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a group of adults practice vocal techniques in Jon Stancato's "Sing a Secret" workshop

Song of the Heart

Through music, finding harmony with one another—and within

Jon Stancato ’02 has a secret.

“I’ve never performed as a singer in my life,” he says, “and somehow, I’m entrusted with this responsibility to help people find their voices.”

But as a vocal coach and founder of the New York- and London-based Inside Voice, Stancato goes beyond the traditional trainings of pitch, tone, and vibrato—delving instead into lessons on establishing intimacy with an audience, unlocking the natural five-octave range, and vocalizing the internal secrets that burden and break us.

“Because of my really damaged relationship to my own voice and the way it was liberated by these experiences that I had,” he says, “I realized that I had something special to offer.”

To Stancato’s mind, music—like the liberal arts—is interdisciplinary, a tool to help us understand and appreciate the world around us. And by sharing our songs, and singing our secrets, we tune in to one another—and to ourselves.


Piano Lessons for the Entire World

After years of struggling as a musician in New York, Joe Raciti ’05 was ready to part ways with a city he never loved—but not with the young pianists who had made it possible for him to live there. In holding on to those students, though, he didn’t expect to pick up tens of thousands more.

“I had heard that one of my kids—who sounded really good—had learned to play something online,” Raciti says. “And I thought, Cool, maybe there’s a way I can still teach them even though I’m not with them.”

He stuck with his plan to leave the city and set out to publish free piano tutorials on YouTube. With a camera mounted above his keyboard in his apartment’s makeshift studio, he broke down pop songs into easy-to-play snippets. The web took notice—but not in a good way.

“I look back and I’m embarrassed, they were so bad,” Raciti says. “For a year and a half, people left really insulting comments.”

Instead of recoiling, Raciti embraced his chance to listen and learn. 

“I was able to distill the truth from the slurs,” he says, “and change the way I delivered my piano lessons.”

Over time, the feedback improved—and so did his following, to the tune of 200,000 YouTube subscribers. Some of his most popular tutorials, such as for Adele’s “Someone Like You,” have even topped the million-view mark.

A music teacher at a prep school in Millbrook, N.Y.—where his wife, Jessie Martin ’05, teaches biology and chemistry—Raciti is now expanding his tutorials to include sight--reading, rhythm work, and classical music. He’s also incorporating some lessons learned from YouTube—as well as from Swarthmore—into his own classroom.

“From my viewers, I learned I was a terrible teacher who thought he was good,” he laughs. “So now I have this problem-slash-blessing, which is that I continue to think that. It’s a good mentality to have—I can always get better.”

It was the same at Swarthmore: “The other students inspired me to raise my game, to be really good at something and try to make the world better.”

On that note, he’s happy to play a role in making music education accessible to everyone.

“I always assumed everyone agreed that music was incredible and the most important thing, but when I became a music teacher, I was surprised to find out almost the opposite,” he says. “Part of me is worried about how seriously people take music education. A musical foundation is important for young people: As you get older, it gives you a gift—it’s always there for you if you want to go back to it.”


And All That Jazz

Judith Lorick ’69’s life has played out much like a jazz tune: with passion, excitement, and unpredictability.

A human resources executive on track to become her firm’s first female vice president, Lorick left her career—and, eventually, the U.S.—to pursue her dream of singing professionally.

“People said, ‘You’re out of your mind,’” she remembers. “Everybody knew I loved my job; I loved the company. And I thought, You know what? If I stay, I’ll never get off the ladder—it’s too seductive. So I quit.”

The decision didn’t come out of nowhere: As a young girl in Philadelphia in the ’50s and ’60s—inspired by a glamorous neighborhood woman who had lived in France (“My image of her is heading down the street in a red dress and a big hat with high heels, looking spectacular”)—Lorick would tell family that she wanted to travel the world, live overseas, marry late. “And so as I grew up,” she says, “that was just in me somehow.”

So was singing in church and school, and she even won a local talent show at age 4, earning her a crown and scepter. By college, the Spanish major had discovered a love of jazz, joining a trio and making a name for herself at festivals in and around Swarthmore. 

“Then right out of school, I went to audition for a gig. And it was disastrous,” she says. “I was a huge hit: The audience loved me, the band was amazing. But the guy who was making the decision was sitting at the bar talking to somebody the whole time. I was so offended, I just walked out—and I didn’t sing for 13 years.”

Meanwhile, she built her corporate career, got married, had a child. But a piece of her heart was missing. 

“One morning, I woke up and said, ‘I need to sing’”—and she approached her first audition as any HR executive would. “I had my cover letter, my résumé—the guy said he’d never seen that from a singer before,” Lorick says. “I also had no clue what singers earned, so when I asked for what I asked for, he just said yes.

“It taught me a lesson: I may work less than other people. I may not have as many gigs. But when I work, it’s going to be on my terms. I will be respected.”

