The Sacredness of the Singer’s Spirit

When a student leaves a lesson, how do they feel? Discouraged, shamed, uplifted, excited, or relieved?

Students that come into a lesson afraid of a teacher, or the experience of the lesson, will only too readily clamp down on their throats in a fight or flight response. We want to feel safe. Our reptilian brain wants to guarantee our survival.

The control of the mood of the session is the teacher’s responsibility. We should focus on what is improving, noting where freedom is apparent, where ease is more readily achieved, and how the student can continue to improve their work. All along the way success should be noted and celebrated.

Jeannette LoVetri, the founder of Somatic Voicework™ terms this teaching attitude Pianoside Manner. This is a fitting description of how we should interact from the bench. Who wants to spend time with a cranky, opinionated, cynical, jaded teacher with soul necrosis? Would you even want to break bread with a personality like this? I call these teachers TOXIC, because that is exactly the effect they have on their students. No joy, all fear. Yuck.

There are horror stories of abusive voice teachers, ones that would send students home for wearing the wrong kinds of shoes, ones that verbally abused students, ones that would crush a student’s spirit when something couldn’t be achieved in the lesson, ones that would say things like, “NOW you’re making a professional sound!” – as if everything that came before was worthless!!

I worked with a student recently who took an exploratory lesson with another teacher. This teacher made him sing very loudly and forcefully. The experience for the student was physically and psychologically uncomfortable. He later remarked to me, “I felt like I was screaming.” Shortly after this lesson, the student became despondent, depressed, and wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue to sing. That this would happen is reprehensible.

I myself have taken lessons with VERY well known teachers, only to come out of these feeling like I’d been hit by a truck physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

How shameful there are those that place their pedagogy or aesthetic bias before their student’s current ability. How inhumane that the teacher must validate a particular ‘methodology’ and shoehorn a square peg into a round hole. If a student can’t sing particularly loudly, then the teacher should understand why: is it functional, anatomical, or temperamental? Pushing a voice to sound louder for the sake of it, without a rational basis for doing so, borders on abuse.

As teachers we must take students from WHERE THEY ARE. What is working well? What needs improvement? Where is there flow? Where is there inhibition? So many teachers are trying to get “the SOUND™” as the product they leave behind the spirit, soul, and heart of the singer in front of them. This is bad pedagogy, friends. 

You can know all you want about tuning formants to harmonics, have a connection to some past vocal guru, know the action of the laryngeal musculature, or memorize the intricacies of the Berton Coffin Vowel Chart – but if you are not an encourager, a guide, a listener, and a mentor – then you need to ask yourself why you teach.

Do you do it to ‘show off’ your knowledge and experience?

Do you do it to prove something to others?

Do you do it to validate some technique that your mom, teacher, friend, or mentor taught you?

Students come to us for our expertise, but they also come because of who we ARE as human beings. When I first started out teaching, I felt terrible about the fact that I was working with students in rather spartan locations, until a friend reminded me, “They don’t care about that, they are coming because of WHO YOU ARE.”

Worth a thought.

Pedagogies that create fear in a student, or teachers who have not done work on themselves and their inner motivations are not serving the needs of anyone. The scars from poor Pianoside Manner can last for DECADES. I’ve seen it firsthand, and it is devastatingly sad.

It’s time that we realize that EVERY LESSON SHOULD CONTAIN SOME KIND OF SUCCESS. There should never be a circumstance where a student walks out of a lesson dispirited, hurt, or depressed about their work. There is always something to celebrate in EVERY session. And if you can’t get a singer to some (even small) success in a lesson, then perhaps you need to evaluate your own teaching effectiveness.

Our students are owed that, at least.

 

 

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