Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
There have been a number of posts on the Facebook Professional Voice Teachers group claiming that you must teach students to sing classically first. I responded with the post below on that group. After several requests, I am also sharing it here.
Thanks for reading ~ Matt
I was just at the Pan-American Vocology Association conference in Toronto last weekend. If you are not familiar with the group, it was founded by Dr. Ingo Titze and is now lead by Leda Scearce, CCC-SLP, head of performance voice care at the Duke University Voice Care Center. A panelist asked if anyone in the audience believed that you had to learn classical technique before singing CCM. Out of 150 attendees, no one raised their hand. This is a room full of classical and CCM voice teachers, SLPs, laryngologists, speaking/theatre voice trainers, and voice researchers. No one raised their hand.
The fact is, there is not a single research study showing that CCM is more hazardous for young performers. In fact, Dr. Wendy LeBornge, CCC-SLP at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (the original CCM) has been tracking the vocal health of incoming musical theatre and vocal performance majors for the last ten years. The percentage of students with pathologies is exactly the same; there is no statistically significant difference between musical theatre and classical performers. The idea that you will get hurt if you do not study classical singing first is outdated and not supported by any of our professional organizations.
It is completely understandable that fifteen years ago, most teachers believed that all students should sing classical first. Back then we lacked the tools to do in-depth research and had no easy way of disseminating the little research there was. But today the research is widely available and we need to embrace it if we are to faithfully serve our students. There are a lot of bad teachers in both the classical and CCM world. Some of the franchised music schools have very loose (if any) standards for the faculty they hire. I have definitely heard students coming out of those schools, singing rock ‘n roll, that are in serious danger of getting hurt. However, I have also known and sung with plenty of opera singers who have “soprano pads” – a sugar-coated way of saying they have nodules.
There is no singular technique that is foolproof for any type of singer. If we could start talking vocal function instead of specific techniques, we could have much more productive conversations. The phrase “good singing is good singing” depends completely on the genre you are talking about. The type of singing required for heavy metal is good as long as it is being produced in a non-damaging way. That type of vocal use is completely different than what is required for good singing in La Boheme. So, we cannot say there is a universal “good.” Good is subjective, which is pretty clear in all genres if you have ever read more than one review of a singer’s performance.
In any other profession that deals with the human body (massage, physical therapy, physical training, etc.) practitioners are constantly seeking new information, new techniques, and scientific research that can help them improve their approach. We should look at them as an example of best practices. If more teachers would be open-minded, flexible, willing to change, and open to sharing what they do, we would all be better for it. And we would all have a lot more fun.