We all know that change is very difficult. Most people don’t like it and getting a group of people to agree to make changes can be very challenging. Nevertheless, once in a while that does happen. A group, sometimes a large group, decides to stop the old and begin the new. It can be a painful thing to make changes, but it can also be the best thing, and it takes a lot of vision and courage to be able to know that and act upon it.
That the profession of teaching singing is in the midst of a sea change is a fact. Colleges are scrambling to introduce music theater degrees and include rock and pop styles in their programs. Educators are left to figure out for themselves whether or not they can teach rock and roll styles to their students with only Mozart and Strauss as life experience or training. Some succeed and some don’t. The students who don’t get to develop the vocal skills they needed while in college do not get to go back and complain after the fact that they didn’t learn what was necessary to get a job out in the world. They would be regarded as “spoiled sports” coming in “after the fact”. Too bad. If more of them complained they were not equiped to get work after spending thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands of dollars on their vocal education, maybe things at universities would change more rapidly.
In order to recognize the need for change, we have take responsibility for what is, as it is. We have to be willing to look at what works and what does not and decide to do something about what isn’t working. This does not involve blame, it involves evaluation. If you cannot calmly evaluate what’s what, you cannot address it appropriately. As a profession we are trying to figure this conundrum out right now.
If we admit what is clearly so, that classical singing and CCM singing do not sound the same, we can then admit that it is highly unlikely that training for both styles should be the same. If we recognize that Dianna Damrau would not be a good Mimi in Rent even though she just sang a well respected Violetta in Traviata, then we would also be in a position to recognize that she can’t go back and forth because classical training and classical singing do not prepare you to do other styles just because. If that were true, all good opera singers would automatically be able to sing rock music and sound like rock singers and we all know they can’t do that. Still, the obvious evidence that the sounds made in CCM are different than those made in classical music have been ignored by some pretty big opera singers who have taken it upon themselves to make “rock” albums, “jazz” albums, and even to attempt music theater with mixed results. If you want to record “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific and call yourself a “crossover” singer because that song is from a Broadway musical, I guess you can, but you would be using the SAME VOCAL PRODUCTION in both genres so by my reckoning, you are just singing two different kinds of music in the same way. NOT crossover, from a functional place, in my opinion.
Change takes place slowly if it is in an area where things have been the same for a long time. When things suddenly “flip”, though, it becomes necessary for people to get on board with the new quickly because the old is no longer seen as being traditional but rather stodgy or limited. We are close to that tipping point. It won’t be very much longer until the tide finally turns. The young people seem to understand this better than those who have been around a while.
Don’t let change catch you by surprise, unprepared. Don’t let yourself be lulled into a sense of security about what can “never happen”. Take bold steps, do what seems scary, and learn some new things about singing and teaching singing. The times they are a changin’ and you can be part of that change now. If you aren’t, it could be that it will pass you by. Change really can be very good.