Becoming Your Diagnosis

One of the most deadly things a teacher can say to a student starts with the words “You are…….”

This pronouncement is deadly unless what follows is positive and helpful. The labels given to students by teachers are serious and sometimes stick for life. If they are judgemental (as they typically are) the person can carry around this evaluation as if it were fact for a very long time, sometimes for their entire life.

You like to hold your jaw. Your tongue is too big for your mouth. You have a tight throat. You can’t support properly. You like to listen to yourself too much. You think too much. You are paying too much attention to what you are doing. You don’t release the breath. You are not letting the tone move. You have a poor ear. You are not musical. You don’t have much of a voice. You don’t have a lot of talent for singing.

Endless. Awful. Commonplace.

I have a friend who was told by her truly terrible “therapist” that she had a serious mental disease. Had he been skilled at all, he would have seen how vulnerable and suggestable this person was and how easy it was to influence her. But he was more interested in himself than in helping her and she ended up believing his evaluation of her and became seriously, profoundly worse. She hung on to his diagnosis with tightly grasped hands and proceeded to live by his declaration that she had “X”. I begged her to get another opinion, I begged her to leave therapy with this man, but to no avail. She became, over a period of years, completely unable to have a normal life and now barely manages to get by, even with help. She became his diagnosis, and it was a tragedy to see.

I know someone else who was diagnosed by a medical professional, in fact, several, who was given a dire prognosis for her future. She was unwilling to accept that as her final fate, and through diligent work and persistent determination, she dug her way out of the “incurable” situation until it was just one more thing in her life that she had to attend to, not unlike having your hair cut or your teeth cleaned — not unpleasant tasks, but ones that have to be done whether we like it or not. In fact, I know several people in this category.

Students can easily become what you tell them they are, particularly if they hold you in high esteem and regard you as an expert. Students who desire to sing will pay attention to your opinions moreso than someone else might therefore how you speak to them about themselves, their voices and their capabilities really matters.

Remember that the voice works reflexively and that the conscious mind of the singer isn’t necessarily in charge of what the throat does or the voice manifests for a long time after beginning training. It is always better to speak about the process in the third person, as this allows both the teacher and the student to evaluate what’s going on from an objective place and work to gain greater correspondence between what is desired and what is showing up in terms of the sound.

Your jaw is tight today, let’s stretch it a little. There seems to be some stiffness in your  tongue. Let’s do a straw exercise. I notice you aren’t breathing too deeply. Should we work on that a bit? How do you feel about that sound? Did you like it? Why not?

That kind of language is much more constructive than any other and it isn’t typical of what happens in a singing lesson.

In Somatic Voicework™, we strive to speak with authority based on knowledge and experience but with compassion. We tell the truth but with kindness, and we guide, we don’t demand.

The student could just as well become your diagnosis of something spectacular, but not if you keep telling her about all her faults in every lesson. Be careful.

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