Many times I have written here about what I encounter out in the world as I travel and teach. Each time I bump into disaster, it is just as unnerving as the first experience.
I recently had a master class for high school students singing music theater material. Three of the young women did traditional songs but were completely unable to sing with anything that resembled normal sound. They were stuck, vocally and physically, in a stiff, pressured, hooty, unpleasant tone that had nothing whatsoever to do with musical expression or even with being human. They looked and sounded like robots trying to sing like owls.
These were bright eager young women and were easy to work with when it came time for me to do so. They made significant changes in less than 15 minutes, so it was impossible to assume they were at fault. Since at least two of the three had the same weird vocal production, I had to conclude they were studying with the same teacher. I didn’t ask, but the coincidence would be unlikely. The other students mostly sang well and were ready to take performance direction, although at least one of the students who sang well could not make even the simplest change in her delivery of the song from a physical standpoint. She couldn’t even move one arm in a deliberate manner.
While I was watching these high schoolers struggle, I thought about the time spent (anywhere from one to two years by their own reckoning) and the money. In just one or two years from now they could be auditioning to enter college music programs, but surely would not be getting admitted, and would perhaps be wondering why.
If you are not musical and your child wants to take singing lessons with the local teacher in your town, go find someone who sings to listen to your child’s lessons and get an opinion. If they tell you the kid doesn’t “sound right”, stop the lessons right away! If you can’t find someone who sings and is experienced in public performance, look on line until you find the largest music school near you or the most well known performance venue and try to get your child to sing for anyone associated with either group. If it looks bad and sounds bad, it IS bad. Don’t let some singing teacher convince you or your child that sounding bad is necessary in order to learn “correct singing technique”.
The teachers of these students were free to attend the master class I did, but they did not. I find this is typically the case. The people who think they are just fine and don’t want to hear what someone from New York has to say are legion. Even if I am wrong, why they aren’t at least curious to see what I am teaching is a mystery. When I lived in Connecticut as a student, if someone from New York came to my town to talk about singing or perform for us in school, I was there no matter what it took. It amazes me that I am brought to a university, a conservatory, a music school, a professional organization as an expert in CCM repertoire from New York City, with life experience working with professionals at the highest level of the business, but people boycott what I am doing on purpose. Why? To prove they don’t need to be there?
I have attended many master classes of the great artists. I have been to lectures, interviews, workshops and classes, throughout my career as a teacher, simply to learn from the great artists, scholars and teachers. I want to continue to learn, so I continue to go. I just saw the great Marilyn Horne last weekend.
The teachers who know nothing, charge money for teaching that nothing, and end up making sweet young vocalists (or even older vocalists who want to learn for fun) sounding and looking like beings from another planet are just awful. I can’t make them go away or make them stop what they are doing but I can surely write about them and protest what they do and I intend to keep on doing just that, every chance I get.
It is never true that you need to make a sound that takes you away from sounding like yourself and being who you are. If you sing any style of music, including classical repertoire, and people who know you don’t recognize your voice in less than three seconds, something is drastically wrong with your vocal production. If all you do is make some kind of sound because a teacher told you to, and then you teach that same thing to another person, STOP! Do the vocal world a favor and just
S T O P !