Willingness To Do The Work

Some people are simply not willing to work on their own singing even though they teach. They are not willing to put in the time and effort to confront their ability to make music from their throats and bodies. They do not want to stick with the process to own what happens as they are in the midst of it, but they feel just fine teaching other people to do what they themselves won’t do. I have a problem with that.

I have encountered quite a few people who are “vocal whiz kids” who have read every voice book, every science book, every pedagogy article and who can quote many of them from memory. They are lousy singers, though, and you have to wonder why. Sometimes there is an emotional reason about their singing that they cannot or will not face. Sometimes, there was a technical problem that was never solved and, unfortunately, that forced the person to stop singing. If, however, there was no biological reason to stop, what is the excuse?

If you teach a physical skill and you do not own that skill yourself, you are not a good role model. In fact, if your singing is poor, you may be a terrible role model. Since much of singing has to do with hearing something, if you are a student and you don’t have something to listen to that is worth repeating, how are you to grasp what it is that you are being asked to do? Description in words alone isn’t particularly useful.

It’s interesting to me that over the decades in a few cases I have guided a vocalist to sing sounds that he or she has been seeking “all their lives”. They experience in lessons that they can sing the music that has eluded them for their entire professional lives, and sing it with emotional freedom and vocal ease. In more than a few cases, after having broken through barriers that may be decades old, instead of rejoicing and moving forward to use the new-found vocal joy in a career, they often stop seeing me and simply disappear. In one case, a man who had a powerful dramatic classical tenor voice, and was a highly skilled musician and communicative singer, stopped after reaching musical goals he had pursued for his entire life. He returned after six months with his voice shrunken by half and with the core of it gone. He had deconstructed the sound that he had been waiting to find since he was young and came back sounding more like a high school vocalist. I was stunned. He doesn’t perform, but there he is teaching at a university. Really?

When you are young, you must work to create a voice and a technique to guide it. When you are in your middle years, you must work to maintain it in the midst of career demands. When you are older, you have to work to keep what you have or fight the deterioration that inevitably occurs from aging. There is no time to “rest on your laurels”.

If you teaching singing in any form — if you are a choral conductor, a singer/songwriter, or someone in theater who deals with musicals — and you are not willing to invest time, energy and money into your own voice, you should sit yourself down and take a good long look at that. Whether or not you like to admit it, your attitude about your  voice communicates the message “my singing isn’t worth my own time or commitment” and what is the student to do with that?

Some singing teachers “warm up” if they have to sing. They assume that they are “good enough” and don’t have to work on their singing extensively, because “it is what it is”. I have heard so many of those folks perform and I am often surprised at what “good enough” is to them. It usually isn’t the same thing to me!

If you do not have the willingness to work on your voice, or solve your vocal problems, or sing music very well, and you think you can teach others, I invite you to question those assumptions. I invite you to address unfinished business, get help, get back on the path, and face yourself. There is no place to run, no place to hide.



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