Over the last 100+ years, music has changed an enormous amount. What someone would have heard in 1912 bears very little resemblance to what he would hear in 2012. Going back even further, what someone would have heard in 1712 is enormously different than what we hear today.
Yes, music has definitely changed. What about the larynx? Think maybe it has evolved some new behaviors or responses in the last three hundred years? Do we have many many singers who routinely sing 7 octaves or who can sing at 120 dB? Do we have lots of people who can sing off the low end or high end of the piano on a regular basis?
Seems like the things we do with the vocal folds now are probably closer to, rather than farther away from, what we did in times past. The one thing that might be more variable is the vocal quality being used by a singer. That has changed quite a bit and is reflective of what has gone on in the music business.
So, how do you put these two things together effectively? Do you decide that you can do “wild and crazy things” with your vocal folds because you are “far out and cool” (or whatever today’s version of those words would be. Sorry, I’m old.) Do you decide that you can make sounds that no one else has ever made because you have vocal folds unlike those of anyone else on earth? Some people act as if they believe that’s true. It’s much more likely that you will encounter health issues in your vocal folds if you don’t know what they do and how to produce sound efficiently. Do you bury your head and say, “I will only do what was done in 1875 or 1929, because that’s what’s right. My teacher told me to so it has to be true.”
Young people, in particular, may not have any interest in or experience with traditional vocal pedagogy. Reading the books and articles published by experts ought to inform us, but many do not read at all. Some few have read a bare minimum of the giants in the field, and their lack of knowledge about the field always shows. Singing experts such as Garcia, Lamperti, Bunch Dayme, Miller, Vennard, Reid, Brown and speech experts such as Berry, Turner, Linklater, Fitzmaurice, Houseman, Melton, Rubin and speech pathologists such as Boone, Verdolini, Murry, Behlau, and medical specialists such as Brewer, Gould, von Laden, Brodnitz, Grabscheid, Sataloff, Leanderson, Woo, Korovin, Zeitels, and those who do pure science, like Sundberg, Hirano, Titze, Scherer, Ternstrom, Howard, and many, many others provide everyone with a broad base of knowledge that effects clear thinking regarding the behavior of the larynx and the acoustics of the singing voice. Since several of these people were my mentors, informally, and a few were my teachers, formally, and the ones who have lived in recent times were my colleagues, I have been blessed to have them in my life. As a person with a keen interest in the voice, I am humbled that this is so.
It is not my experience that human physiology has changed in any meaningful way, except maybe that we in the West are generally larger in frame than we were 150 years ago, nor is it so that the acoustics have changed much either. What has changed is the music and the demands it makes on the vocalists which are much greater than they were years ago and are not likely to decrease.
Whether or not it is intelligent, useful, healthy, or even good to sing in ways that our forebears never dreamed of, is a discussion that might be intellectually stimulating but is nevertheless useless when it comes to the marketplace. Just as extreme sports might be highly dangerous they are also very exciting and are more accepted than ever before. If there were to be an injunction again them, they would not go away, they would just go underground. There will always be people who are excited by testing their own limits whether it be by climbing Mt. Everest for the first time or going to Antarctica for the first time, running a mile in less than 4 minutes for the first time, or jumping from the outer limits of the atmosphere, higher than has ever been done before by another human being. There will be the people who push all of our limits by pushing their own.
Teachers of singing, then, as well as researchers, speech experts (both pathologists and trainers), medical doctors and performers need to know what’s going on in the world of the music marketplace. Not to address what is happening in the musical world while working with singers is folly — one that puts the health of the vocalist at even more risk than is necessary. While the larynx remains the larynx, music is ever shifting. It’s up to you to know the difference.