If I had a dollar for all the referrals I’ve made in my life, I could retire. I have sent countless students to other teachers for all kinds of reasons. I don’t get any money or publicity for doing this. I do it because it is the right thing to do. Sometimes the student wants a teacher who is close to home, sometimes they are looking for a teacher with a certain type of expertise, sometimes they are trying to find a teacher who is available on a certain day or at a specific time, sometimes they want a teacher who is male or female. There are all kinds of reasons.
Since I made it my business to meet as many of my colleagues as I could a long time ago, I often have a good selection of teachers to recommend and do not hesitate to give several names. These people are known to me to be long-time teachers with good reputations amongst their peers and with a solid group of students who have gone on to work. Here in New York City where a private practice teacher has to be good in order to survive, you have a lot of competition. Only those who are dedicated and reliable continue for years and years. There are a good number of people and we mostly know each other. Yes, some are “competitors” but there are always more than enough students to go around, so why worry?
Of course, I have had lots of referrals, too, from all kinds of people, not just my students. Word of mouth is strong once you have demonstrated both your expertise and your attitude. Isolated teachers may still have lots of students, but that’s just not the same as being part of a community of experts who all want to do something altruistic. They want to help their students learn to sing well.
I have been around the vocal medical community long enough to know that even the highest level specialists disagree. They have different points of view about what is best for a patient and what is the most effective treatment option. They do seem to be willing, at least from an outsider’s point of view, to discuss these differences in an open forum such as a meeting, conference or panel discussion. I wish the same could be said for singing teachers, but this has not much been my experience, although I do think it is better now than it was 30 or 35 years ago. Because more teaching is based on science and function there is less “personal mystery” involved in teaching and this levels the field. That has to be a good thing. One’s approach to teaching, however, is more than a way of explaining the process of singing, it is also about how the information is presented and how it is taken in by the student. We have all known very bright people who could not communicate or relate socially to others.
If you are teaching, particularly if you are just starting out, make every effort to be a participant in your community of teachers, musicians and performers. Get to know them, appreciate them and let them know you. In time, if you are consistent and patient, many good things can come from these associations. Do not be afraid to give your time to a common cause. In the end, you may get many referrals and one day, like me, you may also be able to refer students to other teachers because it is the right thing to do.