Jun 17 2011

Acting Professional When Developing a Career

Some time ago I received an email from someone who found my site. They had a question about a technical issue they were having difficulty with. But they also went on to ask me to validate my assertions so they could “subscribe to my philosophy”. I want to share the email as an example of what not to do when making an initial contact with someone you are asking for help. The main reason being, if the person you are contacting is the real deal and can help you they aren’t going to respond well to this approach. And if they are not insulted they probably are not the kind of teacher that could help you.

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Also, I could not find on your page anywhere examples of or testimonials from students of yours. Would you be kind enough to send the names of some people who have studied with you so that I may evaluate the application of your techniques by listening to recordings?

Thanks so much for your time.

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Thanks for writing with your question. I have a page of testimonials, you can find them here:
http://vocalwisdom.com/testimonials

Second, I understand your desire to assess the validity of my teaching. But I feel it is bad form to make the kind of request you did in an initial contact. You are asking me to use my time to gather names to send to you so you can assess me. Just to be clear, you wrote to me with a problem you’re having. You are asking me for help. I don’t know who you are. I’m not proposing anything to you. So why do you think it is OK to ask me to not only help you with a problem, giving my expertise away for free, but to also ask me to submit my professional skill for your evaluation. I just feel that is a poor way to initiate a potential working relationship.

The fact is we evaluate each person we come in contact with as either someone who can help us move forward toward our objectives or not. If you didn’t think I could possibly help, you wouldn’t be writing to me. But hearing other people singing isn’t going to help you find out. The testimonials might, and they are there for you. I’m not sure how you missed them. The link is right on the main menu bar.

But listening to anyone I have worked with can’t give you any idea of what you might get out of working with me. There are too many variables to be reliable. What you need to ask yourself is does what I say make sense. Even if it is different from what you’ve been taught or have heard before. Do the explanations make sense.

The reality is you can’t know until you’ve tried it out yourself. And you can’t assess that unless you are trying things correctly. And if you don’t understand what I’m talking about (which is likely because what I say is different) you can’t do it on your own. So the only way to assess the information I’m talking about is to try it guided by me. Other than that you just can’t make an accurate assessment. I have no need to prove myself. You probably feel I do. But really you need to prove to yourself if what I’m saying is valid.

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I received this response: Thanks so much for taking the time to respond, I appreciate your comments very much.

Please accept my apology for offending you and allow me to explain: I have just finished my Master’s degree in Opera Performance at an advanced age (35), and I don’t feel like my technique is where it needs to be to have an operatic career, and I don’t have any time to mess around.

I have had several voice teachers over the past six years and often their opinions of their own technique is very high, and yet, they so often seem to contradict each other. The same holds for guest artists and givers of Masterclasses.

With so many people offering such different advice, I don’t think that it’s unfair to try to evaluate the information one receives based on the quality of the source. It also seems reasonable that if one looks for a teacher, one should judge that teacher’s quality based on their results in the form of students who have studied with them, since what one asks of a teacher is to develop their students to their best potential.

Also, because I found your website via an ad on facebook, and, face it, we all know that anybody can advertise, I felt like I needed a way to judge your authenticity before I subscribed to your philosophy.

I did find, after you pointed it out to me, the page of testimonials, and am very glad to see that it was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

I am sorry that my request for references seemed inappropriate to you, and I am very appreciative that you were kind enough to respond to my question even after a perceived insult on my part.

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I understand your feeling of urgency. That is a good thing to have. The first thing that comes to mind is you have to figure out how your voice works. Learning a technique won’t do that for you. You need to understand without any doubt how to get your body to behave as a musical instrument.

That is what each of us needs to do. And it is an individual thing. But at the same time it is universal. That is how the truth works. I don’t teach a technique, even though my background is associated with the “Swedish-Italian” school. I don’t have a high opinion of my technique because I don’t have one. I adhere to the principles of natural function. Which are available for anyone to perceive, if they have the sensitivity.

See, the functioning of mechanisms of every kind is defined by how it is designed. A motor functions in a certain way based on its design. The Human leg works in a certain way based on how it is designed. You could go through every mechanical apparatus and say the same thing. This is the TRUTH of that mechanism.

The voice is no different. It is designed by nature to function in a certain way through a combination of the natural activities of the larynx, respiratory system and pharynx complex. What this certain way is might not be obvious at first glance. But it is our task to explore what we are provided and figure it out. We need to see the truth of the vocal instrument. Which no one can own. It is there for you to see if you will just look. Anything else is just opinion.

You will never find satisfaction in your voice without this self-knowledge. You can’t discover it by following someone else. You need to be able to judge for yourself if the information makes sense both intellectually and in application. The reason so many techniques contradict each other is because of what you said, they are OPINIONS. Opinions about the voice will never give you a solid basis for your singing. You need to discover and go deeply into the FACTS.

And no one, including myself, can claim to own the facts of the voice. What I talk about is right there for you to investigate and evaluate yourself. I can only assume you haven’t read very much of what I’ve written. Or you’ve gotten so turned around by the opinions of your past teachers that you can’t see the reality of the voice when faced with it.

Your statement, “With so many people offering such different advice, I don’t think that it’s unfair to try to evaluate the information one receives based on the quality of the source… one should judge that teacher’s quality based on their results in the form of students who have studied with them, since what one asks of a teacher is to develop their students to their best potential.” is not exactly correct. Or at least not completely accurate. Yes, the results are dependent on what the teacher provides. But they are also dependent on the reception of the singer.

As I said, the differing advice is opinions. And your belief that you evaluate the information one receives based on the quality of the source is mistaken. It seems like it should be true, but it isn’t. Information should be evaluated not based on the source, but on the information itself. If something is true is it true because of who said it? Or because it is just true. If a fool states something that is true, is it less true than if a respected person states the same thing? Of course not.

In the same way, if a respected person says something that is false, does the fact a respected person said it make it true? Of course not. But this is what we all have been led to believe. There are “experts” all over saying things that are just not true. And no one is investigating these concepts for themselves to see if they are true. They just believe it because of who is saying it. Too many are just taking what is put out there without going into it for themselves.

This is how big name opera singers and teachers can give completely incorrect information. You would think that someone with years of experience as an opera singer would speak the truth. But it is not always so. And when they do it is not because of their stature as an operatic legend. It is because the information itself is true. Which would be true regardless of who says it.

That is the point I try to get people to recognize. I am constantly investigating the nature of the voice. The things I say are not true because I say them or because I heard someone else say them. They are my observations of what is true. And the proof of their validity is when someone else also observes these same things and sees the truth of the mechanism. It has nothing to do with me or the “VocalWisdom Technique”. If something is true, meaning an accurate representation of what actually exists, it will be true for anyone. Even those of opposite techniques.

