Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: When to tell a student it is time to give up

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PersistenceI was on a panel at a conference where we presented case studies and discussed approaches to working with the client in the example. In one case, it was clear the singer was dealing with significant technical issues and someone in the audience asked: “When and how would you tell the student that singing may not be for them?” I have been asked questions like this many times before, the answer is slightly long, but here it is.

When I was in middle school I was seeking a place to fit in, I loved to sing and used my voice all the time. I had no raw talent and my classmates (and teachers) were very quick to point out my shortcomings.

 

Their words hurt, but I still wanted to sing, so I ignored them all and sang anyway.

I joined the choir my freshmen year of high school. At that age, I had serious pitch issues and no volume control; honestly, I was a hot mess. I desperately wanted to sing and stay in choir, so I begged my mother for voice lessons. My dad was a factory worker and the money wasn’t there, but my parents made it work anyway. When it came time to start thinking about post-high school plans, I told everyone I wanted to major in musical theatre or voice performance (not knowing it would be purely classical). My high school choir director told me that was a bad decision, I wasn’t cut out for a performance career. My guidance counselor told me she thought college was not the right fit for me and I should instead go to tech school or community college and learn a trade. I ignored them both.

By some miracle, I was admitted to a musical theatre education degree program out of the area, and a music education program in my hometown. My dad lost his job a week before the tuition deposit was due, so I had no choice but to stay at home and go to my local college to major in classical music education. The faculty at that university were the first to ever show any interest in supporting me in my pursuit of music as a career and I will forever be thankful they came into my life.

Once I enrolled in college, things got better and I eventually transferred to a top 10 conservatory to complete my BM in vocal performance. However, I still had a wide variety of people consistently telling me that I should pursue a different career, that I wasn’t talented enough, etc. Eventually, I learned to ignore them and focus on the work. I bring this up because I hear similar stories from students on a regular basis. Telling someone they have no talent and should find something else to do with their life accomplishes nothing positive. If a person is passionate about singing, they are going to pursue it with or without help.

Fast forward many years…..

Several summers ago I was remodeling my house and a gentlemen in grease covered clothes pulled up in a rusted mini-van. He walked up the driveway and my immediate thought was he was there to offer assistance with my project. I was wrong; he found my address online and came to talk to me about voice lessons. He had clearly never had a music lesson before and had no idea what to expect, so I invited him back for a free trial lesson. He arrived at his lesson in work clothes (covered in grease), completely unprepared by traditional standards. Within minutes of vocalizing, his dentures fell out while singing an /a/ vowel; an embarrassing moment for all involved. He wanted to play a song for me on his guitar, at which point I noticed his right hand was partially paralyzed. His voice was off-pitch, he was full of neck, jaw, and tongue tension, and his words were barely intelligible. If I would have followed in the footsteps of my earliest advisors, I would have told him this was not going to work and he should stick to performing oil changes. But my own experiences taught me that there was a place for him, we just had to find it.

Within a few weeks, I learned his whole life story. He never knew who his father was, his mother died from cancer before he was 14 and he grew up in an orphanage. While in the orphanage, an accident happened involving a glass door and his hand was severely injured. Because of his situation, the financial resources necessary to facilitate the surgeries required to fully repair his hand were not available, so his hand never recovered. Throughout all of this, he maintained a strong faith in God. As he told me this, I knew immediately that we had found an inroad for him to use his talents.

Over the course of the next two years, he learned to consistently sing on pitch, I helped him find his authentic voice, worked with him on his songwriting, taught him how to make better recordings, etc. He wrote a song for the orphanage he grew up in, started performing with his wife and son at a retirement center and at their church. Our schedules eventually made it hard to get together, but from what I can tell online, he continues to write songs and perform locally. He found his place in this world to use his voice and I count him as one of my biggest success stories. He may not be famous, but he has opportunities to do what he loves, he has confidence he did not have before, and those performances bring him and his family joy.

There is somewhere for everyone, we just have to help them find it. For better or worse, I have never been one to let others dictate what I can or cannot do in life. I remember very clearly how bad it hurt when those who were supposed to be my mentors in high school told me that I should give up. So when I am asked “When do you tell a student that singing may not be in the cards for them?” my answer is never. Because if I would have listened to those who tried to silence my singing voice, my life would be nothing like it is today.

There are so many factors involved in achieving success in the entertainment industry that I gave up trying to predict who will or will not be successful a long time ago. Our goal should be to steer students towards the opportunities that serve them best at that moment while being honest about the steps and work required to achieve the larger goals they have in mind. What I have noticed is that hard work and persistence are more important than raw talent. I know that not only from watching my students but also from my own life experience. I do frequently have difficult conversations about why a student is not succeeding in their pursuits. But rather than telling them to give up completely, I help them find opportunities that better align with their skill set while giving them a path forward to help them continue their development.

