R.I.P. Lloyd Hanson: I mourn the loss of a great vocal pedagogue and mentor

We live in times more modern than our minds can comprehend, more devoid of human connection because so much of that has been replaced by the expediency of electronics.  And indeed much is lost in terms of refinement and finesse–I remember the artistry in writing a letter by hand to a loved one before the onset of the internet.  I cannot remember the last time I wrote a letter by hand.–  Yet in that world of human detachment and “virtual” relationships, I met a man who would have a profound influence on my development as a vocal pedagogue.  Before there were Facebook Groups and Forums, there were list-servs.  A prominent one for things vocal was “Vocalist”.  There were thousands of singers and voice teachers there discussing and debating all topics vocal.  There was also an insane amount of “flaming”!  Because of this, one of the members created a smaller list named “Goonlore” and invited about 20 people from the larger list.  I, a very young pedagogue at the time, barely in my 30s was invited due to my contributions on the larger list.  Goonlore was an unexpected blessing.  On that group for a period of a couple of years, I was able to discuss profound topics on vocal development and performance with experienced professionals twice my age.  Among them was Lloyd Hanson.

He was the resident expert on many subjects, especially vocal acoustics, a passion of mine.  He helped me make sense of the fundamentals of formant theories and the more refined thoughts about source-filter theories.  Without that guidance, I could not develop and deepen my knowledge in the way I have since that time.  A lot of new information came up that gave broader perspective on those original thoughts, but the fundamentals as I learned from Lloyd still resonate.

He was generous and patient and like any good teacher, eager to pass his experience on to the next eager student.  I never met Lloyd live, but it often feels as if I did.  His lovely daughter-in-law, an excellent professional singer, knew of our online relationship and invited me to his surprise birthday party.  Unfortunately I was not able to attend at the time as it was in Arizona and I was commuting between New York and Berlin at the time.  I was sad not to be able to attend.  By all accounts Lloyd was healthy.  We were in constant contact through an e-mail list he created to share his thoughts with his closest friends and colleagues.  I was deeply touched by the deep sorrow he shared with us when his beloved wife passed.  It felt special to be allowed to share in that hurt.  He shared lots of thoughts about the dread so many of us had about the Trump candidacy and pending doom of a presidency.  He reminisced often about his unforgettable formation at St. Olaf College.  That was another point of connection.  His many nostalgic thoughts about his time at St. Olaf, reminded me of the unique education I experienced at Westminster Choir College.  We were from two unique schools that were driven by a special choral environment that enhanced our solo singing formation instead of undermining it.  Few people outside of those environments fully grasped the profound vocal knowledge necessary for singers to grow as soloists in a choral setting.  Through the St. Olaf experience and his own Scandanavian background, the subject of the Scandanavian (particularly Swedish) vocal tradition was a mainstay in our discussions.  It is remarkable that now I would be teaching in Sweden.  Lloyd never stopped researching vocal pedagogy, even after his retirement from Northern Arizona University, where he served as Director of Opera and was a celebrated voice teacher. –Incidentally, those duties are now administered by two close colleagues of mine.– Lloyd’s profound thoughts on vocal pedagogy and singing can be enjoyed through his website.

It is revelatory, as I write this blog, how many points of intersection we actually had.  It makes even more sense in my head now why I felt so close to someone I had never physically met.  But when the ego is taken out of the equation and two people discuss and debate in pursuit of the truth, without a need to be “right,” a great intimacy can be achieved.

Lloyd was very healthy and I even expected to finally have that face-to-face with him at some point.  But on December 3rd of this year he suddenly collapsed and subsequently passed.  He lived a long life, but the unexpectedness of his passing is terribly poignant to me personally and receiving the news via that e-mail list through his daughter, I got a sense of the family’s deep sorrow.  I offer the following Swedish song in his honour and in empathy with his loving family.  It’s a song Lloyd knew very well:


Tanke, vars strider blott natten ser!
Thought, whose struggles only the night sees!
Toner hos Eder om vila den ber.
It prays for relief from you o tones (Music)
Hjärta, som lider av dagens gny!
Heart, which suffers through the day’s tribulations!
Toner till Eder till Er vill det fly.
To you, o tones (Music) it wants to flee.

Text: Erik Gustaf Geijer (1783 – 1847)
Music: Carl Leopold Sjöberg (1861 – 1900)

© 12/18/2017