I continue to receive personal reports, one at a time, from various teachers of singing who are at university, that there is a “war” between the departments of music and drama, and that within the departments of music, there are many problems between those that are “strictly classical” teachers of singing and those who teach music theater, jazz, or other CCM styles. Since this is something I have had to face for more than 31 years here in New York, as well as a master teacher all over the planet, I am not surprised, but I am sad to know that not much has changed except that the number of confrontations is increasing. (We all remember that I was strongly verbally attacked in Minneapolis at the NATS Convention in July for pointing out that we don’t sing gospel, rock, and belt songs with the same sounds used in Schubert and Fauré).
Since the CCM teachers are often in the minority, sometimes isolated, and frequently need to work within the guidelines of a school in order to keep their jobs, the resistance they are forced to face is all the more troublesome. ( I am exempt from that particular worry, since no one can fire me, having always been in private practice). CCM teachers end up having to defend themselves and CCM repertoire, something which should be unnecessary, if things were fair, and which is, in point of fact, offensive. The drama departments often want their students to sing well, but find that the singing training, being almost exclusively classical, does not always support the needs or parameters of music theater material. This is true in jazz schools, too. Even there, the vocal training is classical, which strikes me as being even more paradoxical. How does learning “Caro Mio Ben” help you sing music “Mood Indigo”, written by Duke Ellington? (It doesn’t, as I sing both, and anyone else who does both also knows that is true).
I have heard from quite a few people that their “Bel Canto” training has helped them sing in whatever CCM style they do. Surely, good breathing, easy production and resonant vowels are helpful things for any singer to understatnd, but true Bel Canto style (florrid singing as written by Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini) must carry with it far more than that in order to be correctly executed. The inability to separate what is style from what is vocal production fuels the silly notion that singing an aria from “Lucia di Lammamoor” would somehow be a good stepping stone to singing “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls”. Cheech!
Speaking out and speaking up to dispell such nonsensical notions ought to be a good thing, but it is often most unwelcome, and even controversial. Martin Luther King, whom we remembered yesterday, said something like “not speaking out is the beginning of death” and he knew whereof he spoke. We must remember Dr. King’s courage and steadfastness and know that, although singing CCM isn’t at all in the same league as an issue as is racial discrimination, it has its own kinds of arrogance and ignorance to confront.
The value of this blog, and of the chatroom, is that we have each other, and that we are not alone. Please know that this is a “battle” that is necessary and that each person, teaching wherever and however he or she may be, adds to the changes in teaching singing that will someday be standard behavior everywhere. The balance of the scale will tip when there are more of us. That this will happen is certain. Each of you contributes to that global shift. Don’t forget.