For 41 years, Joan Lader has rented a slender studio apartment just west of Union Square in Manhattan. Through its door, a narrow entryway leads to a doll-size bathroom and an efficiency kitchen. In the main space, where a visitor might expect to find a bed, Lader has arranged the instruments of her trade — a piano, a keyboard, balance balls, straws, a box of tissues, a skeleton in a jaunty hat.
Lader has never advertised, never solicited clients. But for two generations of Broadway stars, as well as dozens of opera singers and pop and rock luminaries, she remains an indispensable vocal therapist and vocal coach. She even received a Tony Award in 2016 for excellence in theater.
And while proper breathing is fundamental to her practice, she has scarcely paused for breath since that award. She continues to work seven hours each day, seven days a week. (“I wish she would take a break,” Patti LuPone, a longtime student, told me.) For Lader, 77, the work is her calling, a synthesis of artistry, science and according to her clients and fans, something akin to magic.
“I’ve called her a witch in front of people, many times,” the music director Rob Fisher said. “I’ve never seen anybody else do the hocus-pocus that she sometimes does.”
The composer Tom Kitt can nearly always tell when a singer has been working with Lader. “They have opened up in the beautiful way,” he said. “They are empowered, and they feel confident.”
I met Lader on a wintry afternoon last month. She had struggled to find time to see me, but a cancellation had opened a narrow window in her schedule. She showed me into her space, noting the eight-inch soundproofing along the wall that borders the apartment next door. “Cats” paid for that, she said.
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