When a man with an impressive resume and indubitable talent makes Hamilton his home, it is a reminder of the type of warmth and community this city has to offer.
Tom Schilling, a highly respected voice coach, has helped numerous Hamiltonians find confidence and peace in their lives through singing. He moved from New York to Hamilton in 2005 after a 50-year career as a sought-after voice coach and organist in New York’s Broadway scene.
A former U.S. Steel worker, a self-proclaimed “pothead” as well as professional singers flock to Schilling to receive voice lessons. In other words, all are welcome.
Schilling, 75, says many times people get intimidated when they come in for a lesson. Ultimately, he wants his students to enjoy singing.
“Singing should be fun. You have to work hard, but you have to have fun with it,” Schilling said. “I try to make people understand they don’t have to sing opera."
For many of Schilling’s students, he is much more than a voice coach. One describes him as a “life guru”.
'Singing is a way of life. It teaches you about life.' - Tom Schilling, voice coach
“Music has always been something that pulled me out of the gutter. Some of the biggest changes I’ve made in my life have come through music. I call it ‘tuning my life guitar,’ ” says Jason Lambert, a roofer and contractor.
A decade ago, Lambert was facing a prison sentence and while out on bail he got electrocuted. He was clinically dead for five minutes before he was revived.
He came to Schilling so he could sing better.
“Having someone like Tom who has committed pretty much his whole life to music, I think that has a really big part in helping me work through those other things.”
Schilling is the subject of a new documentary called Tom’s Way. It first aired on CBC Radio's Sunday Edition earlier in January.
Retired CBC journalist and Hamilton resident, Jean Dalrymple, heard Schilling’s story and wanted to share it with a new audience.
“I met a young doctor who uprooted his whole life from Yellowknife to learn with Tom and I thought to myself this must really be a special man,” Dalrymple said. “It was really interesting to hear him talk about singing and the voice. For him, it’s not just about mechanics. It’s about what’s behind the singing. It’s behind the soul.”
And there lies the secret behind Schilling’s success: his ability to help his students find themselves in the music.
“My goal is to get people out of their own way. People get so scared to let it go,” Schilling told CBC Hamilton. “You take people where they are. You don’t really teach the voice anything. It’s already in there. You just have to teach the singer how to use it. It’s a return to your real self.”
As for why Schilling made Hamilton his new home, he says: "It’s quiet. You have to create in silence.”