I have had, what I feel, successful progressions and I’ve had people stop before I felt satisfied with their progress. But none of that has anything to do with what may happen for you. When I found the one teacher I have been satisfied with I hadn’t heard any of his singers. I knew by the information he was providing that he had what I was looking for.

I should say also, you made no mention that you were looking for a teacher. I’m still not sure if that is part of the reason you wrote to me. (Perhaps you wanted me to prove myself just so you could decide if you should listen to my answer) So you can see that from my perspective you asking to assess my teaching was completely inappropriate. There is more than enough information on my blog for you to assess what I’m providing. Then if that seemed worth exploring then you could ask for an introductory session. If you are looking for a teacher then you can only assess things by actually working with that person. Listening to what they’ve done with someone else will not give you an accurate assessment.

You refer to subscribing to my philosophy. That is part of the problem you are having. There is no philosophy with the voice. It is rooted in reality. Philosophy is opinions. It implies there are different ways, or beliefs, to do something with the voice.

This is a mistaken point of view. As I said earlier, there is a certain way the voice is designed to function. If you use the body in that way there is flexibility to apply that function to whatever you desire to express vocally. Whether it be Operatic or not. Singing or Speaking.

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Just to be clear about my position. There is nothing wrong with assessing a teacher’s ability to communicate accurate information. But to make that kind of request in the first contact is inappropriate. Just as he stated that anybody can advertise, so too can anybody write to someone who has a website. How do I know his intentions are sincere? How do I know he is worth the time and effort it will take to fulfill his request? I don’t. And to demand things from anyone is not the way to get them to want to help you.

It is like saying, “I want you to give me your knowledge, but first you have to submit it to me so I can deem if it is worthy of my time”. Well, that knowledge is not come by easily. Anyone who has it has gone through a lot of time and effort to develop it. It is not something you can just have packaged and buy. (Although people still try) It is something that must be transferred from one to another. And that takes time and effort on the part of both people. It is like a gift. It must be given, it can’t be taken.

To have that kind of attitude is just insulting to anyone who actually has that knowledge. And guarantees that they will not want to share it with you. If it isn’t insulting to them they most likely don’t have the knowledge that you’re looking for.

  1. Nancy Townsend

    Thank you for your insights! I teach voice and appreciate how clearly and logically you articulate vocal principles. I glean fresh ways to express principles I am already using with my students and am most grateful for your blog.

  2. On the same note as “acting professional,” I think an important thing to take away from this is that one must respect people who are experts at what they do. Expertise is worth money, and so is an expert’s time. There’s a story that says that Pablo Picasso was with a friend at a restaurant, when that friend asked him to draw something on a napkin. Once he was done, Picasso said, “Okay, that’ll be $1,000,000.” The friend replied, “It only took you twenty seconds!” to which Picasso said, “It took me 50 years of practice to be able to do that in twenty seconds.”
    Or, to give a slightly more similar example, a medical doctor typically gets paid $65 or more per 15-minute appointment with a patient. The doctor’s time is worth money, and why? Because the doctor spent years to acquire his/her respective skill set, which is now worth a lot of dough.
    So how about a vocal pedagogue who has spent years searching for vocal answers before finally discovering them and offering them to the world? I would think that somebody with such knowledge and the ability to teach that knowledge deserves considerable respect, especially when you realize that finding a good teacher is very difficult.
    Just my two cents.

  3. Although I fully agree with what people have been saying, and the fact Michael was offended that someone should approach him as they did the very first communication, and that his knowledge was achieved after long years of study, I can also understand the reason behind what the “questioner” asked.

    I get these sorts of questions from people wanting me to teach them all the time. The difference is, I have a career, and a long one, and they have heard me sing, and know it is a good sound. I don’t know those people who come up to me and ask me, or write me, from Adam, and I, too, have had some very pointed requests.

    I assure you, I am not defending disrespect at all, but there is a real reason behind it. I think it actually plays right into what Michael is constantly striving to get the readers of his blog to understand —- there are a lot of ignorant singers and teachers out there, and many pay the price.

    If I read things correctly, this person has already graduated from university with a masters in performing arts, opera in particular. Yet, with all that education, she/he still cannot sing, and there is no evidence a career will come.

    I know that Michael can understand that situation, as he lived it himself.

    I have seen if over and over again, where students go to university and learn to “destroy” their voices rather than use them. They come out, graduate, and are worse than if they had never studied at all.

    They have given deference to all the “experts” out there, they have done what they were told to do (and some even talk about balanced function like Michael does), and they have endured the worse — a voice destroyed.

    Although I hardly agree that all former singers make great teachers, I haven’t noticed too many of them destroy voices (unless their career was destroyed because of a bad way of singing to begin with; they then pass on what they don’t know). Yet, I have never in my experience seen any voice that amounted to anything because of university training.

    Many great singers have gone to university, myself included, but usually are well established vocally long before they entered the halls of academia. Their voices are usually not played with, and they are taught repertoire.

    Although I agree that disrepect is not a good thing, especially on first contact, I am not sure the writer meant anything disrespectful. Their own experience with the various teachers they have had has put them on the defense. They trust no one. And if we think about it, why should they?

    There is a terrible thing out there, especially in the US, where students are made to feel that they must measure up to be accepted by the great teacher. Yet, few teachers are judged by their results. It is true that not all singers will respond the same to all teachers or the same information. However, patterns do set in. I have listened to students from various professors (being called in to do those terrible masters’ classes often enough) and I can always tell when the professor is teaching the singers to push, to force, to do all manner of things that are not good for the voice. But as a visiting “instructor” I cannot say much. I have done that, only to be really lambasted by the professor.

    When a student has endured all that wrong teaching, and has a ruined voice as a result, they don’t trust anyone. Yes, they will clam onto something they once did that did work out of fear of learning something new. They do that because the history of “somethings new” has proven most disasterous.

    So, even though the letter seemed rather predatory, I don’t think that was ever the intent.

    Personally, I am not ever threatened when people ask to hear students I have taught. I won’t make them a list, which I do think is inappropriate, as the student may not want to “audition” for someone who is only curious about whether or not they want to study with me. But after I meet the person (which Michael had not done) and I speak with them a moment, and listen to them sing for me (to hear what really may be wrong; sometimes it isn’t as horribly wrong as the singer thinks either), then I will introduce them to students I have taught.

    They first thing they always tell me is each one sounds unique. I am sure that is exactly what all of Michael’s students will say. I am a believer that we sing correctly and the voice becomes what it is suppose to be. As a result, my students sound like themselves. But one can still hear if they push, if they force, if they sing in a balanced way, and all that.

