When I taught last April in Chicago, a group of four classical singing teachers attended and on the second day they informed me that the course was “beneath them”. They understood everything in the course already, they told me, and that it should be only for beginners. This was based on the idea that they had heard about “chest and head” for years and what was the big deal with that, anyway?
I’ve run into this before. A quick glance, a decision based on a surface evaluation, and then, a dismissal. I’ve had people come in for one or two lessons and then say, “well, I’ve figured out what this woman has to offer, ” and then walk away. I know a Professor at a very famous music conservatory who sat in my studio for an entire day, furiously writing down every exercise I did. I have had some of her former students since then. She got the exercises all wrong, but that happens frequently. This woman, like many others, never bothered to clarify if she had understood what I was doing and why, or when to apply one exercise versus another. She never had the interest to take a lesson herself or wonder why any of the exercises were necessary in the first place. She got her “few points” and ran away. Of course, she had a Doctoral Degree in classical literature and was teaching students in music theater to belt. Right.
I find this fascinating. Since I have many elite professional singers who have studied with me for 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years, how is it that they haven’t decided that they don’t need any further training? Wouldn’t they, by now, have gotten past the basics? Wouldn’t they have understood what it is I teach?
Registration (the various vocal registers) result due to changes in the behavior of the vocal folds. Balanced registration is the basis for “appropriate” sound in both classical and CCM styles and it makes correct resonance not only possible, it allows it to show up almost without effort. Register balance not only allows the larynx to rest in a comfortable, steady but flexible adjustment, it allows the vowel sounds to be undistorted and the management of the breath and body to be a natural expression. If you think that “chest register” (or whichever of the many other terms to describe this same thing you like best), is just about low notes, or loud sounds in your lowest range, you absolutely do not understand its function. Register balance allows you to expose technical problems and their location in the throat and body. How? How indeed! Maybe it might take a bit more probing to understand that a surface glance isn’t nearly enough.
In fact, misunderstanding registration is the single biggest blind spot classical singers have. Because of that, they struggle to get the “placement” right, and to get the “breath support” right, without bothering to get the source of the sound situated in such a way as to make both possible in equal measure with little muscular struggle.
Somatic Voicework™ is simple but it is not simplistic. It is accessible but it is not a quick fix. It is based on the body’s function (it needs to breathe in and out as easily as possible) and the throat’s responses to stress, (the fight/flight mechanism) but it is not a series of manipulations you need to do while singing. It’s only “beneath” the people for whom singing is, itself, a surface activity, and who regard singing as something you have to manufacture, not something that arises out of your heart. It is only “too simple” for those who are, themselves, unable to plumb the depths of human expression in the human voice. Those singers don’t get what I do because, in fact, it is over their heads. Or maybe I should say, under their feet, as in “beneath their ability to perceive.”
I once heard a singing teacher say that Leontyne Price, one of the greatest classical sopranos of all time, couldn’t sing. I heard another one say that Dietrich Fischer-Diskau was boring. I have heard others say that Puccini is a hack composer. These are people who consider themselves experts, although I wonder how they decided they deserved to give themselves that designation. My opinion of them is probably best if I don’t mention it here.
No matter who is teaching you, or what they are teaching, if you cannot look below the surface to the long-term value of what is being offered, you are a poor student. No one can decide after a day or two that they have figured out a person, a methodology or an approach to anything. You can’t really even do that after 5 months or two years. The process deepens only if you allow it to.
Be careful what you say. Sometimes it backfires and just makes you look like someone who is clueless.