Singing
16:22 — Effects of Self-Sabotage
18:30 — Mental Emotional Connection in Singing
19:31 — The Importance of Sharing Your Voice With Students.
21:12 — David’s Happiest Time as a Performer
23:15 — Looking After Yourself Before Others
25:04 — David’s Teaching Career
28:14 — Benefits of a Student-Centered Type of Learning
30:16 — “If You Are a Teacher, You Are Life Long Learner”
33:16 — The Science of Teaching vs. Intuition.
36:31 — The Science of Teaching
40:53 — Creating a Safe Space for Students
42:12 — Are Educational Institutions Equipping Students With the Skills They Need to Be Employable?
45:21 — “Performing a Contemporary Musicals” Book by David Sisco and Laura Josepher


Dr Marisa Lee Naismith is excited to announce the release of her new book “Singing Contemporary Commercial Music Styles: A Pedagogical Framework” published by Compton Publications UK. Marisa offers this book as a starting point and as CCM markets continue to evolve, she encourages that we, as a voice community, continue to evolve, debate and communally add to this framework.



Visit the A Voice and Beyond Youtube channel to watch back the video replay of this guest interview or to see my welcome video.

Episode Transcription

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 00:05

It’s Marisa Lee here, and I’m so excited to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you. In these episodes, our brilliant lineup of guests will include health care practitioners, voice educators, and other professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialized fields to empower you to live your best life. Whether you’re a member of the voice, community, or beyond your voice is your unique gift. It’s time now to share your gift with others develop a positive mindset and become the best and most authentic version of yourself to create greater impact. Ultimately, you can take charge, it’s time for you to live your best life. It’s time now for A Voice and Beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  01:15

This week, we have part one of a two part interview with David Cisco, a New York based voice teacher who regularly lectures nationally and internationally on all things relating to singing voice pedagogy, David describes himself as a multi hyphenate artist whose life work centers around exploring music, drama, writing, and teaching, finding great inspiration and commonalities in each. During this interview, David speaks candidly about his own personal and professional journey, which led him to an engineering career in the performing arts. He tells us that as a voice teacher, he calls himself an equal opportunity borrower and his training approaches have come from a variety of different sources. David firmly believes that we as voice teachers must become lifelong learners, and we need to invest in ourselves so we can invest in our students. Furthermore, David states that it is important to honor knowledge and that as a boy’s community, we must continue to learn and grow together. During our conversation. David also talked about his teaching philosophy and how we can hold safer spaces for our students where they can allow themselves to become more vulnerable. And to tell their story with honesty and without judgment. David affirms that we should be encouraging our students to become more curious and explore the possibility of their voices and allow for playfulness. Finally, David speaks openly about what he believes is the status quo of voice programs within higher education, where students paying hundreds of 1000s of dollars for a university degree. He discusses the importance of providing context in students learning, and we must help our students understand the industry in which they are pursuing a professional career. Remember, this is part one of a two part interview with the brilliant David Cisco and part two will follow next week. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  03:59

Hey, it’s David Cisco. Welcome to the show. David, how are you?

David Cisco  04:05

Oh, I’m very well Marisa, it’s so great to be with you. Thank you so much for inviting me to have this chat with you. Love it!

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  04:12

Oh, such a pleasure. I must say, I’m totally envious. I follow you on Facebook. Obviously, we’re friends on Facebook. And you’re always posting these most beautiful shots of the Hudson River around where you live. And I just go oh my gosh, I wouldn’t be there with you. 

David Cisco  04:32

So see what we do have a guest strip. So when you come to New York, but um, I have to say about our place that my husband found it and we just literally waltzed into the most perfect situation in the city and there are ways that New York City will beat you down. But there are other ways where New York City will provide for you and this apartment was one of those ways we’re just we love where we are and Hudson heights in the Upper Manhattan.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  05:00

Yes, you must pinched yourself at times and go look at my life.

David Cisco  05:04

Daily. Daily.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  05:06

Yes, yes. It’s so important, though, isn’t it to maintain that gratitude?

