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click here to mail Steven Leigh

Steven Leigh

PhD Candidate

lyric diction coach

PhD CANDIDATE

LYRIC DICTION COACH

click here to mail Steven Leigh

LYRIC DICTION // COACH & INSTRUCTOR

Developing an evidence-based, data-driven approach to lyric diction instruction

Canadian Opera Company (COC) Ensemble Studio Lyric Diction Coach, Steven Leigh, is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).  As one of the core trainers of the COC's Ensemble Studio (see: link), Steven works with the singers and apprentice coaches in both one-on-one and collaborative group sessions with the other core trainers. Informed by his diverse background in the languages and dialects of multiple language groups including Romance, Celtic, Germanic, Semitic, Hellenic, he is able to work with Ensemble Studio members of various linguistic backgrounds assisting them in achieving a Standard stage-language pronunciation in the Italian, German, French, and English repertoire.  

PhD Dissertation Study (Synopsis)

Steven's doctoral thesis, Examining Opera Lyric Diction Pedagogical Content Knowledge (Shulman, 1986; 1987): A Search for Instructor Qualifications is empirically testing an approach to lyric diction instruction which he developed based on theories of second language acquisition, pronunciation perception and production, language-specific phonetics and phonology, and language curriculum design. Steven's unique approach to Lyric Diction Instruction combines these theories with his background as a linguist and former... professional opera singer.

Presentations

At the COC, Steven has presented his research-in-progress in several contexts including a public demonstration-lecture with the COC's Spotlight Series Event, as well as workshops for the COC's Orchestra Academy, and the COC Ensemble Studio. Steven has also presented academic papers of his research at the Irish Association of Applied Linguistics Annual Conference, the OISE Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies (CERLL) Informal Seminar Series, the OISE Graduate Student Research Conference, as as well as at the University of Toronto's French Department's Vendredis linguistiques series. Additionally, Steven gave a presentation for the English Phonetics and Phonology Course at the Universidad El Bosque's (Bogotá, Colombia), Bilingual Education Program (via Skype). Steven has also given opera lyric diction Masterclasses at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music and the Irish National Opera Studio in addition to having been a lyric diction instructor at the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute in Montreal and at Opera on the Avalon in St. John's.

Teaching

Aside from his work at the COC, Steven is the course creator and instructor for a series of lyric diction classes at the Royal Conservatory of Music's (RCM) Taylor Academy. The program rotates through each of Italian, German, French, and English lyric diction covering one language per autumn semester over a period of four years. Prior to his joining the COC, Steven taught at the RCM's Glenn Gould School (GGS) where he developed a Research Methods course, an Italian-for-specific-purposes language course, and an Italian diction course. The GGS Italian diction course formed the basis for his Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) awarded MA thesis study. The empirical study tested the approach, course design, and teaching materials of his Italian lyric diction course through the theoretical framework of action research. The study uncovered Steven's lyric diction pedagogical framework, i.e., The Seven Point Circle as well as the ethical framework governing his teaching practice, i.e., The Twelve Principles (Leigh, 2019).   

Opera Singer

As an opera singer, Steven's extensive vocal work included private studies with Joan Dornemann, Nico Castel, Mignon Dunn, Louis Quilico, Maria Cleva, Lucy Arner, Puli Toro, Deborah Birnbaum, Norma Newton, Stuart Hamilton, Lynn Blaser, and Margaret Lobo. Highlights as a singer include the world premiere performance of Srul Irving Glick’s A Life's Journey (Songs for Isaac) in Toronto, Don José with the Illinois Opera Theater, Rigoletto's Il Duca at Fairfield Halls, England, and appearances in Montréal with the Cantabile Chorale and Orchestra.

