I was teaching for a long time — years — before it occurred to me that I was in a service profession. I knew I was a singing teacher but that was as far as I thought. When it finally dawned upon me that I was providing a service, I was somewhat surprised. “Imagine that,” I said to myself, “I am a business woman providing a service, not just an artist sharing her art”. Da Dum.
I then took it upon myself to investigate what “being of service” was about, as clearly it was part of my own spiritual goals to be of service somehow or other. I understood serving, as my first job (at 16) was as a “busgirl” in my uncle’s Italian restaurant, where I was “at the service” of the entire place: my uncle and his son, who ran the place; the bartenders, the waitresses, the kitchen staff, and the customers. I was the bottom of the heap (for minimum wage and no tips, thank you very much), and took orders from everyone. That was some learning curve! After that I had all sorts of other part and full time time jobs while still in school, all of them insignificant. After I got married I learned to take dictation and got a job as an “executive secretary” (that’s what we now call an “administrative assistant”). In all of these situations I had no instruction in how to be useful, I just did the best job I could and hoped I was succeeding. I admit that it was hard for me to draw a line from those jobs to teaching singing, as typing a financial report didn’t seem to relate much to teaching “Caro Mio Ben”, but I did understand that I wanted to help my students sing and also to help them find joy in music and in their own voices.
Slowly, after a lot of reading of various spiritually oriented books, and some considerable amount of reflection, I concluded that what I wanted to be most of all was useful. I wanted to be of practical, down-to-earth use to the people who came to me to learn how to sing. I wanted my instructions to be simple and clear. I wanted people to be able to grasp what I was talking about without feeling confused or stupid. I wanted singing to seem accessible and rewarding and not just something that was so special that only certain people could do it well.
As I realized over time, each person came to singing lessons for their own reasons, with their own ideas about singing and about his or her individual voice. Each person came with a history, both personal and vocal, and with various tendencies and abilities, limitations and talents. I began to see that I had to accept and work with all this as the ground or fabric into which I fit the training, or it didn’t work. Either I lost the student’s interest or I just lost the student. It became clear that the student’s goals had to become my goals for the student, unless I thought the goals were harmful, in which case I had to find a way to say that (didn’t happen often). I realized that I had to convey to the student that he or she was doing the teaching, and that I could only comment from the outside, offering suggestions that I thought might save time or effort. It came to me that sometimes the student was looking for something through singing that had little to do with singing.
Some people came hoping to find their voice in life. They wanted to be heard as people. They wanted to have something worth while to say and a way to say it.
Some people came looking for a path into their own heart. They wanted to learn how to fall in love with music and let that love heal them and open them.
Some people came searching for a way into their bodies. They were seeking a way to become one with the breath, and with sensations that were powerful and potent, so that they could feel more vividly alive.
Some people came to let go of a secret. These people were the most difficult yet the most compelling to teach. It was only if they stayed that this motivation showed up, and sometimes when it did, they left, as the realization was too overwhelming to be faced straight on. Perhaps it was also, in the beginning, because I was too young and inexperienced to create a safe place for the secret to be revealed.
Some people came because they had been told not to come. (Don’t sing. You sound awful!) They were rebelling against the restrictions that had been placed upon them in some way, and they wanted another human being to challenge them to let go of the bindings that they no longer wished to accept.
There were a million reasons while someone wanted to learn to sing, beyond wanting to learn to sing. In order to be of service, I discovered I had to find a way to honor all of these reasons, and use scales, exercises and songs as the tools to reach into each singer’s mind, heart and body.
Later, I also realized that I had to create a sense of “professionalism” because I wanted to honor my work and myself. I had heard and seen singing teachers opening mail during lessons, talking endlessly on the phone in a lesson while the student tried to keep singing. I had heard of teachers talking in lessons about other students whom were better than the one singing, for less than great reasons. I knew of singing teachers who took money from students whom they felt were untalented and boring, but the teachers needed the money so they “tolerated” the student anyway. I created a “Singing Student’s Bill of Rights” in my head (I will tell you what it is, but not here). I wanted to avoid all of these attitudes and behaviors and others of similar ilk, if at all possible.
As I got this worked out, and it took over a decade to do so, I realized that living in an atmosphere of “being of service” freed me of trying to prove anything. It allowed me to be vulnerable, spontaneous, and human — to stumble, to be stuck, to “not know” and to be a student of the entire process even while being the “person in charge”. It became clear that I was a guide, and that was all, but it was more than enough.
In all the years I have attended singing teacher events, conferences, seminars, courses, and gatherings, I have not ever seen or participated in even one on “Being of Service” or even “Being Effective in a Service Profession”. Things like “customer satisfaction”, “customer service”, “quality control”, “delivery of services” can and should apply to us as singing teachers, no matter how lofty our artistic lives may be. Running a successful private practice or school program involves just these things, even if at first glance they may seem irrelevant.
Since Somatic Voicework® The LoVetri Method is a body-based method of vocal training, with a service-based approach, was generated by me and therefore has inherent in it my point of view, I thought I should share these thoughts with you. I look forward to your comments.