Top vocal coach CeCe Sammy gives free lockdown vocal breathing workshops
- Credit: Archant
The Hampstead coach, who has worked with Charlotte Church, Will Young and Gareth Malone, says ‘don’t underestimate the power of music’ to make you feel better
She got her first break singing backing vocals for Diana Ross, and has helped waves of reality TV show performers to hit the right note.
Now Hampstead vocal coach CeCe Sammy is offering free singing and breathing workshops during these stressful weeks of lockdown.
“You become so much more aware of people in certain jobs like nurses and teachers and the wonderful work they do,” says Sammy, who like many is home schooling her daughter.
Having worked for years between the UK and US - on shows such as The Voice UK, American Idol, America’s Got Talent and Gareth Malone’s Choir - she is well used to operating remotely via Zoom and Skype.
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She has sat on the judging panel to choose a British Eurovision Song Contest entry, helped artists prepare for big TV interviews, and actors in Idris Elba’s Yardie and Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded By The Light get into character vocally.
Much of her advice overlaps with life coaching - centering on personal confidence and positivity.
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“Confidence of expression, feeling you can deliver something and not being afraid is a huge thing for actors,” she points out.
But underpinning the talent is her mantra “work hard in what you do,” something she shares with her most successful students like Charlotte Church, Leona Lewis and Will Young.
As a child growing up in Trinidad she was “obsessed with the piano” and practiced relentlessly. She moved to London - first North Finchley, then Muswell Hill now Hampstead - at 14, started in the industry at 17, and has worked “non-stop ever since.”
“My mother - I call her my hero - always encouraged me. She said ‘do whatever you want but do it with your whole heart. If you become a sweeper make sure you become a really good sweeper.’
“She didn’t try to mould me. I hope I am able to do the same for my daughter.”
Her first mentors were vocal coaching couple Carrie and David Grant, who worked on early talent shows Pop Idol and Fame Academy.
“They came from the pop world, I came from the classical world, but they encouraged me to go into pop and we became wonderful friends.”
It led to her first job backing none other than Diana Ross.
“I was a child, the least significant person in the room, and she was the Diva. When she walked in, there was an essence of confidence in her. But what stuck with me was she took note of every single person in that room. There was no ignoring anyone. The way she paid attention to me has remained with me.”
Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller also “opened doors” for her - the fact that she could play piano and read music made her stand out in the pop world.
And as TV talent shows became a majore recruitier for record labels and management companies, they needed the raw talent to be coached into stars.
“They had to develop and nurture the artists and I was one of the first vocal coaches to teach the techniques of singing and performance,” says Sammy
She was impressed by the eventual winner of 2002’s Pop Idol Will Young.
“Seeing him develop from where he started, I have huge respect for what he has achieved. He’s a perfect example, if you work hard and take each step along the way, you can achieve something you can feel very proud of.”
But hard work nearly put paid to her career. Four months after her daughter’s birth, she started getting headaches, then collapsed in a meeting and was rushed to ICU with a brain aneurysm.
“I was a workaholic and it was a horrible near death experience,” she says.
“I was in a coma for a while and couldn’t speak when I woke up. The doctors said it was the movement of my finger that made them unhook the machines. They saw I was reacting to what they were saying. I was pretending to play the piano”.
She adds: “I had the amazing support of staff who are now working through these tough times. Now the entire country are in isolation, I want to adapt the mind exercises that got me through it.”
The experience made her refocus her priorities. She founded music therapy initiative The Power of Muzik, which works in schools and charities to empower young people to improve wellbeing and confidence through music. She also mentors those who have few industry contacts “not just to coach but to explain how to gain the confidence and put things in place so if you get that moment of meeting someone (influential) you are ready for it.”
With psychologist, Dr Kairen Cullen she is sharing tips online on how to use music to improve your wellbeing during isolation whether to sooth, de-stress or uplift.
“We all have a need for calm especially now. Doing things that get us into a postive state is really important.”
Tips include breathing exercises and of course singing. “Sing as much as you can, don’t worry if you think you are bad. It releases endorphins and creates the same feeling in the brain as being given a hug.”
She advises expanding your musical repertoire, making a playlist for someone , singing a song together that reminds you of happy times and “dancing around the room.”
“This lockdown is bringing it back to the basics, as a mum at home, I am learning things about my daughter I didn’t know. Right now I have to be a mother, a life coach, a vocal coach. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to cry, but you can’t just leave it there. You have to progress it into positivity and purpose. Don’t underestimate the power of music.”
Watch CeCe Sammy’s vocal workshops on her Instagram channel @cecesammy or via YouTube.com/cecesammy.