It’s Impossible

We can all agree that anyone with the money, time and desire can study an instrument. If there is a piano teacher available and I have a piano and am available to take lessons and practice what I am being taught, I can, in time, learn to play. If I am determined and I persevere, I can learn to play well, tackling difficult music of whatever style I like. I can develop the physical and mental skills necessary to read music and translate what I am reading to something outside myself in a consistent manner that others can also replicate. That does not mean, however, that I will be a brilliant artist, with depth and uniqueness, and an ability to communicate what I feel in the sounds the instrument I can play makes. It does not guarantee that I will be interesting to hear, compelling to watch, or memorable.

We all know that this is true of sports as well, and of any other activity in which physical training and coordination must be developed. You can learn to paint, draw, or sculpt, and you can create many artistic works but that doesn’t mean that you will be a significant artist, or that your work will be recognized as such by others. You can act or dance, or you can sing. The same things can be said about those disciplines as well.

There are limits, however, to what can and cannot be done and they are affected by “real world” factors such as natural disposition, time, age and training.

Here is a hypothetical situation: If you had unlimited time and started at an early age, there is no reason why a child couldn’t learn to play piano in several styles simultaneously. Training in classical music, jazz, and rock music would all be very different, not only in approach, but in skill development. Classical music requires finger dexterity, strength in the upper body and arms and hands, and fluidity of movement in the fingers, hands, wrists, and elbows. Jazz requires much the same physical skills but asks the mind to learn a different set of music rules. Rock music, on the other hand, requires a knowledge of some of the mindset of a jazz musician, but asks for a different energy in both the music and body. It isn’t impossible that all of these skills exist in one person. In fact, is it ever more possible, but to have them all exist in equal proportion, at the same time, would be extraordinary, as would having all three styles be of equal interest to the artist playing.

Let’s take another example: If you train a dancer from a young age to learn several different styles, (and this is done all the time), the body can learn to adapt to each of them equally as it grows. Dancers who grow up stretching their bodies become very flexible and strong and end up being able to execute maneuvers that even very flexible non-dancers could never manage. On the other hand, if a dancer grows up only doing ballet, she may not be as comfortable in other styles.

If we extend this to singers we must consider that those who have been trained to sing only classically, or only in one mode of classical vocal technique (a particular approach of one teacher), may not adapt to other styles easily, particularly if they do not sing them until they are adults. Theoretically, if the training in other styles had been given from childhood, and the person had unlimited time and was willing to practice, all styles could be assimilated along the way. This, too, happens, although it has been mostly a result of self-training until very recently.

Now, we go one notch further. I used to dance and used to be quite flexible, particularly when I was young. Now, however, I am no longer doing dance classes and do not stretch my muscles every day. If you asked me today to touch my toes without bending my knees, I could not do so. No matter how much I willed myself, my hamstrings and other muscles would not stretch enough to make touching my toes possible right now. Even if I used a great deal of will power, going past a certain place would be so painful and my muscles would be so resistant, that forcing myself could cause me to be very uncomfortable or perhaps even hurt myself. If, however, I stretch as far as I can every day for weeks, months and even years, even at my age, sooner or later, my toes are going to get reacquainted with my fingers.

If I am a student, and I am singing in a class, and I am doing my best to follow the instructions I have been given, and I am giving all that I have to my song, and my teacher tells me that I am “holding back” or “listening to myself”, what am I to do? If my body has not been trained to make a certain sound, or has been trained only to make a one kind of sound, can I will myself to do some other sound or get there just by trying harder? Can I make my voice go someplace it has never been just by pushing it there? No, of course not. It just isn’t possible. I don’t yet have those physical skills or mental concepts. I am not holding back, but my voice and body have limits I cannot overcome in that particular moment.

It is fair then to say that everyone is as capable of making every movement, every sound and experiencing every emotion as everyone else, as we are all human beings. The potential exists in us all. If I am able to learn how to approach different skills or disciplines while I am young, I could learn a number of different things and perhaps end up being good at all of them, or at least several, and so could other people. If, however, I have not been given that opportunity, and grow up just doing or knowing about one thing, and find that I want to do something else when I am older, I might find it more difficult to learn and assimilate it. I might find it so difficult that I would decide it wasn’t worth the effort. I might just give up. I might feel that it’s impossible.

Is that true, is it “reality” or is it a belief? Is such a situation physical limitation, mental limitation, or something else, like a limitation of time or money available?

I write all this because this week I once again heard from the “grapevine” that “some people can sing in lots of styles and some can’t”. My response (predictably) was “Oh, really?” Says who, says I. It all depends upon what you think is impossible.

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