Monday, January 7, 2008

Subject of the day: When longevity is no longer a factor: An impasse in vocal pedagogy

I posted the following on NFCS and felt it should be posted here as well. I welcome responses to this and every post.

I am getting ready to fly to Europe in the next couple of days, so I may not post again for a couple of days. Be assured that I am working to provide the best technical references here as possible. It would be easy to just list laryngeal muscles and have done with it, but my purpose here is to help my readers understand as clearly as possible about the function of all that musculature and how such knowledge help us in the pursuit of optimum singing.

The threads comparing different vocal pedagogies inspired a reality check. It should be obvious from my many posts here that I am an ideologue. I am proud of this fact because lasting vocal technique is based on certain truths and there are no two ways about it. However, time is an enemy to vocal health, in the current vocal climate. I would be interested to know how many singers here are truly interested in a long lasting career, or would rather get to sing in a theater at all cost, including losing their voice in 5 or 10 years.

This may sound like a joke, but I assure you I am being totally serious. Consider that a singer who has had an operatic career of any kind will tend to have enough influence to command an income afterwards, even if the career lasted only five years and that all they managed to do is build a network of contacts. Real operatic experience is a valuable commodity in the complex world of music and music pedagogy. It's a no-brain-er that the highest paid pedagogues in academia tend to be the singers who have had big careers. Well a singer with a smallish career can have the same kind of clout in a smallish school. That kind of experience can make up for not having a doctorate. It is therefore obvious that a "serviceable" singer can make a career without having developed a solid technique. Why? Because the people who are hiring either cannot tell the difference or do not care.

This is the operatic environment we are in. The teacher with a quick fix that gets the student to make an impressive sound right away even at the expense of their vocal health is actually becoming more popular in our times than the teacher who takes the time to build a real technique. The next question therefore is: Is it possible to get an impressive sound right away and with good vocal technique? The answer: If that were the case, we would not be in the dilemma we are now.

I believe that it is possible to get relatively quick results with a sound vocal approach providing the singer does not have muscular imbalances to begin with. In that situation, coordination can be accomplished even at a first lesson and stamina developed pretty quickly afterwards. However, in my experience, we are generally dealing with voices that are muscularly quite out of balance. To regain proper balance usually means going through an awkward period that singers prefer not to go through (especially those who are out of school and auditioning, or already singing professionally).

What the singer often does not realize is that a year of solid work can actually get the kinds of results they need in order to sing comfortably and be able to present themselves in auditions with confidence. Then again, will the hiring people care that the singer is singing better, or are they more interested in how many pounds the slightly overweight mezzo lost since the last audition?

In short, there are many singers who consciously chose a quick fixer rather than someone with a solid technique because they are afraid that they are getting out of time and are not sure whether good singing even matters.

So while it might make fun discussion on forums to compare the techniques of the great masters of the past, a tenor with a reliable high C is going to get work at the highest levels, even if that C sounds like it's coming out of a bovine with labor pains.

Therefore, until "proper" vocal production is part of the criteria for being hired, not only will what we get in the house be of poor quality, but vocal pedagogy will decline by natural selection. The quick fixers will have incomes and thrive and the real teachers will have day jobs and teach out of love for the art. © 01/07/2008

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