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Spotlight on Singers: Fleming and Franklin

Last week, I finished reading world-renowned operatic soprano Renée Fleming’s autobiography, The Inner Voice; The Making of a Singer (Viking Penguin, 2004). Although I am 17 years late to the game, it was a fascinating read. Fleming recounts her family, educational and professional experiences and provides specific details about her vocal training and technique. She also openly discusses her personal journey with performance anxiety, the factors that contributed to its onset, how she dealt with it and continues to do so. I picked the book up for personal reasons, but my TESOL brain started percolating…

Just last night, I watched Respect, the brand-new film about the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. The film primarily focuses on the musical formation of this great artist and her work in the Civil Rights movement. It also partially reveals the traumas she experienced and overcame: domestic violence, substance abuse and faith and racial conflicts. Jennifer Hudson’s performance is masterful, as are those of the other principals in the film. Again, my TESOL brain began to simmer…

I’m thinking about how these fantastic, authentic language resources could be exploited (obviously with great discretion with regard to some sensitive content) to benefit learners at the advanced level (CEFR C1-C2).

Some ideas include:

· Recommending these resources as a start to a book or movie club

· Talking about code switching (American English and African American Vernacular English). One can especially observe the use of intentional code switching according to cultural and relational contexts in Respect

· Pre-writing, pre-reading, pre-listening exercises, including prediction (Fleming’s chapter titles such as Challenge, Image and Backstage might especially lend themselves to the latter)

· Reading, writing, listening and speaking exercises about career development, mentorship, mental and behavioral health, racial issues and U.S. History, especially the Civil Rights Movement - found in both resources

I hope you have the opportunity to check out one or both of these resources. I have a feeling they’re going to creep into the curriculum I am writing!

Best regards, Renee

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