Just Enough Knowledge to Be Dangerous

It’s an unusual anomaly in our world that singers would go to pianists to learn how to sing. Does a trumpeter go to a violinist to learn how to play his instrument? Or that a teacher would assert to know all about another teacher’s ideas from attending ONE summer workshop or masterclass. This is something I call ‘Just Enough Knowledge To Be Dangerous’.

Of course the subject of MUSIC is something that is cross-functional and educational – I can listen to Heifetz to learn more about legato and tone, and observe the nimble qualities of a master musician. Violinists listen to singers for the same reason as well. We all should learn from each other – that’s not under question here.

Coaches (many of whom are FINE musicians and knowledgable sources of information) have spent hours listening, playing, and learning about musical style and diction. They have INVALUABLE information to impart on how something should be sung, stylistic choices, breathing options, and interpretative options. They’ve probably done more work than the singer on research, listening, and linguistic difference. In this, their worth is invaluable and they are a vital part of the community – we NEED them. If you have a great coach, keep them forever!

But when a coach starts to dabble ‘under the hood’, that’s when their work (albeit probably with the kindest of intentions) becomes treacherous and even dangerous.  Coaches should respect the singer and understand the roles that each person should play. There’s a running joke amongst coaches that laughingly say “Take it to your teacher”. While funny, it speaks to an understanding of the fact that the coach understands their role. When a coach offers a singer technical advice, then they have what I would call ‘just enough knowledge to be dangerous’.

Companies that hire people have something called job descriptions. These help everyone to know their core responsibilities and alert others when someone is working outside their job description. This is a helpful thing because it allows people to stay ‘in role’ and not meander into doing the CEOs job. This is a GOOD THING. If a singer has a personal trainer, the personal trainer shouldn’t be telling the singer how to sing. They should be helping the singer achieve their fitness goals to sing. A singer’s therapist shouldn’t dabble in ‘pearl shaped tones’ and ‘resonance’ in a psychiatric session with the singer – they should solve mental blocks and resistance that the singer is dealing with.

But coaches aren’t the only target of my thesis here.

The other problem is voice teachers that attend 2-3 masterclasses or read ONE or TWO books and then fancy themselves experts on that teacher’s ideas or techniques. This is like saying that taking a 2-3 hour class on the work of Freud or Kant makes me an expert to teach these subjects to other people. NO. That is not how the system works. You have to spend TIME in Freud’s work, reading his works comparatively, cogitate on their meaning and relevance, their place in the historical narrative of psychology and what his colleagues were writing, track the development of these ideas and see how they have altered the landscape. Maybe then you can discuss Freud’s work intelligently in a well-thought out manner, and THEN you could DISMISS them if they went through this process and didn’t ‘hold up’ to scrutiny.

To truly understand, you have to DO YOUR HOMEWORK. READ critically and not superficially. Place things in a historical context. Follow Occam’s Razor, and beware of CONFIRMATION BIAS. If Freud taught the concept of “Yellow”, you’re going to really have to work to explain to me how you think he taught “Black”.

I realize in our current ‘teach to the test’ mentality of absorbing facts we believe that we can be authoritative on something merely by knowing the relevant details.  This may be knowledge, but it isn’t WISDOM. Wisdom takes a hell of a long time my friends.

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