Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hocus Pocus Focus on the Fourth of July

The July 4th holiday offered me an opportunity to do anything other than teaching-related work. So, what did I do? I put on my teaching hat and wrote a lengthy response to a thread in a singers' forum. A singer was complaining about a quick fix offered by a voice coach to a friend of a friend and referring to it as hocus pocus. The friend's friend changed her posture and was able to produce a high note that was previously unattainable. My response may or may not have stand-alone merit. For what it's worth, here it is.

It would be interesting to see if this altered posture helped the singer to sing the notes slightly above or below the high note in question. And it would be interesting to be the fly on the wall at this coaching session, to see if the singer 'cared' about singing the notes slightly above or below. My first guess would be "probably not" in both cases. Quick fixes aren’t usually good fixes. And, in my experience, the vast majority of individuals taking lessons/coachings tend not to question. I have to dare to bore them with the information.

Some teachers and coaches resort to hocus pocus for many reasons -- none of them good ones.

Broad generalizations follow.

Singers expect to learn everything there is to learn in a few lessons/coachings. TV shows and contests make it seem like the progression is 1) audition, 2) stardom. Some Ts&Cs go with that. It's easier than fighting the singer to try to help the singer. People think that singing doesn't require the same foundation work as ballet, ice skating, golf, baseball... what have you. (In reality, it ranks right up there with skills like ballet in terms of training for strength, flexibility, control, nuance, total body involvement, life commitment...) People don't realize that, once you find something that works for you, it requires ongoing maintenance. You don't just learn to sing. Resting on those laurels stagnates a singer and wastes a voice. Good Ts&Cs know all of this. It requires a complementary class to teach it these days. And nobody would take the class (except for those who are somehow enlightened already).

People like quick results. People don't like to wait for things. People don't want to do the grunt work and look for answers themselves. They want everything handed to them. People believe what they want to believe, instead of seeking truth. Survival of the species, no doubt. How many young girls think they have modeling figures, because no one tells them otherwise? They don't see themselves clearly in the mirror, and those who would profit from the girls' desire to become models willingly take their money.

People want to be appreciated. They don't necessarily take coachings to learn anything. Years ago, a young lady came to me who needed lots of help. This was before I learned to cushion the obvious truth. After hearing her, I suggested a couple of things she might work on, to help her change the way she was singing. She stared, dumbfounded and said, "I don't want to change the way I'm singing." Silly, literal me. (She needed to change the way she was singing.) My next thoughts (to myself, for safety reasons) were why are you here? and what can I do for you, then? I had only been exposed to the "pat on the head and you're a star" school of teaching in what I thought were very unfortunate settings.

In another instance, a manager brought an actress/singer to my studio for lessons. She had a recording session set for two weeks from the date we met. (This happens a lot.) So, I asked the woman to sing a couple of notes right around Middle C. She couldn't. She couldn't sing those notes, or any notes. She couldn't sing a song, or hum a tune. ...

For a short time I worked with a brilliant woman who, until then, could do anything she set her mind to. When she had trouble with singing, she resorted to a throaty voice that would not have held up for long, and that wasn't giving her range, etc. Finally, frustrated, she asked me how long she would be able to sing the way she was singing. I told her I couldn't predict. I said, a year, a few years, 5 or 10 years... She said, "That would be long enough."

Learning to sing, improving one's technique or approach to songs... takes openness, trust, trial and error, willingness to fail, additional work on the part of the singer, immersion. Hopefully, the professionals training the singer are ethical and skilled enough to offer something of value, and to be worthy of trust.

The change in posture offered by this coach may have been a necessary integral component of producing an efficient sound for this singer. Very possibly this is a skilled coach with a good eye and ear. I wonder if your vocalist friend's friend knows why this change in posture helped. What were the mechanics? Did this person record the sound to see if it was something she wanted to keep producing in this way? Was she able to align her posture the same way and produce the same tone the same way, again? How can this change in posture contribute to her over-all singing? These are just a few of the thoughts that instantly flood my mind.

People who want to "do" singing generally are happier and sometimes more successful in the long haul than are people who want to "be" singers. Just another observation.

If I’ve gone a bit off topic, please pardon my purge. Yes! Good luck out there, indeed. May no singers find themselves in circumstances that would limit or detract from their ability to do (key word) the thing they love doing.

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