    One thing that made me feel terribly sorry for the person writing Michael was the sense of hopelessness. They wanted a career at 35 (a very late date to start, but not impossible) and still were not sure how to use the voice. With all the fellow students (and all university students hear the other students being taught by their teacher; they often see patterns of destruction long before their voices are ruined, they can hear them in other singers, but they are frightened to do anything about it; the professor has such a huge reputation) the person has heard, they have come to not know what a really good note sounds like. They really don’t know what they should be wanting to achieve, let alone how to achieve it, and so they want assurances.

    That is the motivation behind wanting to listen to Michael’s students. That person, at a masters level, I am sure knows that each person responds differently to teaching, and they may not sound like his others students (and there is considerable fear there that they will sound good and the writer will never be able to repair what is wrong and sound half that good). But they want to see if history will repeat itself. Will all his students have the same strident sound, the same overly muscled production, or what have you, that the writer has heard all over the place? They want to hear good singing to know for sure.

    Perhaps it is not polite to demand this first contact, but it is understandable why it was done.

    I have a young man who wants to study with me (but he needs to see a doctor first, as the damage is considerable; he can’t even talk correctly anymore). He has his doctorate in performing arts, opera, but can’t sing a note well. I have never met someone more dejected than he. IF his voice can be repaired, and it is a big if, it will not be easy. Undoing the incredible amount of problems he has will be very hard, if at all possible.

    He approached me very confrontationally. But the pain in his eyes was overwhelming (a thing Michael was not able to see, you can’t see that through letters). As we talked, I learned of his university experience, even the opera productions he sang in. One should have grown with all that, but instead his voice was ruined. He gave names of all his fellow students, and I looked them up. Like him, all their voices were in ruin, some worse than others. The men’s voices were the most damaged. He had been to teacher after teacher to fix the problems his professor had forced on him. And all of them were just the same. They had their technique to push, and he could instantly see that so many of the things they were pushing were exactly like what he was told to do which caused the faults to begin with.

    It has taken a lot of talking, watching, and listening to even begin to see where he is wrong, what damage to not only his voice, but his person and emotions needs to be fixed.

    Now, of course, I did this in person, but the attitude of fear, distrust, confrontation, and every other negative you can think of were there in full force. And once I listened, you would have wept as you heard, though tears, the terrible experiences this young man has endured just trying to sing. I have also learned from people who knew him, he sang very well and without fault BEFORE he was taught.

    So, the point of all this is not to justify disrespect, or to justify taking offense, it is to help us all understand where the person is coming from. I have seen singers who were to the point of suicide as they watched their special gift destroyed by experts and university professors. It isn’t pretty, and when they are that down, they don’t always think about the niceties of respect.

    My knowledge came through years of study, and years of singing. I cannot give that understanding to anyone. I can share it, but that is all.

    Just let us show a bit of compassion for this sad person. We don’t know what level of fear and disappointment they have been reduced to, nor what level of shame they feel (and lots of students do feel shame, as they have been away, and everyone expects them to sing perfectly now, they studied it after all, and instead they are worse than the worse who have not studied at all).

  4. An added note: I don’t think it is at all like “I want you to give me your knowledge, but first you have to submit it to me so I can deem if it is worthy of my time.” Rather I see it as “I want you to teach me, but I need assurances you won’t use me, abuse me, and make things worse like everyone else has done.” I know from my own experience with students who are seeking because nothing has worked, they approach me with this statement I have written, not the arrogant one of “if I deem you worthy.” Remember, their trust is gone, I mean gone. They have worked with tons of experts, all who are affronted over nothing, even the slightest question when the student knows by feel that things are not working. They have been beated down by experts who are offended endlessly whenever a question is even asked, even one to clarify things that are not clear. During all that, the teacher lost nothing except maybe a sense of false pride, but the student lost everything. They lost their confidence, their ability to even think about and evaluate what was happening (they were not allowed to even entertain the idea their voices were not functioning; and when they so question, they are often driven out and expelled from the performance programs; the students really are held as hostages), and worse, they lost their voice, the very gift they were entrusting to someone to help them develop and use. Sure, there are also the lost dreams of career and all that as well. But they are not as large as people think. It is mostly that this special something, this special gift God gave them, along with a great love of singing, has been destroyed, and not destroyed by someone who supposedly didn’t care, but someone they trusted, someone whose credentials stated they were capable and qualified to teach singing.

    It is a history of such professionals that has ruined them. When that is understood, it is not possible to really take offense, even if we are a bit put off in the beginning. This writer even apologized for offending, which goes a long way to showing their intend was not, and never would be, the arrogance of “I want you to give me your knowledge, but first you have to submit it to me so I can deem if it is worthy of my time.” But their fears, worries, desires, and distrust do come shining through. Those are wounds that need to be healed. It is true the person can work themselves through most of the distress prior to seeking help, but the ability to once again trust a teacher of singing (even though they fully know they need help from someone, this is something they cannot do on their own) this will take time. And it may not come about fully until months of lessons and a renewed sense of things moving ahead, not to an even worse state of disrepair. There is no way of knowing if any voice teacher is any good. There really isn’t. So many audition their students to the point that only those who are just on the cusp of the most important international careers leave their studios. Their teaching may have done nothing at all as far as developing the voices of their students. Yet, they can hold a who’s who of great names as their students.

    More teachers than one can think of have never sung, never had any career at all, never done any real work in the industry. They have knowledge but no expertise. They may be excellent teachers, but often they have a stable full of great voices that they taught, all singing well, but who have never themselves had a career (that is because you get there almost more by who you know than what you know). The questioning, lost, destroyed student is left wondering: “will this teacher help me move forward, or will he make things worse?”

    We must also remember there are no set qualifications out there to teach voice. Anyone who has learned to sing a bit can hang up a shingle and teach. Unlike a doctor, who was used as an example, there are no checks and balances that make sure the voice teacher is reliable. There are for doctors. They must all go to medical school and achieve at least the same things there. And a doctor must be able to doctor. A singing teacher can teach without the ability to sing one note.

    With that understanding, it is normal for a wounded student whose voice is destroyed, or whose understanding of singing is so poor they know they are not remotely ready for a career, even after years of study and degrees, to be suspicious of anyone who puts out their shingle to teach.

    Their very first question will be “What makes you stand out from the rest?” When they ask to know what your technique is, it isn’t so they can run it down a check list to see if it matches their ideas, rather it is to see if what you are doing matches all those horrid things that have put them in the place they currently find themselves. They want an assurance you will be different. And they cannot discover that unless they ask.

