City Mouse/Country Mouse

Who you teach, where you teach, what you teach and how you view teaching is important. It makes up your world experience, your point of view about all things vocal and how you interact with it.

If you have only taught kids, or if you have only taught college students or if you only see adult beginners and non-professionals as students, you might draw certain conclusions about “singers” or “singing” based on that population. If you do not sing yourself, but teach some form of singing, what you see and hear, how you interpret those things and what you do with what you deduce will be filtered through that specific framework.

Many of the people who are at the top of the profession have only one kind of student as their primary clientele. If you are a college professor and you do not teach professional singers with lengthy careers, what you conclude about “singers” might be very different than what you would observe if all you taught was adult professionals at a place like the Met or on Broadway.

And, if you believe your teaching is representative of the expectations and standards of the profession but you don’t know any high level working singers to check on that belief, how do you know if you are correct in your assumption, particularly if you work alone?

It’s not unusual for a human being to (sometimes unconsciously) assume he or she is the center of the world. Particularly if you are an artist, this is a common reality. The artistic ego has to be big enough to withstand a huge amount of criticism, competition and condemnation not just at the beginning of a career but throughout it. Most average people have three, four, maybe five job interviews in a career and a few dozen “evaluations” in a job. A performer can have five auditions in only one day and hundreds or even thousands of “evaluations” (of all kinds) in a career. It takes a lot of self-esteem to stand up to that constant onslaught of having to prove or change oneself over and over.

An egocentric person will assume that she knows everything and that she is always right “because”. Teachers who assume they know everything because they have life experience or training are harboring a deadly attitude. It’s fine to believe in yourself, in fact, it’s necessary, and you have to have a solid center in your approach to teaching if you are to be effective, but you can never allow yourself to assume you are incapable of improvement, of being better, of making adjustments and changes or of being ineffective or just flat out wrong. You can never allow yourself to be the center of the universe.

If you teach in a small studio in your home in a small town, your population of students will be quite different than someone who teaches in a rented studio in a large city with many different kinds of singers, of all ages, most of whom are professionals. If you have a job at a university or conservatory you can have any kind of student from novice to very talented, but you will still be teaching primarily young people. You may not see a student for more than a semester or you may have the same student for several years. You may be able to choose repertoire for the student, but you might have requirements to deal with as well. If you have a student who is required to take your course you may have someone to teach who would rather be somewhere else, but if you are a private teacher you can be fairly certain the student wants to be there because if they do not they can leave and never return. There are so many differences. There are so many influences.

Each of these states of being of teaching singing has an impact on who we are as teachers and how we operate with our students. It shapes us and we react to that shaping. The students inform not just the teacher but the teaching and it is crucial for every teacher to know this and deal with it as long as the teaching happens.

As a profession, we never speak about any of these things. They are completely invisible. Why should that be so? I think it’s because people would have to ask these kinds of questions just to get the conversation started.

Our expectations, whether we are in the city or the country, are fed by our experiences and our experiences are colored by our expectations and our past history. They feed each other. If we don’t look at the underlying attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, viewpoints and assumptions we have, both individually and collectively, it’s nearly impossible to make objective assessment of how effective we are. Whether you are a city mouse or a country mouse makes a difference in your teaching and you need to know that and take responsibility for it as you teach.

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