Inherent Conflicts

No matter how you approach singing training, sooner or later you will bump into the inherent conflicts that arise. There issue of balancing one thing against another is dealt with beautifully in William Vennard’s book, Singing: The Mechanism and the Technic published in 1967 by University of California press. This is my favorite vocal pedagogy text. Mr. Vennard taught Marilyn Horne, Carole Vaness and Dr. Tom Cleveland and was an early researcher, with Bell Labs, on the voice. The book is written, as were all of them at that time, for classical singers but much of what he presents applies to the use of the singing voice in a universal manner.

What kind Of Inherent Conflicts Are There?

First and foremost you must balance freedom against strength, or beauty against power. Then, you must balance uniformity against variability. After that, you must balance the ability to do one thing against it’s functional opposite, like going from forte to piano or vice versa. If you try to approach both aspects of a conflict at the same time you can end up making things worse, exaggerating the polarities and making them more antagonistic. If you zigzag the various components, however, over time the brain will figure out how to find a balance between them.

There are inherent conflicts that arise. You must balance guiding the student into areas he or she is discovering for the first time, against taking her so far away from her home base as to have her get really lost.  You must be willing to let the student figure things out on his own without rescuing him but also give help and support as needed. You must give guidelines about what is expected in lessons, classes, repertoire and performance but you must remain open, creative and adjustable in how all that is presented. You must be good to your student as a student, meeting his needs as best you can, and also be good to yourself, taking care of your own needs as they arise.

Broad Conflicts Versus In-The-Moment Ones

The inherent conflicts can become broader. If the student is already out in the world performing  as a vocalist, sometimes you have to help the singer balance professional demands against what is best for long-term vocal health. You must help the vocalist keep growing both vocally and artistically without sacrificing the core character of the voice as the singer wishes it to be. You must develop a relationship with the singer that is trusting and open but not be invasive or expect to control their choices.

Along the way other things can get in the way of smooth, harmonious vocal progress. You can spend too much time on one thing in a lesson or semester and not enough time on another. You can give the student too much information or not enough. The student can present you with issues you did not expect to have that must be addressed right away or you may be working on a long-term goal that suddenly no longer fits for reasons you couldn’t have anticipated.

In short, studying singing is a lot like studying anything, including how to raise a child, or coach a football team or take yourself to someplace new. The inherent conflicts will be there, you can’t avoid them, but if you realize that they are necessary and often very helpful once you work them out, you can allow them to arise without resistance, and that, over time will make them dissolve.

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