The Dogma of Vocal Pedagogy

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One of the most fascinating aspects of vocal pedagogy is the process of interpreting the oldest writings on the art form.

We all interpret these older writings based on our own experience and current understanding of the singing voice.

Vocal Pedagogy can resemble tenets of a religion: adopted beliefs are shared amongst a group, reinforced by strict attention to those same tenets, and preserved by repetition and mechanization. Any variance against the established pedagogical ‘rules’ makes someone a “vocal heretic.” And we all know what happens to heretics that flout the rules and regulations.

Outliers in vocal pedagogy are looked upon with suspicion because they do not carry the banner of the One True Faith: “It’s all in the breath,””It’s a question of the nose,””You must modify your vowels in the passaggio,””Some voices just can’t sing coloratura,””Classical singing requires more breath than other styles of singing.”

When I chat with teachers about the historical writings on singing, I often hear “Well, those texts were very confusing to read, and are very unclear. It’s hard to really understand them or interpret them.”

I think that this is very true.

I struggled with understanding them as well, and found them merely interesting as historical documents and not really applicable to MY teaching or my own singing.

But then I lost my voice.

And I wanted answers.

Where did all of our pedagogical ideas come from? Were there trends of vocal behavior? What were they? How were the greatest voices trained? How were they preserved?

Like someone that moves away from religious thinking or political affiliation, I had to question EVERYTHING that I had been TRAINED (breath and resonance dominance). I had to re-examine my training in the light of historical training, and what can be VERIFIED by science in light of a functional reality. Anything could be true, and anything could be false. Pedagogical agnosticism.

(A questioning mind is dangerous territory for established dogma).

The results of this research, coupled with my own voice loss was to reject much of the modern views on voice training. I am not alone in this: the roadway is scattered with thousands of singers that have been instructed along similar lines and have come up wanting, or sing with compromised or limited instruments.

VOICE LOSS has formulated my entire worldview on singing. I have gone from a place of being able to do something well to a very high professional level, and then losing that ability totally. And I have had to rebuild my voice from nothing. I often wish that EVERY voice teacher had to lose their voice ENTIRELY. How would their pedagogy stand up under those circumstances?

What I have come to realize about the oldest writings is simply this: pursue a path that is true to Nature. What that means is a voice that is free, resonant, supple, easy to move, and has an extensive range. Anything else than this is a compromise to a ‘market’ or ‘aesthetic.’ A fully operational voice is INHERENTLY beautiful by sake of its freedom of function and movement.

What I have discovered about the old masters and functional pedagogy is that the instrument REJOICES when these concepts are introduced. When my own voice began to unlock and revitalize, do you know how I would describe it?

The voice of my childhood.

That is the kinesthetic memory that I have of singing as a young child: free, easy, joyful, fun. The positive sensations infused my psyche with joy, happiness, and love for singing. The openness and frankness of what singing felt like when I was younger, and wasn’t ‘thinking’ about it. The responses were organic, free, and easy.

When we interpret the old writings on singing, or any text, personal bias comes into play. My biases before voice loss and after voice loss have changed. I interpret these older texts differently now, and value them MORE. Hence this blog.

My aim is to share the wisdom of these great teachers and writers with you, so that perhaps you, too, might re-examine your own biases, and entertain the idea of a more organic way of working with the voice. Just because a dogma is established by a large group of people, does not necessarily mean that the belief is TRUE.

Question your beliefs.

You might just find your own literal and figurative voice.

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