Libby Lavella is a vocal coach, vocal producer, Grammy-nominated singer and recipient of a B.A. in linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley.
Her diverse client base has included artists, actors and physicians who’ve asked her to explain in detail the science behind singing, which her training as a linguist has allowed her to do. But it’s also enabled her to help clients like Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman recover from vocal-cord surgery.
“Peter hadn’t sung for a long time out of fear and frustration,” Lavella explains. “After analyzing his speaking voice and his singing voice as they sounded before and after the surgery, I charted a course back to his pre-surgery voice and perhaps even beyond. Part of that was educating Peter about the production of voice, explaining it in articulatory and acoustic terms.”
Having reclaimed his confidence as well as his voice, Himmelman thereafter recorded a new album. “I can honestly say that Libby restored my faith in my ability to sing without pain or strain,” he says.
The ability to sing without pain or strain is something Lavella perhaps appreciates more than most because she herself is a recording artist and working singer. She indulges her love of arranging and harmony as a member of a duo called The Amber. A recent gig found her and musical partner Ryland Shelton performing atop Southern California’s Mt. Baldy as part of the Big Horn Music Collective, a three-day celebration of American roots music. Lavella’s contributions to The Amber provide a counterpoint to her work in film, animation and with voice clients.
As a singer, her credits include backup vocals on “Te Perdi,” the debut single from Grammy-nominated artist Gustavo Galindo, for which she received her Grammy nomination. She was a featured vocalist on the Universal Curious George movies “Halloween Special” and and lent backup vocals to “Swings Into Spring.” Lavella has also sung with Interscope act Smash Mouth, Prince associates Wendy & Lisa, jazz-fusion guitarist Frank Gambale and singer Kate Ceberano.
As a vocal coach, Lavella’s credits span the film “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (working with actor Mark Webber), the CW pilot “Joey Dakota” (handling vocal production for actor Craig Horner) and MTV’s “Rock the Cradle” (mentoring the children of established performers). She’s also coached Chrysalis songwriter Julianna Raye, Wendy Melvoin, Quincy Jones protégés Blush, girl group Drama Drama, Beck keyboardist Brian LeBarton, Demi Lovato guitarist Drew Taubenfeld, Avril Lavigne guitarist Devin Bronson, Vine superstar Andrew B. “King Bach” Bachelor and Daniel French, multi-instrumentalist for the Chicano alt-folk band Las Cafeteras. Albums by Seal, Ricky Martin and Robi Draco Rosa have also benefitted from her participation.
“I wouldn’t be nearly as effective a vocal coach or producer if I hadn’t had my own experiences – good and bad – in the studio and onstage,” Lavella says.
In the studio she addresses technical issues like the singer’s vocal strength and stamina, the key and melody of the song, the sound of the vocal chain and the skill level or sensitivity of the engineer. “I can identify when something isn’t working, where a harmony needs to be added, where an adlib belongs,” she notes, “and I can record guide vocals to help keep the singer on track if necessary.”
Lavella’s readiness with this aid suggests her attention to the singer’s comfort level.
“I rely on the intuition I’ve developed over years of being the person on the other side of the glass,” she says. “It can be daunting, and if you haven’t been there – and continue to put yourself there – you just can’t relate.”
Outside the studio, her focus is on assessment, diagnosis, education and exercises. “The goal there is to develop the voice as sustainably as possible,” she explains.
Then there’s the little matter of artistry. “It’s my responsibility to cut through any technique phobia so the singer can connect fully to the song,” Lavella says. “There are coaches who focus only on technique, so their clients get very good at technique but their vocal agility exists in a vacuum; it doesn’t translate to the song. Mastering drills and interpreting a song involve different sides of the brain. I want to keep both sides flexed.”
Lavella’s holistic approach to her clients’ performance, ability to put herself in their shoes and understanding of the linguistic mechanisms that allow us to vocalize have made her a formidable resource for singers with a wide variety of needs.
©Julia Rubiner 'Editorial Emergency'