Repertoire for Child Singers
Edwin, Robert, Journal of Singing
IT WAS A CHALLENGING WEEK OF TEACHING, that first week in October, 2011. No fewer than four of my eleven year old female students came to their lessons wanting to sing an Adele song. For those out of the CCM (Contemporary Commercial Music) loop, Adele Adkins is a talented and mature mid-twenties singer/songwriter who is immensely popular with many age groups, including the aforementioned preteen children. The kids expressed their undying (until the next new pop diva) love for her and her music, which includes such child-like lyrics as: "Finally I can see you crystal clear. Go ahead and sell me out and I'll lay your shit bare;" and, "I heard that you're settled down, that you found a girl and you're married now."
Not wanting to immediately squash their enthusiasm, I asked what they liked about her songs. Not surprisingly, to a person they hadn't really studied the lyrics too closely; rather, they opted for just singing along with Adele and feeling current, with it, in sync with the pop culture, one of the tribe, whatever.
When I asked if these songs were right for them, they looked at me with that smirky smile that said, "Here he goes again about age-appropriate songs." I read them some of the lyrics and asked if an audience, other than their very close friends, would in any way, shape, or form, believe them if they sang these rather grown-up songs. They hate it when I'm right, but they know that is one of the reasons their parents bring them to me for singing lessons. It has less to do with morality and ethics, and more to do with believability and connection to the character. In my more than thirty-five years of teaching, I can't recall one eleven year old girl who could make lyrics like Adele's ring true.
To reinforce that point, I often share with my students a real life story involving one of my mother's and my former pupils. Prominently hanging in my studio is a framed, large, silk spider web, hand made especially for my mother by Maya, a well known Fifth Avenue fashion designer in the 1970s and 80s. Maya was of Indian descent whose mother, as was common in Indian culture, married at puberty, and soon after bore a child. When I tell my students that the mother was twelve years old when she gave birth to Maya, my younger students often respond with an "Eeeeeuw, that's gross!" So I ask, "Why then do you want to sing songs about much older characters? If you find Maya's mother's story almost unbelievable, think about how unbelievable you'd be to an audience watching and listening to you perform those story songs about relationships and behavior that should be far beyond your years." Point made . . . again (see "Sex and the Singing Teacher" in "The Bach To Rock Connection," The NATS Journal 49, no. 2 [November/December 1992]: 29).
What then can we as singing teachers offer to our young charges as an alternative to repertoire such as Adele's? There are many choices, popular and not so, depending upon the student's perceptions. Start with Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus. If that suggestion is greeted with a shriveled up nose and a, "I'm so over Miley. She's for kids," don't argue and move on down the list. If, however, Hannah/Miley still isn't off the list, she has great songs that can make sense to just-above-single-digits girls. Look at "Nobody's Perfect," "Who Said," "Rock Star," "I Miss You," and, of course, "The Climb."
Artists such as Demi Lovato ("This Is Me"), Taylor Swift ("Mean"), and Christina Aguilera ("Beautiful") have songs that can work on many levels, including that of an eleven year old. Older artists such as Mandy Moore ("Only Hope"), Mariah Carey ("Hero"), and Whitney Houston ("One Moment in Time"), can offer kids songs that still resonate in current times. …