Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
First of all let me clarify that I am a cat LOVER. This is just a phrase from my childhood in southern Ohio that has always stuck with me. For my international readers, it basically means there is more than one way to get something done. This past Sunday I picked up Richard Miller’s “National Schools of Singing” to review a few things and I started thinking, which of course lead me to write this post. Miller’s book describes with great depth the differences between Italian, German, French, and English schools of singing. What is very clear is that successful teachers and singers have come from all of these countries even though they approach vocal technique differently. Artists from these countries have different tonal goals, yet they produce art that people want to experience. Isn’t that the most important aspect of what we do?
It is not only Miller’s book that drives this point home. Pick up “Great Singers on Great Singing,” by Jerome Hines “Spectrum of Voices,” by Elizabeth Blades-Zeller, or “Singing in Musical Theatre” by Joan Melton and you will find an impressive variety of opinions from singers/teachers who have all been quite successful. If you look at the wide variety of books, CDs, DVDs, and YouTube videos by famous CCM pedagogues including Aaron Hagan, Tom Burke, Melissa Cross, Mary Barton Saunders, Seth Riggs, Brett Manning, and numerous others you will find that they have differing opinions but all of them have successful students. So how are we supposed to sort it all out? Well I think it comes down to the fact that sometimes it takes different strokes for different folks.
The classical voice world has used the “fach” system to differentiate between different vocal weights and timbres for well over a century. It has proven to be quite useful in an artform where there are expected tonal norms and expectations for specific roles. However, in the CCM world there are no norms. Look at the success of artists such as Sting, Bob Dylan, Katy Perry, The Band Perry, Waylon Jennings, Marty Robbins, Nirvana, and Metallica. These artists do not fit in the same box, they are all very different and very successful. Being unique in the CCM world is critical and if we try to “fach” or homogenize the voices of our students, we could easily take away the qualities that make them special.
Our role as voice teachers should be to do no harm while honoring our students’ tonal goals. Having a variety of tools in your pedagogical toolbox makes it much easier to be an effective teacher for such a wide variety of students. Instead of thinking “which technique is right” or “which technique is better” in broad general terms, I would like to urge my readers to instead think about each situation individually. “What techniques could I teach this singer to help them reach their tonal goal?” It will be easier to answer this question if you have a thorough grasp on vocal function and have developed your own systematic approach to training the voice. However, at the end of the day you will notice that you get better results with less resistance from your students when you begin to explore diverse approaches. Even if they are completely different than what you were taught as a singer.
If you are looking for a continuing education opportunity this summer where you can partake in this type of exploration, please consider joining us at the CCM Voice Pedagogy Institute. The new lineup of guest teachers will bring together diverse opinions within a unified structure that will improve your understanding of vocal function, enable you to analyze diverse technical approaches, and develop your own systematic method for teaching CCM artists.
Thanks for reading!