Kashu-do (歌手道): The Pleasure of Palpable Progress: Say that 10 times fast!

The pleasure has been mine the past few days! Hearing and seeing the progress in some specific students has been particularly satisfying. Some students walk into the studio with what some teachers call “no voice”. The obvious inaccuracy of the statement has often irritated me because it is a dismissal of the student’s native worth and the teacher’s lack of vision. As much as I experience great enjoyment working with my advanced professional students, I find great affirmation in the “palpable progress” of the students who have had difficult roads.

When a student who walks in my studio sounds uncoordinated and the vocal quality is poor, my first thought is to find out what kind of coordination issue, muscular malfunction, acoustic maladjustment, or baisc physical weakness is at the root of the problem. When a top professional walks into my studio the process is not much different. The difference in balance between the two types of singers is a question of degree. My hope as a teacher is to be able to envision the voice that hides behind the haze of dysfunction and weakness.

Many functionable singers have enough native strength and coordination in the vocal mechanism and complimentary skills to acquire professional opportunities. Such singers are often very protective of what got them their early adulations and are often resistent to making changes that would bring their talent to a higher level. Such singers want to improve to have better opportunities but are often unwilling to make the changes that would get them there. A quandry! Many young singers who appear to be very promising often do not achieve greatness for exactly this reason.

For different reasons, I find great similarity between top professionals and the passionate, uncoordinated beginner. Singers who deem themselves comparatively unskilled but really want to sing are willing to do whatever is necessary to acquire ability because they have nothing to lose. Top professionals are willing to make changes because most of them got to the top by being adaptable to all kinds of changes and situations. I find them open to suggestion and willing to try something that makes sense to them. Of course they are already very skilled to begin with, the changes they need to make are often not very invasive. Still, we seldom imagine that very skilled singers had to work hard in some way to be successful.

After teaching for more than 20 years, I find that the determining factors to a student’s progress are more psychological than they are vocal. To what degree does a student seek to recognize the real obstacles to acquiring high level skills? The Zen concept of coming to a lesson with an empty cup keeps following me. My Kung Fu master reminded me again of this principle. Progress depends on the degree to which a student is willing to empty his/her cup and the degree to which the teacher is able to fill it.

I have also often heard the inspirational saying: “Every master was once a disaster,” originated by a Canadian success trainer by the name of T. Harv Eker.  I came across it again in Kung Fu training. It is not accidental that my teacher, Sifu Romain has been so successful.  Many inspirational thoughts of this kind find their way to  his students.  These are more than inspirational thoughts to me. They are phylosophical axioms. Indeed the student who goes through all the steps, “crawl, walk, run” will have lasting skills.

Many of the middle level students I teach feel rushed by what they see as impossible expectations of the gate-keepers of our field. Ageism, lookism, etc., all give the student a sense that they do not have time to address all their issues before they can audition.  One such student returned from a trip to Austria during which she had the opportunity to observe top professionals at work.  All of my speeches about taking time to become truly professionally viable seemd to not have reached her (so I thought). But apparently my talks needed a complimentary experience to take hold. By observing that the professionals were not so perfect, she realized that she could get herself to a professional level and be viable. She said today: “Since I am committed to do this, I might as well do it in peace, without feeling rushed”.  Not only had she improved extremely since we last saw each other, but today’s lesson was our most effective. We were working entirely together without the pressing energy of the rigors of the professional world. When the singer has a vision of her own future, my job becomes easy. “You have no more significant obstacles that cannot be ovecome. You have eliminated the only difficult obstacle: your former doubting self!”

Another student drives four hours several times a month to come have her lesson with me.  When I think of what she sounded like a little less than two years ago when she first walked into my studio, I was humbled. She sang some songs and an aria I have deemed inappropriate a couple of months ago. Today I told her she must work on that aria.  She recognized her own progress and left charged and ready to find the next level. “Enjoy your new gorgous middle voice”!

Another wonderfully determined students who also travels from afar, walked into the studio today after losing 70 pounds (and counting) in the last year, by changing her diet and finding an exercise regimen that works for her. She came armed with questions about what her next professional steps should be. “You look fabulous”!

There are three other very special students who have dealt with extreme deficits who completely astound me by their dedication.  I find something very similar in all those successful students.  They are able to celebrate when they learn to crawl, when they learn to walk and when finally they can run.  Those who have a hard time progressing, are blinded by the ability of others to run and never learn the joy of celebrating a small victory.

Indeed the gate-keepers of our field are there for a reason. They are there to discourage those who are discourageable.  Our field is not for the faint-hearted. Singing classical music requires so many diverse skills. It is a lifetime apprenticeship. Many singers sacrifice a lot along the way, only to hate that they ever started to sing because they have not gotten where they wanted to. The difficult lesson is not to be concerned with what may come but rather with what we can do in the moment toward our goal. This particular principle permeates every aspect of our discipline.

Concentrate on the G you are singing and you will give the following high C the best chance to be great. Worry about the C and the G that prepares it will be ignored, thereby destroying any chance of that high C begin successful.

The ability to celebrate “palpable progress”, finding pleasure in the smallest step forward is the hallmark of the successful person!

© 09/05/2010