Context Really Is Everything

We have all heard that context is everything. That is true. The context in which something is said or done is vital to know.

A simple sentence like “The dress is blue,” could mean anything depending on how and where it is delivered. If I am getting ready for my wedding and I open the box to take out my gown only to discover it isn’t white, I might say, “The dress is…!” If I am evaluating a series of clothing items to see what coordinates with other things in my closet I may say, “The dress is blue.” Different sentence. If I am being asked to reveal state secrets because I am a CIA agent who has been caught in enemy territory, I might decline to give significant information by saying over and over “The dress is blue,” in a flat tone.

How you say what you say is as important, perhaps more important, than what you say.

If I say in an angry accusative manner, “Your tongue is tight!” as if you were tightening it on purpose, that’s very different that saying, in a soft gentle voice, “Your tongue is tight,” and following it with another statement like “Let’s see what we can do to get it to let go,” that’s a very different way to talk.

If you view all vocal exercises as being equal, simply looking at the exercises as mechanical things to do with your voice or your body, and you apply them in the same way to every student, you are not doing anyone very much good. Your exercises might be useful but without looking at the context of the way in which the exercises are presented, they are just words.

I am very careful not only about what I say I am careful about how I say it and how I look and sound while I say it because I consider that to be all part of the one thing called “teaching singing”. I realize that other teachers of singing use similar exercises because they saw them in a workshop or read about them in a book or learned them on their own but it may be that the resemblance stops as soon as the teacher uses the exercise in a lesson. In an effort to evaluate exercise only as exercise you lose the humanity of person singing.

One of the things that doesn’t work about allopathic medicine is that it treats symptoms as if they were disconnected from the person who has them and that person’s life and experience of it. My mother was always ill. She went from illness to illness throughout much of her life after she was married. She was also very unhappy as a person. I have often wondered if she had been able to deal with her inner sadness if her illnesses might have gone away. Dis-ease for her was real. She was not at ease with anything about herself or her life.

The idea that the body and the mind are one is relatively new to our culture. The idea that vocal exercises can change the way the voice works and the corresponding patterns in the brain is also new. The context of how anything is approached, MATTERS. If you see a comparison of a “method” or an organized way of doing anything, you need to take into consideration the mindset of the person who created the method  and the atmosphere in which the work is done. Without that, you are buying the car without looking at the engine, the fuel economy, the “add-ons” and many other options that might not be known to you unless you ask. All cars are means of transportation and all of them will allow you to drive to your destination but there is a difference between traveling in a Rolls Royce and a Volkswagen Jetta insofar as how you experience the ride.

No matter what book you read, what course you take, what workshop you attend and what information you gather, it all goes into your own context and it is only as good to you, as meaningful to you, as your own understanding of your expectations, your life experience and your ability to be discerning.

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2 thoughts on “Context Really Is Everything”

  1. I cried a little when I read this Jeanie.
    As a young student , and really trusting my first college vocal teacher, I was immersed in a tornado of vocal exercises that did nothing to progress my singing.
    Then, I was made to feel as if it was my weakness that these one size fits all exercises were not producing the sounds that were being demanded of me.
    Making things a little worse is that I was being trained as a high coloratura soprano when I was actually a high and flexible coloratura Mezzo. The truck load of exercises from this lady left my voice tired and of course me really frustrated.
    I am now a very happy Jazz Singer, but every now and then I wonder if I had had a Teacher who was really listening to, and exploring my voice and not just heaping stuff on me what she knew…I might have been…Who knows?…A Julia Lezhneva or Cecelia Bartoli. Maybe next lifetime. That’s if you come back as my Vocal Teacher Jeanie :)

    1. Oh, Susan, what a lovely comment. I hope we both come back without encountering teachers who mean well but don’t know how to teach. There are so many of them. The good news is that we both survived and that we aren’t passing on these bad patterns on to another generation. Thanks so much for your kind words.

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