Communication is a two-way event. You say something, the other person receives your communication. Both people are equally responsible for that interchange.
I can be unclear in what or how I say something. You can misunderstand or misinterpret what I am telling you. Sometimes this causes great problems. We think we are being clear. We think the other person is understanding us. We think we agree. But maybe we don’t.
If you are teaching singing, aside from using the sound itself as an example and a form of communication, you have to use words. The precision of those words matters. The only way the student can grasp what you are saying is for you to be extremely clear in not only what you mean, but what you imply. The literal words and the meaning of the words must match. And the impact of the words has to be accounted for in the exchange, because they count as much as the words and their meaning.
If I stick to simple, well-known words that most people know and most people will agree upon without argument, I am relatively safe. If I use poetic language, unless I am careful, I can begin to be obtuse and my listener could get confused or lost. If I use a jargon that only I know, or perhaps a few select people know, I am perilously close to talking in a way that most others cannot possibly understand.
Most of us are sloppy in how we communicate and don’t really notice if the person with whom we are communicating gets what we are saying or not. We can’t, after all, ask continuously, “What do you think I mean when I say this? Do you understand me exactly? Please say it back to me.” The way we typically find out that there has been a mis-understanding or miscommunication is to bump into the problems that arise from it after the fact.
The more serious the issue, the more carefully you must select your words and think about their impact before you speak. You can’t take them back after they are out. The more the impact of what you say matters, the more you need to think of that impact prior to opening your mouth. And, if you are in a position of authority, and you speak from that position, your words and their impact have greater weight or potential within them, and you must consider even more carefully how you say what you have to say.
Communication is at the heart of what we do as teachers, as artists, as singers but also as human beings. If I am to trust you, you must tell me the truth. (The whole truth, the complete truth, so help me!) If you tell me only some of the truth, perhaps the part you “think I can handle” and I find out later that you held something back, and that something was important, I might never really trust you or what you say again. If we tell the truth with compassion, no matter what it is, it’s better to get it all out. Holding back always has a cost.
Trust, which is necessary in a teacher/student relationship, is built on honest conscious speech, backed up by consistent action, personal integrity, and a desire to honor and respect the person who is your partner in communication. The root word of communication is commune, which means to join with or bring together. True communication will allow you to align comfortably with another. Anything less will ultimately come back at some later date to cause trouble.
If you expect to communicate with your audience, you must know exactly what it is you are singing, what it means, what you want its impact to ideally be, and you must be as emotionally committed to that truthful communication as you can be as it is sung. Nothing else will substitute. If you feel vulnerable in doing this, and you will, the audience will repay you by trusting you completely and giving you its communication in return in the form of generous applause, or a standing ovation, or, occasionally, tears. Then you will know that you communicated well and that what you wanted to share was clear, true and well received. You and the audience will have shared the sublime experience of “communing” with each other — heart to heart and mind to mind.