The Profession of No Standards

In order to have standards, you have to have some kind of structure. You have to make up some guidelines and stick to them. Some people won’t like it, as they will balk at what they perceive to be restriction, others may find that the guidelines are too weak, and do not set a course that is stiff enough. If, however, there are no standards, no guidelines, no criteria at all, how does anyone make an assessment about what’s going on?

Singing teachers are not licensed. They are not monitored, they are not required to do or be anything special. Being a “professional singing teacher” is like being a professional ice cream taster, a nice job but who decides if you are any good? In a profession which has steadfastly refused for more than 200 years to organize or police its own practices in any significant manner, is it any wonder that there is so much chaos in the field? Under the guise of “the mystery of singing” so many looneys with ideas that came from places that Freud would have feared to tread, have plied their trade as “masters of singing” that is it a wonder, really, that the profession survived at all, or that any teacher of singing was ever taken seriously. I sometimes marvel that the really wonderful singers of our present time have learned to sing so well, given what a minefield learning to sing can easily be.

This week I encountered someone who was told by a teacher that she was singing in “a false voice”. Since the sound came from the woman’s throat, how could that be possible? Any sound you make is your sound, whether it sounds like your speaking voice or not. This comment goes into the Voice Teacher Jargon Phrasebook with other such pithy gems as “you are listening to yourself!!!”, “you must sing so that the sound goes beyond your cheekbones” and my all-time favorite, “spin the tone so it floats out of the back of your head”.

What if singing teachers actually agreed on some basics like: this is what chest register sounds like, this is what head register sounds like, this is what a bright vowel sounds like, this is what a dark vowel sounds like (sound familiar, my graduates?) These things can be heard and they are NOT arbitrary. What if we agreed that terminology ought to be based upon actual vocal function……would that be so bad?

And what if teachers actually had to take some kind of test to show that they knew enough about what is happening when someone sings that they could do something with that information to help the person? Seems like a good idea to me. So, why is there so much resistance to it? What’s the harm? (You know the answer…..that thing again…….FEAR).

So while an entire profession is willing to continue to bury its head so that no one will be “found out”, yet more students are lead down the garden path, thinking they are learning something, only to end up confused, lead off course, or worst of all, vocally damaged. This is supposed to be OK, but it is not. It will continue, however, until a large number of singing teachers has the courage to stand up and say stop, out loud, and in print. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

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One thought on “The Profession of No Standards”

  1. Its because the universities still concentrate on graduating classical vocal performance majors that become teachers because they cannot make it as performers- and the cycle continues. We that know that vocal pedagogy and performance, in all vocal styles, can’t advance until the standard at the university shifts toward vocal pedagogy education and research and not performance. Maybe we will begin to see authors of vocal pedagogy texts that know what they are talking about, and not just “preaching to the (classical) choir”. The lack of true, un-biases, vocal pedagogy texts is due to the generations of ignorance that, despite their university degree(s), do not have enough knowledge of vocal pedagogy to have question the way it has been taught for generations. I suspect that mostly they just do not care.

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