David Cisco  05:11

It absolutely is. And actually, there’s not a morning that I don’t come out of our bedroom into their living living room. And, you know, I see I see the George Washington Bridge, I see the water, I see the Palisades, across the way and I’m in the sky, you know, and that that seems silly to say, but for those who don’t live in New York, you know, being able to see sky as a New Yorker in your apartment is a luxury. For most for most of us. Normally, we’re just looking at another building. So the fact that we get to see sky, it really does start my day in gratitude, because I am so grateful for the space and at the end of the long day to come back and to receive the space and to be, you know, bid with my beloved and in it is it’s, it’s a blessing.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  06:03

It absolutely is. And I have to say that I have a crush on your beloved. So beautiful. And, and sorry, people who are listening, you heard it, you’re all the witness to this. David just invited me to stay in the guest. Ever he reneged on that, I’m going to lay this back to him.

David Cisco  06:33

Excellent. Please do, please do.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  06:36

Anyway, David, we’re going to get started with learning more about you there is so much to unravel here. There are so many things that you do and I don’t even know how you sleep. But you describe yourself as a multi hyphenated artist and your life work centers around exploring music, drama, writing, and teaching and finding great inspiration and commonalities in agent. And as I just asked you, when do you sleep?

David Cisco  07:13

Do you know I do sleep i promise i stated six to seven hours a night. I’m just a fiercely good multitasker. And someone who’s also very good at compartmentalizing and to that and I can kind of break big projects down into bite bite sizes and say alright, today I’m going to write this paragraph of this overarching idea. I don’t have to write the whole thing. And so So I think honestly, there’s the creativity side of my my being which I am very grateful for. But there’s also kind of it’s very kind of organized side that they seem to work together and I try to make sure they work together for good. Mostly, they seem to get a lot accomplished as a result.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  07:57

Are you a Virgo?

David Cisco  07:59

I’m not. I’m actually an Aries.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  08:01

Oh, I was going to say that sounds like a Virgo to me. very disciplined and very highly organized. So your background here, David, what’s your earliest memory of you singing?

David Cisco  08:20

This is kind of funny and sad. The first memory I have of myself singing was actually in kindergarten around Christmas time. And we were all given these sparkly red bow ties to wear. Oh, for our little concert, we were performing one Christmas song as part of this little concert. And I somehow in between when they handed them out. And the performance time I lost my bowtie and I was inconsolable and literally wept through the performance. And so that is actually one of my first memories.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  09:03

That’s tragic for a little kindergarten child.

David Cisco  09:06

Oh my gosh, my dad, my poor dad who’s like it’s okay. It’s you’re still gonna sing and it’s going to be beautiful and wonderful. I would have none of it. They didn’t have an extra one. I I was just beside myself. And I mean, I’ve always had a pension for fashion, literally always.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  09:27

What were you doing in Vienna during ICVT?

David Cisco  09:31

I mean, I was attending a conference conference sessions, but as long as well at the end, I mean we say down a couple of days out Albert, my husband and I stood on a couple days with our friend Aaron was in town with us. And we did go shopping because you know, you know one of my favorite things to do is go shopping when you’re traveling, you know abroad because there’s something so special and you don’t have to buy a ton but to just put something on in the morning and be like oh, I bought this And I was in Vienna, and then you think of all the wonderful people you met. You know, it’s it’s such a wonderful way to kind of mark the travel that you’ve, you’ve been blessed to have.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  10:09

And you don’t have to do the hard sell on shopping for me because I know I don’t know you. And I love fashion. I love being stylistic, you know so, anyway.

David Cisco  10:22

Well, you’re always well turned out, so.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  10:25

Oh thank you. So are you.

David Cisco  10:26

Thank you. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  10:28

So when did you realize then that you could actually sing?

David Cisco  10:33

I think it was pretty early on. I mean, I I think in elementary school, I knew I loved to sing. Certainly. I actually started piano when I was in first grade. And I one of the stories I often tell about me when I was young, I marched up to my elementary school teacher, Mrs. Goodwill, and I told her I’d be taking over her job upon my graduation from high school. So I was a little precocious and I knew that music was was for me, I knew that that was what it was going to do for my life. And I think it was really probably around fourth or fifth grade that I really felt like oh, singing, singing is something that I excel one that I really enjoyed. And I started even in middle school I was in the adult choir at church. So so that was something that just kind of grew from there.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  11:22

I love the fact that you said you were precocious, I precocious children and my favorite children to teach because I think they’re the ones that have got the sets and the attitude to actually do something with themselves, you know, like moving forward into the future. But then to to start having lessons of any kind, like any singing lessons?

