Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy 1st Birthday to the Blog: What have I learned in one year?

I created this blog on my birthday last year. Perhaps it was a subconscious way of keeping accurate track of the length of this exercise. In the past year, the average month has yielded nearly 1300 visits from a little more than 700 individuals in 65 countries. I have received many emails of readers thanking me for the information I freely share here.

It is I who must thank all the readers here for participating in this conversation. Through your participation I have been encouraged to study and learn a lot. I have been challenged to learn much more than I knew before and I have learned a lot about myself and my own singing.

It has been nearly 8 months since I began my change from baritone to tenor (since April 7th 2008) and this evening I sang impromptu at a party at the house of one of my students and even after three days of celebrating my birthday I felt like a genuine tenor. It was my plan to put up a clip here on my birthday, but I thought I'd give myself a couple of days to let the influence of the celebratory drinks dissipate. I will post a clip in the next few days.

I also discussed here my battle with acid reflux, nutrition, Candida, etc. With much advice from many here I have done my part in becoming healthy. Reflux is less of an issue, but it is still an issue. I follow the path of one of the singers I have had the pleasure to teach and will have the minimally invasive endoluminal fundoplication procedure. I hope to complete this in the next few weeks, which I believe will bring me the confidence I need to complete my journey to being a fully functional dramatic tenor.

More importantly, I believe that through this year-long exercise my searching has brought me a great deal of clarity relative to vocal function. It has always been my belief that vocal technique is paradoxically simple when the puzzling nature of vocal science is understood. I believe that the primary vocal functions (breathing, phonation and resonance) are greatly automatic and that we are responsible for a few simple principles when the natural balance of the instrument has been preserved. Vocal function is very uncomplicated. Vocal re-balancing (for most of us come to singing with certain imbalances) is however complex and time-consuming. Achieving the natural balance of the voice requires a clear phylosophical understanding of how the instrument functions and how through strategically chosen exercises the musculature of the larynx may be rebalanced to produce the most efficient workings of the instrument.

I also learned that teaching voice requires engaging the student personally. It has been my way ever since I began teaching. More experienced colleagues recommended that I take a more "objective perspective." What I have learned is that vocal science is fairly objective, but vocal pedagogy is thoroughly subjective. To pretend that we can avoid the emotional bonds that naturally develop between a voice teacher and a singer is ludicrous. Managing such a relationship is complex. But when total honesty and mutual respect are the foundations of the relationship, it develops with ups and downs and the confrontation of real issues that impact the life and art of the singer and teacher. It also means that such a relationship can only occur between people who are compatible.

The singers I have always admired have certain things in common. They are visionary, intelligent, phylosophical, courageous, sensitive to music and to words, curious, inquisitive, extremely hard-working, emotionally open and vocally "accomplished". Natural (spontaneous) development of efficient vocal coordination is a big advantage but by no means the measure of a vocal artist. I cross hundreds of people every month in the streets who have remarkably efficient vocal production and have no desire or impulse to sing. In a sense, achieving vocal balance is the easy part (my experience with many of my students this year confirms this in my mind). The other pre-requisites I list in this paragraph are the product of a life sculptured into a work of art. The artist's spirit is the talent. Developing the voice is a joyful process I cherish when it is with people with that kind of spirit. The unexpected happiness I have lived this year came out of a karmic call to the students I have encountered recently who make-up what I call my studio. In truth, every single one without exception has made voice teaching/learning for me an unmitigated pleasure. One must be selective. I cannot teach every student. I can only teach those students whose talents I completely value and who I feel require what I have to offer.

This year I felt more effective as a teacher than I ever have because I took the chance to project the true me through this blog and thereby attracted the very students I wanted to teach. This is only the first phase of what could be a truly exciting journey. In every good journey every new phase is more difficult but not necessarily negative. To positively meet this next phase, it will take greater faith, greater courage, greater daring and greater love. The goal is that my students and I should be singing our absolute best.

Hence the conversation will continue here. I hope our interaction will stimulate profound discussions resulting in discovery, questioning and achievement. I plan to write in all the languages in which I am proficient and I hope that you will not allow the language barrier to prevent you from participating fully.

I thank all of you profoundly who have taken the time to comment upon, question and even challenge the writing here. I also thank you all for conducting the conversation in such a classy manner. I look forward to another year of great vocal tech talk.

I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season and I wish you the very best for the new year.

TS

5 comments:

Antonio said...

Thanks for the blog. Truly enjoyable to read. Best in the new year!

Martin Berggren said...

Dear TS,

I also want to join in and wish a happy birthday to the blog! I am always eagerly looking forward to every issue!

As you may have guessed, your blogs and our conversations have really inspired me to think and to read up quite a bit to get a better picture of the current status of voice science. This has been exciting and really fun. It may even be professionally useful some day - who knows - there are actually some connections to my own research! (Something that surprised me was how recent some significant insights are! That's exciting for a scientist, since it indicated that there still probably is some important research to be done! )

Also, I feel that the voice science perspective to vocal techniques has been helpful in my own attempts to improve my vocal skills! Or at least I hope so...

Keep up the good work and happy new year! Looking forward to more exchanges!

Martin

Frescamari said...
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Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...

I agree with every comment you made here Frescamari. The teacher/student relationship is indeed very complex and there must be trust if anything fruitful is to be achieved. Each relationship is different in that sense.

The power structure is also complex. I follow a Socratic model perhaps. I bring superior knowledge perhaps, but I recognize that sometimes the student brings superior wisdom and that means I have to be ready to take a course initiated by the student.

Then there are times when I have to be firm about what I want the student to do. Not always the easiest thing.

Total honesty and mutual respect are crucial, as I stated in the blog. I should add the Hippocratic Oath to mix. "First do no harm!" That should also be a teacher's mantra.

Singers really deliver a part of their souls to the voice teacher. There is no doubt about it, it is a very spiritually vulnerable relationship.

Boundaries are extremely important, especially in the beginning. Boundaries get loosened only with time and when real trust is developed. This cannot be rushed.

Some teachers use their influence to manipulate and some even develop a kind of "deity" complex. This is so dangerous. I know students who are afraid to leave certain teachers because they are afraid the teacher will ruin their careers in retaliation. I find that sickening!

The teacher is sometimes in a vulnerable position as well. As one of my friends recently said, the student is the source of income for the teacher and that gives the student a certain level of power as well.

I love teaching singers who MUST sing. In my mind they are the real singers. Some are working professionals and some are not, but every student I teach right now is a SINGER in the most important sense of the word. They have a spiritual, karmic, destiny-bound mission that is rooted in singing. And I am certainly not the one who labels them thus. When one teaches students like that, the responsibility is even greater that they should be taught with respect, dedication and love.