About voice and sing by Māra Lisenko

Māra Lisenko tells her vocal story

My vocal story

I started to sing when I was 3 years old. My mother was a church leader so I HAD TO sing. Later I went to music school, learned to play violin and guitar. I was convinced that my music path was destined to be an instrumentalist. It all changed suddenly.

At the age of 14 I asked my mother to help me prepare a song for a school choir. She played and I sung, then she suddenly stopped, looked at me and said: “Wow, Mara, you have such a beautiful voice”. I was shocked- how it comes? I always thought that my voice was ugly and loud (kids would laugh at school, saying that my speaking voice sounded like I was an alcoholic (?) and I always have been hushed at school choir for being too loud, although it was my ‘normal’ voice). So that one phrase changed everything!

I started to believe in my abilities as a singer and thought that I should at least give it a try. At that time I was into metal so I firstly started to learn growling. I had no recording equipment at home so I left myself messages on landline voicemail with my attempts to get that sound. Surprisingly it came easy for me from the very beginning. My mother on the other hand was dissapointed about that huge telephone bill. I never admitted my involvement in that.

So then I took all the courage to get myself a band. I posted adverts and got myself a first band. Fast forward, I was singing metal for about 4 years. I could scream, I could growl but I wanted to develop my clean singing voice too. So in 2007 I went to London to study vocals and popular music performance. From there I started to study my clean vocals seriously, for 7 years totally abandoning my metal singing. In 2014 back in Latvia I returned to metal singing, starting to study it as seriously as I was studying clean singing. Clean singing background helped a lot, so I managed to learn a lot in the last 4 years. Right now I am starting out my death metal project called MĀRA.

Vocal coaching

To be brutally honest I never wanted to be a singing teacher. I wanted to be just a singerfirst and foremost. And again, coincidence happened. One day I got a message from an unknown guy asking me to teach him. He remembered my early metal singing and liked my clean singing. He was very willing to study with me. I wanted to say No but I was broke at that time, I had no money, no job. So I agreed. He liked the lessons, also sent his girlfriend to study with me and from there the word spread.

Also for half a year I volunteered as a music teacher for adults with intelectual disability. That helped me to gain confidence in my teaching abilities. That’s how I got into vocal coaching and have been doing it for 7 years now. Technical side. I call myself a hybrid singer, that means that I do both extreme and clean singing. I have also learned a beatboxing, vocal live looping and overtone/throat singing basics. So I might be called a multi-vocalist as well. Techniques that I have mastered over the years include belting, grit, harsh, growl, scream, live looping, vibrato, mix, vocal phrasing and stylistics, developed my range for more than an octave and many more.

My advice to young singers

1. Take your instrument seriously! Remember that unlike the instrumentalists you carry your instrument (your voice) with you ALL THE TIME. Respect it just as serious instrumentalists respect their instruments.

2. What happens to your body, directly affects your voice (try speaking when you are tired or upset- people talking you on the phone can always sense what’s going on only because of pitch changes and voice quality). If that affects your speaking voice, surely it will also affect your singing voice. If you will sing bored, upset or tired your audience will sense it. Keep the spirits high for all vocal performances.

3. Be extra careful if you have to sing during cold: don’t push it. And treat your body well with all the foods and drinks you consume: what body likes, your voice will probably like too. Think healthy!

4. Have a self respect and develop your craft. It shouldn’t be about how much you get paid or how famous you are. I’ve heard some people say: “When I’ll get famous and start earning money, then I start developing my skills.” Whoa, it’s totally the other way round. Build your skills and professionalism first, only then you can ask something in return. For me it’s all about self respect: if you’re serious about your voice, your music and creativity, you WILL invest your time, energy and money in your self development. Skills that you learn will be there with you for the rest of your life- no one can take them away from you or steal them. The skills you develop during your lifetime are your true abundance.

Good luck in your singing journey!


This article as been published first on MFVC Metal Female Voices Community, Issue 9.2018