Do you think that a Wagnarian sorpano is an expert at teaching or singing in a belt vocal quality? Do you think that being a vocal coach at the Met automatically gives you great skill at describing and teaching belting? Do you think that a tenor who is an expert at voice science but has no high notes and terrible vocal production is someone who possesses the ability to teach belting, a vocal experience he has never had?
I hope not. Unfortunately, I can tell you, that each of the individuals described above do think so. YEP. Promise.
Why not? After all, it’s just belting. You know, that loud, yelly sound that they do on Broadway and in rock songs. You know, that ugly sound that real singers hate. You know, the sound that uneducated unsophisticated singers have to use now and then.
Of course, if I, on the other hand, were to teach Wagnerian sopranos, because, it’s “just Wagner”, after all, even though I know very little about that literature, what harm would be done? I realize that the sounds have to be big and loud to carry over Wagner’s heavy orchestrations. I understand that you have to convey the music dramatically so the audience doesn’t fall asleep. I know enough about pronouncing German to realize if the words are sung appropriately. That’s enough. I’d be just fine. In fact, I assume I would be terrific or better than that, even.
Recently someone sent me a link to a “master teacher” who was clearly American, teaching in Switzerland, about “bel canto”. She had a bowl full of raw and hard boiled eggs. She actually put a hard boiled egg inside some poor singer’s mouth (after telling her that the inside of her mouth was “very small”) and then proceeded to talk and talk, while the unfortunate woman held the egg in her mouth, about “loosening the plates in your skull”. She did this in a New York nasal speaking voice and when one of the other participants commented about using her chest voice, the teacher said, “oh no, there is no such thing”, except in the teacher’s speech, which, obviously didn’t count since she didn’t realize she herself was using it.
How about being told that belting happens when “the column stands as witness, but doesn’t participate in the sound” (from the Met coach, I think). How about “dropping the diaphragm” to “clip the consonants”? How about “opening the lower chamber in the back” as ways to be a better belter?
What about the people that write biographies that actually think they know more about the singer than the singer herself? What about the idea that Ethel Merman and Barbra Steisand were not belters (although THEY thought they were and said so)? Do the biographers suppose the vocalists, with major careers, were so stupid as to not recognize what kind of singers they were? YEP. Promise.
What about the idea that people singing R&B material, in Germany, in front of German agents, were told they could not sustain a vocal line, and were, therefore, poor vocalists. How about the German agents didn’t realize that melismas are part of R&B style and that not having them indicates you can’t sing the style? How about they never bothered to find out what the style was or how it works? YEP. Promise.
For every person who has the integrity to tell the truth and say, “I don’t know about this topic, therefore, I won’t teach it or talk about it until I do”, there are a dozen who go ahead and teach or write about what they think they know with impunity, since, either they need the job and the money, or they could care less about whether or not the singer actually learns something healthy and useful, or they don’t know there is something to know. I can’t say which is worse but I know that all three attitudes are alive and well out there and that they will be until people who know better stand up, speak out, and stop the nonsense.
Are you one of them?