Don’t Know That You Don’t Know

There are many people in the world who don’t know that they don’t know — about something. All of us start out as innocent babes who have no “intellectual knowledge”. That only comes later.

If you consciously choose to develop a specific area of interest, and you are persistent and motivated, you can end up learning a great deal and have both broad and deep knowledge (think wisdom), grounded in application in any particular field. Even if you end up specializing in a particular area, it is always best if you know as much as possible about the bigger picture first. A  student has to go to medical school to learn the basic information first. Then, she can specialize. Same with a lawyer.

It is possible to teach yourself to play an instrument or to sing and, at least in some styles, to end up being quite good. If you then go on to have a professional career, you might have little conscious  knowledge about what you are doing while still being able to do it. That’s paradoxical, but it happens. I have heard, although I don’t know if it’s true, that Luciano Pavarotti did not read music. I also heard that Irving Berlin could only play piano in the key of C. Maybe neither of these things were so about those individuals but similar things might be true of others. I have encountered totally self-taught professional singers who are very successful and who have gone on to teach. I am always surprised by that. When you start to teach, what are you going to teach? Only what you do or what you think you do. We all know what that’s like!

There is no harm in not knowing something that others like you are expected to know, if, and only if, you have someone around you to pick up the slack. If you have a parent, a manager, an agent or anyone else who can “help you out” you can manage just fine. Lack of conscious knowledge forces you to be dependent on someone other than yourself whether you want to be or not. It leaves you open to manipulation and even embarrassment. I once heard that Frank Sinatra worked with Nelson Riddle because Riddle did all his arrangements, and that Frank did not really know how to improvise and was comfortable only with Riddle. Even if it isn’t true of Ole Blue Eyes, however, it could be true of someone else. It’s not a great scenario for any artist.

As long as we have to contend with people in singing who don’t know that they don’t know, (and there are so many ways to “not know” in this profession), we will have trouble with establishing norms, standards and reasonable expectations. An education in singing that covers any and all kinds of singers and singing, from many different eras, composers, styles doesn’t yet exist in a formal sense at any college. If that were what all voice students got first, and if they understood vocal function first, before they began taking private singing lessons, our entire vocal world might be different. There would be fewer people who “don’t know that they don’t know” and that would be good for everyone.

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