Stealing Words

Did you know that the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) decided years ago to take away a singing teacher’s legal right to use the words “rehabilitate” in relationship to singing training? That’s right. Unless you are a licensed speech language pathologist (SLP) you may not use the word “rehabilitate” in regard to your work with singers, and if you do, you can be sued by ASHA for practicing SLP without a license. How could this have happened?

NATS and ASHA had a meeting years ago with each group sending representatives and came up with this agreement. This is in spite of the fact that speech language pathology students get very little voice training as a part of a bachelors degree program and have to go out of their way to receive extra training in voice. An experienced, educated singing teacher, who has dealt with voice-related issues for years, even decades, is not considered able to deal with an injured voice in a rehabilitative manner, but a graduate of a four year college program, straight out of school, is? Something wrong there, I would say.

Further, when this “referendum” was passed, I doubt that the issue was presented to the NATS membership for a vote. I haven’t inquired, so this may not be correct. Since I have been an active member of NATS since 1980, and I don’t remember hearing about this, I suspect it went by very quietly, in any case. It seemed to me that is was a done deal before I ever heard that it was being considered.

AND, Speech Language Pathology is only about 50 years old as a formal profession. Before that, the only people who could help someone with a voice related issue were singing teachers, whose profession goes back to at least Manuel Garcia the elder, in the early 1800s, and perhaps before that.

The problem here is, of course, that SLPs were willing to organize themselves and their training into codified levels, and have clear expectations about what is required of those who apply for licensure. Singing teachers have steadfastly refused to agree on even the most basic qualifications for singing teachers, and this has allowed the sister discipline to outdistance and usurp singing teaching in many areas, not so much because SLPs know more about how to deal with voice issues (quite the contrary) but because they stepped up to the plate and held themselves accountable at least to each other.

If, in fact, we are to stand for healthy singing of any style, and if we who teach CCM are already able to agree on some components of what we hear and teach (which is a part of my method, Somatic Voicework(sm) — consistent and accurate use of terminology and evaluation of aural output), why can’t that become part of a profession-wide expectation? There are other criteria that can be established through research and, coupled with teaching competency, can be combined into a useful professional structure for testing and evaluation. Licensing may not be the first step in such a process, but it could emerge as basic qualifications were clarified over time.

If we do not do this, or something like it, we have laid down in the road and allowed the SLPs to ride over us with nary a quibble. We have allowed them to steal our words and make them forbidden to us and we have allowed their profession to be taken seriously as a science while ours is still locked in mystery-land.

If you belong to a NATS Chapter, or to an International Chapter of Teachers of Singing, please bring this topic up for discussion at your next meeting. Be prepared, however, for the shoes that will be thrown in your direction.

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One thought on “Stealing Words”

  1. Words are very powerful! If you look at history, words have been very instrumental in the actions taken throughout history. They can destroy, or create life. They can motivate or exhaust passion. Our tone, choice of words, listening, and other attributes to human connection are very powerful, and we truly should think of what we say before we help or hurt our surroundings.

    Brian Siegel

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