Recently, I was called upon to give a talk to an mixed audience of teachers (new and experienced), classical and not, speech language pathologists, students (all ages), and interested amateurs. During the breaks of the seminar I again encountered people who came to me to say, “I’m so glad you are saying these things. This is my experience exactly!” Meaning, they related to what I was saying, in several ways. In fact, two young women (early 20s) sat with me at lunch and explained how they had been told never to sing anything but classical repertoire even though that was not their primary interest because it would “ruin their voices”. I was told that too, nearly 50 years ago. What profession has not progressed in 50 years? That of teaching people to sing.
Although there is far less prejudice than there was decades ago, it certainly is not gone and it isn’t hard to find someone who is being told that classical vocal training will prepare you to sing anything in spite of the very clear evidence that there are vocal fold, airflow and acoustic differences between classical and CCM styles in research done by many people on many different subjects. It’s as if they insist the world is flat because that’s how it always has been and it’s so because they were told it was so.
As to “ruin your voice”, that’s nonsense. It might interfere with your technique, especially if you are going to sing various styles, so you have to know what you are doing when you change gears, but it won’t “ruin” anything. You can easily ruin your ability to sing by studying with a teacher of classical music who has no clue about vocal production, and believe me, there are lots of them out there.
There persists, too, the idea that you “just warm up” and then you can sing any kind of repertoire. If you are getting ready for a performance, you do a few scales and arpeggios, then you work on the song and hope that it sounds OK. That idea is found quite a bit in choral groups. The extent of the technical work is “use support”, “open your mouth”, “pronounce the consonants” and “don’t go flat” (think “high” on the pitch). It is, I suppose, better than nothing, but it is mostly useless insofar as getting a person to sing outside their own vocal habits, whatever they may be.
Talented people always find ways to learn what they need to. They dig until they get what they were seeking. Talented people who can sing and want to be singers will somehow or other find a way. That they do doesn’t always have to do with training, in fact, it can happen without any training or with very little. The people who are interested but only moderately able, however, need genuine help to improve. They need guidance and encouragement and appropriate repertoire. They need teaching.
The people who can barely sing can learn, as long as the teacher thinks of the training as “special needs” and is incredibly patient, supportive and clear. Not everyone is cut out for that, but it should be that there are special needs singing classes for teachers. There are none, as far as I know.
And, there is no research that compares the vocal health (long-term) of working opera singers with that of working CCM singers, and that would be a welcome study. There are no books of “graded belt songs” for students who are fledgling belters. There are no studies on the evolution of American CCM styles insofar as their development decade by decade in relationship to the expansion of other media. By that I mean, in the 1920s when amplification came along, singing changed. When the movies came along, it changed again. When radio came along, it changed again. During the war, it changed. When television was available in the average home, it made a big change. Meanwhile, classical music was going through some stages of its own. Now, in this present climate, the line between styles continues to blur and what was “hard to hear” in the 70s seems not so jarring now. Our ears have gotten used to all manner of music. Surely there is an enormous area here for scholarly research of all kinds, as well as scientific investigation. It would be great to have something to draw upon for further intellectual comprehension.
I teach from over 41 years of life experience working with all kinds of people in all kinds of styles. I have all that to draw upon and, really, sometimes think I have seen and heard it all. This kind of life experience isn’t very common and it would be great if I wasn’t in a situation where I can only pass on what I’ve observed and learned through my own years as a teachers in small dribs and drabs. I am repeatedly asked for a book, but you can’t learn to teach singing or to sing from a book. Nevertheless, one of these days, maybe I will attempt one. Meanwhile, we need more resources. Young people, are you listening???