There are times I want to give up teaching! Yes I don’t know many teachers who love teaching singers as much as I do, but there are times that the whole process seems useless. So often if seems like convincing singers to do something they don’t believe they can achieve. Yet all the elements are there! If they could pull back and see the landscape, and what obstacles are truly before them! And that the obstacles can be overcome. You either look at this madness that is the business of classical singing and say: “this is for the birds” or you look at the art of singing and realize that you, with the singer’s soul are meant to be there. The artists, the ones with vision that surpass common understanding always see a way through all the madness. But in the case of singing, it is a community of “artists” who are saying: “You can’t!”
The truth is as much as I wish that I could carry the burden of this path for my students, I cannot. No more than I can carry the burden of life for my children! Life is hard and you have to want to live. The business of singing is an infernal chaos—but the art of singing is a beautiful thing that saves lives, that of others and our own—and you must want to sing. Above all you must believe that you are meant to sing! Why must you believe? why Faith? If you do not believe with every ounce of your being that you are here for a purpose, then there is no guidance, no compass! And therefore no vision and no will!
Being a professional anything begins with a commitment to an ideal that drives us every second!
Reality: Expect no favors!
But there are always guardian angels.
Reality: There are a lot of dark clouds!
But there is always a silver lining!
There is a particular axiom that is both true and false: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!
This is true only if we are not talking about practicing. Sometimes the results come precisely from repeating the same thing over and over again! In my Kung Fu scholl, we have many axioms. Among the most important is the following: Repetition is the mother of all skill!
I have repeated the same exercises for three years to achieve a sustained high C. In the beginning it was only Ab and then A and then Bb, and so on. The same way I have learned many skills in Kung Fu class. Repetition of one such skill saved my life in Germany a few weeks ago when I was attacked late at night in the S-bahn! I was shocked and kept this to myself until I met with my Kung Fu teacher! It is not surprising that the move that saved me is the one I had been practicing daily in two different forms!
The Insanity quote is among the most repeated phrases in our times. Its necessary opposite, the Repetition quote I have never heard outside of my Kung Fu Academy. And I believe it is needed more than ever in our times.
Great instrumentalists know that they must practice many hours to master certain skills. We singers still live with the illusion that we should be able to open our mouths and make great sounds instantaneously or that a two or three years of work is enough to accomplish all skills. The average young virtuoso instrumentalist usually begin at a very young age and usually work some 10 years before they are taken seriously at a professional level.
I meet young singers in their 20s who have lost all hope that they can make a career in classical singing! Somehow they believed that they would open their mouths and the casting agents and directors would be blown away by the sounds they were making in their high school choirs! When that did not happen they believed they were not talented.
It is part of my job to inspire my students! In the midst of hard training one can temporarily lose faith. So I use my skills to show the student in the moment what they are able to do when they put all the pieces together. But sustained, repeatable skill comes from having trained the body, the brain and the spirit to organize the entire being into producing a specific result.
Most singers I meet believe that a great technique should get them to sing their most difficult vocal challenges with a relatively short time. The truth is that a great vocal technique reveals our faulty pasts and trains habits that discourage our faults and instill correct habits. Every singer should have a class in brain function to understand how the bad habits they learn unconsciously are saved as neural pathways that become default functions until new ones are learned. The new pathways are created by repetition.
And here once more I have done the exercise that I often do with singers. I use science and logic to convince them that they can, that all the obstacles can be overcome by repeating until the new has been trained muscularly, mentally and spiritually. But in the end, my arguments only have an effect on a singer who is willing to go through the frustration to capture his/her Golden Fleece.
Very often, the singer has already been brain-washed that it should happen for them quickly and without a lot of work. I wish they would bring back the TV Series fame. No one says it better than Debbie Allen! Not just an actress delivering a line, but an artist who knows what it takes to achieve!
If that does not work, then watch a Rocky movie and imagine it takes that kind of training to sing Opera, because in fact…It does!