I am lucky enough to have many experienced professional singers as students. The singers are all excellent vocalists, and I certainly take no credit for their artistry. I realize that not all singing teachers have the opportunity to work with such elite artists, and that those who teach in schools or who are in small towns may not ever have a chance to work with top vocalists and that you might wonder why someone who is a successful working singer with a career going needs a singing teacher? That would be a good question. Why, indeed?
Young singers need to be taught how to sing. They need to understand why we don’t sing everything in the same way, with the same sound. They need parameters. High school and college students who don’t have that kind of information and look to me to supply it, and I do. Skilled singers don’t usually need anything but support to do the job they want to do. I would never presume to tell someone working with me how to sing something unless I was asked. Often these elite artists bring me tricky or difficult music they must perform and I endeavor to make it easier for them and/or shorten the time it takes to smooth out any wrinkles.
Actually, all working singers need a good singing teacher because the demands of performing pull on the voice and body and can take it out of balance. Even the most experienced singers have to deal with stress — from traveling, from rehearsing, from various venues, and with various health issues that arise but also affect the voice, like a really bad cold. It’s not so easy to put your own voice back on track even if you know it well.
One of the reasons why more working singers don’t seek out a teacher is because some singing teachers are only interested in dispensing information about a specific style. (“This is how you sing Mozart”.) That is certainly nice to know but not if you are singing some style of CCM. Another reason is because some teachers are interested in telling the singer how to sing (“You shouldn’t make those sounds, as they are ugly” OR “You should do a big crescendo here, and pronounce that word more clearly”.) This may be done without regard to whether or not the singer is satisfied with the sounds or music he or she is already making.
It is an honor and a privilege to work with highly skilled singers. I respect them and regard my work with them as an opportunity to facilitate their goals for their work. I am blessed when I attend a performance of someone who has worked hard on a song only to see and hear that the issues are no longer there. How wonderful that is! It isn’t that it’s less wonderful in a youngster or a beginner, but it is a particularly rich experience when that vocalist is singing in front of a thousand people!
I hope that anyone teaching will take heart from my circumstances. If even the most advanced singers can benefit from lessons, we should realize how hard professional singing is — especially if you have a full-blown busy career. We can take what is learned from the elite singers and use it with the “baby beginners”, as each group needs small adjustments to improve, although for completely opposite reasons. The purpose of our CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah is to share with the participants the techniques and approaches that have worked with elite vocalists. If you are someone who works with beginners or dedicated amateur singers in a small town school musical or church program, you deserve a chance to use the very same exercises and approaches with your students as I do when I work with someone who makes thousands of dollars singing all over the world.