Edward L. Johnson (1923-2008) was my instructor for ten years, and one of the very last few practitioners of the REAL Bel Canto technique who has been willing to pass it on. I am grateful to him for sharing the technique with me, and for giving me the encouragement to share it with others. It has been since his passing (January 2008), that I have decided to start teaching the technique as my way of giving back to others in return for what he gave to me.
Edward L. Johnson was an outstanding and in-demand tenor who sang on opera stages across North America, including Carnegie Hall. He was the youngest person ever to sign on with the Metropolitan Opera in NYC, and sang along side such operatic greats as Jussi Björling and Beverly Sills. Just as his career as an opera singer was really hitting its stride, the love of his life, his first wife, passed away from Hodgekins disease. By all indications, had he stayed iin New York, he would have been among the world's top tenors. Having lost a part of his passion, he returned to Canada and joined the Canadian Opera Company, the CBC Opera Company, and was a co-founder of the Hamilton Opera company. In the mid-1960's, he decided to start teaching singing. The other people who used the BelCanto technique were too busy performing to teach it, and found the allures of fame and financial compensation for their talents too much to resist sacrificing their performance careers to teach it.
Edward began teaching the techniqe. He ran one ad in the Hamilton Spectator, and before long, he had a waiting list of 100 students. Many of the students he took on were rock and pop singers. Though he faced criticism for this, Ed's response was, "If anybody needs vocal training, it is rock and pop singers!" to which nobody had a come-back, because we all know it's true. In those days, through to the late 1980's, rock and pop singers were singing three sets a night, and singing 4-5 days a week and blowing their voices out left, right, and center. Among Ed's mainstream students were world-class producer Daniel Lanois, Triumph co-vocalist and drummer Gil Moore, Coney Hatch vocalist Andy Curran, pop songstress Lisa DalBello, acclaimed blues singer Rita Chiarelli, Vacation co-star actress Beverly D'Angelo, and Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Thomas. Edward has also taught other singers who have gone onto successful careers in the opera field. One such student, after completing his degree in vocal performance, went all the way to Italy to find a Bel Canto teacher, and after six months of not finding one, returned to Canada to study with Ed!
One of Ed's greatest success stories was Brian Vollmer from multi-platinum Canadian hard rock icons, Helix. Brian was diagnosed with nodes on his vocal cords that were so bad, he was told that if he continued to sing, he would probably never be able to speak to his children. Without surgery, Brian started studying with Edward, and within a year, his nodes were gone, and his voice was better than ever. Over thirty years later, Brian's voice is stronger than ever - all because of the technique!
I consider myself very lucky to have learned from Ed. For some reason, even though he had stopped taking on new students, he agreed to teach me. He never accepted any others in the whole time I knew him. I believe that part of his reason for taking me on was because I am a teacher, and saw the potential in my sharing the technique with others some day.
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