I just spent Saturday afternoon teaching for The New York Singing Teachers’ Association’s Professional Development Program, and had to acknowledge to the participants (about 25 people) how different things are now than they were in 1983, the first year NYSTA held a symposium at Donnell Library in midtown Manhattan. That Symposium, modeled on the one in Philadelphia held by the Voice Foundation, had called for singing teachers who taught “Broadway and Pop” music to discuss their various ideas, approaches, and other thoughts. We had about four participants as I recall, Lucille Rubin, Oren Brown and Jo Estill, someone else, and the Committee itself, of which I was Chair. The idea to hold a Symposium was mine, but Bob Marks, Larry Chelsi, Elisabeth Howell and others were part of the Committee, so it was definitely a joint venture. The day was a rousing success, with standing room only, and we broke some significant ground, in that nothing like that had ever been done before.
Shortly thereafter, there was a meeting of the Board of Directors of NYSTA. At that meeting, fully half of the Board resigned in protest. How dare we drag the organization down into the gutter!!! This was an organization of serious musicians and artists, who were not concerned with that noise, that screaming. It was an outrage! Who did we think we were?
What followed was a great deal of cajoling of those Board members, until finally, they agreed to stay on, but only “under protest”.
Now, 24 years later, I stood before a room of my colleagues, of all ages, who were eager to learn about American Musical Theater and about the important points of its history, so that they would be better singing teachers. We went over the early days, when the songs of Friml and Romberg were presented on Broadway right alongside those of Irving Berlin and the young Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. Most people don’t realize that Gershwin wrote “Swanee”, which Al Jolson made famous, about the same time that Puccini was composing “Turandot” which was also “on Broadway” at the Hammerstein Theater (don’t know if there is a relationship of that theater to the famous Oscar who partnered Rodgers). The popular music of the day was always alongside the classical, and may always have been enjoyed by at least some of the same people. Only the attitudes and the venues separated them, and as I just said, sometimes, it might have been by only a few blocks and a few bucks.
There were no arguments on Saturday. No one was offended, or resistant. No one disagreed with my position that all styles of CCM are worthwhile and deserving of serious study and research. We all partook of the questions, the discussion, and many of the participants answered questions that I could only partially answer, so there was much give and take and a true feeling of collegiality. It was, to me, given the history of how hard I have fought for this music, and how long, a miracle. It was uplifting in the most profound manner, and I took the occasion to say so.
It may indeed be true that some people would like to continue to act as if no vocal music had been written after 1968, when “Hair” appeared on Broadway, and it may be the case that those same people will continue to get angry when someone points out that a Beatles song can’t be done with the same kind of vocal quality as a Schubert song, but that can’t go on forever. Time will catch up with those folks. Let the rest of us go forward to look more into issues which need attention, such as the affects of amplification and of over the counter drugs on singers’ vocal production. There is finally some light on the horizon.