The world is a better place when there are more people singing, so let’s help everyone find a place where they can add their voice to the choir. ~ Matt

26 comments on “Mix it up Monday: When to tell a student it is time to give up

  1. Jane Berlin Pauley
    February 26, 2018

    I so agree with this! Thank you for sharing your experience. Singing is not always about the beauty of the tone, but the beauty of the expressed soul within.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matthew Edwards
      February 27, 2018

      “Singing is not always about the beauty of the tone, but the beauty of the expressed soul within.” – LOVE that quote. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Susan Hanlon Ferrer
    February 26, 2018

    This is the blog post that hits closest to my heart of all of your incredible writing. Thank you for reminding us all to allow dreamers to dream and singers to make a joyful noise. I always tell my students that there is no clearcut way to know if someone will have a successful career but if they are hardworking and driven then it will serve them in many ways. There is always a place for someone to fit in and express their music.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy Canchola
    February 26, 2018

    Hi Matt-

    I attended your workshop at TWU last summer and am desperately trying to make it to your program this summer at SU. I look forward each week to your blog- but this week is the most timely and inspirational yet. Thank you for all the thankless time and effort you put into the profession.

    Sincerely, Amy

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

    • Matthew Edwards
      February 27, 2018

      You are welcome, thank you for reading. Hope to see you here this summer, if you have any questions about the Institute, please let me know. ~ Matt

      Like

  4. Maria Damore
    February 26, 2018

    Beautifully said!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Craig Tompkins
    February 26, 2018

    Thank you Matt for sharing this wonderful story. I’m working with a lovely senior who desperately wants to sing karaoke but everyone tells her that she’s awful and indeed she does have challenges. We’re having a wonderful time and she’s gradually improving. I will give her this post to read next time I see her.

    Warm regards,
    Craig

    Liked by 2 people

    • Matthew Edwards
      February 27, 2018

      She is lucky to have found you to help her reach her goal! Hope all is well, thanks for reading! ~ Matt

      Liked by 1 person

  6. earlharville
    February 26, 2018

    This. Amazing. And I concur – if it’s in their hearts to sing, we need to help them get to wherever they can on that journey.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. enitram
    February 26, 2018

    Agree!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Peggy McNulty
    February 26, 2018

    Dear Matt: Thank you so much for “making my day!” This article was beautifully written! Peggy McNulty

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Dr Daniel K. Robinson
    February 26, 2018

    I cannot write enough big ‘YES’es’ on this post.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Maurie Tarbox
    February 26, 2018

    Maurie Tarbox
    My story was that I couldn’t hear pitch at a young age. Thank goodness my mother would sing and help me match pitch and then “feel” where the music felt inside me. All I can say is that I’m glad you kept at it, Matt. You are an amazing performer and teacher!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. David Neal
    February 27, 2018

    Amen!

    Like

  12. Mary Lou Lim
    February 27, 2018

    This articles goes deeply into my heart. Thank you so much. I teach high school vocal and musical theatre classes, and commonly work with students who have significant pitch and singing issues. Using what I have learned at the CCM Vocal Institute has made a huge difference–but the rest of the story is being able to give them permission to believe in themselves. It has been amazing to me to watch them find success, and be able to thrive as singers. It is worth everything.

    Like

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  14. May Leporacci
    February 28, 2018

    I just loved this! Thank you for sharing your story. It’s a sad thing for people to discourage singing. I’m sure we are all glad that you ignored all of the naysayers and pursued your dream!

    Like

  15. Rachel Moon
    February 28, 2018

    Dear Matthew Edwards,

    I sincerely thank you for sharing your story with all of us who need to hear this today. I also thank you for not discouraging nor not giving up on anyone who like to learn how to sing. I’ve had a full of tears in my eyes while I was reading your story because I am also one of them who is continually trying to sing better and am also working hard on expanding my singing career. lately, I was depressed and also was getting tired mentally and physically because of all of the judgements around me. Indeed, your story encouraged and comforted me so much today. Just a short story of mine: I do have a talent and fortunately was born with a beautiful voice but I have been having a hard time with finding my place to sing and extending my singing career. Even today, when I was teaching lessons, I had to think once more not giving up on my students and stop thinking when will be a time I have to eventually tell him/her giving up on their singing.

    I am very glad to realize all of my negative thoughts were wrong. Thank you again for sharing.

    Like

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  17. Pati
    March 3, 2018

    What a beautiful.. BEAUTIFUL story, Matt!

    My wasband lived outside of Chicago, in the boonies. (At the time.) He worked at his neighbor’s horse farm.

    There were two sons. Both loved to sing.

    One, the older, was always told he was going to go places. He got big roles. Articles in the paper.

    The other brother, they’d be polite (I assume) but made it real clear no one thought he had a future in music.

    Well. The older ended up working in a car dealership. I think he eventually owned one.

    The younger is Sherrill Milnes.

    Like

  18. michelle
    March 4, 2018

    Not at all what I expected to read! Brought me to tears. I will save this one to reread often. Thank you!!!

    Like

  19. kaceycardincoaching
    May 11, 2018

    Wow – just stumbled upon this while searching for something very different. I’m in tears and so moved. Amazing how we find just what we need, even when it’s not what we thought we were looking for. Thanks so much for your voice and for helping others find theirs.

    Like

  20. Agree 100% thank you!

    Like

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This entry was posted on February 26, 2018 by in Misc. Thoughts.

Ranked the #1 New Release in "Vocal and Singing" on Amazon.com (October 2014), "So You Want To Sing Rock 'N' Roll?" covers voice science, vocal health, technique, style, and how to find your artistic voice in a way that is beneficial to both singers and teachers. Order your copy today!

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