We were taught the lines of the treble staff by remembering the first letters of the phrase Every Good Boy Deserves Fun. Sometimes I think we need the phrase Every Good Singing Teacher Does Fine.
A good singing teacher does much more than teach singing. A good teacher is going to address many different things that go into being an excellent singer and those things will vary depending on the student. If the teacher is knowledgeable, caring, dedicated and open-minded, the training has a very good chance of succeeding, particularly if the student is willing, curious, hard-working and also dedicated.
If the student works with the teacher for a number of years, it is almost inevitable that they develop a relationship that is deep and important to both of them. The process of learning requires that the student come to trust the teacher and the process of teaching requires that the teacher hopes that what is imparted in lessons is valued by the student. Both can be disappointed. As with any other kind of relationship, risk is involved.
It’s hard, however, to invest time, effort and energy in another human being only to have the person throw all that was exchanged out the window. It’s hard to be supportive, encouraging, willing, caring and dedicated to the process of teaching someone only to have that person disappear without so much as one word to the teacher, even after many years of training and intereaction. It’s hard when the student decides to give up singing and go back to school to become a dentist!
I was always determined to teach people, not throats. I wanted to work with human beings, not robots. I wished to get to know my students’ artistic vision for their singing and not lay upon them my ideas as being more important than theirs. In order to do that, I have to be open with them about who I am, what I do, where I go and how I approach teaching and life. I want to include the important ingredients of their life so that their singing is a part of it, not some “outside activity” like going to the movies.
Many times when I was a young teacher, I was bitterly disappointed when someone whom I had come to think of as a “special student” just disappeared. This was most difficult when I had been working with the person for quite some time, even years, and had seen the person grow both vocally and artistically. Often, in those days when there was no internet and no cell phones, I would call and leave messages only to have them ignored. It left me mystified.
The problem is magnified by the protocols typical of the profession. If the student is dissatisfied with the lesson process, it is often difficult to say why or how. It can be uncomfortable for the students to let the teacher know that they are not happy with the way things are going in lessons or in their singing. The teacher might have an easier time telling the student that she is not making progress or that her singing isn’t really moving along in a good direction, but sometimes this, too, can be hard. And, if the person has a separate, personal reason for stopping, sometimes it’s just too painful to confront the situation. I have heard from others long after a student stopped coming that a spouse was ill or a grandparent died and they had to leave the area. Making an effort to let the singing teacher know was just too much, given the circumstances, and I could understand that. It didn’t make it easier, though, to lose the person as a person in my life.
I realize that some teachers regard students as “clients” and don’t want to have a close relationship to them. They aren’t interested in knowing anything more about a student than what they have to know to get through a lesson. They don’t remember them much from session to session and don’t care if they come back or not, since they are very busy. I’m not one of those people, however.
If you are a student of singing, studying with someone who is meeting your needs and giving you what you want, please try to remember that not everyone will be able to do that. Please be kind and remember that when you are gone from your teacher’s studio, you will still be missed and your teacher will still be curious to know what you are doing. If your teacher has extended him or herself to you, above and beyond the “cause of duty” by allowing you to owe for lessons, or giving you an opportunity to perform somewhere, or loaned you music or helped you get an audition, and has not been paid for any of that, remember to be grateful.
Long ago, I allowed students to trade for lessons when they couldn’t pay for them easily. That stopped when I was burned. A “trade” student let it slip that she had no money because she had spend her trust fund payment on grass and a trip to the Caribbean. I felt like a fool. I also extended myself twice to young men who did work for me in return for lessons. When they both became very successful in the business (at the highest levels) they thanked me by going to study with other people. One of them made a point of letting me know he was working with someone else and I could say nothing. It never occurred to either of them that I had extended myself to them in order to help them succeed and that when they were finally successful, it would have been a nice gesture to return for lessons when they could actually pay for them. Such is life.
If you have a good singing teacher who is doing just fine by you, don’t take it for granted. We are human beings with feelings, same as you. If you are a teacher of singing, remember that you are teaching a person with feelings, too, and that the person is more than the voice. If the exchange of mutual respect between both parties is balanced, only that which is fine can emerge.