David Cisco  11:45

Yeah, I took, you know, lessons in kind of a group lesson situation is often happens in like middle school in high school in the United States, through choir. But my first kind of professional lessons were through the New York State summer school, the arts Choral Studies program that I was part of three years in high school. During the summer, I worked with Dr. Everett McCorvey, who is I saw for the first time at the NASS conference in Chicago this past July. I hadn’t seen him for 20 years. And this man completely was just such the embodiment of love and grace and knowledge. And so I was so blessed to have him be my first teacher. And then of course, to reconnect with him. And the lessons were, were more on the classical side of things.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  12:38

Right. Okay. So then you went on to study voice, formally. And you have a BA in vocal performance and composition honors, from Syracuse, you have a master’s in vocal performance from Boston University School of the Arts. From there, where did you head into? Did you continue to have classical training? Did you then go into a performance career? Or did you go into a teaching career? How did your work pan out?

David Cisco  13:13

Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I, you know, I was very grateful for my my early training with Dr. McCorvey and the teachers that I had in undergrad, Dr. Carl Johansson, really wonderful, wonderful voice teachers, and they all prepared me for the career I thought it was going to have. And that’s not where as often happens, that’s not where life took me.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  13:37

Where was that? What was that?

David Cisco  13:39

I thought I was going to do more classical music, more opera, and art song. And I realized mainly in graduate school that, you know, I have a very light baritone voice, I was never going to sing there. It was never, I was going to do some on lovely handle operas, and art, Song recitals and things like that. And I love all of that. I think it’s fantastic. But I realized that, that it wasn’t going to have the career that I thought it would. And at the same time, to be honest, and I’ve talked about this openly. So it’s not a surprise, but I had some really negative experiences in graduate school that left me feeling as if I should not sing in public. That was the narrative that I received from the community there. And and that was, it was never said to me in those particular words, but it was what was not said, as is often the case. And it was a lack of opportunity that I had granted at school that made me feel as if I really wasn’t special or gifted in any sort of way vocally. And so that really hampered me for many, many years. And as a result to kind of answer your question is that I I, I felt like well, I love teaching, I discovered teaching non majors during my second year of graduate school. And I loved it. And I then started teaching at Boston University, Tanglewood Institute during the summer. And I loved that. And so I decided, you know, maybe I’m more of a teacher and more of a composer. And maybe that’s where life is taking. And I’m thankful to say that that balance has now changed.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  15:25

Yes. And did you have the performance career then?

David Cisco  15:29

Not in the way that many people do when they graduate graduated from a master’s program? I, what I did was I created performance opportunities for myself, I, I wrote a, a one man show, as many young musical theater writers do. autobiographical, painfully autobiographical. And they performed that I wrote a one act opera based on a short story by James Thurber, and kind of cast myself in that because I felt like this is something that I really fit. I performed in church, I had a really extraordinary professional choir job, when I first moved to New York at Marble Collegiate Church. And not only was I doing a lot of solo work for them, but I wrote a lot of contemporary Christian pieces for services, and which was, which was all wonderful. I did some some musical theater and opera work. But as I said, you know, when I received this message, however, kind of under the radar was, I actually created a psychosomatic issue for myself. And anytime I went to sing it public outside of, honestly, outside of a sanctuary, I would get sinus infections, really debilitating sinus infections, to the point where I would wake up with no voice at all.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  16:49

Wow. So it was self sabotage?

David Cisco  16:53

100% self sabotage. Yeah. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  16:55

Was that because of the experience that you had with these people saying that you should not perform in public?

David Cisco  17:01

Yeah, to be clear, you know, I had a great voice teacher, I had a great coach in graduate school, but but because the atmosphere was very political. And there’s a lot of kind of fighting amongst the powers that be there. That’s the narrative that I received. It To be clear, it was never said directly to me in that way. Although it was, I will say it was into that, which was painful. And so yeah, I guess is the point I was doing a series of concerts with my friend Alexandra Picard, we had a cabaret duo called comes love. And we got asked to be part of this international cabaret Festival, which was fantastic. Yes, and performing two nights, and we decided to be recorded the second night. And the first night, I could feel a sinus infection coming on. And the morning of the second night, I literally woke up with no voice. And I had five students, Marissa that I had to teach that day before that evening’s concert. And that was really the turning point for me, where I said, you know, I am doing this to myself. Other people have have either said it to me directly or non directly about my talent as a singer, but I have chosen this narrative. And so I had to really look at that. And I actually sat down with each of the students that I had that day and said, You know, I don’t believe in myself, as a singer.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  18:27

You said that to your students?

