Dec 18 2011

NOT How to Sing Opera

I came across this on YouTube while looking at different vocal instruction videos. I’m just sampling what is out there because I’m working on launching a video instruction service. I saw the headline “How To Sing Opera – Lesson 1 – The Key is Kermit”, and I thought, “this will be interesting.”

Well, once I started watching I thought this has to be a joke. But unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be. This just shows that anyone thinks they can teach how to sing. And it also shows how there is a complete lack of understanding of how the voice works. It is kind of amusing, but also sad at the same time.

Now, obviously, this guy is not an educated singer or voice teacher. But it is an example of the general public’s idea of what opera singing is. And many so-called educated singers and teachers aren’t much better. Maybe they can quote the textbooks, but their techniques are just as misguided.

The average person hasn’t tuned their ears to hear the characteristics of the voice. They can’t distinguish between a sound created one way versus a sort-of similar sound created in a completely different way. I would actually say that even among people in the classical world there is some level of misconception about what creates the rich, colorful tone quality of a good singer.

It is obviously not the product of making a “kermit” sound. It is less obvious, but just as true, that it is not made by “opening” the throat by pulling the tongue down with a yawn. This is actually very common among college opera singers because they are being taught that. And it is no surprise because you just need to turn on the Saturday broadcast from the Met to hear the so-called best singers in the world doing the same thing.

If you happen to be new to singing and it isn’t obvious to you that this is complete idiocy, let this be your first lesson of what NOT to do.

Please comment below.

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  1. I am rather surprised, Michael, that you would occupy your time and now myself as well with an example of one of many charlatans who believe that”squeezing” out a tone is as good as any you would hear. One could tell just from the speaking voice how bad and wrong. There are many out there who think that manufacuring a tone to stereotype an operatic sound is the way to go. In my studio I always stress that correct singing is merely an extension of speech to be applied to all styles of music,pop or classical. Speaking a tone is as important as singing a tone.

  2. That is kind of the point. Also, it is good to be amused by what is out there every once in a while. But we can learn as much, and sometimes more, by observing poor function. Because not everyone can tell what is going on when they hear good vocal coordination. But sometimes by hearing examples of poor coordination it makes the picture more clear, by comparison, what good coordination is.

    I mean, imagine a student came to you and this is what he thought operatic singing was. This gives others an opportunity to face that challenge ahead of time. And what if there are readers out there that don’t realize how wrong this actually is. Finally they can hear in no uncertainty that this is a complete misunderstanding of the voice and how it operates.

  3. Sorry, but this man is pressing on his vocal cords way too much. His sound is suitable for musical theatre, but not for opera. There is so much more to vocal technique than singing using “Kermit” launch. The voice must float on the breath and the registers must blend. This young man must investigate Bel Canto methods because there is no short cut to beautiful singing, attained through the thorough study of good technique

  4. I can appreciate that Michael. But, unfortunately it will take more than one example to illustrate the point. Everyone of us, at some point, has beem beguiled by these charlatans. Perhaps, we need to devote some of this web to how to identify a “bad” teacher. My introduction to every new student has been, ” if at the end of this lesson your voice does not feel as good or better as when you first walked in” don’t come back. Any good teacher should be able to have that confidence.

  5. Unlike Mr. Germaine, I find this very useful, since I think this site is meant for students and beginners…not only for professional singers… somethings must be very obvious for voice teachers…but for some of us they are not so… I find it great that you point out what not to do with a video and also that you help us to distinguish bad teachers.

  6. Nestor Gurry

    Michael, this is pathetic…this poor guy has some mind problems…for sure…I don´t know if I laugh or cry…

    Anyways, it is good that you have posted this. Unfortunately this bizarre vision about vocal production does exist.

    regards,

  7. I remember seeing this guy a while back and raising an eyebrow to it. If you read the comments underneath you can see he is kind of condescending to anyone who is objecting to him. Not good on instruction or taking criticism. I think a voice teacher should be more concerned in making people sing properly than their own egos. Yeesh.

  8. As a singer for over 50 years and as a voice teacher please please know that there is no technique that would ever endorse this guys “Kermit” sounds idea. If you are wanting to learn to sing, find a reputable voice teacher in your area or go to a community college. Learning and doing his tricks (things he has simply made up) you will pay for in the long run from creating BAD BAD habits that might take years to un learn (straining, tension and pulling of the sound through the registers) so that you can sing into your old age…take it from an old guy.
    Lorna his sound is not suitable for anything. I would really not like it to be believed that this would be good for Musical theatre over Opera, because proper and good technique cross all styles of music. Good training is good training and this is not even trying to be good training…..there is no training……Michael and his “kermit sounds” proves the danger of the internet.

  9. I’m just relieved he didn’t have that aneurysm he’s building toward. I admit that I couldn’t sit through all that godawful noise he was making; but I found it interesting that he had a lot of vocal fry in his speaking voice.