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LYRIC DICTION // PRESENTATIONS

Publications / presentations & papers

  • Leigh, S. (January, 2020). In the Rehearsal Room - Diction. Public lecture - Presentation for the Canadian Opera Company Opera Insights Series.
  • Leigh, S. (December, 2019). The Seven Point Circle and the Twelve Principles: An evidence-based approach to Italian Lyric Diction Instruction. Scenario Journal, 13(2). DOI: 10.33178/scenario.13.2
  • Leigh, S. (August, 2019). Opera Lyric Diction Instruction: An Evidence Based Approach. Presentation to the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio.
  • Leigh, S. (February, 2019). Canadian Opera Company Spotlight Series Event. Public lecture and lyric diction instruction demonstration in conjunction with the COC Ensemble Trainers.
  • Leigh, S. (January, 2019). Lyric diction instruction within a young artists program - objectives and approaches. Presentation to the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra Academy.
  • Leigh, S. (November, 2018). Opera Lyric Diction - theory and approach. Presentation to the Irish National Opera Studio at the Irish National Opera, Dublin, Ireland.
  • Leigh, S. (November, 2018). Opera Lyric Diction Instruction - Defining the practice through Pedagogical Content Knowledge (Shulman, 1986; 1987). Paper presentation at the Irish Association of Applied Linguistics (IRAAL) Annual Conference 2018.
  • Leigh, S. (November, 2018). Opera Lyric Diction Instruction - Defining the practice through Pedagogical Content Knowledge (Shulman, 1986; 1987). Paper presentation at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)'s Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies (CERLL) - Informal Seminar Series.
  • Leigh, S. (August, 2018). Lyric diction instruction: Purpose and approach. Presentation to the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio.
  • Leigh, S. (April, 2018). Italian lyric diction: An action research study and pedagogical framework. Paper presentation at the Graduate Student Research Conference, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
  • Leigh, S. (2018). Lyric diction instruction in a young artists program - An overview. Presentation to the Canadian Opera Company's Orchestra Academy.
  • Leigh, S. (2017). Using NVivo as a tool for a literature review. Graduate Student Seminar presentation for the OISE Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Students' Association.
  • Leigh, S. (2017). The SegSylPro approach to opera lyric diction instruction in a young artists program. Presentation for the Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies (CERLL), Informal Seminar Series.
  • Leigh, S. (2017). Lyric diction: A theoretical overview. Presentation to the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio.
  • Leigh, S. (2016). Italian lyric diction instruction - Testing an Explicit Articulatory Instruction (EAI) approach through action research. Presentation for the Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies (CERLL), Informal Seminar Series.
  • Leigh, S. (2015). Act 1, Scene 1 - Pronunciation Pedagogy Research Enters the Italian Lyric Diction Classroom. Poster presentation at the Dean's Graduate Student Research Conference, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
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invited presentations

  • Leigh, S. (August, 2018). English Pronunciation for Speakers of Spanish - Introduction. Invited presentation for the Universidad El Bosque (Bogotá, Colombia), Bilingual Education Program's English Phonetics and Phonology Course (via Skype).
  • Leigh, S. (2015). A Pedagogical Approach to Italian Opera Diction Instruction: Explicit Articulatory Instruction - Testing an approach to teaching Italian lyric diction to opera singers. Invited presentation for the University of Toronto French Department's Vendredis linguistiques series

invited masterclass

  • Sept, Oct, Nov, 2019

    University of Toronto, Faculty of Music

    Invited Guest Lecturer - Three part series: Italian, French, and German Lyric Diction

    • - One-on-one Opera Diction Instruction in a Master Class setting
    • - One class for each of: Italian, French, and German
    • - Introductory discussion on language-specific phonetics, phonology, syllabic structure and prosody as applied to the operatic voice
  • March 2019, Feb 2018, Jan 2017

    University of Toronto, Faculty of Music

    Invited Guest Lecturer

    • Provided a one-day lecture for a Voice Performance Master Class for Singers
    • Corrective phonetics instruction - Italian, German, French, English
  • November, 2018

    Irish National Opera Studio

    Invited Guest Lecturer

    • - One-on-one Opera Diction Instruction in a Master Class setting

LYRIC DICTION // STEVEN LEIGH

education & training

  • Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto

    Ph.D., Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, 2015-present

    Dissertation: Examining lyric diction Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A search for instructor qualifications

