Making It Fit, No Matter What

All of us who have been trained to sing, particularly in a university setting, were trained in some form of “classical pedagogy” because, until very very recently, that’s all there was. That classical training is very broad and uncodified is a topic I have addressed many times on this blog. Nevertheless, vocal training that was created hundreds of years ago to help people sing music written in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries may or may not have any useful bearing on rock, pop, jazz, folk, gospel, country or any other CCM style.

Still, I find over and over that those who have invested many years in learning German, French, Spanish, Russian, Italian and English art songs and numerous operatic, oratorio, and orchestral works are not, understandably, eager to just let that training sit on a bench while they examine other philosophies of vocal function and vocal training. It typically rankles those who have invested thousands of dollars and years of effort to be told that, now, they have to learn something brand new. The most common reaction is simply to add on the new ideas to the old ones, even if you have to bend the new ideas into an unrecognizable shape to do so.

It is for this reason that we are now hearing about “resonance strategies” and “formant tuning”. These are 21st century words to substitute for “placement” and “forward resonance”, which are rapidly becoming dinosaur descriptors. The new words deal with the exact same concepts, however, with scientists talking about how a certain tenor or mezzo will “move the second harmonic to come closer to the second formant”, as if that were something deliberate.

You will also hear people talking about “appoggia” in terms of breathing, as if this set of physical behaviors was a universal behavior that all singers should know. Do you think Kate Smith (who was an amazing vocalist) thought about using appoggia when she sang “God Bless America” and belted out that last “home”?

You will find teachers talking about belting as if it sourced out of classical singing. Since one of the roots of belting was the singing of slaves in their homeland and then later, here, in the USA, in the fields while they picked cotton, do these teachers think the singers were thinking of “masque resonance” or did they just find a sound that allowed them to be heard by their colleagues without wearing out their voices?

Why is it that we insist (and insist and insist) that CCM vocal pedagogy has to fit into classical pedagogy in order to give it validity? Why? It doesn’t need classical anything to be valid. It has validity on its own because it does.

Folk art and modern/pop art finally came into their own in the last 50 years. We have museums for modern art and for folk art here in New York City. Folk art is found in many cultures and is created by artisans who do not necessarily have formal training. It can be passed down from one person or one generation to another as tradition or developed as a form of self expression. Pop art, particularly as created by Andy Warhol and his contemporaries, was originally denigrated. Now, it’s worth millions of dollars and is found all over the world in collections of both private individuals and museums.

I don’t know enough about art schools to say whether or not you can go to school to get a degree in “folk art” but I assume you can study it to know about it. I also assume that curators are no longer saying that Lichtenstein’s and Calder’s are trivial works that do not belong in museums. In examining these works they do not hold them up alongside the Rembrandt’s and the Van Gogh’s to say that they are not as good, only to say that they are different.

We do not need to make CCM vocal pedagogy fit into a classical mold. Doing so causes problems and muddies the water. We need to pay attention to things like language (how we explain things), accuracy of terminology (basing things, as much as possible, on voice science), how we work with a singer’s individual physical and vocal behavior (both learned patterns and unconscious responses).  We need to distinguish between what people need to do in order to sing music the way the music was (or is) meant to be sung and what they would do if they could sing in the way which was best for their own vocal well being and artistic authenticity. These are different things.

Enough. Let CCM styles alone. Leave the pedagogy developed to address CCM styles alone, letting it be whatever it is without negative judgement or need for justification. Enough.

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2 thoughts on “Making It Fit, No Matter What”

  1. Best yet! I find formant tuning and all that interesting, but have no clue how to intentionallly will the VF and VT to change configuration to do such a thing. Classical is great, CCM is great. They can easily stand alone. We wait the day when CCM isn’t forced into a classical box. Vive la difference!

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