It’s been several months since I posted on this blog. For much of 2017, my schedule became over-filled with teaching, coaching, and administrative tasks and pulled my focus and ability to work creatively. Frankly, I reached burnout status, and have spent the greater part of 2018 pulling myself back from its clutches.
To those that have read this blog and reached out to me to inquire about its continuance, let me say that I am very grateful for your encouragement and support. A special mention is reserved for my colleagues and friends Daniel Shigo and D. Brian Lee, two teachers and scholars who reached out expressly, and in whose esteem I remain indebted.
Having time away has been a very positive experience, since it has allowed me to ruminate on this blog and to question my purpose within the larger landscape of readily available vocal pedagogy material in the new media. Within the vast libraries of available information, what is my message?
I maintain I do not know everything when it comes to the human voice, or the training ideas purported by history. My purpose here has always been to share information, perhaps once neglected or even forgotten, which may be of use to the modern teacher of voice. While we can extrapolate quite a bit from the surviving materials, historical pedagogy still requires a bit of stitching and sewing various sources together and inferring meaning where writers have left some clues tantalizingly out of reach. Ah well – such is the dilemma of voice teaching.
One thought that has given me particular pause is being slavishly devoted to attaining a high level of scholarly research and knowledge – and not being able to teach the information to a human voice, heart, and mind. I could see myself transformed into more of a musicologist than a singing teacher. Balance in all things is necessary, I’ve found.
I’ve refrained from writing not only out of necessity, but also from the need to actually work on my teaching. There seems to be a terrible chasm that one can fall into: a pedagogy writer who comes up empty when faced with a pupil, or a fantastic teacher unknown the general public at large. This is either/or thinking, of course, but I could see myself falling into the trap of writing well, but not being able to transmit anything of value to the student.
I’ve also pondered what is, to my mind, THE pedagogical question: application. I have spent many years collecting, studying, evaluating, and considering the various theories of the voice from the past 300 years. But the ultimate question I find myself facing in the presence of a student is always – what do I do with THIS student, at THIS time in their vocal development, and is the BEST choice for them? Will this help develop their voice or will it cause an irretrievable loss of time and resources? I’ve become weary of theory at this stage in my life, and I am much more interested in application, and the creative employment of exercise in the training program.
Preach not to me your musty rules,
Ye drones that mould in idle cell;
The heart is wiser than the schools,
The senses always reason well.
Air from “Comus,”
Perhaps this points to the assurance provided by the proliferation of methods. It gives a sense of security, sometimes false, sometimes true, upon which all voice issues can be solved or negotiated. It can cast aside the persistent, gnawing doubt which can be commingled with the teaching of voice – it is all so mysterious. This ephemeral aspect may explain the proliferation of unabated egocentrism and insecurity in the profession of voice teaching as well.
In continuing this blog, I do not wish to take the vantage point of an expert or authority, especially since my work does not center itself upon WRITING per se, but on the instruction of voice. Instead, my desire is to share my ideas and experiences as a teacher of voice in the 21st century, buffeted in the extremes of over-scientific dehumanization, to the ludicrousness of pedagogical nincompoopery.
I wish to ask deeper philosophical questions. I wish to strive for a greater authenticity, intention, and immediacy in my writing. Pedagogical writing can either be too erudite and academic, or too familiar and flippant. I wish to strike a balance between these poles.
Exploration of more insightful questions might include:
- Why do we sing?
- What is singing’s purpose within the warp and weft of the human experience?
- How can we build a pedagogy that affirms the best of the oldest traditions, and yet allows the individualism of the singer in their personal process of self-discovery?
- What are we to do with the student who simply cannot make progress, despite our best efforts?
- How can I bring greater presence into my teaching experience, and lessen the familiar security of the “I Know” mind?
- What precepts of mindfulness can be actively engaged in teaching?
I sincerely hope to serve others on the path to creating singers, developing artists, and enabling human beings to express the highest and noblest parts of themselves.