    One thing people are not remembering, this person has already dished out tons of money for lessons. They were worthless, completely worthless. They may not have a ton of money to dish out for a trial run with a new teacher. And they are not in the emotional state where they can really trust. So, they ask questions, they want to listen to former students and see what they sound like. Are they any good? Or are they barely serviceable? They also want to see what sort of teacher the person is. Do they just teach anyone, without any real discrimination, so as to make a living? Though there is nothing at all wrong with that, at times, those are the very type of teachers that have done the worst destruction to their voices.

    There are a lot of issues behind this letter Michael received, but I really do not believe that disrespect was ever one of them. Nor do I think challenging him on his understanding was one. Nor do I think that testing him to see if his understanding was acceptable was one of them. It is all seeking assurances that no more is going to happen that will make things worse.

    And to let people know, it is really hard to find a teacher when a singer is in that state. Most want to preach their “doctrine” at you, and not really listen to what is wrong. Some want to totally say your former teacher was a charleton (which he may have been, but no one needs to hear that then) and only with their inspired technique will you grow. Most times you only get worse. But the real problem finding a teacher when in that state is they ALL take everything said or asked with offense. They are all so turned off you would even ask them anything, or want substantial answers.

    I find it odd that teachers would respond that way. Were they getting their roof repaired, they would demand the same thing from the contractor doing the work. They would expect guarantees in writing. They would expect timelines to be followed. etc. In anything they would be doing where they would contract a service from someone else, they would be just as demanding, if not more so. And they would be completely unforgiving, if things were not done right. Some would even consider suing if the work was not done right.

    Yet, when they enter the realms of voice teacher suddenly all that must be put aside. It is wrong for a student to want to know the objective of the teachings, why they work, why they will be doing what they are doing. It is wrong for them to expect results. A good teacher will be honest enough to tell the truth and let a student know there is no hope for them, they really don’t have what it takes to sing, at least not at a professional level. That way the student knows right out what to expect.

    In every aspect of life, we interview those we are hiring, whether it is for a job placement, or for people doing work for us. We demand to see examples of their work, and talk to other customers for whom they did work. We go over and look at that work. Not a single contractor is offended with the request. We take our kids to piano lessons and instantly we demand the teacher’s credentials. We want to listen to her play. Does she have the skills needed to advance our child’s progress? If our child is a beginner, we don’t care if she plays any better than someone who has only 7 years of training. But if our child is well advanced and a career is in line, we seek out experts who know what they are doing, know the skills needed, the technique needed, and who have the experience in the real world of music, and we hire them.

    Yet, with voice teachers, we must put all that aside. We must accept their own personal evaluations of themselves at face value without any corroborations to validate it?

    It is this very setting voice teachers apart, making it so they don’t need real credentials to teach, or any experience whatever, or even allowing students to question their teachings, or demand proof of their abilities in witnessing the achievements of their star pupils, that has allowed so many bad, terrible, and down right horrid teachers to teach. And some of the worst are teachers/professors in universities. The only credential they have is they attended for at least 4 years and passed.

    Going back to the doctor comparison: with a doctor, he had to be accredited by his university, by the medical board, and a whole list of places. And if he doesn’t measure up, we can sue him for malpractice. We are able to do that because the requirements to be a doctor are well established. You just can’t hang up a shingle because you like to help people.

    But what recourse is there for a voice student, particularly a university student who has graduated (that is all the university contracted to do, nothing more) who has been damaged? There isn’t one. So, they go out seeking a new teacher, and they ask questions that illustrate just how destroyed they are. Would any of you do any differently? I don’t think so. Most people who comment in the blog are students, people interested in singing, but not people who have paid out thousands upon thousands to get a degree in singing only to not be able to sing. It is one thing to approach someone when you are simply a self-taught person whose efforts have not really paid off, and being a person who has paid out literally thousands to have supposedly qualified experts instruct you, and to your detriment.

    I guess, in a way, that is why I am defending this person. I have seen this over and over again. I have seen the results it brings into people’s shattered lives. Really, it is only by the grace of God we all don’t walk the same road. And for those of us who have walked it, we are more obligated than any other to show understanding and not take things as a challenge, especially when they were not meant that way.

    And yes, I think Michael’s teachings are worth top dollar. But that was never the attiude of the person writing him. That was only an interpretation of the words written.

  5. Bea, I agree with everything you have said. But the point I was making is I have hundreds of pages published on my website/blog for anyone to read, more than nearly any other voice teacher, that describes my approach to the voice and what I teach. The first step is to be responsible for yourself and do your own research. Yes, we should not just take a teacher’s word for it. We should investigate. But we should be the ones doing the investigation. What maybe didn’t come across is how much time I still spent answering his question (which I didn’t include in the post) and educating him on why his was a poor approach to researching my teaching.

    I did empathize with his situation. As you said I know it well since it is basically where I was after my Masters degree, but I was a bit younger. That is why I answered his question and pointed him to my Testimonials. Like I said, make sure you take the time to explore and investigate everything that has already been provided for you. He didn’t even look closely enough to see the Testimonial page that is on the Navigation Bar at the top of every page. Don’t expect others to do it for you. That is just lazy.

    Another thing that is being overlooked. He wasn’t actually asking about my teaching. He never said he was looking for a teacher or that he might be interested in studying with me. He was asking about my “philosophy”. He wanted me to provide him proof for why he should subscribe to what I was presenting. I welcome challenges in the form of questions or discussion. But it needs to be with respect for me and the investment I have made.

    Why would you ask someone for help and at the same time tell them that you don’t believe them. No matter what they say you can’t be sure anyway until you try it out and find out in yourself. I feel that he was saying, “I’m not going to believe what you say and write unless your other students are good enough”.

    That has absolutely no bearing on what will happen for you. Maybe my other students sound great in spite of what I’m teaching them. Maybe they sound awful in spite of the good things I’m teaching them. Neither of these situations will accurately inform you of what you will do with the instruction.

    My point is you don’t know. And you CAN’T know until you actually discuss with the potential teacher and try out what they teach. And you have to try it out while still discussing so you can get feedback. It does no good to try it out without knowing if you are doing what they are saying.

    So, yes. It is a hard situation. I is hard to trust. It is hard to know what to believe. It is just hard. But that is no reason to act like anyone should HAVE to help you. It is like I keep trying to teach my 3 year-old. You can’t demand things and expect people to want to help you. If you need help you have to make people want to help you. And asking them to prove what they say when they have no idea who you are or what you want is not the way to do it.

    He didn’t give me any recording of him singing. He didn’t give me any information about him until the second email after I replied about his inappropriateness. He used the excuse that “anyone can advertise”. Well, I say read the information first and then decide if it makes sense and is worth pursuing. There is a lot of information to support what I’m saying. And again, he wasn’t asking about studying with me. He wanted me to spend time and energy just to get him to believe what I have presented. Sorry, I don’t have time for that. Maybe if you actually wanted to study with me I would be happy to try and satisfy any questions you had. But I would do it personally through demonstration and discussion.

