An Update

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.

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!  -Millay

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.

Equilibrium.jpgI’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.

4 thoughts on “An Update

  1. Sorry to hear of your problems Justin, but am glad to see that you have surfaced from the maelstrom and appear to be in quieter waters. When I was in college I remember that pupils of the best teacher who always had the best of the pupils complained to me that after a whole term they had not got any further than the first two bars of a Beethoven Sonata they were required to learn, I thought then what utter stupidity from the teacher. Let’s face it, the pupils had an advanced technique and were now being schooled in how to interpret the music so that in the end they all sounded alike and all lost interest in actually playing the piece. Sounds familiar? the masterclass syndrome I might call it. For me the job of the teacher is to give the pupil the technique to allow them to decide what they want to do with a certain piece of music, not what the teacher has had handed down from generation to generation, all that does is stop the development of both pupil and teacher not to mention the listener. Music is only worth playing if the performer can bring something new to the table, that was said by Busoni and I am not going to argue with him. You are going in the right direction now by not overloading yourself and pupils with technical information which at the end of the day only clouds the picture, allow the pupil to discover for themselves what makes a song tick and just give them the technique they need to be able to do it, it sounds to me that you have already made that decision, the best of luck and lots of success.

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