That instinct served her well: A couple of years later—on the brink of divorce, her son barely 2—Lorick plunged heart-first into full-time singing. After building a following in California, she moved with her son to the south of France, a region well-known for its appreciation of American jazz. Her career crescendoed.

“Too often we get in our heads, and we forget about our intuition and our emotions and our passions,” Lorick says. “I have never regretted my decision. It was the best thing I ever did.”

Lorick returned to the U.S. last fall after 28 years abroad—following another love this time, a soulmate with whom she reconnected. Once again, the pieces have fallen into place. It’s confirmation for Lorick that in life, in love—in music—it’s best to heed the song of the heart.

“I don’t know if jazz influenced me or if I’m into jazz because of who I am, but jazz is free and easy—you can’t do it unless you are open and listen with your soul,” she says. “Music is everything: It brings people together. It’s nourishing. It’s a way to bring love and beauty into life.”


To Work on the Voice …

Jon Stancato ’02 lost his voice in grade school. He didn’t find it again until Swarthmore.

A boisterous child with a flair for drama—“I was basically -screaming for attention,” he says—the young Stancato began to develop nodes on

his vocal cords. To help him learn an “inside voice,” Stancato was pulled from classes for daily speech therapy. But the 9-year-old felt more shame than relief.

“My voice dropped down to bass-baritone range early, and I struggled to sing along with other boys,” he says. “I had a deteriorated idea of what pitch was, to where I was effectively tone-deaf by high school.”

Further crushing his spirits, Stancato later developed a love for theater, particularly musicals—“but I was told I shouldn’t ever audition for one.”

Undeterred, Stancato entered Swarthmore as a theater major, with dreams of directing. Fascinated by the relationship between body and voice, and encouraged by Professor Allen Kuharski, Stancato applied for a Lang humanities grant to research at the Grotowski Workcenter in Italy, exploring the therapeutic power of theater. The physically intensive summer program—focusing on the voice as an instrument of expression rather than song—was so challenging, it was preceded by a preparatory workshop (led by his now-mentor Richard Armstrong) that aimed to break down self-imposed limits on the voice, put there through socialization, sexualization, and other outside forces. 

“The idea was that if you come to understand your self in all of its limitations, you come to understand your voice in all of its limitations,” Stancato says. “Working with the two simultaneously, you can unlock both.”

A few hours into the first session, Stancato was told he had a beautiful soprano. “I was completely baffled,” he says, “because as a man, I’d never been told I had a beautiful anything. This idea that I had this rich, lovely soprano lying right on top of my voice, just hidden there all these years, made me fall in love with the possibilities that were available if I continued to pursue this work.” 

Stancato applied his newly learned techniques to his daily life and his theater company, Stolen Chair—founded soon after Swarthmore with his wife, Kiran Rikhye ’02. But a teaching gig in 2013 at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London afforded him the first true chance to share the therapeutic tactics that allowed him to unleash a voice that had long been suppressed. 

“In doing this work, I wasn’t just transmitting technique or expertise, or having fun or creating theater,” Stancato says. “Instead, it felt like we engaged in some delicate dance of understanding each other’s souls. It was completely entrancing to do this work and to have actors in tears saying that their entire life, they had felt estranged from their voice, and they now had a relationship to it.”

In just a few years, Stancato’s Inside Voice training program has grown to include free twice-monthly “Sing a Secret” workshops, intermediate and advanced classes, and 38 private students who believe—like Stancato—that to work on the voice is to work on the self.

Stancato hopes to expand further—guided by an inner voice that so far hasn’t led him astray.

“I have been happy for the longest time, because I’ve been able to work as an artist in New York City,” he says. “But until I found this work of helping others discover the potential of their voice, I didn’t realize what happiness actually was.” 

Tuned In

“Hi, I’m Elizabeth. And I am a singer.”

 OK, so I may not have had an audience since sixth-grade choir (aside from some off-key karaoke performances), but I am a singer.

 We all are, Jon Stancato ’02 says, which is why his free “Sing a Secret” workshop opens with that affirmation. It’s surprising how difficult and meaningful it is to tell that to a room full of people—and yourself. 

“The voice is the audible manifestation of the self,” he says—an integral part of what makes us human.

But over time, that voice can be stifled—shrouded in armor constructed from our own secrets and insecurities: I hate how my voice sounds. Everyone will judge me. What I have to say doesn’t matter. Through a series of exercises that awaken the senses, Stancato’s course aims to release the imprisoned singer inside each of us.

Well into the three-hour-long workshop—after rolling on the floor, allowing three perfect strangers to rub my shoulders and hands (“Just let go!” one admonished, my wrists stiff with control), and getting in tune with my inner symphony—I felt my armor begin to melt. And as I sang my secret and heard others sing theirs, I finally did let go, giving in to the emotion I normally would have suppressed.

It was at that moment, I truly felt it: I am a singer. And my own unique self.