In Praise of Seth Riggs
I didn’t start my singing education with Seth Riggs, but I was fortunate to have studied a solid classical singing technique from age 17 to age 25.
It really wasn’t until I was out performing that I started falling prey to the “technique of the month club.” I found myself trying teacher after teacher. That kind of thing can really mess with a singer, and it definitely messed with me.
I was a pretty good singer, and a decent musician (and of course an EXCELLENT food server). There was just something missing from how I was singing, and I was determined to find it.
In 1995 I was fortunate enough to be playing keyboards and singing back up in a rock band with a brilliant lead singer. I heard her vocalizing one day prior to a rehearsal. She was pretty amazing. I asked her who she studied with. She told me, Florence Riggs. I asked her, “Riggs, as in SETH RIGGS? ” Mind you, I had been through classical music school. Seth Riggs was anathema by reputation.
She said, “Yes! Florence is Seth’s ex wife.”
Of course I immediately booked weekly lessons with Florence Riggs. I drove hours to the Valley and back from Orange County (on a singer/food-server income, mind you). Florence was using what, at the time to me, were very odd sounding exercises (which she had learned from her own studies with Seth).
I studied with this wonderful woman for 2 years. She taught me a lot. However, one day she said, “Guy. you really need to save your money and have a lesson with Seth!”
I saved for weeks.
I found myself before a grand piano in Hancock Park with this coach, who was as big of a celebrity as those who populated his world class client list.
Seth took me through a series of 5 tone scales on the vowel AH.
I was so nervous that I pushed my chest voice all the way up to the general vicinity of a Bb.
He said “GREAT!” Now do this lip bubble. I had done lip bubbles before, so I wasn’t all that impressed with the idea. He had me sing it on a very well known octave and a half arpeggio pattern (which has been attributed to Rossini for the past couple of centuries).
But, after the very first repetition of the exercise he stopped and asked me, “Do you feel how that G there is different from the G you did on the AH?”
I said, “Yes, that’s called falsetto!”
“NONSENSE!” he bellowed. He then proceeded to demonstrate with his own voice the difference between a connected head voice and pure falsetto. I had never heard such a sound. It was unbelievable. He called this a MIX.
He took me through the paces. And within 20 minutes he had my voice not only back to where it used to be, but completely beyond anything I had ever experienced.
That was that. I knew I had to get some money. There was no way I could not learn everything I could from this man. Now remember, back in the 90’s, Seth was charging the equivalent of approximately $450 per hour in today’s money; so being a poor singer, this commitment I was making was a radical lifestyle choice.
I paid for basic living expenses and voice lessons. That’s it.
I began a 16 year tutelage with Seth Riggs, the single most influential vocal pedagogue in at least a generation (if not a century).
Seth’s influence on the world of singing technique is immeasurable.
Seth is responsible for much more than working with famous singers. He reshaped the entire landscape of the singing arts. He teaches a truly old style operatic technique that is also extremely adaptable to modern singing styles.
Seth was always unflinching when he spoke with me about his views on singing. He never compromised with me.
Seth always got the best from me and my voice. That’s what a true master teacher is capable of doing.
Although I learned everything I know from Seth, and I have always modeled my teaching after him, I never have (and will never) profess to know even a fraction of what he knows. I’m grateful to him for all he has ever taught me.
There will never be another teacher like Seth. We are very fortunate to have him in the world.
In the last years that I worked with him as my teacher, I asked Seth if we could take part of my lesson times and have him answer a few questions on camera for my blog. He was gracious enough to do it and to give me his permission to share these videos with the world. I share them with you as the gift they are for all of us.
Maestro Riggs will always be THE master teacher of singing, in my book. We all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.