To continue writing about master teachers, as I did a few days ago, it is significant to realize how few teachers are masters. It assumes that the teacher knows music, performing, styles and vocal production. It assumes the teacher can determine the difference between what the student’s needs are and what their own needs were or had been.
There are all kinds of master teachers. There are those who can help a student discover their ability to communicate. There are those who can help a vocalist expand their capacity to sing with nuance and expressivity. There are teachers who can impart courage, or inspire precision. There are teachers who can fire up commitment to meaning or to uninhibited emotional freedom. These teachers all have one thing in common: they serve the needs of the student and the music. They do not have anything to prove nor are they interested in making themselves look good.
If an artist has a strong sense of him or herself and has lived a rich and satisfying life in their own artistry, they have much to give and little to lose. If an artist understands that he has had the courage and generosity it takes to sing, then he is free to give advice that goes underneath another person, providing support in whatever way it is most needed.
No one can get inside someone else’s mind. It has become remarkably clear to me in my forty one years of teaching that each singer lives in a world of her own. The inner landscape of music in each vocalist’s mind is unique. The music has so many dimensions, the possibilities are so vast, the combinations so limitless, there is no end to what can be created. Knowing how the singer is going to come up with her own version of a song, putting together a tapestry that is three dimensional is completely unpredictable. The singer’s intention, the singer’s desire, ability, capacity, fascination with all the varied ingredients cannot be known in advance, but the master teacher has to work with these ingredients anyway. Being able to adapt to the person at hand or to the song of that moment, is in itself a special skill but all master teachers have it in some way.
Would that most teachers of anything were masters, but that is rarely the case. In the arts it is even more rare in the school system, which of necessity must be aimed at the middle of the road student with few exceptions. In an elite school where students are chosen for above average aptitude, it is not also true that teachers of singing are chosen for above average aptitude in the ability to teach, although that is sometimes stated as a goal of those who do the hiring. That’s why a singer has to keep searching and searching, gathering information from all kinds of people and places, because it is nearly impossible to find just one person who can give you enough really useful guidance.
If you are a young singer, look for the best teacher you can find. Talk to people who sing, ask them how they learned to do what they do. Go to teacher conferences. Talk to teachers, watch their demonstrations. Read books and magazine articles about teachers. The only way to find the teachers who are the best ones for you is to really look, to really search. There are master teachers, and some of them are hidden….sometimes right under your nose.