David Cisco  18:30

And I’m making myself sick as a result of that. And I want you to, I’m telling you this not for you to feel sorry for me or for anything, I want you to know that there is this mental emotional connection that we have to our singing. And it’s so important to investigate that as much as we investigate our technique. Because if we don’t remain good stewards of that landscape, these types of things can happen to us and I, as God is my witness, and the videos are out on YouTube somewhere. My voice was almost 100% back by that evening’s performance, I sang the concert and I was completely Was it my best singing that I’ve ever done now, but most of the signage infection completely disappeared, my voice came back. And and I was able to perform it and find a level of satisfaction. And so it’s been a that was several years ago. And it’s been an evolution to kind of continue to claim that reclaim that space ever since.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  19:31

Yes, I 100% believe in what you’ve just said. I mean, not only are there the students that when it comes to exam time or there have a competition, they lose their voices or they become sick, but also to just share this with you quickly. I had a student maybe six months ago, and she was constantly having tonsillitis, and she came in this particular day to her lesson once again with tonsillitis. And I, I just boldly, I just had this intuition from time to time. And I just asked her, What aren’t you saying? And she looked at me, I said, I believe there’s something that you’re not saying, and it’s triggering these problems with your throat, there’s something that you need to speak up about, is there something that you need to be sharing with someone, or a situation where you don’t feel that your voice is being heard? And she burst into tears. And she said, I haven’t come out to my parents yet. Because I’m scared. And I feel that I really want to it’s the next part of me moving on with my life. And she continued to cry. And she said, I’ve never told anyone that before. And isn’t it amazing? That tonsillitis was a manifestation of something that she wasn’t saying? So I 100% agree with the situation that you’ve found yourself in. It’s not something that’s in your mind. It will it is kind of but but it’s manifesting in the body.

David Cisco  21:12

Yeah, I, you know, and to kind of, to bring this to a happy ending, probably the happiest time–I the happiest I’ve been as a performer was this past summer, I decided that, you know, when I had been performing, it was basically behind the piano, I love playing, I’m a decent player. And so I love accompanying myself with the piano, there’s something that’s very intimate and lovely about it. But I decided that, you know, I needed to do a solo show, which I hadn’t done in 20 years. And I needed to stand center stage and tell my story. And so I wrote this show that literally had me starting at the piano and saying, you know, everything’s fine, we’re fine, everything’s fine. And telling the story of of going through this process. And then finally, you know, by the middle of the show, standing center stage and saying, I deserve to be here. Wow, I did all of the arrangements and orchestrations six piece band, and it was so empowering. Because my had my students in the audience and, and it was doing it for me, because I had to, but I was also doing it for them. Because I want them to know that, you know, I think that we, you know, we’re going to talk about this later, I know, but we have to continue to invest in ourselves, so we can invest in our students. And, and I see my students being brave in ways that I sometimes only wish that I could be. And so that was an opportunity to kind of claim more space and say, No, I actually really love singing. And oh, my god, once I got on that stage, I was like, you’re not getting me off of here. And I’m already you know, I’m not going to do it tomorrow. But I’m already kind of planning my next show, which is really exciting. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  22:59

Well done to you. 

David Cisco  23:01

Oh, thanks.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  23:01

Well done. That is a really happy story. And–no it is. So to me, that sounds like that is one of your career highlights.

David Cisco  23:11

Absolutely. Yes, yes. Yeah. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  23:15

And it’s interesting what you just said, you know, how we have to look at ourselves before we look at others and one of our colleagues put up on Facebook over the weekend. Be kind, be kind, be kind, something like that. And talking about pedagogy that, as teachers, we need to be kind and I put, yes, if anyone sees that, I don’t know. But we must be kind to ourselves first, how can you be kind to others, when you’re not being kind to you?

