December 14, 2013

The voice teacher must sing

Pauline Viardot-García (1821-1910)
Or so thought Pauline Viardot-García, Anna Schoen-René and Margaret Harshaw. Of course, I've known quite a few voice teachers who don't (or won't) sing, the pianist/coach being perhaps the best example. 

Does the neurosurgeon teach her students to operate without having ever wielded a scalpel? Does the piano teacher instruct his student to play Chopin without ever touching the keys? Of course not. But there are many voice teachers who teach their students to sing without having sung themselves.

Herman Klein tried to bring standards to singing teachers in the first decade of the 20th century, which I wrote about in the introduction to my book: Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel GarciaOf course, Klein didn't succeed since America has always had a Wild West mentality as far as the instruction of singing is concerned. Singing teachers were left to their own devices—as they are today—not withstanding the efforts of a few organizations which endeavor to keep their members informed regarding industry standards, which, it must be pointed out, are rather minimal.

In a very real sense, the art of singing is market driven. Voice teachers go where the money is. In the 1930's, it was Hollywood, talking pictures and the gramophone. Now it is the world of contemporary commercial music, rock musicals and The Voice. 

Standards have changed too. During Klein's day, classical music (and its training) was considered to be on a higher level than popular music—an attitude which has changed as market forces have shifted. Singing teachers also taught vocal techniques which are now considered passé. Those who dare to talk about "voice placement" at a scientific symposium will find themselves in the minority. "Attack" has changed to "onset," and the teacher who refers to "vocal cords" instead of "vocal folds" will be smiled at—and not in a good way.

Yet—students still say things which defy terminology and current pedagogical thought. Only a few days ago, at the end of a lesson, I asked a student (think Tony Bennett), who had been put through his paces what he had learned. With surprise in his voice, he pointed to his head, and said that he had to keep his voice "hanging from above," which sounded like a Lamperti School concept. Of course, simply asking the student to sing into the head isn't enough. The teacher has to know how to bring this phenomena into being, often without the student's conscious awareness. This takes skill, a voice teacher who can sing—one who knows what it means from experience. What was my student telling me? He was reporting his "audio-vocal control," that is, what his ears/body mind were experiencing when his voice was functioning at a high level. It's a real thing. Again, only a voice teacher who can sing will be able to know what this means, and if it is "on the money." 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments.