Meet the Teaching Artist: Broadway vet Deb Lyons
The Count Basie Center Performing Arts Academy offers a host of arts education options for parents and children alike — from private and group vocal and acting lessons, to guidance in acting for television and film, productions like Seussical, Jr. and Shrek, Jr. and more.
Today we introduce Broadway veteran Deb Lyons (Smokey Joe’s Cafe, the national tour of Jekyll & Hyde), who oversees private vocal lessonss and various Broadway-themed classes at the Basie Academy.
What makes you a unique teacher?
More than 25 years of experience working as a professional performer in multiple facets of the music and theater industry makes me a unique teacher. As a singer and actor, I’ve performed in musicals on Broadway, in London’s West End (Smokey Joe’s Cafe) and in major theaters throughout the US (Jekyll & Hyde, Swing, Hairspray, Next to Normal and Ring of Fire), so I know what it takes to sing 8 shows a week.
I toured for 5 years as a member of the legendary pop group The Mamas & The Papas with original band members John Phillips and Denny Doherty, where we sang in stadiums, arenas and festivals throughout the world. Along the way I’ve sung in small clubs, sung at weddings, sung on network television programs and sung with a symphony orchestra… so I understand, firsthand, the pressure to rise to the occasion for every occasion.
I have worked with 3 TONY Award-winning directors: Jerry Mitchell, Jerry Zaks & Richard Maltby Jr. And I’ve worked Off-Broadway alongside Grammy-winning songwriters Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann. And I’ve also sung back-up for major recording artists like Carrie Underwood, Donna Summer and Lee Ann Womack. All of this vast and varied professional experience is what I bring into the room with my students.
What will students take away from your classes at the Basie Academy?
My priority is for my students to start with learning healthy vocal technique. Mastering that strength is essential to achieve the sound and style every singer needs to express their vocal artistry. I want my students to realize their full potential as a performer which means freeing up tension to open up the voice. Then we tell the story of the song. I want my students to have fun and feel the joy and power in their singing. And, of course, practice, practice, practice! The greatest amount of progress actually happens between the lessons!
What is your philosophy on the importance of arts education?
Every human I know identifies with music. We all have moments of our lives associated with a favorite song. Music is not only healing but it’s uplifting and brings people together. To express oneself through music transcends most other means of communicating. Just as athletes invest time in training to perfect that curve ball or backhand, so too, we should invest in building artistic skills.
What are your strengths as a teacher?
My strengths are my passion for singing, my humor and my encouragement for my students to communicate. Our work is a collaboration and I need their feedback and input! I want them to feel free to let me know if they’re confused or have questions. If the goal they seek is not achievable one way then I look for another way. I’m rooting for them! And when I see their strengths I bring that out and keep them headed in that direction.
How have the arts impacted your life?
The arts are a constant source of inspiration and personal expression that are vital to being a complete human being.
So then why did you choose your specific genre of performing arts?
I had a real knack for singing as a teen and got a few lucky breaks and started working before I realized that one’s natural ability can only get you so far and I truly needed to apply myself and start studying music, vocal technique and acting.
Have any funny anecdotes from your experiences in arts ed?
I don’t have any particular anecdotes but there is always a lot of laughter in my lessons!
What artist has inspired you the most and why?
I’m always fascinated by performers who continue to evolve and don’t just rest on their laurels – they keep moving forward and challenging themselves, whether it’s learning to play an instrument or writing a new song or putting together a band or producing a play. I’m continually inspired by my students!
Why do you like teaching at the Basie Center?
The Basie is relentless in its quest for valuing and expanding the performing arts community in New Jersey. The educators here invest daily in supporting the next generation of music makers and dramatists. I really value and enjoy that spirit of being surrounded by like-minded music & art lovers.
New classes start weekly at the Count Basie Center for the Arts Performing Arts Academy. For more info, click here.