Lately, I have been meditating on an idea that is hard to explain and harder to deal with. I will begin with examples:
Let’s say a young student goes to a teacher. She has some desire to sing better, but she has not yet developed a sense of what “better” is. She sings in choirs and thinks that classical singing is for her. As the teacher guides her, the student becomes skeptical. The teacher may be asking her to do something odd or different than her habits feel is natural. So she resists even though she may be improving.
Let’s say a slightly older student goes to a teacher. He has listened to more classical singing and has formed an opinion about what singing is. Perhaps singing, to him, is loud and dramatic. The teacher however senses that other skills need to be developed before dramatic vocal weight. The student grows, but remains fixated on the idea of loud and dramatic and begins to resent the teacher.
Let us also say that a more advanced student goes to a teacher, and the teacher asks that person to do something unorthodox but not inappropriate, and the result is excellent singing. The singer is not sure what has happened because he could not hear it (explained below). The teacher seems happy, but the student becomes confused and begins to doubt the teacher.
Do you see what I am getting at? In all three cases, the students are missing some essential piece of information and are making judgements that may not be appropriate.
They are blind to growth.
Part of the trouble of learning how to sing is that for many of us our taste grows as our skills do. This means that we have no idea what makes “great” great unless we have the lucky occurrence to have been born surrounded by classical musicians and singers. We may hear that a singer sounds wonderful but may not know why until we have the skills ourselves.
Even if our taste is mature, we singers are not able to clearly assess our voices based off of the sound in our heads. That sound is distorted by various forces and is an untrustworthy guide. This can be frustrating.
[Added later: Recordings, too, are a poor representative of human voices. Often the best sounding voices on recordings are the smallest, darkest, and sometimes breathiest. So, the really big voiced singer who can shake rooms and instill awe in an audience is betrayed by relying on recordings to gauge their effectiveness.]
Thus, we put our trust entirely into a teacher’s hands who may or may not guide us safely to the singer’s promised land.
But how then does a teacher establish trust and a student become trusting?
There is no easy way around this problem because the teacher must teach singing but must also teach “taste”, feeling, and address, somehow, any other personal issues that may be blocking a singer’s growth. The singer must demand results for their money and time but may not have the artistic maturity to understand what the best results are. How can a beginning singer assess a teacher when the person perhaps most capable of making that assessment, the teacher, is defining the benchmarks that he/she’s trying to achieve?
It’s tricky to say the least. For both parties involved.
I just wanted to put these beginning thoughts on this out there. Having been both the skeptical student and the questionable teacher (sometimes within a single day), I do have some ideas about how to approach this, though they are hardly silver bullets. I will be discussing those over the next couple of months.
As always, your ideas are desired and appreciated.