  6. Olga Silva

    I agree with Michael. There is such a thing as professional etiquette. Even for students – because it takes a lot of work to be a good, committed student – as you do develop a certain sense of how to behave properly. It is sometimes hard to make a separation between our relationship with our voice (or our desire to have one, for those of us who haven’t made that much progress) and our relantionship with our teacher. Our own desire to sing is very personal, and of course for those of us who really love music, not being able to sing when there is nothing else you’d rather do is a very painful emotional torture. Abusive teachers don’t help either. I know what it is to cry in front of an audience out of complete desperation. To try to bite back your shame when a teacher tells you to your face, and in front of other people, that you just don’t have the right voice, that you do not have a future as a singer. We carry all of those humiliating experiences with us, and they surface when we are trying to find new people to work with. But that doesn’t mean we should burden them with our past experiences. It’s not their fault! An exchange between student and potential teacher should be started on a professional basis. And I say that as someone who has been around, hopping from teacher to teacher for a few years. Eventhough you lose your hope, you should not lose your sense of politeness.

    PS – In my own personal opinion, we should never say we have lost our hope entirely, or we would just quit singing. And those who have been bitten by the music bug, or caught the music virus, know very well that it is an incurable disease, and there are very few things that will stop us from pursuing our ultimate goal to be able to make beautiful music with our voice. I’m never optimistic, but I try to remind myself of that.

  7. Michael, I fully see what you are saying in response to my posts. And I agree with you. I was just presenting a different angle. I guess it is also a difference between reading what is said. I simply don’t see someone “demanding you help them” rather I see someone desperately crying out for help, and very awkwardly as best.

    I agree they should do research and that your blog and site have many times more than most. I think even more than David Jones does. And I agree if people read things they will get an idea. But that idea doesn’t necessarily answer all their questions.

    I also agree you can’t make an evaluation by a letter. It is impossible to do so. Even if the person describes in detail what they think is wrong. They may be and aften are wrong. I actually wasn’t against you at all. I just wanted people to understand the thinking of someone so desperate. And being 35 and all those years of study does make a person even more desperate. After all, the purpose of learning to sing is to sing. Even a recording can be misleading.

    One must see people in person, especially when helping them rebuild their voices. And in the exxamples I gave of myself, nothing was done without seeing and hearing the person. I refuse to give an evaluation without hearing.

    Myself, personally, I don’t read or listen to testimonials. I have run across tons of people who would swear their voices are now so much better because they did this or that. But the end results are pathetic, if not terrible. But they really feel they have improved. Mostly because they are able to do one thing that they fixated on better than they used to do it (like singing high notes) but at the expense of everything else they really didn’t care about, but that are needed for a well-developed balanced voice.

    We are in the age of the infomercial where we hear testimonials all the time, people who swear they are so much better than they were. Excepting the pimple infomercials where we can see photos of their acne, in most cases, we have no clue what changes were made.

    Usually, when we buy the products, they don’t work at all.

    Since we never heard the person’s voice giving the testimonial, we have no clue if what they are claiming really happened or not. We just have to take their word for it.

    But you are right, since this person asked for testimonials all they had to do was read them. They are easily found. I also agree that they should have read your site completely. It would have opened a lot of understanding to them. But sadly, most don’t do that ever on anything.

    Olga, I fully agree people should always be polite. I do not justify impolite behavior at all. I find it unacceptable. But sometimes we think something is meant to be impolite when in fact being impolite was the furthest thing from the person’s mind. The way we read a letter, and how we read it, colors it more than how it was written.

    I agree that people should not take their past experiences out on someone else who was not responsible. I fully agree with that. But when damage is done, real damage, fear and mistrust rule. There is an element of “you must prove to me you are different.” Whether that is a good attitude or not, it is still there. It is especially true with voice teachers, as so many of them out there are useless, and it is nearly impossible to tell the good ones from the dross.

    A teacher MUST NEVER tell any student their faults in front of other students. That happens all the time in a university setting, but it must NEVER happen in private teaching. However, if the student really doesn’t have a voice that will respond to teaching (like they are completely tone-deaf; rare as it is, it does sometimes happen, and it is especially sad when that person loves singing so very much) it is being totally dishonest on the part of the teacher to tell them otherwise. But there are ways of doing it so it isn’t so hard to bear. As for talking about a career, I find that irresponsible; for no one, not even the most gifted singer, can guarantee they will ever have a career. There are simply too many factors that you have no control over that play a part in that. The most a teacher can do is teach the student so they are fully prepared for a career, if it should present itself. And if the teacher is in the know, perhaps help open a few doors (but even then, a student can’t expect that, for if the teacher really doesn’t feel you are ready, it is their reputation in the industry that is ruined, not the student’s).

    This will sound really strange, but even though we should not burden new teachers with our past terrors, we ultimately do, and have to. Once you start teaching someone really damaged, whether vocally or emotionally by former teachers, you begin to have to face those issues head on. Their fears crop up constantly. They may being well, but as you get to this or that issue, their fear speaks out and they resist. Unless a teacher finds out why they are so resistant, you will not move them forward. No, you don’t have to know every little thing that went on, but you do have to understand why they are in such a state of fear. The next thing is helping them undo bad habits, which is way harder than most people think. Those are now muscle memory, and it takes a long while to change. Also, a strange thing happens at times. The person’s voice improves well, in the beginning, but as more and more issues are addressed, it faulters and sometimes in a big way. Fear sets in. The student thinks that all is falling apart and they are reliving the past. It takes a great deal of work to get them to see that they are improving, that the tight throat they had is gone, that many issues have left. But now we see those things that need to be addressed that were hidden by the bigger issues. It takes a lot of hand-holding to get them through that period, and suddenly everything falls into place and works. As a teacher, you end up facing all their issues, and all their bad teaching, you can’t escape it. HOWEVER, you don’t dwell on it, you mention it, but you immediately give them things to do to take them away from that place.

    If you want to hear the worst, Olga, of humilation that is now seeming to be part of the university scene, it is making the students when they graduate sing before agents. Most students can bearly manage their voices, don’t have any repertoire to speak of (excepting a few arias and some stupid art songs they had to learn in class), they aren’t versitile enough to sing many different roles in opera in many different languages. In short, they simply are not a sallable product. They aren’t even ready for amateur stage productions.

    Of course, agents are busy people, and they are looking for the next best thing to sell, to replace the aging products in their product line (which are singers; I know it sounds terrible to speak of people like some product we are buying and selling, but that is exactly how the music world sees you, and nothing more).

