Omnivore: January

It’s highly possible that not every online class is a tuition-grubbing ploy to leave suckers poorer, and not much smarter. But common sense suggests that for every respectable virtual math refresher out there, there’s a dozen scams promising to bestow gun-repair expertise via a few grainy videos. "Voice Technique 101," launched by Berklee ( last semester to teach closet Sinatras to croon like the pros—all for $895!—would seem to fall into the latter camp. How could such a physically executed, personally expressed art be nurtured through faceless bits and bytes?

Through good old-fashioned toil, it turns out. Pupils download lessons, songs, and technical exercises, then upload recordings of their performance. That’s where professor Anne Peckham comes in. The professional singer and author of vocal-training textbooks scrupulously dissects a student’s breathing technique or pinpoints where, say, a specific F-sharp was flatted. Critiques also come from classmates, whose locales range from Calgary to Beacon Hill to Johannesburg.
The end result? Probably as good as it gets. A handful of Peckham’s students sound amazingly polished by semester’s end, and for (most of) the rest, the improvement is startling. Even if they’re not the next Nat King Cole or Kiri Te Kanawa, they’ll fare worlds better come open-mic night, or in the morning shower.