Master of Music in Vocal Pedagogy from New England Conservatory of Music
Senior Voice Instructor
Vi Austenfeld is a soprano, teacher, music director, and researcher based in Boston, MA. Their research interests include transgender singers, especially singing through the testosterone voice change, and the soprano whistle register. They have recently appeared in performance with Due Donne Productions and Quorum Boston and serve as Music Director at First Parish in Malden, a Unitarian Universalist congregation north of Boston. Vi is a graduate of the New England Conservatory (M.M. Vocal Pedagogy) and Pomona College (B.A. Music) and recently received the Best Poster Award at the NATS 2020 Virtual Conference for their poster "Acoustic Registration for Transgender Singers on Testosterone." In their free time, Vi enjoys songwriting and composing, vegetarian cooking, and joyful movement of all kinds.
Why do you sing, and why do you teach other people to sing?
I was drawn to sing out of a deep desire to express something ineffable within myself that can only emerge through the voice - and I know that's true for most students of singing too. One of the greatest challenges we face as singers is the fact that our deeply felt inner world has to emerge through the filter of our bodies and our singing technique - and if that filter, our instrument, can't create sounds that communicate the emotions that drive us, we may not be heard and known as we need to be - as humans and artists. My own winding path to developing my instrument and growing my abilities to communicate what's inside makes me passionate about equipping other singers with the tools they need to develop their expressive instruments too, and walking with them on their path.
How do you describe your lessons?
Friendly and intense. We're learning a motor skill in the voice studio, so think of it like a cooking class or soccer practice - I can't chop your carrots for you or kick the ball for you, but I can guide you through the process until you've figured out how to do it yourself, in your own body, your way. Every lesson is a safe space to try new things, make weird noises, and learn to do something you weren't able to do before. It's hard work, and I strive to support you in the physical and emotional twists and turns along the way so that you can keep showing up to build your technique and express yourself fully.
What informs your work teaching transgender / non-binary singers?
I've been out as queer for over a decade and have immersed myself in queer communities, literature and theory, and politics for my entire adult life - this is my home. After I realized I was trans, and once I began pursuing voice teaching and research at the graduate level, it became clear to me that my two greatest passions - singing and teaching voice, and building queer community - needed to meet. Although my recent research has been focused on specific effects of testosterone therapy on the voice, and I'm conscious of and prepared to address the many physical factors associated with singing as a trans person, my studio is never a space of prescriptive expectations of what a voice or body will or will not do. As we discover and build our genders and bodies and singing voices, we explore possibilities together, and I use my understanding of vocal function to help singers find sustainable, affirming, healthy solutions.
What do you do with a new student at their first lesson?
At a first lesson, I like to get an idea of a student’s history with voice and/or musical training and also talk about their goals. I like to answer questions they might have about the process or about my background in voice teaching and performance. I love to hear the student’s voice too! I invite them to sing a song of their choice or we can do some vocalizing with me. Depending on where the student is in their development, I might help them begin making a practice plan that they can keep building over time.
What are your favorite artists/genres/occasions to sing?
I really enjoy performing singer-songwriter sets - a few originals and a few covers (Mary Lambert and Lake Street Dive are in my current rotation), I always want more opportunities to sing 20th and 21st century choral music, I love a good oratorio, and I've even been known recently to find joy in a Mozart aria.