Max Ward

Maximum Ink's namesake
by Dan Bullock
April 2011

Max Ward in his 20's

Max Ward in his 20's

It has been 15 years since Max Ward’s own voice fell silent, but his passion lives on thru those he taught, befriended, and whose lives he touched.  Max did not live or teach by the boundaries of a certain genre, age, or musical taste and it showed by the diverse and talented performers that are grateful to have worked with him. Some of the names and groups on his roster include Willy Porter, Bradley Fish, Bob Westfall, Juli Hinds (Magic 98), Common Faces (Asa), Reptile Palace Orchestra (Anna), Rok Sally and Mission Blue (Dan and Mike), Jerry Pero (Bounty Hunter Music), and more. From the spoken word, to gospel, to country, to hard rock, Max found a way to connect to all people and improve their potential and performance.

When asked about Max, Willy Porter said, “He was easily one of the greatest teachers I have ever come across in any discipline. He was able to focus immediately on what I was doing well, and help me find more range, depth of tone and dynamic range without straining physically. He talked about how the character of the singer’s voice defines the meaning of the lyric and thus the song—  simple stuff, yet infinitely Zen. He taught me things I’ll work on for the rest of my life. I miss him very much.”  Willy’s comments are a true testament to Max’s ability to hold the line on the classical and technical elements of singing, but harvest the unique character within each voice.

Bob Westfall credits Willy with his good fortune to have trained with Max and says, “In the mid 1990’s I asked my good friend Willy Porter if he knew of someone I could go to for vocal lessons and he referred me to Max. I did not call him right away, maybe 6-8 months later and was nervous about asking someone to help me with my “one octave” range. When I finally called Max he told me he was not taking any more students. I was devastated! How could this happen? Surely I must have the wrong number! I said that my buddy Willy had said “you’re the guy,” so I really want lessons! After all, Willy can really sing, so maybe you can help me. Please, Help Me!  Max said, “Ok, come on over and we’ll see if I can help you.” I had never been to someone for lessons who had such a reputation, and was nervous.
When I got to Max’s house he was very nice and welcoming.  I immediately asked him if he was going to stack phone books on my stomach during the lesson and he laughed and said “No!”. 

Bobby continued with, “My memories of Max are that he was dedicated to trying to help people figure out how they sang and how to make it better! I think Max took people as they came, encouraged their ability, and tried to work with what they had. To me, that is a good teacher. I will never forget his generosity and encouragement. That’s what I wish I could tell him if he were still here! I wish I had studied longer with him! Thanks Max! “

Max also had a great sense of humor. As I read Bobby’s comments, I am reminded of a story when I was training with Max that I still smile about. I am not what you would describe as a big man. I am about 5’ 4” tall and was “about a buck-twenty” back then. One day, Max was taking me thru scales and was getting frustrated with my sloppiness. I had been out the night before and let’s just say I was not at my best for that lesson. After about 10 minutes of improper breathing technique and the resulting rough tone, he made me lay on the floor. Mind you, Max was quite a bit bigger than me. He pressed his hands firmly against my chest, leaned in, and said “now let’s see you move your chest when you breath!”.  He did not like short cuts! Point made and I have remembered to this day to use proper diaphragm breathing!

Max was a true classic. He enjoyed teaching and performing and could be seen with numerous groups and in individual performances. He was comfortable when in the spotlight or working gracefully behind the scenes. He loved what he did and it showed. In this day and age of technology, digital enhancements, in-ear monitoring, and real-time digital pitch correcting applications, there is a lot to be said for a man that made singers great because he found what was best in them and brought it out thru patience and hard work.

It was the great musician Sting that once said, “If you play music with passion and love and honesty, then it will nourish your soul, heal your wounds and make your life worth living. Music is it’s own reward.” Max found a way to make the music honest in each one of us. He found our weaknesses and exposed them with care and compassion so that they no longer seemed to get in the way, but rather became part of what made us unique. It has been 15 years since I first wrote of Max in this very magazine that bears his name, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity once again. On behalf of all those that knew or trained with Max I say we miss you and are better for having known you.

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