    In nearly 99% of the cases, the students are told out right to give up singing, they are worthless. And the agents are not at all polite. In fact, nearly NO ONE is polite in this business. And there is a lot of back dealing and lying as well. Contracts are issued and one needs the best bank of lawyers to make sure all loop holes are closed, or you will find yourself singing what you never signed up to do. Managements are not at all honest. They want money and need people in the seats, and that is all that matters. Agents are no different. They earn a living by how often you sing. They haven’t time to nurse you into a career.

    And such unsuspecting students are thrown to the wolves. The damage to them emotionally is unbelievable. It is bad enough when you know you have a good product to sell, and have a tract record to prove it, but to be completely unprepared and put into that situation, well, that is simply wrong.

    And that brings out another element, which you are more than correct MUST NOT BE THERE, especially when contacting a person to teach you (but sadly, it is) a feeling of lashing out at everyone in the industry. They feel terribly betrayed. They cannot sing after years of study and training. They have degrees which are in reality useless because in their minds they are frauds (a singing teacher, which is what their degrees call them, should be able to sing), they have been humiliated by the agent audition (which they knew when they graduated they were not even remotely ready for, but had no choice, no degree if they didn’t comply). They have wasted their lives on study, wasted their money, and in their views, also wasted their talents, or destroyed them.

    You are right, that is no justification for rudeness or even spite, especially to someone who has not been a part of that history. Sadly, they are in need of bashing someone, anyone, just because they need to get back at the system that destroyed them. And like I said about doctors, sadly, we can’t sue voice teachers for malpractice. Nor can we sue universities either.

    The key is simply to not take it personally when an injured student approaches you. They have their baggage, which is going to take success, even in training, to get rid of.

    But I agreed with Michael and with you, and with everyone, that that kind of abuse was/is wrong. I simply was trying to get the average reader to understand why a person would approach things as they did.

    Now that leaves a comment to those reading this blog who are in such a state. Don’t take out on someone the pains of your past. They didn’t create the situation you now find yourself in. They didn’t mislead you. They didn’t add to your misery. So, don’t direct that toward them.

    If you must ask for their ways of doing things, read firstly all they have to offer you before you contact them. When you do contact them, let them know your history honestly, but don’t go into too much detail. Don’t challenge them with what you think you know. Remember, you are contacting that person, that new teacher, because what you are doing is not working. There is not sense holding fast to that rod.

    Personally, and this is me, I don’t find it wrong to ask for some idea of what the teacher does when helping people in your condition. Let them outline how they approach your type of situation.

    Were I approached, as an example, I would tell you that I could not really explain much until after I heard you sing. Then I would, if your voice showed much damage, require you go see a throat doctor who has worked with singers (not all doctors know about what singers voices are like), and I have a few good doctors I know of in my area I would share with them. I would explain, and this is my introduction to their question, that we would have to do what the doctor said, and if that meant and operation to remove nodes, or a year of silence, that is exactly what we would have to do before any lessons began.

    Then, after that resting period, I would require them to sing again, and we would reevaluate the situation. My purpose this time would be to watch and not only listen. I would be watching to see the things they are doing that are fighting against themselvs causing them to fail vocally. I will assure them I will be honest, and it may be difficult to listen to the things that need to be changed. I would assure them that if there are bad habits to change, they can be changed, but they take time. They may take a long time, so not to be impatient. With that, I would teach things they can do to counter act their bad habits and replace them with good ones. But their willingness to be very dedicated and listen carefully would be the greatest key to success.

    Anything further would have to be discussed as we face the progress before us.

    I know that isn’t a detailed accounting of what I would teach, but it is an accounting of what must be done before anything can be fully discussed. If the student doesn’t respond, or doesn’t fix a way of seeing me for the evaluation, then I simply forget the entire thing. They simply were not ready at that time to face the rigors of what may need to be done. I would have to make it clear that even though I know they want specifics, what type of breathing, what type of this or that I teach, that at this point I can’t address those things because I don’t know what the problems are. I don’t know how they breathe, I don’t know what they are doing, so I can’t tell them what I do that would be different. That may not be their problem. It might be something completely different. When we know the problem we will then know what to do. But we can’t know that this early in our contact.

    I have had students really lash out at me when I have said this to them, really lash out in super bad language. I reply that I can’t fix what I don’t know. I can’t tell them what I would do for them until I hear what is wrong. I am sure Michael said something exactly the same in his reply.

    If a student can’t take that honesty, then they really aren’t ready for change. Emotionally they are not ready to face the truth of what may be wrong, whether it is a super major problem or something much simpler than their own judgment will allow them to accept.

    I have had students who were beyond rude, I mean RUDE, who rejected me with first contact, but a few years later, when they had finally matured enough emotionally to see what had to be done, came back seeking help. At that point, they were willing to learn. Believe it or not, their own degrees and education gets in the way. They are certain because they have a degree that they must know something right. They actually do, they just don’t know what. There is this “I am qualified with the same degree you have, what are you going to offer that is different from what we were both taught?”

    It is a strange strange world, Olga, and one where there is a bit of rivalry because both the student and the teacher are both degreed in the same thing and in the same level of education. There is a pride that enters in. It is wrong to press that pride, I fully agree, but it is there.

    As I said, it is one thing to be a singer who goes from teacher to teacher (I have taught many such singers, and they are truly seeking help, but none of them has any quaifications to muddy up the waters; in many ways, they are more teachable than those who have studied and have degrees from university) remember, this was not just anyone seeking help, it was a graduate with a degree. In a very real way, this is a qualified expert seeking help from another qualified expert. That doesn’t always work well.

    Bottom line, though, impoliteness is never the way to go, never. Asking questions is quite a different thing from demanding instant results and clarifications. And humility goes a super long way.

    I feel this discussion has been good, for it opens the doors to talking about what a person should do when seeking help. It helps us to see that even if we didn’t mean disrespect, we can come across disrespectfully, if we are not careful.

    If nothing else, people reading these entries will be able to see what they should be doing for themselves before they contact someone for help. They need to do their own research. They need to consider if what they are doing is not working, then maybe it is time to not cling to it so aggressively, especially when seeking help from someone else. And we learn to respect the knowledge a person gained, not just by their formal education, but through deep study that goes far beyond that education level. We must value that even more, for the university education didn’t really give what was wanted.

    We have learned the state of desperation of such students, but we have also learned that that does not excuse impoliteness, nor justify rudeness. We have learned that you cannot carry over the misery of your past and lay it at the door of someone who didn’t know you.

    We would all think this would be obvious. But it is obviously not obvious to many. So, I think this discussion was a good one for opening the eyes of those who are seeking.

  8. Nancy – Thank you for your great feedback. I love to hear that what I put out is helping. So thank you for taking the time to let me know.

