Too Much Trouble

We all have busy lives. Some people have lives that are so busy, they don’t get much sleep. They are pressed from morning till late at night with all manner of busy-ness.

I am one of those people. I am the first to admit that I am very bad manager of my own time and energy. I always think I have more time than I actually have, and because I am interested in so many things, I am easily distracted and can find myself swimming in more than one project at a time. I am the kind of person who starts a new book before finishing the old one. Bad habits all.

Nevertheless, somehow I mostly get things done. I have given up sleep, neglected having a glamorous hairstyle, stopped much attention to my diet, etc., in order to keep going. Since I am and always have been self-employed, no one is forcing me to write (here or anywhere else), to publish, to do research (which I pay for out of my own pocket), to travel (mostly that is a money-losing endeavor), or to attend conferences (which I pay for). I could just stay home, teach private singing lessons, and have a much easier life. I could see my wonderful husband more, spend more time with my friends (who are very patient with me and my life), and maybe take better care of myself overall. I am always striving to change this equation so that it is in better balance, but I don’t do very well. I take full responsibility for these behaviors, knowing they are not optimal, and I work always to keep being better at staying in balance.

One thing I have not let go of, however, in spite of constant reasons why I could, is my commitment to my own singing. I find a way to keep working on repertoire and on vocal technique. Sometimes it is the last thing I want to do. I absolutely would rather do almost anything else than practice, but I make myself sing.

What used to be easy and effortless now takes dedicated work. My throat and my body don’t do what they used to do when I was 30 or 40 or 50, unless I spend the time. If I work at it, eventually everything that was there is still there, but I can take nothing now for granted. If I want to sing, I must make myself sing, even when I would rather watch TV or sleep late. No one cares if I sing or not. Once in a while I am asked to perform (as I did in December of 2011) in public at a concert or at a wedding, but other than that, the only people besides me who hear my voice are my students in lessons and my husband. Why not quit? Why not just say, “It’s too much trouble, now, and I would rather give up and let others do the singing?”

There are many answers to this question, but the one that drives me is that I feel an obligation to myself to sing until I absolutely cannot do so in a way that sounds acceptable. I am not willing to let my singing go downhill without a fight because singing has been the one constant in my life. It has been my joy, my terror, my inspiration, my despair, my comfort, my torment, my teacher and my research subject. It has been there with me through all the stages of my life. To lose singing would be to lose the closest friend I have had, the most ardent companion, the dearest and deepest part of my artistic heart. I’m not ready to say, “I just don’t care any more,” and I hope I never get to that place.

Unfortunately, however, I know many singing teachers who have said exactly that. I know a great many teachers who are younger than I who gave up on their own singing a long time ago. It gets short shrift in their lives. They rarely practice. They never perform. They do not have any real interest in keeping their technical skills at a high level. They do not really care how they sound to their students. They can’t really be bothered with singing, perhaps because they had performing careers that are now over and they feel that without a performing career it isn’t worth the effort. Perhaps they feel sad that they are no longer hired as vocalists. Perhaps they never really loved singing in the first place — they just took up singing because they thought it was easy or they had had some exposure to it in the early part of their lives. Perhaps they are just too tired. I even know one singing teacher who never sings at all for any reason and hasn’t for years. What a pity and how very peculiar!

Nevertheless, whatever their reasons may be, that there are quite a few teachers of singing who do not sing any more always surprises me. If you, as a teacher, do not have the motivation to keep your own voice going in the best way that you can, how can you serve as a role model for your students? What are they to glean from your attitude about the other things you are teaching them? If your voice isn’t doing what it should and you cannot fix it yourself, why wouldn’t you seek the help of others? If you think that you cannot overcome whatever is going on, and you are healthy in both voice and body, then you need new information. As long as you are willing to put in the time, things will get better. In fact, even if you have a voice that has been impaired for any reason, you can sometimes learn to compensate so well that no one will ever know but you that this was the case.

If singing decently is too much trouble for you, you need to take a look at why this should be the case. You need to step up to the plate and deal with yourself and your voice, for the sake of your students if for no other reason. If you choose to stop singing while you are still teaching, you should understand that a great portion of what a student learns from you is found by hearing you sing, not just talking about singing. This should make you ponder whether or not you should be teaching at all. A serious contemplation indeed.

If singing for yourself is too much trouble, perhaps the trouble is not with the singing at all.

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4 thoughts on “Too Much Trouble”

  1. Jeannette,
    Amen and Amen! Fantastic post. I, myself, am 62, and a teacher of singing at the university level for almost 40 years. Not as much performing anymore, at least not the “big gigs” with symphonies and such – mostly faculty recitals, university concerts, and “specials” at church. BUT, I “practice” every day. I don’t like to even call it “practice.” It’s simply something I do because I have to, want to, LOVE to. I’m constantly singing – in the car hither and yon, around the house (sometimes to the chagrin of my beloved wife), in the studio, with or without students present, sometimes even in the hallowed halls of the music building – that turns a few heads. Aside from all the things that singing does for me, I believe I simply owe it to my students to set the pace and the example. It’s that “walk the walk” thing that Daniel Shigo included in his “Letter to LoVetri.” It’s my professional duty, but also a “labor of love.” Thanks again, Jeannette, for this latest and for ALL your posts, and thank you Daniel S. for your comment and blog. -Roger Bryant

  2. Fabulous, Jeanie. As someone who was a coach for a long time but “stunted” as a singer until my 40s, it is inspiring to read what you have to say. I totally missed the boat on a real singing career, but feel it is necessary to study, practice, and sing for as long as I’m able. You have articulated so well what makes sense to me in a gut-level way. And on a practical level, I know it helps my students to be able to demonstrate nine ways to Sunday!

  3. This so resonates with me. I no longer sing in public (I will soon be 58), but I still work on my voice and practise piano every day, even if I can only manage 15 minutes, and I still make occasional recordings of French artsong, which I illustrate with video and put up on YouTube. I sing around the house all the time, and I’m constantly finding new repertoire to learn. I have sung since the age of four and cannot imagine life without singing.

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