David Cisco  23:47

Yeah, if you if we’re not willing to, to offer that kind of self care to ourselves, you know, then how can we offer the kind of vulnerability that I think we need to offer to our students, because it’s such a intimate and challenging journey? You know, I sent you know, just off my first week of teaching at NYU Steinhardt, where I’ve been for three years now, I’d love it there. And I said to all my new students said, I want you to know that I realize how difficult this relationship can be because I’m literally messing with your identity, your your voice is so wrapped up in who you are as a human being, and I’m, I’m messing with that now in a way to to create more, you know, artistic expression. So it’s for a good reason than not just kind of, you know, trying to make you do things that make you uncomfortable, but, but we have to the only way that we can create those spaces, I think is by doing that work ourselves.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  24:50

Yes. Yes, absolutely. So I’m just going to back back a little bit and we’re going to talk more about that because we both know feel so strongly about this, creating safe spaces for our students, but just in terms of your actual voice teaching? How long have you been teaching now?

David Cisco  25:11

Oh, two, you’re gonna age myself? Uhmm.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  25:14

Well, they’re all 21 on this show. 

David Cisco  25:17


Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  25:17

They’re all 21, David.

David Cisco  25:20

I have a rule of it, anything over five years is about five years, you know, I don’t. But that that’s that I don’t, I don’t want to diminish the time because it’s offered a lot of hard earned knowledge. So I’ve been teaching for a little over 20 years. I started, as I mentioned, teaching that non majors class, during graduate school. And then I taught a class of my own design at a school in Boston, actually taught private voice lessons at another school there. And then, when he moved to New York eventually worked at Marymount Manhattan College, which is a very strong musical theater program worked there for 10 years, or to Wagner College, as an adjunct professor at now, at NYU, sent her so about 20 years I’ve been working.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  26:10

So, in terms of your teaching, do you have a teaching methodology that you use? Or do you have like a grab and pick and created a toolbox of approaches?

David Cisco  26:23

Yes. Thanks for asking that I, you know, one of the things I talked to all my students and clients about is that I asked them to think about healthy singing as a redundant or circular building, with many different points of entry. And I think it’s my job as their teacher to help them find as many different ways in to the center of that building as possible. And what we know is one particular door is not gonna unlock today, because this particular key is not the way in, right? And so like, how do we find lots of different ways in and you know, the other thing I’ll say is that we use voice teachers use the same warmup is same warm up or vocal conditioning exercise, I call them really, because that’s what they are, we’ll use the same conditioning exercise for completely different reasons, depending on the suit, right. And so for all of for all of those reasons, I always say that I don’t teach a particular method, I am an equal opportunity, borrower. Love borrowing from lots of different people just getting as many good ideas as I can to bring in. And I think that’s important, both because our students are coming with a lot of different perspectives. And so what works with one student, what translates to one student really well may not translate to another. So I have to have lots of different ways, pushing it. And I also find that teaching a particular method can be not always but can be limiting, especially because we have such, we have such varied students these days, right? In our studios. And so it’s never a one size fits all. And so I think we all have in our communities, regardless of what genres may be our kind of Keystone focus, I think we all have a tremendous amount to learn from each other. And to borrow from each other.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  28:13

I agree, you know, as student centered learning is the way that we must approach our teaching, and methods not going to help you get there that, and I actually did a little reel on this on Instagram, last week or the week before saying that our teaching must be around the student. And by sticking to a method, you’re actually endorsing a one size fits all approach to teaching, and it’s not going to work. Yes, exactly. Yes. And has there been someone who’s greatly influenced your teaching? Is there a one person or something that you’ve heard at a conference or someone that you’ve looked up to? You’ve thought, wow, you know, this person really inspires me or I love what they’ve said, or, or I really need to use that in my studio. 

David Cisco  29:06

Oh, gosh, it’s honestly, it’s an amalgam of like, 30,000 different people die from, you know, and some of them are not even musical. Some of them are just, you know, just you know, who people are in space and how they are they create great hospitality for other people. Like, it doesn’t have to be, you know, thinking particularly of a minister friend of mine, what he does to to invite people into space and how I, I see to emulate that. And although in a in a very different venue is a teacher at a university. Yeah, lots of different, lots of different places, I would say.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  29:46

Yes. And do you continue to update your learning? I know that you attend conferences because we ran into each other in Vienna at ICVT. And you said that you were into NATTS, how important is that?

