In order to see a pattern, you have to look at it in a broad way. If you fly above a landscape, you can see the patterns of the rivers, trees, lakes and hills. On the ground, you can only see a short distance. There might be a river just over the hill, but you wouldn’t know it based on what you can see.
We live in a time of great unrest and turbulence. No one has a clear view of the future, of what is “right” for the most people, of what our steps towards the future should be. This is frightening for most of us. We look to political and religious leaders to guide us. We expect them to have more vision, more insight, more courage as leaders than we imagine ourselves to possess.
In order to get a perspective about singing, you have to see all kinds of singers in all kinds of places. You have to encounter singing in its many guises and you have to talk to the many people who sing and teach singing. Throughout my long career, I have been privileged to have this opportunity. It has allowed me to walk a path where no one else had been and where now many people can walk with some sense of purpose. In order to wager a guess about where we are going as a profession, in addition to spotting trends that are just arising, you also have to look at the things that have gone on in the past. It is necessary to see the biggest picture and spot the evolution of large groups of people who did similar things in years past and extrapolate from the present where we will go in the future.
Long ago I stood in front of the New York Singing Teachers’ Association and said that in years to come all singing teachers were going to have to deal with voice science. I was scoffed at by almost everyone in the room. At that time, singing teachers regarded voice scientists as aliens from some distant galaxy. I, of course, regarded them as angels of information, sent to rescue singers from fairy tales and boogie men. (Insert some loud throat clearing here.)
I also said that the profession was going to have to address the so-called “non-classical” styles in a serious way. That was met with derision and ridicule. I said that they were going to have to be respected and treated significantly. Very few other people thought this made sense (one exception was Robert Edwin, who has been out there preaching this message as long as I have), and made a point of saying so. Now, the fastest growing part of the academic world is in music theater and CCM styles. New universities open programs in this area every year. (Insert more loud throat clearing here.)
Now, I talk about the necessity for all teachers of singing to understand functional training and to be aware of vocal health issues in relation to CCM styles (all styles, actually). I talk about creating master’s and doctoral degrees in CCM in all sorts of ways (and this is happening in several places as I write). In the not too distant future, some brave person will create a doctoral program in music theater or blues or vocal jazz (there are doctorates in jazz, but they are instrumental in design). It is coming.
Young people are quite comfortable with technology. The tools of the future will allow any singer or singing teacher to see the voice on various machines and to use other technology to help achieve a desired vocal result or goal. What all this will not do, however, is cultivate artistry, nor will it help a vocalist find his or her truly personal sound. That work has to come from the heart, not the head, and there aren’t many people interested in searching for this who are also strongly invested in technology.
There are patterns involved in singing. Each style has its own patterns of expression. There are patterns involved in each singer. Each individual has his or her own vocal gestures and expressiveness. There are patterns that can only be seen from a distance, but without losing the fact that in each moment, the local events (the present as it happens) are important, too.
If you are a student, find someone who understands this to teach you. Don’t give up until you find such an individual to be your guide.