    Joseph – Good points. I have heard that Picasso story before and enjoy it. The big thing I want people to realize is not so much that I think I am an expert. But that if you approach someone for help you hope they are an expert. You don’t know yet. But if they turn out to be what you are looking for you hope they are going to want to help you. And treating them with the suspicion that they don’t know what they’re talking about is not the way to get them to want to help you.

    Olga – Thanks for sharing your perspective and experiences. You bring up a point that I had meant to say also, but forgot. I am not the one who caused him pain. It is like being hurt in a relationship and breaking up, then openly distrusting every potential boy/girlfriend you meet. Of course the hurt will still be there inside. But if you treat the next person as if they are not to be trusted then you will never have another relationship. And what if one of those people could have turned out to be the man/woman of your dreams?

    Like I said, I still answered his question thoroughly. I took a long time to educate him on why his approach was an ineffective one. I even was still open to meeting with him to satisfy his confusion. Who knows, I could have been the person that might have helped him to turn his voice around and accomplish his goals. But because he couldn’t take responsibility for himself that possibility is lost.

    That is the bottom line. We must be responsible for ourselves. Even when we are wronged by someone else. If we’ve been screwed up by a teacher we can’t go on through the rest of our lives blaming that teacher for our ineffective singing. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and where we are.

    I didn’t have the career I hoped for. A big reason was I didn’t have the good fortune to have a teacher that guided my vocal development. And for some time I did let that be an excuse. But at the same time I kept trying to figure things out and look for someone that might be able to help in that. I had resigned myself to the belief that there wasn’t a teacher that I would be able to find that had the information I was looking for. So I was going to do the best I could on my own.

    I did happen to find someone that seemed to have the information I was looking for. I took the responsibility of finding out by going to New York for a week for lessons. That was not cheap. I certainly am not requiring anyone to do that. And although my study with David Jones helped to deepen my understanding of the voice and change the direction I was on, it wasn’t a magical cure-all. I didn’t suddenly turn into a singer ready for the Met.

    In fact it took years for me to really see results because his teaching (or anyone’s) was not enough to create change. It required the other half of the equation, ME. I had to figure out and assimilate what he was teaching me. It is entirely possible that other singers that sang with me in one of the operas or the Church job I did in New York might not have thought much of David’s teaching. Because I was still assimilating and figuring out what I was being taught. I certainly didn’t like my singing.

    During that process we may still sound not great. We may even sound worse than before because the old habits are being released and the new coordination still doesn’t know what to do. It takes time for the body to change. And it takes time for us to figure it out. And the body also needs to figure it out. So assessing a teacher by their students can be deceiving.

    Testimonials can also be deceiving because the singer might think they are making great progress, but they just don’t know any better. But at least it is a place to start. It is better than nothing. There isn’t an end-all be-all for anything. Just because things can be mis-interpretated or fabricated or just plain lied about, it doesn’t mean we throw it all out. Just because someone disagrees with me, or I don’t have students at the Met, or I didn’t sing at the Met doesn’t mean I should just quit. We do what we can and keep moving forward based on our best judgement.

    I am the last person to defend voice teachers. I have to admit that my general feeling is negative towards them. This may sound harsh, and I don’t mean disrespect towards the readers here. There are many good teachers. And many more sincere teachers that just might not have the understanding they would desire. But there are many others that not only don’t offer much that helps a singer but offer information that hurts the singer.

    But even with that situation being common, it is us, the ones with the voice, that needs to take responsibility. We don’t need to believe, or subscribe to a philosophy. We need to investigate what actually is true about the voice. I don’t want anyone to “believe” me. I want people to be open, but also be critical in the sense of proving it to yourself. It really is not possible to have someone prove something to you. If they do it is just you adopting their belief. We have to prove it to ourselves by trying things and going into things and seeing what happens.

    Bea – As I said, your points are all valid. You are illustrating the point of view of the singer who has spent a lot of money and time and ended up with next to nothing for it. I agree and I empathize with the situation. Maybe more than most other teachers. That is why I think I could have helped this person. I get contacted by many people through my website. And the great majority are very respectful and polite. I want to help everybody, but they make me want to help them. When someone contacts me with the attitude of, “give me examples so I can decide if I want to subscribe to your philosophy”, before I have any idea about them, who they are, where they are coming from, what their problems are, what they are looking to accomplish. Nothing about them. Just asking and not giving anything. Then I don’t have a very strong desire to help them. Why would I.

    Just because I advertise and publish a blog doesn’t mean I am at the service of anyone that comes along. And I want people that might be in a similar situation, whether with me or any other professional, to approach it so they will be able to get the most out of it and not ruin the possibility of meeting someone that could help you make the breakthrough you are looking for.

    Even if past hurts make you want to act otherwise. Always show new acquaintances the respect you would give the most important person in the world. Not just because everyone deserves it. But, because you don’t know if they may turn out to be the one that helps you achieve your goals.

  9. Michael, this is dealing with the question of someone asking about your “philosophy” of what you teach, and at the same time giving the impression that they don’t believe it anyway. I agree fully that that is sort of a strange question. Why would anyone ask to know something but at the same time dismiss it as worthless? I can see a great deal of insincerety and dishonesty in all that. I fully understand your upset over it. I have never condemned you for that at all. That is very much a time-waster attitude. It is very offensive to the extreme.

    I’ll share the weirdest experience I had once. It was something just about the same, and presented the same way. That is why I saw the person as asking for help, even though the letter didn’t really say that at all.

    I had a student come up to me after a master’s class I was asked to give. He was most confrontational. He demanded I explain why I said what I said, why I required the students to do what I felt would help them most. He was actually extremely rude. I was completely taken back. Here I was, a seasoned professional, and I was being drilled like a student who hadn’t done their homework. In this business, I have learned being quiet is the best response to that sort of attitude.

    I let him talk, I let him express his views, and I let him tell me why he thought he was right. I asked him to sing for me (he was NOT one of the students who sang in the masters class but an observer), for I was interested in seeing how he applied all this he knew. Some of it sounded interesting, in theory.

    He sang. In short order he was having troubles, his voice was not responding, and all sorts of issues arrived. His eyes expressed his terror.

    I had him stop singing, and asked point blank what it was he was hoping I would tell him. Everything came tumbling out, especially how horrible his teacher was (the professor who invited me was his teacher, and yes, he was ruining voices big time). We did a few support exercises and a few other things, and had him sing again. This time a super wonderful voice popped out. He was in shock, for he had NEVER sounded like that.

    He was in this terrible place where he had to trust in what the professor was teaching, even spit it back word for word, and believe it all, but was fighting against himself, for it didn’t work. He had to believe what he was being taught even though it was completely wrong.

