Occupational Training versus Cultural Sophistication

Is college vocal training supposed to be development of Cultural Sophistication or is it Occupational Training? Is it both?

I think most schools are confused about the direction of their vocal instruction courses.

If I were spending $250,000 for a four year college education, (that’s what it costs here), I would want to be able to get a job after I got out…right after I got out! Of course, I think that cultural awareness, as well as many other wonderful things that are supposed to be part of a “liberal arts” education are very important. We do need to know about the great composers and the times in which they lived, just as we need to know about the great writers, painters, sculptors, architects, and leaders of civilization, in order to be well-rounded individuals.


Students can learn about composers in a class on music literature, or vocal literature. The do not need to sing “O Del Mio Dolce Ardor” to become good vocalists. Vocal training based on function develops the voice to its fullest capacities, and is aimed at giving the vocalist the widest range of choices for his or her singing. That this has been associated with learning Italian, German, French and English art songs is happenstance. It doesn’t have to stay that way, but this idea is slow to die as an ingredient in training programs at schools and universities as well as in private studios. There is no benefit in singing “Caro Mio Ben” versus “Edelweiss” to a beginning singer, one works as well as the other in terms of application of technique to music, provided that the teacher knows how to make and teach the appropriate sounds necessary in either song.

Going back to the schools, aren’t “mock auditions” occupational training? Isn’t it also true that inviting agents in to see productions is about “getting a job”? Preparation for singers to go to job interviews (called auditions) for jobs (parts, roles, concerts and recordings) ought to be based upon a knowledge of what the job particulars will be. (Job description). If you apply for a position at a corporation as Chief Accountant, there would be specific skills that you would be expected to have. Why wouldn’t that also apply to a job in the music industry?

If the music business/industry (show business) knows what it wants, and it usually does, wouldn’t it be useful to have any vocal training program align with those requirements? Isn’t that, in fact, what the schools are doing when they hire “professionals” with life experience as performers to be faculty?

Why, then, don’t more schools have curriculum that reflect the standards and practices of the 2006 music industry, rather than those of 17th and 18th century European society’s musical tastes and expectations? How is it that certain “Doctors of Musical Arts” who teach “music theater” don’t even know how it sounds on Broadway right now? (Some do, a lot don’t). Why is there such an emphasis on “songs before 1968, 69, 70” in college auditions? What happened after that? It was that Rock music came to theater. Hmmmmmm.

In classical music there is tremendous emphasis on respecting the composer’s wishes. No one would think to “re-write” Puccini by changing the notes, rhythms, words or markings of “La Boheme”. Why shouldn’t the same be true of CCM? Shouldn’t the wishes of the composer be important? If a show was written to be sung by rock, pop, gospel, jazz or country vocalists, shouldn’t the performers in a student production be able to meet those requirements? Why is it considered unreasonable to have young people make those sounds? Because the teachers can’t make them and/or teach them, and because the teachers don’t like those vocal qualities, or those styles of music, and because the teachers are afraid of the sounds, thinking they are dangerous (which you would likely conclude if you couldn’t make them). Conversely, if the students are making those sounds, shouldn’t the people in charge (music directors, coaches, conductors, teachers) understand when the students are making them in a way that is incorrect (unhealthy)? Isn’t it, at the least, unfair, and at the worst, unethical, to send the students on stage to sing “Seussical” with no clue as to how they are doing, other than asking the student, “Do you feel OK?” Not good. Not good at all.

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