The 21st Century

This blog has addressed the changing atmosphere of teaching singing int he 21st century numerous times. It is slowly but surely moving towards changes that will be truly seismic once they are instituted.

The biggest and most significant change will be when college students are no longer required to learn “An Die Musik”,”Caro Mio Ben” or “Apres Un Rêve” in order to prove they are “well trained” and have “good technique” even if you have no interest in or desire to sing classical music.

Good technique is being able to sing whatever you want in whatever way you want all the time. Period. It has nothing to do with art songs or classical music. It isn’t about “good taste” it is about good function.

Learning about the great composers of the western world is a hugely valuable thing to do. Human beings need to know and appreciate the great classical music of the last 400 years. Learning about the composers and their works, however, has zero to do with learning to sing functionally. They are separate, now more than ever. As I frequently say, singing “Les Berceaux” will not help you one bit to sing “Out Tonight” from Rent.

Functional training is the same as any training for a physical skill. It is more like a sport or dance than not. Being musical, expressive, and singing in foreign languages are three separate things that may relate to functional training after the training has helped established healthy, reliable vocal behavior, but they are not interdependent.

If you want to play basketball and you go to learn how and the instructor says, first you have to be a good swimmer because that will develop your entire body and make you stronger, that might make sense but being stronger and more developed won’t make you good at basketball. Only playing basketball will make you better at playing basketball.

Currently, talented young singers take classical lessons and use them to figure out on their own how to adapt their sound to other styles. Some succeed and some don’t. This has been true for 50 years. Some teachers understand how to teach belt and mix because they have learned to sing in these qualities but some don’t sing in them or have not studied them and teach them anyway (that’s backed up by research published in the Journal of Voice in 2003 and 2006).

When we get to the place where students who want to sing Elton John songs can do so alongside of songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Jonathan Larson, then we will have crested this big wave and will be on the down side of its energy. We aren’t there yet but we are closer by a long way than we used to be.

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2 thoughts on “The 21st Century”

  1. The takeaway line for me? “It’s about good function.” I agree, yet would add (and this is my bias) that it is about good listening ability. Can the student change gears, that is, sing different repertoire, from classical to pop equally well. I have observed that it is possible, and must note that ‘those who can’ have superior listening ability. To put it another way: there are excellent mimics.

    Spot on post!

  2. Fantastic precis of what you have been preaching for decades, Jeanie!!

    Daniel, you are exatly right in that if one cannot hear the subtle differences and nuances of style from genre to genre, one will NEVER be able to successfully perform outside of their most comfortable place. One truly must experience the style in order to successfully and accurately perform it.


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