The Bach to Rock Connection

By Edwin, Robert | Journal of Singing, May/June 2011 | Go to article overview

The Bach to Rock Connection


Edwin, Robert, Journal of Singing


Are We the National Association of Teachers of Classical Singing?

What would your response be if a rock and roll singer with an exotic mohawk haircut of many hues knocked on your studio door and asked for voice lessons? Would you say to this rather bizarre-looking person, "Yes, maybe I can help you," or would you be more inclined to say, "I'm sorry, I just wouldn't know what to do with you." Perhaps your response would be, "I'm totally unfamiliar with the repertoire," or "I don't like your kind of singing. It goes against everything I know to be good for the voice."

Whatever the reasoning, I suspect that [TS1] a majority of NATS members have a closed door policy with regard to pop and rock vocalists. As a result, many of these [TS2] nonclassical singers end up in voice studios where sound voice pedagogy is not practiced. This is unfortunate, because singers in the mass music markets want and need help from competent and knowledgeable instructors. NATS members, if they are willing and able, can address that need.

We should start with the premise that all singing styles can have as their foundation, basic [TS3] vocal technic such as the development and coordination of the laryngeal mechanism, freedom from extraneous tensions, extension of range and endurance, resonance coupling, and efficient breath management. With this "basic training" the student is better prepared to channel creative energies into the chosen style of singing.

Since all vocal art forms have their "thrivers," "survivors," and "failures," it is imperative that the teacher be a part of the student's decision-making process. The complex and often fragile interaction between the singer's talent quotient, personality profile, lifestyle, physical health, and career ambition, needs careful analysis.

Those of us in the minority vocal art forms such as opera, oratorio, and recital know, for example, that a Verdi soprano and a Mozart soprano are defined by both voice and temperament, and that a Heldentenor voice without courage and endurance is not a Heldentenor singer. Similar dynamics exist in the majority vocal art forms of musical theater, pop and rock [TS4].

Ethel Merman, Kate Smith, and in more recent years Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt, Pat Benatar, and Cyndi Lauper [TS5] are but a few of the thrivers and survivors who categorically discredit the maxim that belting is bad for all female voices.

Representing the male side, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, and Chuck Berry continue [TS6] to roll along years after certain critics declared that their singing styles would quickly render them totally voiceless. Yet for every young "Annie" who is both physically and emotionally capable of belting out the song "Tomorrow" in the original show key, there exists a young girl whose particular talents and limitations may demand extensive vocal training, a change of key, an entirely different repertoire, or another vocation or hobby.

Since rock and pop music will not go away, nor people's urge to sing it, shouldn't we as well informed and well equipped singing teachers lend our expertise to help increase the number of thrivers and survivors and to diminish the number of failures?

Let's get to the root of the matter. Could you teach vocalists whose singing styles are, by artistic demand, often physically and vocally abusive, without violating your pedagogic standards? Emphatically "No!" if you are ethically and aesthetically opposed to the music, extended chest voice singing, a lack of purity, fullness and dynamics in the voice, a repertoire from less than the masters, and an endless assortment of creative grunts, groans and growls.

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