A bit of a rant today. As a teacher who only teaches at home privately I don’t always have the opportunity to speak to the directors and the conductors that my pupils work with. The professionals that I am honoured to work with tend to work with people who understand both the mental and the technical processes a singer goes through to improve their artistry. They empathise generally, and nurture talent. They would see that a wrongly worded criticism could have devastating consequences on a performer. Most of us have egos that can break easily. In the professional world, those who direct or conduct or coach is have reached their position by hard work and exploitation of talent. Normally. They understand.
In the amateur world, however, it is, sadly, often very different. Directors and conductors often inherit positions of power, are a ‘last resort’ because no one else wants the job, or have muscled their way by desiring an outlet for their egos to flourish. And then problems arise...
As a teacher in a town, I cherish and love the chance to chance to change people’s lives. Singers come to me with no confidence, learn how to sing, and bam! Confidence and joy! People who never stood on stage before now sing title roles in our amazing local theatre. They hurry back from their day-jobs, wolf down their suppers, leave the kids with grandparents and enter the magical world of lights, darkness and storytelling! I genuinely love seeing them grow! It’s an amazing part of my job!
However there is a process. Many of my new pupil-singers have already sung roles with companies before having lessons, always with a feeling that something is missing. I’ve blogged at length why everyone that sings (either pro or amateur) should have lessons. The difference in sound and appearance between a singer that engages their bodies in the sound production. How a singer with no training looks and sounds like an amateur-how in the theatre the voice appears to float above the singer’s disembodied torso. How the sound is a croon, like a poor karaoke/pop singer, with no interesting phrasing or word-painting despite being able to impress the untrained war in a small room. And how to become a better singer one must sacrifice short term abilities for long term glory! So why would anyone seek to derail such a process, instead of appreciating the time, effort and money a singer commits to to better themselves???
But they do.
Last night, during my teaching I learnt that one of the best voices I have ever worked with, a young man with this incredible sound, was rubbished by a local director. That the words ‘why would you bother having singing lessons? That’s not YOUR voice, you sound older than you should’ were spoken to him by a director! Now understandably I’m furious about this. The level of stupidity to speak to a singer thus staggers! If the director had come to me with any concerns she had I’m certain I could have swiftly explained the process. I teach many ladies in this company and am thrilled and proud beyond measure as to how they are improving. I allow myself a moment of modest joy because it’s clear my small contributions are helping the company improve. I’m starting on the boys. I have a young voice that needs to position the larynx correctly and connect the whole support scaffold-with the result that the actual control of the voice is way harder, and the sound a little heavy and unwieldy. Again-it’s part of his process. It happened to me when I was a student at the Guildhall. My astonishing teacher Rudolph Piernay lowered my larynx and made my sound heavy. The head of singing failed my third year exam-and Rudolph exploded with rage on my behalf. The head did NOT understand the process and had I been her pupil would never have developed my full sound. She would have been content with short term control, sacrificing long term sound! And she was a professional... But should this director hear this young voice and attempt to distort our work, it could be disastrous!
Singers must be supported by those who seek to direct. This thing about confidence. When one starts to sing it’s possible to have it. Without technical skills it can be a bit of fun. Or it can be terrifying. Then one develops a knowledge of how good one could be, through developing technique-and then comes a change in the core sound one makes. To stand in front of others and attempt to make a different but better, more truthful sound-YOUR sound, but not what others have previously heard-that’s difficult. It’s so frustrating when a director fails to support that process! Harming confidence. Making everything harder...
Of course there are charlatans teaching, and then a director or conductor does well to step in and have a word. But even so one should take such care. He or she should look and listen to the other singers that teacher has trained and consider their progress vocally.
Support your singers. In every way. They are the ones putting their egos out there live. During the show, the director’s work is done. Ours is just beginning. We take our souls onto the stage. We need support.
Of course there are those companies and individuals who get it. I work closely with my local opera company-The Stanley Opera, and have a brilliant relationship with their conductor and director. Other local companies often ask whether this singer or that can sing this or that role! A sense of being in it together!
So I’ll end this week’s blog with an earnest plea-ask the teacher! Contact us! I would never recommend a singer for a role they weren’t suited to! I know my pupil’s voices!
And if you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t talk!!!