October 29, 2013

The Attraction of the New vs The Tradition of the Past



The Continental Divide in vocal pedagogy. It's always been with us, and always will be with us. What am I talking about? All the work of those who came before lies in the past, while up ahead lies all the work to be done—or is being done at this very moment. It's very easy to look back and say: "That's how García and Lamperti taught, and that's how it should aways be done! It's tradition! You new people don't what what you're talking about!" It's also easy to look ahead and say: "García and Lamperti? One was working with inferior instruments, while the other was a mean old bully! Their understanding isn't what its cracked up to be! Really—why are you traditionalists deifying the old? You should be using the latest research and tools like Voce Vista! I mean—what's the matter with you people?" Then there are those who make sure to mention that they revere both old and new. They've got the whole game covered! Nothing left out! They teach everything and everyone. It's all good! Bring it on, baby! 

Here's what I think about all this. For starters: you have to "know something to know something."  There is the knowing that happens when you understand singing from long experience. This knowing can take two forms: 1) intellectual knowledge, and 2) experiential knowledge. Of course, they aren't the same thing at all, which is why umpteen performers chafe at bad reviews with retorts like: "Well... you try singing it, Mr. Critic!"

"Knowing something to know something" also means knowing what to do with what you know. It's operational and functional, which relates to the ability to impart that knowledge to others. This is done by study of the past and participation in current research. My view is that true knowledge arises when we can stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, not by making our position more prominent by chopping off the heads of everyone else who came before. The latter only serves the purposes and pockets of the executioner. 

Study of the past means understanding the contributions of those who came before us. That's a lot of information. Could one become lost in looking back? Or course. It's easy to deify the Old School. But it's just as easy to become enamored of the new car smell of current research. The real trick, I believe, is not to treat old and new as opposing camps, but rather, as complimentary forces which lead to deeper knowledge, the acquisition of which takes real skill. It also takes real time. In a time when there is so little time, when we are spread thin by texting, twittering and the constant barrage of media, the greatest challenge we may face is our inability to inculcate all that is available.

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