The Teacher’s Duty

From Edward Foreman’s essay Modern Pedagogy (unpublished):


In order to accept payment for teaching voice, the teacher should:

  1. Understand the mechanics of the voice, not in the abstract anatomical sense, but in the practical sense from his own experience
  2. Understand that while all voices are mechanically the same, no two singers can be taught quite the same way in this day and age
  3. Understand the difference between being able to sing the notes and being able to sing the composition as a whole, with style appropriate to its historical period, language, and genre
  4. Understand that the relationship between the person and the voice is the single most intimate relationship of all, and respect that relationship, in order to heal any breach between the singer and his voice.

Some teachers hasten to point out that they are not psychologists, by which I take it to mean “trained in psychology,” or “holding a degree in psychology.” It is impossible to teach voice without learning a great deal of practical psychology through observation, and it is a wise teacher who arms himself with some rudimentary behavioral information at the outset of his teaching career. This is not to be confused with psychological therapy or counseling, but the teacher who does not take into account the psychology of the student will never be able to help the student fully unlock the mass of interferences and inhibitions which the modern student brings with him into the studio.

This work must be done through vocal exercises, which are the teacher’s province, and not through analysis, which is not. There is abundant evidence—from early Antiquity—that “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” The various powers ascribed to music include its value as therapy, and the teacher must realize that this is happening in voice lessons, whether he likes it or not, and learn to deal with it accordingly.

In this society at this time, there is no excuse for being unaware of the therapeutic activity which takes place in a voice lesson, which must be guided, understood and utilized to the student’s benefit. It is no longer appropriate to deal only with the voice as though it were an abstract study happening outside the context of the whole person. Simple logic requires that we understand the integrated nature of all human activities, and learn to utilize that understanding in helping the student to fulfill his potential.

This view of vocal pedagogy was gradually emerging at the end of the 20th century. It is too early to predict what advances the study of human nature and behavior may contribute to stabilizing the chaotic condition of pedagogy in the 21st century.

While we cannot go back and revive the actual pedagogy of the 17th and 18th centuries—which would require 17th and 18th century Italians as students, and reversion to the musical styles of the period, and would prove inadequate to the vocal demands of modern music and performing conditions—we might take note of the salient features of that pedagogy which are relevant in the modern world: Time, discipline, simplicity of method, and a stress on the artistic expression of vocal musical ideas.

The pressures on the average academic student of voice do not permit the kind of focus necessary to master the art of singing, either as vocal emission or as interpretive art. In addition to a course load unrelated to music or performance, the regular requirements of juried examinations, grading “progress,” opera workshop participation, and the generally stressful pace of modern life distract the student from the kind of attention he needs to pay to the simple act of vocal emission, much less the art of singing itself.

The private teacher—an almost endangered species—has the leisure of avoiding academic entanglements and distractions, but financial considerations often reduce the amount of time he can devote to a single student. Unless the student has a patron able to provide relief from the necessity to work two jobs and afford him enough time in actual personal study with the teacher, the present conditions will prevail, with the results which can be heard all around us in poor vocal emission and unformed artistic expression.