David Cisco  30:03

I think it’s really important. I don’t think it’s everything. But I think it’s I think it’s really important to me, it’s learning how to vote. First of all, I’m gonna say something that is, that is obvious to both of us. But I think it’s important to say, if you are a teacher, you are a lifelong learner. Right? That is, that’s just the way it has to be. And the day that I feel like I know, everything I need to know, I will retire, because I’ve literally lost, lost something in the mix there. But I think that conferences are great. Conferences Sometimes, though, are great ways to get new ideas in. But they don’t always allow us to kind of go deeper into things. I’m also a fan of workshops that actually we have to kind of try things on yourself. Because it just, you know, workshops that make us the students, again, I think is really important, not only in terms of our learning and growing in our knowledge of teaching, but also so we remember what it’s like to be a suit. And we can have that sensitivity. I think that’s important. I think, I think reading is tremendously important. journals, books, you know, I think our own research things that inspire us are important, as well. And so I’m talking about this later, but researching a new book right now, just because it’s something that I I feel like is I have a passion for that hasn’t maybe been looked at at that particular way that I think that it could be. So I think it’s bringing all of these things together. But I also want to say that, I think it’s important to honor knowledge. And to know that we have this, this phrase that we’ve been using the last couple of years, evidence based, right science, Voice Science, I’m here for onboard. But I also you brought up something that I think is important to to underscore, and that is that we also have to trust our intuition as teachers, right. And so I think that what I have found in a lot of my teaching, is that I’ve had an intuition about a certain approach that I can say, Now, years later, I’ve read an article that I’m like, oh, that’s the science behind what I was doing. I didn’t necessarily know, I may not have known that in the moment, but I knew how to get there. Right. And I, I, maybe this is my own fear of do I know enough? But I think sometimes we we put so much emphasis on voice pedagogy and voice Voice Science, which again, I think are tremendously important. But I think there are lots of different ways, as I said earlier, that rotunda, lots of different ways to get to the same place. And sometimes, you know, sometimes, you know, I will work with a student, for example, we’ve all had these students Mersa, where we’re working with them and say, and we know like, oh, my gosh, they’re getting so tied up in their head. And if I give them one more technical tool, it’s just gonna, it’s just going to hold the whole thing. So let me come at it from a completely different way. Let me come at it from the intention, the insert the storytelling way.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  33:16

Yes. You’re singing my songs.

David Cisco  33:19

Yeah, you know, and it does the same thing. So so that is not to say, intuition is the only way to go. Our voice science is the only way to go. I think it’s this beautiful blending of all of that. And, boy, I’ve gone on a kind of soapbox on that. But I hope that answers your question.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  33:36

It does, it does. And it brings me to a couple of other points to this year, I decided that I would sit back in a class that I did in 2008. It was a postgraduate program. And I’ve just been sitting in there we call it oh, oh my gosh, I can’t remember the name. But anyway, we can sit in on classes, we don’t have to pay for them. Once we’ve done the program, I teach in the the institution. So I just sit in the corner. And I I’ve been doing four hours a week of vocal pedagogy. And so I did this in 2008. And boy has the program changed in terms of the content and a lot of it definitely science based and to like all this work on acoustics. And to be fair, I am so dumb at that staff level.

David Cisco  34:32

Oh presh you are singing my song now.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  34:35

You know, and it’s really interesting to sit in, having had so much more experience now. Having a PhD or having had learned that, you know, being in that academic space, but also picking up so much from other people even through this podcast. And I don’t always agree. And I don’t believe that there’s only one way to do Do something and it shouldn’t be preached that way either. And then even going to ICVT, there was a change in the guard there at ICVT, I noticed that really filled my soul. And that was that it is not about us, as teachers, people like yourself like myself, there was a gentleman there from, I think he was San Antonio, who taught you were in his room as well. And he talked about the master apprentice model, and how Yes, and but there is a changing of the guard where it’s becoming more about the student, and less about ourselves. And that really made me feel so happy because I’ve, I’ve heard so much about the science. And I agree that we need to know why we’re doing something. But science isn’t going to fill all the gaps in our teaching a machine staring at a machine, a spectrograph, or whatever it is that you’re looking at, it’s not going to tell you what’s going on in the minds of the students. We haven’t lived a day in their shoes. We don’t know what’s going on, that is impacting the voice. And as you articulated earlier, with your sinus infection, or you having something going on, that was emotional, the science ain’t gonna cut that. So what are your thoughts on all of that? With the science of teaching?

