If I could make “the rules” I would pass one that said: NO MORE NEW TERMINOLOGY ALLOWED!
The need to name things run deeply in our collective consciousness. Oliver Sacks explained this beautifully in an essay long ago in which he stated that by naming things we make them real to ourselves. We distinguish that one thing is not another thing, or said another way, that this is not that. We name things generically first; man/woman, tree/flower, dog/bird. Then, later, we name them specifically; Al/Alice, pine/rose, terrier/thrush. Maybe after that, we name them further; Albert Anthony/Alice Marie, blue spruce/miniature rose, West Highland terrier/American robin. Each level of naming makes things more specific. It clarifies things for ourselves and others.
It’s said in the Bible that Adam went around the Garden of Eden naming the animals. I take that as a metaphor. We all name the new things we discover. Scientists are often the ones who get to pick names for new species or new stars but people who invent new products or services (laptops, search engines) can do that, too.
What we have in voice, however, is really quite awful in terms of “naming” things. There are so many words, used so many ways by so many people, that it causes great consternation to those of us who are in voice-related fields. We are moving towards more scientific terminology, thankfully, and that is the best thing to happen in a long time, but we are not going there quickly and there are still far more people who do not use scientific terminology than those that do. Further, even in teaching singing, where subjective words have been the mainstay for hundreds of years, those individuals who have created a “method” of teaching have found it necessary to add their own new words or phrases to the already overcrowded stew that we have. Everyone, that is, but me.
I stuck to the words generated by the profession (words that were used primarily on Broadway) and those that were accepted in the pedagogical community going back at least to the time of Garcia. I did not make up or add one word of my own, although I did create the phrase “Contemporary Commercial Music” to cover those styles. [That seems to be working.] I use scientific words as much as possible and plain English words, not “voice teacher jargon”. In other words, if the waitress at the diner wouldn’t understand my words, I don’t use them.
I don’t use: spin, focus, float, project, anchor, compress, resonate (as a verb), release (as a verb), “mask”, or vibrate. I do not tell people to retract the false folds, constrict the aryepiglottic sphincter, or go to Larynx Position No. 3. I do not ask them to make their heads or faces vibrate, or to manipulate anything (except temporarily during an exercise). Except for CCM, I have not added one word or term to the lexicon that didn’t already exist long before I came along.
I recently heard that someone who teaches rock singing in Europe has declared that we no longer use the word belt. Now it’s called “edge”. Says she.
My response is, “Oh, really?” Perhaps she should take out a full page ad in Back Stage or Billboard or Variety so the musical and theatrical communities can know that she has decided the language they have been using and still use is “out of date”.
Guess what, the MARKETPLACE couldn’t care less. Casting directors and producers do not care what we call the sounds. They make up their own terms anyway and they don’t check with us first to see if they are acceptable. The are only interested in the sound themselves, not what they are called or who made up the descriptions.
Further, what’s even worse, as I explained a couple of posts ago, is the misuse of a term that was already in existence and had a history, usurping it and applying it to something else that, also, was already labeled. Calling belting “twang” when belting was already associated with “brassiness” was a disaster and that mess still continues. Country/western singing already had its own credentials that were quite valid. Using “twang” for Broadway instead of the music that comes out of Nashville was a big mistake. It confuses what people should be listening for in music theater and country music both.
The word hamburger is well known. Millions of people know what it is and use it to define a specific food. If I decide the best way for me to distinguish myself as a maker of a new way to cook hamburgers is by calling my food a “fried ground beef pancake”, have I added anything to the world of cuisine? Am I making this phrase up to clarify the way people cook hamburgers or am I just making up something to show how clever I am? Am I making a contribution to the field that benefits everyone (including the people who eat hamburgers no matter how they are cooked) or am I just trying to get you to see me as being better than everyone else?
There are very few options when it comes to making sound. We all have vocal folds and a vocal tract. We all have an air supply in our lungs. We can configure things inside to produce certain kinds of categories of sound within the acoustic spectrum available to us as human beings. You can imagine that you have discovered something that no one else has ever discovered, but that is very unlikely and hubris of the highest sort. The most you can have found is a new way to explain it or communicate it to others. Making up terminology isn’t necessary unless you have a really small vocabulary or a very limited sense of self.
I don’t need to be a “voice-ologist” or a “functional singing educator”, or “sound facilitator”. I am content with being a singing teacher, or, in some circumstances, a singing voice specialist (not a term I invented). If you study singing, and you run into someone who has made up a new vocal term or has decided to call him or herself something that didn’t exist before, but what they are doing is just another version of what has been done for hundreds of years — teach singing — RUN AWAY!