I have just heard about a substantial college music theater training program that is being narrowed to the point of making all the training there ridiculous. This is important to everyone everywhere because it shouldn’t happen at all, and it is happening and at a place that has “a reputation” it doesn’t deserve, but it reflects the conflict that is going on world-wide with CCM training programs. It reflects the huge tension between those that want to deal with real-world demands and those that cannot face those same demands in terms of how they teach singing.
Although I know the names of all the individuals involved, and the specific school, I cannot, for legal reasons, mention them here. I will say whatever I can to be clear about the issues.
The person in charge of the department has no training or experience in singing or music. He has a fixed idea of acting from which the students must not deviate, and it does not support imagination, creativity, diversity or physical groundedness in musical expression. The other person in charge is a classically trained singer with no music theater experience who tried to train herself to sing outside her own box, got in trouble, panicked, and blamed others. She went for rescue to someone else in the same department who had taken the time to get vocal training in CCM styles. The woman decided belting was dangerous and bad. The third ingredient in this scenario is the newest member of the team who is an expert at voice science but who has the reputation of being “not a good singer with no high notes” although he is a tenor. The department talks about itself as a stepping stone to Broadway but does not “train the students to the marketplace”. They actually believe they can CHANGE Broadway to come around to what they teach. The students are called “babies” and they are required, yes, REQUIRED, to always sing in head register, no matter what the style. Any teacher who does not walk this party line is fired or “let go”.
That this is taking place is clear to the students and ever more clear to those outside the school who hear about what is going on from the students themselves. That it is allowed to go on is a reflection of the attitude of the man running the entire school of music, who knows zip about music theater, and who in general, could care less about anything that takes place at the school, as long as he has his job.
Meanwhile, the few students who ask questions are chastised by their teachers up to the point of being sworn at on a regular basis. Complaints to Mr. Big, running the school of music, are considered to be “made up” even though there are many of them from an assortment of people.
That music theater can be a cause of such discord anywhere is a real shame. That teachers would become so rigid and frightened and allow their own limitations to dictate policies that effect hundreds of young performers, is criminal. That these same policies would allow students to have training that makes them LESS marketable, and unhappy, and even, in certain cases, (and this I know for a fact) to CAUSE vocal problems, is also criminal. If I thought that the situation was unique, or was even highly unusual, I wouldn’t mention it at all. It is, however, very typical and no one speaks out about it. Most of the students are powerless to change things, many of the teachers need their jobs to stay alive. Only someone who is not dependent on the program or the school would be objective enough to look at what is happening in a more objective manner.
Since I have spent my life working towards having music theater (and all other styles of CCM) respected and placed alongside classical music as being equally important and valid, but different, it is gratifying for me to see that more and more colleges are adding music theater training programs and degrees every year. It is very sad, however, for me to see that as these programs are begin added there is little interest in seeing that those who are being asked to teach them actually have any real skills to do so. This is not the kind of progress I had hoped for.
If you are involved in such a program at your school, would you please let me know? I am interested in seeing just how wide spread this behavior is and how much damage you think it is doing. Please e-mail me directly at: email@example.com.