David Cisco  36:36

Yeah, I mean, I would say, I totally agree with everything that you’re talking about. And and I think that this master apprentice, I think it was a Travis Sherwood is who you were mentioned in what a great presentation. It’s such a such a super guy. They’re eally great.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  36:54

Oh, amazing. That was one of my highlights.

David Cisco  36:57

Yeah, yeah. Same. I think that, you know, when we talk about Master apprentice model, as Travis said so eloquently in his, in his presentation, you know, we’re talking about students who, like, we’re actually living under the roof of the teacher, and they were in charge of their entire being, including their morality, and, and all of this stuff. And, you know, I don’t think any of us want our students living with us. You know, but there’s also, you know, I, from the research I have done, specifically on the amount bottle through the century, 17th 18th centuries, especially, you know, it’s very codependent. And I still see this in our, in our industry where it’s like, you need me, you need me to get where you want to go. And I, you know, I’ll be very frank and say that that’s gross. That is so gross to me. And it’s, it’s lacks integrity. And it’s not true. Well, it’s not true. Also, like these, there’s so many, as we said, there’s so many different ways to get to that to a particular place. 

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  38:05

Exactly. That’s just ego.

David Cisco  38:08

Yeah, exactly. Well, it’s, you know, we’re, I will say to that I, I feel that we’re in a particular, you know, many of our countries, and I believe in my, my understanding of where Australia is, this may be true there too. But, you know, certainly that his days are very polarized. And everyone is so busy trying to plant flags in the ground that they don’t realize that there are 30 other flags that had been there before them. And by the way, nobody owns that land. And so–

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  38:41

Yes, so well said, I love your analogies. No, so well said, No one owns the ground. The land, yay.

David Cisco  38:53

And let’s keep on finding different ways of saying saying this other the same thing. So we’re different things as we continue to learn together. But um, but yeah, I’m, you know, we’re in this age where we are, as you said, student centered learning. And this is it’s, you know, I’m asking my students, what do you see in these four years? If it’s undergrad or two years? If it’s graduate school? What do you want to leave with? What do you want? I know this probably feels a little daunting to answer right now, in your first lesson, you just known me for two, two seconds. But if you had to guess, based on where you are at this point in your life, where would you like your life to take you? What do you feel like you want to say with your artistry, and because my job is to not to look down upon you from a pedestal? It’s to be on on the ground with you and look with you into the future and say, Okay, if that’s where you want to go, then let’s head in that direction and may change that’s okay. But how do we get there? So, how do we get there? And what is technical about that? What is mental emotional about that? What is just industry knowledge? And things you need to know about the industry that you’re going into? You know, what are the different components of that? And I’m not going to be able to do all of that, because that’s why you go to college and work with lots of different people. But, you know, based on on my knowledge of teaching, how can I bring my unique skill sets to support where you want to go? Because Oh, my God, these students are paying, I mean, hundreds of 1000s of dollars for their education, we sure as heck better be student centered.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  40:41

Yes. And there’s quite a few things here that I want to touch on these. You’ve just like, oh, oh, I Yes, yes, yes, yes. To everything that you’re saying. Basically, what you’re doing is straight up, you’re creating a safe space for your students, you’re asking them the questions. What are your needs? You’re asking them, What do you want? It’s not about you, and Hallelujah to doing that, you know, many people can learn from that one thing, what do you need? What do you want? What are your goals? They’re not mine. So working in that higher education setting, and you and I do as well. And we know what students are paying for their education. Do you feel that universities or higher education institutions in general, not speaking about where we’re teaching? Because, well, you don’t want to lose your job, and neither do I, but correct. But I find because my teach my students and the program that they’re in, they’re in a popular music program. And they by third year, will already six out of my nine vocalists in first year are working, and gigging and releasing new music they’re writing, they’re doing very well, the program is very well structured. So I’m in a very unique position, I believe. But in general, do you feel that higher education institutions are equipping students with the skills they need to be employable?

