A Grim Fairy Tale

I met a rock singer recently. He had an interesting story to tell.

He has a degree in music composition and has sung in a rock band for 20 years, writing a lot of the band’s music and singing lead. They toured a lot, in Europe and South America, but here, too, in smaller cities. He sold some songs to other singers and groups and generally did OK but when he reached 37 a few years ago, he decided that it was time to settle down and lead a more secure life. He found a place to pursue a master’s in music education part time and finally finished his degree and got a job at a small liberal arts college. He was asked to teach music theory, song writing, and some private voice lessons. His students were music education majors, mostly, but also participated in the college choir and semi-annual music theater productions. They were required to learn classical vocal material and pass a jury at the end of each semester.

Now this man had never had formal vocal training. He had sung in his school choruses in both high school and college and the choir directors had given general information (although some of it was conflicting) about “breath support” and “placement” of “the tone”, and musical guidance about the kind of expression necessary in the diversified repertoire the choruses were performing. Beyond that, the man had heard a few classical concerts of Pavarotti on Public Television and had also heard a few classical singers in various other events over the years. He was a little familiar with the major composers like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, etc. and thought that classical music could be both interesting and exciting, but had never had time to delve deeply into it, since he was on the road, writing songs, performing, etc.

His plan was to listen to a few recordings which he would download from iTunes and buy a couple of student books he had found at Amazon and teach enough of these classical songs to his students to get by. He felt that he could talk about breath support, and placement, using what he remembered from his college studies, and describe what he had heard when he listened to Luciano. He also knew a little bit of German and French, enough to get a meal or travel around in Europe, so he figured he would be able to teach songs in these languages. All in all, he thought, he had enough general knowledge to teach his students what they were required to know in order to learn the songs for the juries, and to get a decent grade. He was very interested in keeping his new job, and in hanging on to it long enough to develop some credibility, in the hopes that he might move on to a larger school and more money in a few years. There were only two other teachers on the faculty and the one with the most singing experience got the best students, so he assumed that the people coming to him wouldn’t be that good in the first place, so anything he could tell them would be helpful, no matter what it was. The other teacher was very young and had classes to teach. That man had no private students at all, so there would be no competition from him.

Things went along pretty well the first few years, but the college was growing, and with it, the department. Eventually, in the fourth year, a new teacher was added and this woman had a degree in voice from a classical conservatory of some repute. She had very definite ideas about how to teach singing and was quite proud of her own voice and performing experience in opera and concert. Trouble quickly brewed.

Long story short, a big divide between the two teachers emerged. The rock guy had gone along quietly teaching what little he knew, with the students following him, not knowing good from bad. The new classical woman wanted everyone to sing classical music, sing it to her personal standards, and to sing nothing else in or out of lessons, lest the student be damaged or permanently confused. The department chair was busy trying to handle the growth of the other parts of the music school and paid little attention to the situation of the singing training, deciding to let things “work themselves out”.

I do not have an end to this story because I made it up, but I think you know why. I invite you to post your own ending here.

PS

You are welcome to turn the story around. All you need to do is put someone trained in classical singing, with only classical experience, in the place of the rock guy and put in that that person was asked to teach music theater students. If you leave the classical woman as is, then you will have a reality based story rather than a fairy tale. The ending might be easier to imagine that way. What do YOU think?

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