When I was 13 years old, I was awarded a scholarship to receive vocal lessons. My grandmother, LaVonne Reser, took me over to our friend Martie Schilling’s house, where I sang over the telephone to Winn by way of an audition. Winn had ‘retired’ from Whitman years before, but continued to teach select students in her living room. For years my grandmother would pick me up after school to drive over to Winn’s home for weekly lessons, until I was old enough to drive myself through the remainder of high school. I have fond memories of standing in front of Winn’s mirror, examining my singing posture while she accompanied me on her baby grand piano. Winn had me record the lessons on cassette tape so that I could play the recordings to practice at home. She patiently taught me how to translate songs from Italian/German/French/etc., as she was adamant a performer should understand the poetry that she was singing. She would pull out her books to explain vocal anatomy, emphasizing how and where different vowels should resonate. On more than one occasion when my sinuses were stuffed up (what I now understand to be allergies), Winn would boil a pot of water, put my face over it with a towel over my head, and let the steam clear my sinuses. She miraculously taught me to roll my Rs by saying p-d-r repeatedly for several minutes every day, a skill which has proven invaluable to me when speaking Spanish. She tried and tried to convince me to stop using vocal fry, to no avail. I was always careful not to use it around her, however. And, as singing opens the door to my soul, she expertly comforted me with cookies and tea during tearful sessions… though the tears were never about singing.
When I moved to Seattle after Winn had moved to Lake Stevens, I would drive up to visit her in her cottage at Ashley Pointe. We would drive to the grocery store for ice cream, join her friends at lunch, go clothes shopping, or simply sit and chat. On one happy occasion she accompanied me to see The Phantom of the Opera performed at the Paramount Theatre. By that time Winn had ceased driving and was no longer taking the train in to watch the Metropolitan Opera live stream in cinema, so Phantom was a welcome musical outing for both of us. Intermission afforded her plenty of opportunity to discuss how so-and-so was pushing too much, or blah-blah would have been better in a different role. By then her sight had deteriorated such that she could not see the performers in detail. But she had an incredible ear, and would describe to me what the artists were doing right and wrong physically. Between water aerobics sessions and PEO meetings, Winn volunteered her time helping young singers in the Lake Stevens High School musicals. She told me that, though her sight was limited, she was grateful that her hearing was still intact, as she could help the singers just by listening.
Winn helped to mature and solidify my love of the arts. While I ultimately elected to pursue a career outside of music, I find daily joy in singing. The voice Winn helped me to develop opened the door to participate in vocal competitions, musicals, and church choirs. I am grateful that my now-husband had the opportunity to meet such an influential person in my life during our visit last summer. Winn was a steadfast mentor and friend. I was always able to be honest with her. She understood that life and people are complicated, and was always on my side. Her patience and kindness are an inspiration. Her ability to find joy in the little things is a skill that I strive to emulate in my own life. Winn was a bright spot in my life for ~20 years, and her memories will continue to be so throughout my lifetime.