David Cisco  42:21

It’s a very good, and I’ll admit a very loaded question, even though even taken, yeah. Yeah, that’s okay. That’s okay. I will answer the question, certainly. And what I will say is this, I have been blessed to teach in academia for, as I said, about 20 years, give or take. And, you know, what I’ve seen at the the institutions where I’ve taught where I’ve observed as an artist in residence, or as some sort of gas, I’ve seen some extraordinary training. These were students, and I’m going to speak from, I should say, from my personal lens, which tends to be our more musical theater. Right? I think that an opportunity for growth, we’re going to call it is how we provide a context for the knowledge that we are teaching our students. So what do I mean by that? I mean, how can we say, Okay, I’m teaching you this, because based on where the industry is right now, and where we think it’s going, you’re going to need to know this. And you’re going to need to know this within this particular context. And I think that that’s an area where I see a lot of institutions could grow in saying that I want to acknowledge how hard that is, because it’s literally like trying to see or the Titanic in the musical theater, which I realize is an unfortunate example. But, you know, a musical theater, so much has changed in the last five years, and especially in the last two years, you know, we are having woefully overdue conversations about equity and inclusion in the industry, not only onstage, behind stage, in the creative teams, in the producing teams everywhere. And so there needs to be a wholesale change in our industry. And that change is, from what I see. And I realize I for your listeners, you’re only hearing my voice, but I’m identify as a white cisgender. Man, I realize I am 100% at a place of privilege, but from wherein I’m seeing I am seeing people at least acknowledge that change needs to happen and I am starting to see some positive change happening. So all that is to say, to keep up with that, but the higher education level is very difficult, especially if you are trying to create curriculum that keeps up with that. Right. That is incredibly hard. But that said, I think that there are ways where we can continue to To help our students understand the industry into which they’re going to actually is the reason why my colleague Laura joseffer. And I wrote this book during the pandemic, because you know, what else were we going to do either than–

David Cisco  45:16

And watch so much Netflix, oh my God, thank God, we had that subscription. We definitely used it, Laura and I created a book that came out this past March called Performing a Contemporary Musicals. And just a little quick background in 2000. Gosh, think it was 2012 2000 Yeah, 2012, I founded, which is the largest online database of contemporary musical theater writers and songs, being a musical theater writer, myself, and being a teacher looking for great under some musical theater repertoire for my students, I wanted to kind of connect these two communities. And I’m very grateful that–

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  45:56

What a great idea! 

David Cisco  45:59

Thank you, thank you, and 10 years done, and Laura is my, my trusted business partner on that. And we had done a handful of masterclasses workshops with university students here in the States, and thankfully, internationally has great success. And what we found was that, especially when it came to new work, many students didn’t fully understand what was required of them as someone who was entering into the life of a new musical, and they didn’t know what it was like to have composer, lyricist book writer. And, you know, they hadn’t really investigated dramaturgy, and maybe done script analysis, which is wonderful. But their script analysis is on like, Tennessee Williams plays which, you know, kind of work. He was kind of brilliant, right? But they weren’t analyzing stuff that didn’t work, right. They weren’t necessarily analyzing the structure of a musical, they were, you know, it’s fascinating to me, I have not come across many musical theater programs that teach a class on collaboration, and yet, is the most collaborative art form I can think of, I mean, we have so many different hands in the pie, you know, to kind of try to build something that works. So we felt like, you know, hey, we really love developing new musicals, we had a chance to Laura had directed several pieces of mine and, and I worked as a music director, which she was directing some new works, and said, Why don’t we write this book that kind of brings this information and the information, I think some of the information will be new to readers. But I think the context of it is what is important, because I will tell you, the first thing that a lot of musical theater performers are going to do straight out of college is musicals, they’re going to do readings and workshops and new shows, while they’re auditioning for established shows, and touring productions. And so I think that’s, that’s what I’m really passionate about, in working it into the context of academia is like how do we create a space to kind of move you know, our curriculum so binding that we can’t move with the industry? Right? And that’s a hard question in every every you know, institutions asking those questions, I think that’s true is trying to figure out the best way to do that for their particular students based on on their particular goals for their students. I think that’s great.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  48:34

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of A Voice and Beyond. I hope you enjoyed it as now is an important time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. Use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow so you can show up feeling empowered and ready to live your best life. If you know someone who will also be inspired by this episode, please be sure to copy and paste the link and share it with them. Or share it on social media and use the hashtag #AVoiceAndBeyond. I promise you I am committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversations just like this one every week. And if you would like to help me please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple Podcast right now. But I would also love to know what it is that you most enjoyed about this episode and what was your biggest takeaway. Please take care and I look forward to your company next time on the next episode of A Voice and Beyond.

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