We teachers are as multi-faceted as the art itself. No one teacher has all the answers to all the different facets, but we must know what all the issues are and what aspects of it all we can best address. I have enough colleagues who do this job with all of their hearts to have faith that we are not going to lose this battle to save the art of singing, particularly the art fo classical singing, which in my opinion, is in the greatest peril. Acoustic singing allows no tricks. So we are constantly faced with the inadequacy of our combined impact on the field by what we too often have to endure on the professional stage.
We care about great singing, but the powers that be (I mean intendants, conductors and powerful agents) do not see often that their bottom line could be easily rescued by singers with truly present and balanced voices, not just “loud and ugly” or “pretty and weak” (both packaged in super-model bodies that are rather indistinguishable from the other normal colleagues when everyone is in costumes and make-up under unflattering stage lighting)…Anyway, I digress!
Our discipline both as performers and teachers remain mysterious and not in a good way. The average person has no idea how difficult it is do do what we do as singers, let alone teachers.
See it from the teachers point of view a little bit!
A devoted teacher gets up in the morning and looks at the list of 5 to 10 singers s/he will deal with on that given day. S/he will consider specific vocal issues, specific psychological and life challenges of each particular singer and wonder whether the singer on that day will be mentally strong and ready to face the vocal challenges of the day, which relate to career issues and therefore life issues and therefore personal worth issues and therefore the philosophical void that is the classical music business today. On a good day, there will be no domino effect that brings us to the nature of the Universe and what our raison-d’être really is. It will be a day of putting the pieces of the technique together again to successfully deal with the piece of music at hand.
But there is rarely a day when it is all about the music at hand and the vocal technique. Because when one happy student leaves the studio, another walks in whose day may not be so hot, rather s/he ate late and his/her reflux is acting up, or slept badly and feels dry or the allergies are particularly bothersome, etc…
One particular day stands in my mind as a reminder of the fleeting nature of anything. One of my ex-baritone-tenors sent me a clip of him singing “Un’aura amorosa” all the way through and quite beautifully, a major stamina achievement for him. The throat remained mostly relaxed, the tone remained lean and lyrical, the breath was flowing throughout. I was elated and teared up because I know how hard he had worked to do this in preparation for his first Ferrando. A huge victory! It was 1:00 am Berlin time. I was about to close my computer to fall asleep when the wonderful clip arrived. I wrote him back after hearing it to congratulate him, to which he responded something like: I am very happy and looking forward to where we go from here. Yeah, refinement, advanced stage here we come!
Then I noticed the text message on my phone from another student who found out that one major gig at a major theater was canceled because the government of that country is in dire straights and eliminated theater funding, which means he would not get the role debut and the nice paycheck that is part of his income for the year. To make matters worse, another major role with another theater was exchanged for another, meaning he would not work with that theater until the following season. So two major income affecting events on the same day.
So one moment you are celebrating with one student and the next you are grieving with another!
One of my truly wise teachers told me once that I get too close to my students, that I would take on their problems and issues eventually and burn out from cheer lack of energy! I should keep a healthy distance! I saw the value of her advice but I politely disagreed! This is not the type of teacher I am nor want to be, I told her!
We are teaching artists, and that means we teach them to open themselves and become vulnerable, so to share something amazingly deep from inside of themselves. There is always the danger of opening emotional wounds, at which point they will need to know they are in a safe place with someone who intends to help them deal with those moments. Although not every student/teacher relationship will be close, I find that over time the relationship with most of my students becomes quite personal. The level of closeness depends in great part how well both teacher and student respect the relationship and the lines that keep the relationship respectful and comfortable. At the end of the day, a true artist must face their personal demons to be able to bring life to the stage. That artist requires a coach who knows him/her well enough to help him/her through that process.
How do you do that for many students and not lose yourself, and not be drained of energy at the end of the day?
For my part, I practice Kung Fu, Yoga and Singing. Yes, I am a singer too, with the same needs! But I find them in different ways. I am also my own teacher, which I do not really advise. My reasoning for following this path are complex and probably already shared many times on this blog. In a sense I am not without a teacher. I have coaches that I trust with my voice, who have advised me well through my process and I have my Kung Fu Teacher who helps me keep my mind in balance.
Since the beginning of this year, I eliminated Sunday from my teaching schedule. I will teach a studio class on Sundays but no private voice lessons. And for further balance, I take one day “Thursday” in the middle of the week (in Germany) OFF. No teaching, other than the occasional Skype lesson from abroad, if necessary.
That day OFF is self-affirming! We all need a break! A time to recharge! Today was my first Thursday off in Germany and I felt the need to nap in the afternoon. My nap ended up lasting 3 hours. Catching up in sleep is an important part of health as singer and teacher (this will have great repercussions on the singing voice).
In short, for a teacher of many singers, there is no perfect day. One hour can be wonderful, the next really energy-consuming. It is important to follow a rule that is relevant to pretty much anything:
“A great future is shaped by a sequence of well-managed present events!”
This more than anything is responsible for any degree of success I may enjoy!
To all my colleagues sharing their life’s work with singers, I wish you many “well-managed present events!”