This singer and cellist teaches students the mechanics of music
By Jessica Laskey
JoAnn Ross could not see herself as retired. The singer, cellist and music teacher has performed in choirs, orchestras, chamber music groups, jazz bands, opera and musical theater for more than 50 years, so when it came time to retire from her career as a podiatrist, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her newfound time.
“Teaching was always something I thought I would do,” says Ross, who teaches cello and singing lessons out of a studio in her Carmichael home. “My parents were college professors. My daughter’s a teacher. My sister’s a teacher. But I knew I didn’t want to stand up and control a large room. I prefer one-on-one.”
Ross teaches singing to a wide range of students, from 9 to 85-plus years old,
in a variety of styles that includes classical, musical theater, jazz and pop. Her own musical background is equally varied. She started playing cello out of necessity when she was in fourth grade: She wanted to play the flute but wasn’t allowed to until fifth grade, so her parents suggested she try the half-sized cello. Ross fell in love with the instrument and became versed not only in cello but also string bass and sousaphone. That allowed her to play in her school’s traditional band as well as a dance band that played at proms and other social events in her hometown of Whittier.
“In high school, I played with seven different organizations,” Ross recalls. “I would take academic classes during the summer so I could do more music during the school year.”
In college, Ross decided to major in her other musical love, singing. But after graduating, she realized that making a living in music would be challenging. So she became a podiatrist instead.
“Podiatry allowed me to have a practice during the day instead of being called out at night,” says Ross, who raised her children while studying at California College of Podiatric Medicine. She practiced for 15 years in the Los Angeles area until music came calling once again—only this time, Ross was even better equipped.
“As a podiatrist, you study biomechanics—how your muscles and nerves make things happen in your body,” Ross says. “I use that anatomy and physiology background in singing. Your instrument is a wind source, and you contort the spaces in your vocal folds to change the amplification of your voice.”
Ross’ medical knowledge and the state-of-the-art technology she employs in her studio help her students get the most out of their voices.
“I have software that maps the acoustics and frequencies of the voice so students can see what they’re doing,” Ross says. “Then we can manipulate the sound with the tongue and the larynx and change the color of what comes out.”
This high-tech approach has made Ross a sought-after instructor for all kinds of students: those just starting to sing, people who perform in local musical theater and choirs, people preparing for college or already studying music who want to improve their skills.
Despite Ross’ demanding six-day-a-week teaching schedule, she takes cello lessons herself from one of Northern California’s premier cello teachers and performs in groups like Beethoven & Friends Chamber Music Ensemble, which returned Ross to her very first instrument.
“I didn’t play cello for 30 years, then took it up again 10 years ago,” she says. “I loved playing in local orchestras, but the evening rehearsal schedule made it hard to do lessons. So now I love getting to perform every so often with a dedicated group. Each experience feeds the other—it’s an overlap of ideas.”
Sounds like a pretty great retirement pla
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org