The Mindset of Styles

Each style has its own group consensus about what it perceives itself to be. It has its own lingo, its own professionalism, its own protocol. The people who inhabit the world of a particular style develop a perspective about it and about how it relates to the outside musical world and the world at large that only they know. You can’t really comprehend  these mini-worlds if you do not inhabit them.

If you have been in opera, in jazz, in music theater, in rock, in alternative classical, or in folk music (to pick a few examples), you know what people admire and how they are regarded within your own arena and what that has to do with certain ineffable ingredients. True, there are unique, individual aspects to each performer within any given style, but if someone crosses out of their home base style and brings with them the wrong ingredients, they are not well received in the new club. They are not seen as “innovators” but as “imposters” or as “interlopers” who cannot be taken seriously, even if they are famous. Sometimes, they break through to a popular audience (as was the case with Andrea Bocelli, who was rejected by the classical world, mostly, but widely accepted by the public), or Rod Stewart, who made a good crossover into Standards, selling decently enough to put out a second CD even though the jazz world wasn’t so impressed. Ditto with Ms. Fleming’s various efforts at music theater, jazz and rock…….     : <

The only way to understand the importance of these “group mindsets” is to encounter them. If you are going to teach someone, you need to know what they are thinking about and what they want to accomplish with their singing. A jazz vocalist mostly thinks like an instrumentalist, because the training is largely instrumental and musicianship oriented. A music theater singer thinks in terms of emotional truth through a character in a role. A folk artist thinks about telling a story, sticking to a set form of chords and harmony and having good intonation. A classical artist thinks of beauty of tone, resonance, and, in the USA anyway, volume. We also think about languages here because we have to master so many of them. An alternative modern classical vocalist might be thinking of the music, or movement, or a certain kind of sound, or of the rhythm, or all of those in some kind of sequence. A rock singer might not be thinking of anything vocal at all except not getting hoarse at the end of the performance, because so much of rock is physically demanding.

If you do not understand these things and you take what you know and plop it on top of your student as if it didn’t matter, you are not doing them a service. That’s why functional training works with the physical machine before it addresses repertoire and why I strongly say that you should never teach what you yourself can’t sing.

There’s nothing worse than a classical singer turning a rock song into an opera aria because that’s all she can sing and she “likes the song”. Happens all the time. The audience might laugh behind her back, but the vocalist, who may just be making herself look ridiculous, could have no idea.

Enter into each world as a babe, with innocent eyes and ears, and learn from the masters there. It takes time, but you can learn the conventions and then use them to sing and, at some point, to teach. The only mindset to avoid is the one that says “all singing is the same” because “all technique is the same”. FUNCTION is function and remains consistent, but singing is variable and always will be. They are separate but united.

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