Covering Your You-Know-What

So, you have a student in front of you who wants to belt. You are teaching in a college, you have juries to contend with. The kid has to sing “classical” for the juries. You don’t know how to belt, or if it’s safe, but the big musical at her church this year is Hairspray and she wants to try out. You don’t know if belting helps or hinders “classical”. You need this job to pay your rent or mortgage, to feed yourself and your kids, to make a career for yourself. You maybe need it to move you toward “job security” or what is called “tenure”. You want your colleagues to know you are competent and skilled. You want to help the student, to be able to get into the show, and you want her to get a good grade at school, too, and to be OK with all of it. You want her to have a chance to have a career as a singer when she graduates college.

WHAT THE H**L DO YOU DO?

If you are religious you pray. If you are not, you breathe hard and gather yourself together and maybe you do burnt offerings to the gods of singing or the muses of the arts.

This is an insurmountable situation and it can only mean that everyone loses. The teacher, the student, the program and the school. Anyone who says otherwise is just deluded.

Mostly what happens is that you teach “classically”, you ask the student to learn Italian or German art songs, and you work on resonance and breath support (what else?). In the middle of the semester you ask the student to bring in her “belt” song. You ask her to sing it for you, she does, in her “belt sound”. You ask her, “Does that feel OK?” You listen and think it sounds loud and ugly. You ask her “Do you feel the resonance in your face and head? Are you supporting?” She says “YES!” You leave her alone. You have no clue and you certainly cannot tell her that.

She sings the classical pieces at the juries and gets a decent grade and evaluation. You talk with your colleagues about how the students “have trouble focusing” and about “how they like to think too much”, “how they like to hold on to their throats” and “how they always seem to have trouble with breath support”. You keep your job and go forward, hoping not to be “found out”, and teach another semester, and another, and another. You make sure to let the student decide whether or not the belting is good, and you learn more songs each term.

You live in fear that someday, one of those students is going to come back to you and say “how dare you”? You live in fear that someday one of them is going to come find you and ask you “what were you thinking?” You always hope that you will never be asked to explain to other teachers how you work with your “belters” or why you teach belting, or, worst of all, be asked to sing the sound yourself in front of your peers. You tell yourself that “the kids know how to do that sound.”

You may be able to hide, but you really do know, inside, that this is making the part of you that loves to sing go dead. You manage to cover your you-know-what.

No, I’m not guessing that this happens. I KNOW it happens. And if you think that there is nothing wrong with this scenario, then you are part of what is very very wrong with our profession.

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2 thoughts on “Covering Your You-Know-What”

  1. Thank you, Jeannie, for voicing this for everyone. Someone has to!
    How many voice teachers work with singers who have earned voice degrees (or even advanced voice degrees) who can not sing or have lost the joy of singing? I was one of those students myself many years ago. It doesn’t seem to have improved much.

    It is hard work to learn new skills, to admit you don’t know much or have so much more to learn, when you are supposed to be the “expert.” Sometimes every day feels like another bite of humble pie! Because it often is.

    Our problems should not be with each other, but with Unrealistic Expectations, the great American Marketing Machine, Administrators who do not know our craft or care, and our own issues that block the spirit of learning and making music.

    I think it takes immense courage to teach and remain a student at the same time.

  2. I have seen first-hand the scenario you describe. Now, what if all the same givens exist, execpt you DO know how to belt and how to teach it? Yet you still have the juries, with the department expecting the students to sing “classical”. Arrghh.

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