Substantial Versus Surface

Very occasionally, I encounter someone who “wants a few lessons” to (a) get a gig, (b) go to an audition, (c) get into college, (d) help with their high notes, (e) help with their “breath support” or (f) help them with their break.

I decline to work with such people. They think that they can fix functional issues in a few lessons but 99.9% of the time you can’t do that.

People who are content to be “pretty good” and want to get to their goal in a hurry are looking at the surface of singing without any desire to gain mastery of it at a substantial, deep level. Those people are not the kind of people I have in my studio. The people who come to work with me work on their voices every day, year in and year out, after having achieved career success, because they value their art and have something meaningful to say through it as they sing. This is not the vast majority of singers and it is not the vast majority of teachers of singing either.

Asking the why, how and what questions, probing for their answers whatever the topic, involves self-confrontation. It involves facing your flaws, foibles, weaknesses, hang-ups, neuroses, and lacks. It isn’t an easy direction to take and most people aren’t the least bit interested in such inner dialog. A real artist, however, knows well that in order to create lasting and profound works that touch the souls of those who come into contact with them, the artist has no choice but to plum his or her own inner labyrinth. Doing so is one scary journey and not one to be taken lightly, especially because it has to be walked alone.

Creativity comes out of self-exploration, self-discovery, and the release of pain, suffering, and finally the expression of joy and self- knowledge. It is not a substitute for skill, nor is it easily coalesced into a meaningful work without a form of some kind.

Anyone can sound nice. Anyone can hum a tune. Enjoying your voice as you use it in life is a wonderful gift. Feeling confident enough about your voice to think that others should hear it, and in fact should pay to hear it, requires more than thinking it is “nice”. You have to have a deep belief that you are really a very good singer who really wants to sing. If you ever get to do that, sing professionally, you will encounter others who will point out to you how your singing is not yet adequate and how to make it better. If you don’t deal with that, you could end up on the outside looking in. A serious vocal artist has to be willing to take constructive criticism, listen to others’ opinions, change how they do what they do and remain open without losing self-confidence. Not everyone can manage that.

The people who want to “dabble” in singing can do that, as there are many teachers who will give them “a few lessons” and make suggestions or offer advice. The teachers who are typically dealing with artists who have a deep and meaningful message to convey are aware that this kind of artist is always looking for external guidance, inner understanding and the balance between them. Fame has nothing whatsoever to do with these kinds of artists. Some are famous, some will never be, but they are the ones who are the most inspiring to teach, as they bring something with them that the other kind of students do not have to offer…….substance. The surface is only impressive to those who do not have the awareness to look deeply within.

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One thought on “Substantial Versus Surface”

  1. Fascinating post, as usual, Jeanie.
    Another type of folk who would fall into this discussion is the singer who had everything come easy to him for years, then ran into problems and now has to work (for the first time in his life) at crawling out of a bad place vocally. It is indeed a long-term committment. A lifelong process, like you mentioned in a post a few days ago.
    Jeff Costello

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