The Great Divide

Surely, some classical vocal training really allows a person to delve into the voice in all its aspects. It incorporates a good, solid knowledge of how the body should look and feel, and it encourages the vocalist to investigate every type of vocal quality and sound.

BUT

I had 8 voice teachers, 8 opera/art song coaches, and have also had countless encounters with other singers and teachers. I am in New York City for 31 years now. I am a Past President of an organization teachers of singing and member of two others. I have traveled the world dealing with singing teachers for more than 20 years. I have found that these teachers are very, very rare. The brave souls who are willing to work with any and all styles of music, with doctors and speech pathologists, with skilled and novice singers, with speakers, with the physically challenged and the gifted, are like rare tropical flowers, and just as hard to locate.

I always ask, if classical vocal training is good for every kind of vocal sound, why don’t opera singers get hired to sing in Rent, or Hairspray or Suessical, sounding like opera singers? Is everyone completely deaf? Don’t they know the difference between the sounds of a classical singer and a pop/rock singer? Have they no common sense?

And isn’t it the responsibility of all voice teachers to know more than their students about what they are teaching? Isn’t that what a teacher is, an expert? How do all the strictly classical teachers presume to teach rock or jazz vocal development when they have never made those sounds, don’t understand how they are produced, and couldn’t correct them if they were wrong. Saying “the students know how to sing these sounds” is just plain stupid. If the students really did know what they were doing there wouldn’t be so many of them getting into trouble after they get out of school.

It is disgraceful to think that an entire generation of singing teachers is parked in university positions with no clue as to why what they THINK they know is dangerous. It is also foolish to think that the hearts and minds of the young people whose voices are being pushed and pressed into singing music they cannot handle aren’t also involved. How many tears have been shed in my studio while I try to repair voices distorted into pitiful condition! Yes, the vocal folds may be functioning normally, (although sometimes they are not) but what about the rest of the instrument? Vocal folds don’t operate in isolation! Huge vibratos, squeezed throats, tight tongues, rigid necks, all caused by singing CCM material (mostly belt songs) without any idea of how to do that correctly. Even if the student realizes something is wrong, where can they turn for help? To the same teachers who caused the problem in the first place?

The profession will continue to be divided until these singing teachers realize that their skills are, indeed, limited. Even if some students do manage to translate basic vocal skills like good posture and breathing into usuable vocal production, that is because the STUDENT figures out how to apply those skills on his or her own. The teacher just sits back and watches.

We are far apart on this topic, like the walls of the Grand Canyon. It is the Great Divide, and it needs to end, but I do not see this happening soon.

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