Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
How many times has one of your students said something along the lines of:
If you are like me, you have probably heard some variation statements like this, and more, during your teaching career. As a teacher who is fully invested with your students, your initial reaction might be to say, “well <insert name of person> is wrong!”
But, does that actually help the student grow? Does that help the student become independent? Does that prepare them for the real world?
In my opinion, the answer to all of the above is no.
Everyone has different tastes and that is OK. There are 7.7 billion people in this world, no one is ever going to make them all happy. When we shelter our students from feedback that does not align with our own sensibilities, are we really serving the student or ourselves?
This is a tough one, a very challenging dilemma at times. What I know without a doubt is that I want my students to work for the next 50 years. I also know for a fact I do not plan on teaching any more than 30 years from now. Instead, I will be on the beach of some small Caribbean island with my wife, with a cocktail in my hand, and a sailboat waiting for me at the dock. FAR away from email! That means my current students will not have access to me for at least 20 years of their career if not more. Even now I have almost no time to meet with my students after they graduate. If I train them that my way is the only way and that all other ideas are wrong, they are going to really struggle when they get out into the real world.
Now there are clearly things that are said to them that are problematic. For instance, if someone asks one of my students to do something that makes them lose their voice within 30 minutes, then I will strongly defend my statement that what they are being asked to do is wrong or they misunderstood what was asked. However, if the music director likes closed vowels in a particular part of the voice while I prefer open vowels, I do not do the student any good by telling them the other person is wrong. I serve the student best when I say “great, let’s figure out how to help you form closed vowels in that part of your voice without tension.”
If the student asks me if that is what I want, I tell them “yes, because this is the gig you have right now and this is what the creative team wants. I prefer a different sound, but this is not my show. Your job as an artist is to be able to adapt to the creative team’s vision, so that’s what we are going to work on.”
When my students go back into the rehearsal room and do exactly what they are asked, the creative team is thrilled, which drastically improves my student’s chance of being hired again. If my student decides they don’t really like that sound, and they did not like the gig, then they have learned something to avoid in the future. That is also an important lesson to learn.
I do not do the student any good by telling them the other person is wrong. My job is to teach them to be flexible, to learn that no singular person has all of the answers no matter how brilliant they are or how wonderful they are in their own performances. I believe I serve them best when I help them appreciate a wide variety of artistic views and train them to adapt to any situation they find themselves in. After all, our world is changing faster than ever before. If we do not give them the skills to adapt as they grow older, they may quickly find themselves obsolete.
It’s not always easy to let go of the sounds we (the teacher) prefer, but in this day and age, it’s a necessary part of our business. The one thing I will never back down from is protecting the vocal health of my students. However, there is almost always a way to help a student make a sound close to what they’re being asked for in a way that is manageable and not harmful.
How do you train your students to be flexible and open-minded? You can contribute to the conversation below by leaving a comment. If you are not yet following the blog, please sign up to ensure you receive each new post in your email.
Thanks for reading and have a great week of teaching!
Matt Edwards is an Associate Professor of Voice/Coordinator of Musical Theatre Voice at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA, and Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute. He is the author of “So You Want to Sing Rock ‘N Roll” and dozens of articles and book chapters on functional voice training for non-classical styles. For more information visit EdwardsVoice.com
Thank you for writing this! I wholeheartedly agree with you in every way. We are training our singers to be flexible and adaptable. I find it thrilling when my teenage students help prepare their younger siblings for auditions using techniques and exercises they’ve learned in my studio. I also think that it is helpful to work with different teachers and realize that we can all learn in different ways. I certainly have my preferences (like you’ve said closed vowels vs. open vowels on specific songs, vibrato, etc), but I can help my students to adapt their voices when asked to do something by a director, music director, or another teacher. You are awesome and I love reading your blog!!
Another excellent article, Matt!
Thank you for another excellent article! I’ve gotten similar comments from my students. I think the important thing ( at least for me) is remember that we all hear things differently and have different tastes. Being flexible and adapting while singing in a healthy manner is key.