    Whatever his real mindset, I cannot tell you, but he approached me in the most disrespectful way because of fear. He really feared I would pick at him, tell him he was no good, and a whole list of things. So, he approached me with this “I think I know everything attitude.” That attitude IS wrong.

    Perhaps the person who wrote to you was simply being confrontational, and we all know that happens all the time with singing. Perhaps he did want you to prove yourself and your “philosophy” to him. Perhaps he was one of those ignorant people who think they have the right to destroy and confront others they feel don’t agree with them. He could have been that type. Ignore that sort, they add only misery to life, if we think about them. (there are plenty of professional critics who write in the papers who are exactly the same way, and nothing will ever please them)

    But something made me think of this other person I met. I can’t say why. There was no reason to think of that, but I did. The most confrontational person I had ever met (aside from other singers, but that is another story) ultimately was the sorriest person I ever met. Their rudeness was a desperate cry for help. I am not even sure that they were hoping I would become so outraged I would really lace into the professor and tell him off (a thing I would never do, as it does nothing). It is just weird, but that is what it made me think of.

    Of course, you had no way of knowing which way the person was approaching you. You can never know that through letter. So, I could have been way off base with my comments. But that incident came to mind as I read your comments that initially brought up the subject.

    I know it makes absolutely no sense to contact a new teacher and do so with such an aggressive attitude, especially when you need help, but strangely so many voice students do.

    But like I said earlier, I think this entire discussion has been really good. I think we have learned a great deal of things. I also think we are discussing a very important point. In this world we live in, impoliteness and taking people for granted seem to be the norm. There is this attitude of entitlement. Many students, or potential students, really reflect this attitude: “well, I am here, teach me, prove to me you have what it takes, that is your job.” I am not sure where it comes from, but it is there. I find it all the time, especially amongst those between the ages of 15-28. They expect that I am there to serve their needs. They think I am just waiting around to teach them and make their dreams a reality. Well, I am still in a career, and it comes first. I am not asking them to be my students, they are approaching me. But they do act like they are giving me some really great service. Very strange.

    It is like a scene from the movie Julie/Julia (I don’t know if you have seen it or not, it is a good movie to watch). In one scene Julie is having dinner with a group of her yuppy friends. No one is listening to anyone. They are all on their cell phones doing business deals and bragging about themselves. They ask Julie about her life, and before she can even answer, they are on to something else. One girl wants to interview Julie to discuss turning 30. She then begins to talk about how it can’t be this date of that. Julie gently reminds her that it is she, not Julie, seeking the appointment.

    I find so many students are like that. They want me to teach them (or any teacher they approach), but then it is when to pencil me in. Or they think I can just miss an engagement I am contracted to sing to be there for them should they want it because that is the day that fits their schedules.

    It is a very strange way of thinking. I am surprised that someone in their 30s would have such an attitude, but hey, anyone can develop it.

    But I do fully agree, if confrontation and “prove it” attitude was the real intent behind the letter, it was wrong, it was rude, it was not worth reading or thinking about.

    But as I say, that little incident I endured while teaching a class made me think of what the person may be wanting, but are too afraid to ask. It was like they wanted help, but were afraid the answer would be “no”, so they basically wrote in such a way that “no” would be the only answer they would get.

    But it still caused a really good discussion.

  10. Yes, Bea. I can see that situation you describe in this person. That is why I wanted to educate him, and then share it with the readers as well. Because if you are the one asking for help and are “lost”. Then make sure when you contact someone who might actually be able to help you, you don’t screw it up by being the “expert”. Like I said in my reply to him. He was asking me for help. I wasn’t asking him. And yes, am trying to attract clients. But I am not applying for a job. I am only willing to work with people that want to be helped. If they already know everything and require me to convince them and break through their “correct” knowledge, then I’m sorry. I don’t have the time or desire to do that. It’s not like he had promised to pay me thousands of dollars to do this.

    Maybe I will post his question as my next Q&A post. It was a common question, and again dealt more with opinion. Thanks for provided so much material for people to consider. Hopefully everyone is learning.

  11. Wow. What an interesting, insightful and somewhat sad discussion. The impression I get from reading this is that this sort of thing (studying at university, receiving poor education, probably ending up with a damaged voice) mostly happens to students of classical singing because it is the most obvious path to a career. (Do correct me if I’m wrong.) Even though I’d wished I started lessons earlier, after reading this, I’m quite appreciative of the weird path that has led me to this blog (and Michael, of course).

    Question for you Michael: So after your week of lessons with David Jones, did you take any more? Or did you go on your own after that, finding your way through by researching the Old Italian School (and others that I’m not aware of)? During the years when you felt that you didn’t sound good (after the lessons with David) how did you know you were going down the right path? There must have been a lot of doubt and uncertainty during that time.

  12. Thanks, Simon. Yes, it is mainly Classical singing we are discussing which is the main emphasis at Universities. Sorry, I was assuming a little when I left out the rest of the story. I did continue. I went back for another week two more times. Those trips were in Jan, Mar, and May of 2001. Then in Sept we moved to New York so I could continue. It turned out to be one week before the Sept 11 attacks. I stayed for four years working with David. That was when I did some performing with small opera companies in New York.

    Yes, it was difficult. But I don’t think I really doubted. I always knew what I didn’t know. I knew something was out there just beyond my vision. I just needed to figure out how to put it together. It was like David gave me the pieces and I had to put the puzzle together. Right now I am remembering him telling me that very analogy which I hadn’t remembered. That is why singers can get frustrated with their teachers, even the good ones. Because they don’t realize that the teacher can only do so much. They can only give you the pieces and point you in the right direction. The singer has to figure out how to put the puzzle together themselves.

    But if the singer doesn’t realize that and thinks the teacher should do it all they will be severely disappointed. That is what I mean when I say we must be responsible for ourselves.

  13. Amen, Michael, Amen. We are ALL responsible for ourselves. We must do the work. A teacher can only guide us. But we must do the work. That reminds me of an experience I had when a student. I was singing in a competition and I thought I did quite well. I was slaughtered by the judges. I was angry, very angry at them. I went to my teacher (who didn’t think I was ready for the competition to begin with, stated so many times, but allowed me my prideful adventures; she believed I would learn from the experience) and complained bitterly. She looked at me down her glasses, and very coldy and sharply stated; “It is time to learn your faults and correct them.” That was the depth of her sympathy. And you know, it was the wisest thing anyone could have said. And my dedication improved a 1000% after that. A year later, I would make my professional debute. The key to everything is mostly the student, their dedication, their own work ethic, and their own willingness to really strive to learn and perfect. A teacher can only guide, they cannot do the work for anyone else.

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