"For the Good of the Profession"

Sometimes I wonder if the people involved in running the professional organizations think about the good of the profession over the long haul. It has only recently occurred to me that they do not. They don’t know how.

Thirty years ago I did a presentation at a meeting of The New York Singing Teachers’ Association in which I said that voice science was going to become very important in the profession and that all singing teachers would need to learn basic voice science to be relevant in the 21st Century. Many of the older teachers in the room simply laughed at me, seeing me as being young and foolish. The other people who were closer in age to me were skeptical. Several said they hated voice science and would rather avoid it even if it were useful.

I also said that the profession was going to be forced to deal with music theater and other styles back when there was still only classical training at a college level. I said that it was going to be impossible to ignore our own styles of CCM because economics would be such that the schools would have to address them in order to keep their halls full.

Along the way, people made fun of my studies of voice science and the time I spent with voice scientists, especially since I wasn’t teaching primarily classical students. I didn’t care.

Now I preach about functional training. I say that the profession is going to have to grapple with the fact that voice training is about physical training and that not understanding how we make sound in various styles is going to make teachers look like dinosaurs. These days I say that we are finally going to accept that training has not to do with repertoire before it has to do with coordination of the physical process of making a sung sound. “Caro Mio Ben” and “An Die Musik” not withstanding as great songs, we don’t need foreign language art songs to teach you how to sing “Out Tonight” from Rent.

I don’t believe that in 100 years we are going to be teaching “classical” voice at colleges. I don’t believe that we will be seeing jazz students learning Italian art songs to “prove” they can sing correctly. I do believe that we will be seeing teachers of singing who teach correct function applied to various styles of singing and that they will know how to adjust for each individual student, singer or situation based on solid objective information.

I won’t live to see this (unless I come back in another body that wants to sing……..not sure about that) but I know we aren’t going to go backwards. If, for making these statements, and taking the actions that I have over the decades, that means I am to still be a punching bag of the frustrated, the foolish, the unknowing, the disconnected, the disenfranchised, and the disgruntled, so be it. I’m not the only one who has taken blows. Robert Edwin has been beaten up just like me, and other colleagues as well. We know what we know.

Commercial Theater, at least in the big cities of the USA, operates like a business because it is one. The idea that art should be done because it’s art does exist but only those who are either extremely rich or altruistic can support art that loses money. The rest of the world is looking for art that makes money. That doesn’t mean it is less artistic. That was always true, it probably will always be true, at least as long as we live in a capitalist society. The artists who care about the quality of their work but achieve  success often have the greatest influence, sometimes not just over their own work but in the world at large. Many creative people, artists all, have used their success to help the world politically or in a humanitarian manner.

Arguing about whether or not belting is harmful is like arguing about whether or not MacDonald’s double cheeseburgers are harmful. It is like arguing about whether or not you should be able to drink a 32 once Coke because it’s there and cheap or maybe just the same amount of water. What seems obvious to the people who work in the music business is that people belt. They have always belted. Many of them do just fine belting. They don’t sing art songs to stay healthy. The idea that they should do so would strike them as being laughable, even if the head of some voice department at some big university argued otherwise.

The discussions which are for the good of the profession are much bigger than that. They are about where we need to go now and in the future as a group. No one is asking questions that are large enough to steer the ship through uncharted waters……except a few “outside the box” folks.

If you had a magic wand, and could do something that would ultimately be for the good of the profession, what would it be? Why? What would happen if you got your wish? I have already asked and answered that question for myself. Now it’s your turn.

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2 thoughts on “"For the Good of the Profession"”

  1. Another in a long line of thought provoking posts! Unfortunately the people that most need their thoughts provoked will never read this. Keep spreading the word Jeanie, you KNOW you have a huge group of committed people supporting you on all sides.

    I’m doing my best to lead by example by using what I continue to learn from you. The success is astounding AND students keep spreading the word.

  2. I agree with Craig.
    In my area, I have always been known as “that rock guy who’s trying to teach choir.” So much so, that I no longer bring my groups to Festival. It just wasn’t working for me, or them. My groups have always performed such a wide variety of styles, it was a bit too much of a stretch for them to really achieve that overexaggerated, Michigan choral sound, and as a result, we often received IIs. However, a former private student of mine who studied with me for over two years, just earned the lead in Little Women as a sophomore! Perhaps, someday folks will start to notice.

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