    Supervisor: Dr. Julie Kerekes

  • Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto

    M.A., Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, June 2016

    Thesis: Testing an approach to teaching Italian lyric diction to opera singers: An action research study

    Supervisor: Dr. Enrica Piccardo

  • University of Toronto

    B.A., with distinction, June 2010

    Major: Second Language Learning (Italian)

    Double Minor: (1) Near & Middle Eastern Studies and, (2) Italian Culture and Communication Studies

  • McGill University

    Licentiate in Music, with distinction, June 2004

    Major: Voice Performance (Opera)

fellowships & awards

  • Doctoral Completion Award (DCA) - Accepted

    2019-2020

  • Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) - Declined

    2019-2020

  • Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS)

    2017-2018

  • OISE Fellowship

    2017-2018

  • OISE Academic Excellence Award

    2017

  • OISE Funding Grant

    2016-2017

  • OISE Funding Grant

    2015-2016

  • Social Sciences And Humanities Research Council Of Canada (SSHRC)

    2014-2015

  • OISE Academic Excellence Award

    2014

  • OISE Funding Grant

    2013-2014

  • John A. Grohavaz Italo-Canadian Youth Club Bursary

    2009

  • New Bursary Allocation

    2006

  • Department of Italian Studies Bursary Fund

    2006

LYRIC DICTION // STEVEN LEIGH

Although opera has existed for several hundred years, there remains a dearth of research examining the Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) (Shulman, 1986; 1987) required for Lyric Diction Instruction (LDIn). The role of a Lyric Diction Instructor (LDIr) is to train opera singers to sing in the standard operatic languages (Italian, German, French, and English) with near-nativelike intelligibility (Birdsong, 1992, 2007; Bongaerts, 2005; Bongaerts, Mennen, & Slik, 2000; Munro and Derwing, 1995; Piller, 2002), integrating pronunciation with vocal technique. Yet, there are no university programs leading to LDIn certification. As the LDIr for the Canadian Opera Company's Ensemble Studio, even with my experience, training, and education as a former professional opera singer, pianist, and linguist, I found my inability to earn university granted, profession-specific, qualifications problematic. Paradoxically, my PhD study has, to date, identified 23 inter-related fields of study (e.g., corrective phonetics, pronunciation production, perception, pedagogy, and acquisition theories) informing LDIn while contemporaneously developing a practical pedagogical approach.

Through the theoretical framework of PCK, I aim to validate LDIn as a specialized field of pronunciation pedagogy through: (a) identifying my LDIn content, and pedagogical, knowledge as individual categories; (b) examining the intersection of those two areas of knowledge, i.e., my PCK; (c) isolating and enumerating the disparate subject areas informing LDIn and; (d) determining the impact of my LDIn approach on a singer's final performance. Ultimately, this empirical study will serve to: (a) challenge the typical conservatory and university vocal studies program LDIr qualification of native speaker/opera coach/singer, (b) address the dearth of empirical studies examining LDIn pedagogical approaches and curriculum design and, (c) expose the effects of the absence of organizational bodies ensuring the maintenance of professional standards through the adaptation of extant research.

This empirical research study will: (a) provide data driven evidence outlining the various educational backgrounds required for competent, effective, and accurate LDIn; (b) benefit the operatic industry by providing academic credibility, intra-discipline accountability, and a delineated instructor-learner ethical code of conduct for novice, experienced, and potential professionals in the field of lyric diction; (c) lay the foundation for the design and implementation of graduate and post-graduate courses of study within academic institutions incorporating existing courses within linguistics, music, education, and language faculties, supplemented by discipline-specific lyric diction instruction courses all with a view to filling the current void of lyric diction pedagogy academic accreditation and; (d) establish the groundwork for further research in all aspects of lyric diction pedagogy, opera-specific pronunciation production and perception.

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LYRIC DICTION COACH // RESEARCH

Contact Steven today for all enquiries regarding:

- One-on-one lyric diction sessions

- Masterclasses

- Language diction course instruction

- Language diction course curriculum development