Jamie Swenson, 33
Owner and teacher
Jamie Lupien Swenson grew up in South Portland, where both of her parents were involved in community theater. Swenson said although she was shy as a child, she loved to go to rehearsal and to the theater with her parents.
“Initially I wasn’t too interested in performing, just observing,” said Swenson, co-owner of SingDancePlay in South Portland, which offers classes for children who want to explore the arts. “I worked my way into theater through dance. I was in my first community theater production at age 12. From there I started to take singing more seriously. I was always involved in my school and church choirs.”
Swenson is a graduate of Westminster Choir College and holds a bachelor’s degree in music education and voice. She has been teaching private voice lessons and musical theater classes for the past seven years. She also teaches music at South Portland Middle School.
Maine Women had a chance to ask Swenson about what led her to teach, what it takes to do what she does and what inspired her to pursue a career in music education.
Q: How did you become a voice teacher?
A: Once in high school I started taking voice lessons and really discovered singing was my passion. I was first cast in musicals because I could dance, but it all started to shift. It finally clicked that music was my passion. My high school choral teacher really believed in me and pushed me from Day 1. I think maybe she knew before I knew that the passion was there. I went to Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., the most amazing little conservatory. While there I did my work-study at the conservatory where they offered lessons and classes and was also a member of an actor’s company through the conservatory. My time working there while in college and as soon as I graduated is what inspired me to do what I do now. I worked there one year after graduation when I realized I wanted to be back in Maine.
Upon moving back to Maine in 2005, finding a public school teaching position was challenging. So I opened a voice studio and had about 20 students and was an ed tech to kind of get my feet wet in education. I did that for two years when I was finally offered my first teaching job. I worked at Mildred Day School in Arundel. I loved that position. My heart is really in seeing children develop and you see that and get to see so many successes in elementary school. South Portland Middle School had a position opening and I was encouraged to apply. I was nervous because it was middle school and most of my experience was with much younger children, other than my voice students. But I like a challenge and went for it and I have been there ever since. I’m starting my seventh year.
Q: What inspired you to share your skill with others (through teaching)?
A: I was inspired to share my skills because there was always this feeling I had when I was a student in chorus class. It was like that one time when everything was easy and fun. I didn’t have to stress about some of my academic weaknesses, it was my stress relief. Although I was a good student, I did not like school. I think I was motivated to go because of my music classes. I could always match pitch and sing, but I was quiet and not too unique. The confidence I gained in chamber singing and through voice lessons is really where the voice came from. From seeing my own development from a “sweet singer” to a talented singer is what inspired me to teach lessons, too. There have definitely been students I have worked with who could not match pitch or were extremely quiet and have grown and overcome those obstacles. I love teaching private voice lessons. I keep my number small because get really invested in my students. I love watching them grow and am so impressed with the progress they each make and the opportunities they have taken to perform. I have had students go on to pursue music themselves or just keep it as a great hobby that is a great source of happiness or stress relief.
Q: What skills are needed to be a great voice teacher?
A: The skills you need to be a voice teacher are definitely the technical things (how everything works) and great visuals for the students to figure out how to connect them. The challenging thing about voice is you don’t just push a button or adjust your instrument and see the change. Everything is inside and impossible to see. So we have to find ways to explain an aspect of the voice. Multiple visuals are needed, examples of what to think of happening in your body or things to compare it to. Different things click for different people, which can happen quickly or take a while. It’s so cool when it clicks. I think you just have to be the best cheerleader. I sometimes believe in my kids more than they do and I work hard for them to find the confidence they need to go with their talent.
Five years ago my niece was born and I of course bought her lots of musical instruments. I asked if she was going to do music classes and as we researched we found that there were some offerings but not right in our town and not the most affordable. So I got the idea to teach a class for my niece and some of her friends on Saturday mornings. This 1-year-old music class was the best experience I ever had. I could see each week these sweet babies growing and learning. I was seeing shy kiddos coming out of their shell. Slowly, one class expanded to two and I added in theater classes and here we are almost four years later. At SingDancePlay we offer lots of affordable enrichment classes for kids. It is something I definitely don’t do for the money, but for the passion I have for it. It is a highlight of my week and I am very proud of it.
Q: Why would you encourage other women to pursue teaching in your field?
A: I would of course encourage women to pursue music or wherever their passions lie. I have always loved theater and singing, so I have been sure to fill that into my life in any way I can. I have performed, I have directed, I have taught; each are exciting and fulfilling. I also really encourage women to be business owners. I am most proud that I had an idea of what I wanted to do and made it happen. Music can be a hard field to find work in, especially in Maine. The first few years back in Maine, I really had to work hard to make music my “job.” But I started small, took any opportunity I could and worked my way to what I am doing now.