"...you are a tenor!"
"But you said before I was a baritone," the student replies.
The teacher counters: "You are a tenor. You have the voice. It is the physical stamina you lack!"To his young female student he discussed concentration. He opens a blind while she sang and she was distracted.
"You must be the music! Nothing else exists!"
"You must never close your eyes. You sing with them as much as with your voice."
This movie details in such wonderful precision, the nature of our art form: the politics, the sacrifices in the name of art, the daily discipline that yields great results and the charismatic influential teacher who promises careers but lacks the skills to bring his own students to professional readiness. The film should be requisite viewing for all aspiring classical singers. Yet its message is subtle. It is a Belgian film and it does not hammer the "moral of the story" home like a good Hollywood drama!
I venture to think the average young singer would miss the point entirely. A dying singer who takes on two students and "...kills them with scales" until they are whipped into shape might be considered cultish, to the blasé and jaded youth of our times. Students today find it normal to take uppers to give themselves a performance edge or downers to keep them from getting nervous. Sleeping one's way to the top is considered good business sense in most circles now instead of the selling of the soul that it is. Learning one's music by listening to recordings and being devoid of musical opinion, letting oneself be spoon-fed by a répétiteur is preferred to honest scholarship and intelligence. What is cultish? The teacher who aspires to old-fashion rigorous training or the one promoting doping and prostitution?
Which one of the following teacher statements is cultish and which one wise?
A. You are dumb, you have no talent and no charisma! Without me you will not amount to anything? Now I will charge your credit card for $250.00 for 45 minutes.
B. You have potential but you lack work ethic! Singing requires extreme discipline in many areas including vocal technique, physical fitness, language training, and general education in the arts as well as social skills...
The average student in a large city in the world will pay the $250.00 and equate verbal abuse to "tough love!" They might also be led to believe that anything worthwhile costs more. The teacher who charges less must not be very good.
A common conversation between an Old-School teacher and a modern student:
Teacher: When you go to the top voice, do not lose the support you feel in the low! Maintain an open throat and all the while sing clear intelligible vowels! Emit the breath freely and unimpeded, yet do not waste air by pushing it out nor hold it back and prevent its natural release.
Student: It is much easier when I just lighten up and let it go bright in the head!
Teacher: Of course it is easier. It is a one-sided experience and the tone is of poor quality!
Student: It does not sound poor to me and I can do it every time. When I attempt what you ask, it is more difficult!
Teacher: Let's go to the park!
To tell them there are no magic wands or quick tricks makes you the villain! They would rather hide in a cocoon of self-delusion rather than confront the reality that they are not as good as they need to be to have a real shot.
The solution is early discipline! There are two types of students: the one who gives up on a math problem after 15 minutes and the one who solves it in 45 minutes. The one who worked 30 minutes more investigated 3 times the number of possibilities until s/he arrived at a solution. S/he not only develops the confidence that s/he can solve future problems, but s/he has already learned that perseverance leads to results and has explored a number of avenues that may prove helpful in future problems.
For my part, I live by the following axiom: There are either winners or those who quit too soon!
In every discipline, there are thousands of times more quitters than there are winners!