Fame

“People who are famous have to be good at whatever they do because they are famous”.  – J. Q. Public

Really?

There are famous people in every profession. Famous lawyers, doctors, Indian Chiefs. There are many famous performers, famous painters, famous composers. There are people who have been famous for a few hundred years and people who got famous last week. We are as a society enthralled with fame and the people who seem to be famous.

Fame isn’t, unfortunately, an indication of anything. Some people get noticed and others notice that someone else has noticed so they notice, too, and the story rolls along on its on, growing moment by moment. A new self-reinforcing “word of mouth” (called these days “going viral”) becomes an end in itself. Particularly since the emergence of the web and the incredible impact it continues to have  on virtually everything, fame is easily and quickly associated with “followers” or “views” on the internet. (Not necessarily with anything else.)

Getting to be famous is a great way to sell stuff. You can have “merchandise” and make lots of money just because, being famous, people will want to buy anything associated with you. The reason why you are famous doesn’t seem to make much difference to many people. Just ask Snooky and Kim Khardashian.

There quite a few people who teach singing who have methods for sale on the internet. They convince you with their promotional videos that you can learn to sing really well if you just buy their CDs, videos  and books. They tell you about all the famous people who have studied with them. They tell you how famous THEY are.

In the professions of law and medicine, it used to be that advertising was not allowed. It was considered unprofessional. There are now “ratings” available on-line and certainly hospitals advertise discreetly, saying how excellent their care is and how successful  their surgeons are. It was also so that singing teachers did not advertise as it was considered unprofessional. A “listing” was OK. Saying that you taught was OK. Making claims about yourself was not. There was no law about this. There isn’t one now. Those who “advertised” were viewed with suspicion. This isn’t so true as it once was, but it hasn’t disappeared entirely either.

Most of the very famous doctors, lawyers, and other professionals still do not advertise. In fact, they do not need to advertise (even with just a listing). The “fame” they have is not generated by the internet or advertising in magazines or any outside source. These experts are known and recognized, not just by their patients and clients, but by their peers. That recognition doesn’t come easily but it is significant. Some few lucky people are recognized by more than one group of peers. You can be recognized for your acting, recognized for your philanthropy and recognized for being a champion horse breeder. All of these recognitions are not self-generated.

I know of at least five singing teachers here in New York (and I would guess there are more) who wouldn’t hesitate to tell you that they are the best teachers, above and beyond everyone else, in the world (never mind just little old New York). They will tell anyone they meet how much better they are than virtually every other singing teacher on earth.  That doesn’t stop these teachers from convincing their students that these statements are the TRUTH. The teachers truly believe that they are better than everyone else. The problem with this is, of course, that this opinion is not shared by their peers, or, actually, anyone else who is knowledgable.

Therefore, if you are studying anything with anyone and that person tells you how FAMOUS they are, and how much more they know than everyone else in their own profession, and how many others don’t know what they know, be alert. Even more significantly, if these teachers are selling their books, tapes, CDs, t-shirts, coffee mugs and pens, please, please WAKE UP. No one who has standing in their own profession has reason to behave in this way. (This always reminds me of the old greeting card that said on the front, “Congratulations to someone who is outstanding in their field” and inside showed a person standing in a field of wheat.)

Every legitimate expert recognizes that other experts have valid, if different points of view. All bona fide experts realize that there is disagreement amongst those at the top of any profession, but that the disagreement is normal and often helpful to the profession at large, fostering broader discussion in the greater community. Everyone who has strong opinions is going to conclude, sooner or later, that they know some things uniquely, but if they discount that others will also know other different things uniquely, they are off-base.

Beware narcissistic, self-absorbed, self-declared “famous” teachers. If someone tells you that their studio is “the best in NYC” or anywhere else, run away. There is no such thing. Learn to look at what’s below the surface before you buy the fancy label!!

 

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2 thoughts on “Fame”

  1. “It was also so that singing teachers did not advertise as it was considered unprofessional. A “listing” was OK. Saying that you taught was OK. Making claims about yourself was not. There was no law about this. There isn’t one now. Those who “advertised” were viewed with suspicion. This isn’t so true as it once was, but it hasn’t disappeared entirely either.”

    I thought this too until I started researching singing teachers and their methods and reading old American newspapers/journals like “The Musical Courier” and “The Etude” starting in the 1880’s. What one finds there is whole pages of advertisement—and more than mere listings. It is not uncommon to find articles written by those listed promoting a method and even questioning the competition. Mathilde Marchesi did this in a big way, and with a great deal of panache, which other teachers looking down upon. What has not changed, I think, is the view that one is a better teacher if students only come through recommendation.

    My reading of history leads me to observe that Americans invented the idea of self-promotion, which many Europeans still consider to be anathema.

    1. Interesting, Daniel. Even those with “big names” like Marchesi, were “looked down upon” by the people in groups like NYSTA and the American Academy for doing exactly that. When I joined NYSTA in 1978, I remember well comments like, “Of course…….she has to advertise……” followed by a condescending look. Many of the members had regular ads in Back Stage, particularly since they taught “Broadway” singers. Perhaps that lead to the attitude that the music itself was “low”. It was, heaven forbid, COMMERCIAL.

      Things change. Cultural values change. Self-promotion, however, can still smell like a few-days-old fish. I am just cautioning people not to buy the hype unless it is backed up with honest, humble activity at lessons.

      Thanks for the comment!

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