Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Challenges and Revelations in the Interpretation of Short Songs: Teaching the "Small"

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Challenges and Revelations in the Interpretation of Short Songs: Teaching the "Small"

Article excerpt

THE MANY FACETED CHALLENGES OF TEACHING in an independent studio provide the impetus for this discussion on "teaching the small." The challenges found in independent studios emerge largely out of the variety of students that frequent them, generally ranging in age from tweens until well into the later years, and from all walks of life. The variety of vocal interests across that population is also much broader in comparison with the average studio in a university setting. Most young students come to independent studios with limited vocal experience. Maybe they are singing in a rock band or two, and/or in some choral or gospel groups, and/or music theater productions in high school, and perhaps a solo or two in church. We count ourselves lucky if they have not already developed bad habits or even vocal damage that may require extensive technical work. Virtually all who come to us, though, need help developing reliable and healthy techniques, good stamina, and wider, more consistent vocal and expressive ranges. The aging singer, like most of our beginner singers, needs special care. He or she may be short on stamina, range, and quality, but may, on the other hand, have long and deep experience that has evolved into penetrating insights.

Much of our task is to provide our students with a technique that will maximize both their vocal longevity and singing enjoyment. But working on vocalization, posture, relaxation, flexibility, stamina, tone quality, etc., is merely building the vehicle that carries these necessities beyond the province of exercises and into the realm of artistry. Artistry is realized through the performance of vocal literature.

SONGS AND VOICES

Choosing song literature is one of the most important and difficult aspects of our profession. No one-but no one-always makes the optimal choice for every one of his/her students. Making the wrong choice can often happen earlier in the game when we are just becoming familiar with an instrument. Most of us have learned to be very cautious with these early assignments, because we have learned only too well that an early mistake can shake the student's confidence in herself (and sometimes even in us). A mistake may also result in the need for some technical realignment, and generally wastes valuable time. But always making the "safe" choice is also less likely to challenge a student enough to maximize growth. Challenging pieces are fraught with precisely the kinds of problems that either can be great growth opportunities or lead to difficulties already mentioned. As a student develops, our familiarity with the voice makes some of these choices easier, but the difference between a great choice and an "okay" choice can become increasingly (and maddeningly) nuanced when working with more advanced students. Here, choosing even the not-quite-right piece for a particular voice can be a serious mistake, one that can cost students dearly, especially if they have professional aspirations and are actively auditioning.

As we become more sophisticated teachers, we begin to develop a much more subtle sense of a singer's potential and the literature necessary to make it grow. But if we think hard about it, potential is a profoundly elusive term. One of the most common mistakes voice teachers make is that we tend to see potential as though it functioned teleologically. Yes, an acorn will become an oak-but students are not acorns. This seems obvious until we think about the most common mistakes we have made in the past with students with whose voices we have become familiar. We start thinking we know the student's potential. In other words, we think we have an acorn (a bass, a dramatic tenor, a belter), ergo she is going to be an oak-period. Then, if she does not fully realize her potential in the pieces we give her, well, it is her fault, because we know they should be able to do this. (Besides, we have been dying to teach this piece for years!) Students are not, indeed, acorns-they are infinitely more complex than that-and that is our problem! …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.