Singers learn from distant audience

Halli Wong-Delorey sings for voice instructor Jack Cooper over FaceTime. Cooper is located in Alberta. Photo by Diana Yeager Northern News Services Ltd.

Halli Wong-Delorey sings for voice instructor Jack Cooper over FaceTime.
Cooper is located in Alberta.
Photo by Diana Yeager
Northern News Services Ltd.

An old favourite has returned in a completely new way.

Jack Cooper, a teacher who spent 22 years in Hay River, is now taking students again – from his vocal instruction studio in Sherwood Park, Alta.

Five years into setting up his own studio, Cooper has 35 students, and one of them is Halli Wong-Delorey in Hay River.

“My brother was teaching students in Italy on FaceTime, so I started to wonder if I could get back to reaching the North somehow,” he said.

FaceTime is an Apple video-calling product for Mac computers, iPhones and iPads.

Wong-Delorey’s mother, Betti Delorey, said she had been looking for a voice teacher for her daughter before she found Cooper.

“I’m a bit biased but I’ve always thought my girls have beautiful voices,” said Delorey. “My niece in Sherwood Park goes to Jack, so I thought I’d give him a call.”

It took a few months for them to get the logistics figured out but now Wong-Delorey spends 45 minutes with Cooper via FaceTime every Tuesday. After a few adjustments with the sound equipment and connection, Cooper and Wong-Delorey both agree that it is almost as good as being in the same room.

Wong-Delorey has seen her voice improve, thanks to breathing exercises suggested by Cooper.

“I don’t like the loud songs because they wear me out with all that breathing,” she said. “But doing the exercises has helped me keep my breath.”

Cooper said Wong-Delorey’s expression and body language is natural for singing but her pitch needs some adjustment.

“Singing sounds simple but it’s harder than I thought,” she said. “You have to have the right pitch. You can’t be too slow or too fast.”

Cooper said he would be open to taking on more singing students in the North using the same FaceTime method. He is also hoping to team up with schools in many of the communities to get music up and running in places where there are currently no programs.

“It costs a lot to bring a specialist up but to do it online is very cheap,” he said. “It would give kids something more than they’ve had in that area. Everyone has a voice, everyone has music they like or heroes they sing along to. It would be so beneficial.”

Cooper started out in Hay River teaching Grade 5, and then moved on to social studies in high school. Halfway through his time in Hay River, he started facilitating a musical theatre club.

“I did a musical called You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and guess who played Snoopy,” he recalled. “Later we ended up doing Fiddler on the Roof, Annie, Oliver, The Sound of Music and The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Cooper said the club was quite popular. Anyone who wanted to join could, and people would come in from other communities to watch the productions.

Upon his retirement, Cooper moved to Sherwood Park. His brother had been running a vocal school and had been suggesting Cooper start something in the field, as well.

“What I thought would be a hobby got bigger,” he said.

Cooper takes his students to sing at shopping malls to get them used to being showcased, as well as to get exposure for his studio.

“To get better, they have to showcase,” he said. “You can practise hockey all you want but if you never play a game, you don’t get much better.”

-Diana Yeager