The Price Of Speaking Out

ARROGANT — I have been called arrogant. I don’t like that accusation, but I suppose it could be true. Certainly I do my best NOT to be arrogant, but I am pretty definite about my opinions and not very willing to change my mind about most of them, at least in terms of singing teachers and politics!

The most common occurance of this accusation is when I assert that classical singing training is not “one size fits all”. That costs me (and also my colleagues who think similarly) the most. Still, I find this such an odd label.

Here am I, singing decently at 57+, both classical and CCM, including belt songs and Handel, Mozart and Motown. Teaching hours and hours every day, singers in all kinds of styles from classical (yes, classical), music theater (on Broadway and not), jazz, folk, rock, gospel/R&B, and working with singers who have injured vocal folds, with children (professional and not), with people who have been recommended by my speech pathologist or medical colleagues, and with teachers of all ages and backgrounds. Here am I, who have had my vocal folds wired with electrodes, right straight through holes made in the outside of my neck, for the sake of science, who have been scoped and studied by all manner of doctors, and who have made myself my own guinea pig, trying out every single exercise before I ever gave it to a student, to make sure that it was safe to do. (I never ask anyone to make a sound I would not myself make, and make repeatedly, for any reason. )

This gives me enormous confidence, certainty, and courage, because I have been there and done that over and over. I know how it feels, both good and bad, and I have (in the past) trashed my voice a few times in exploring things. When I speak, I base what I say on more than 35 years of teaching (that’s 185,00 continuous hours of listening to people sing just in lessons, not counting recordings and concerts, or listening to myself). I have had plenty of time to see what helps people consistently and what doesn’t, what kinds of things work with what people and in what circumstances, and what don’t. No, it isn’t ever a guarantee, or a promise, and it isn’t always possible to ABSOLUTELY KNOW, but vocal problems do have some “typical” qualitities, and after a while, you see what they are and how they develop. Often, now, I can tell what kind of problem someone is dealing with and where the problem will show up, just by listening carefully to someone’s spoken description of the problems they have with their singing.

Is this arrogance or experience? Is this arrogance or knowledge? Is this arrogance or self-confidence? Should I make believe I don’t know what I know just to make myself look humble? Shouldn’t I say what I have experienced so that others who have not had the chance to garner the same experience might at least have the opportunity to consider the efficacy of what I am suggesting? (Not that they have to accept what I say, only try it out to see what happens when they do). In fact, isn’t this my moral obligation?

And, when the person accusing me of being arrogant hasn’t ever sung, or has only sung classical music, and may, in fact, not have been in a public performance for years, and maybe wasn’t all that great as a classical singer in the first place, and maybe hasn’t ever read even one voice science article about CCM, let alone done research, and hasn’t traveled the world listening to a wide variety of vocal music styles, and doesn’t like those styles, and isn’t capable of making any of the sounds of any kind of music except classsical……..who is such a person to call me, or anyone like me, arrogant?

When someone speaks with authority based upon long years of experience, study, investigation, practice, observation, experimentation, documentation, validation, and results produced, it is bound to be frightening to someone who does not have that same kind of background. And, if such a person says “you need to improve what you are doing, as it is not adequate to meet the needs of the situation at hand” I suppose it can be seen as an arrogant statement — as a threat. BUT, perhaps it is just an urgent plea, like when someone who is standing at the top of a tall building watching a big Tsunami approaching the shore is saying to someone on the beach, “I can see what’s coming and I am telling you, you have to change your position”. Such a statement would not be one of arrogance but rather an urgent plea and a warning to take care.

That’s me. I know that the music world is going to keep changing and that all styles of music are going to continue to influence each other. I know that voices will continue to be placed under great stress and that composers will continue to write things for the voice that take it where it did not go in Handel’s or Puccini’s music, or in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music, or even in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music. I know that vocal instruction has to be geared to function, and to style, and that is going to be more necessary in the future than even it is now. If saying this out loud, to whomever will listen, like the folks reading this blog, makes me arrogant, then I stand guilty as accused. I will be sorry, when I leave this earth, that this was a label I acquired, as I really do strive to see myself as just another ordinary person in every area of my life, but if it makes the process of getting accurate and excellent vocal training one tiny bit easier for young singers, then it will have been worth it.

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