    This guy reminds me of a person I overheard vocalising while waiting for a singing lesson a few years ago. The bloke was well over 6 feet tall and very thickset; after he left, my teacher gushed about what operatic potential he had (it was his first lesson, so you can imagine how he sounded)- simply because he blustered his way through a few scales with a foghorn-like voice. Whereas I, with my work ethic and unfortunate small voice was just another dreamer that teachers are forced to endure in order to feed themselves, my teacher seemed to almost say… I agree that the problem is systemic. No one in the moronic public cares HOW you hit a high C these days, and in a few years when your voice is shot, there are already plenty of other poor, clueless bastards lining up to take your place and wreck theirs. And it’s not just happening in popera – look at Villazon. Oh wait. Sorry, it was a ‘congenital cyst’ he had removed, not a nodule. Silly me. That same teacher I mentioned told me he thought Villazon was brilliant but ‘pushed’ his voice a little too much and would eventually run into problems. That’s the equivalent of saying an F1 driver who is excellent on straights but spins out around corners all the time, is guilty of ‘pushing’ the car too much. Most people would simply call it ‘bad driving’.

  10. I ment to say Jonathan, not Michael, my apologies to Michael if there was any confusion,and his Kermit sound and his technique is not real…..but of corse anyone who likes Opera or legitimate singing knows that Jonathan is just full of bad hot air, bad tone and need to study before her ever gives a lesson.
    And he really is not giving a lesson he is just demonstrating Bad Bad or lack of technique…..I am only writing because I
    really do care about peoples voices…..These are our instruments, they are what we express ourselves with and it is how we as singers make art. So if you hear a big word of caution know it is coming from care.

  11. Oh dear, I am not sure I should comment on this one. Aside from sounding terrible, being out of key most of the time, straining in some silly fake opera sound, and a whole lot of other issues we haven’t time to get into, he admitted right from the start “I am not a teacher or anything and I don’t sing professionally.” That says volumes right there. He has no clue what an operatic voice sound like, and most likely has never heard one in his life, excepting junk like “Il Divo” and the like.

    Furthermore, he bases his sound (if you can call it that) on a song that isn’t opera to begin with. As much as I love Phantom, it is written for Seudo-operatic voices, ones that give the impression they could sing opera, but rely on mikes to create the sound and volume. And what we heard is a real insult to Lloyd-Webber’s music. There are plenty of examples out there of people singing it properly.

    I am horrified that such people really would get others to believe that what they are doing is correct. But that is a result of the world of ignorance we live in today. Good voices are few and far between (there is a difference between a well-produced voice, and a merely pretty voice), and when they do come up, most managements even have no clue what to do with them. Their voices are too strong, too ringing, and have too much presence to work well with the run of the mill singers out there. The public doesn’t know how to listen to them because they are not used to that “real sound.” The other reason is the junk we hear now days which is marketed big time with all the “So called” three tenors, three Irish tenors, Il Divo, Andrea Bocelli, “Voice of an angel” children singers, etc. None of them sing well, none of them sing properly and with good function, but all of them have this sort of “quasi-operatic sound.” And since the music they sing is mostly some form or rendition of more popular music, not actual operatic music (Bocelli is an exeption here, as he does record opera, but he is a failure at it in public, even on stage, without a mike, he is simply inaudible), people have come to believe that is the “operatic sound.” If you read comments on YouTube you often see that people will say they like those singers better than actually well-known real operatic singers. The sound is “easier to listen to” than the true operatic sound.

    But why is it easier to listen to? It certainly sounds far more strained, is far more pressed and under far more pressure than a truly operatic voice (even though the later may sound 100 times louder, have more carrying power and ring, and have far more emotional content to it). The reason, in my view, is it still, even in its sort of operatic impression, reflects the aspects of popular music that people are used to and that they identify as “good singing for popular music.”

    Most popular music is sung in an extremely forced, belted, pushed, shoved, and stressful way. It is seldom even all that musical. All those qualities that are the hallmarks of real “Rock and Pop” are evident in this singing. The singers can’t be heard without mikes, yet they sing as if they are attempting to blow the roof off the building. Yet, without the mikes, we wouldn’t hear them at all. We would hear only yelling at best. And they stress singing HIGH NOTES and making sure that there are plenty of them to belt with great strain (again a false belief that operatic singing is constantly up there in the rafters and that all opera singers never sing in or below the staff).

    This man in this video was great at yelling, and that was about all he did. There was nothing musical, nothing subtle, and nothing meaningful in what he sang, or how he sang it. And putting the super non-existent technique aside, he didn’t even sing like he understood what he was singing about. Yes, he understood the words, but he didn’t put any meaning behind them. To him, all that was needed was LOUD crude singing to sound operatic.

    People have come to think that operatic singing is simply super loud singing. They really do not understand that even if it sounds super loud, the singer is usually not singing LOUDLY. They are singing with nothing restricting the sound. Though operatic music and singing can give the impression it is very high energy and nearly over the top, in reality it is well controlled. Yes, it is energetic, but it isn’t, or shouldn’t be, pushed. If high notes sound strained, it is because they are strained, not because they are supposed to sound strained.

    Actually, the “video man” is so bad, I am left wondering if he really takes himself seriously about “how to sing opera” or is he mocking the art form by doing what he is doing. He CAN’T sing opera no matter what he tells himself. Even from what he has recorded, I can assure you his voice wouldn’t carry over anything, not even a flute. Were his voice really of a truly operatic nature, the mikes on his camera or computer monitor would have given a very blown sound, hissed, rattled and a whole lot of things. Even good professional mikes have issue with real operatic voices (and that is the average kind, really truly huge dramatic voices still cannot be recorded with any sense of accuracy to the actual sound, one has only a faint reflection of it). Singers must stand a certain distance from them. Large voiced singers will often be placed behind the orchestra and chorus, while their smaller voice counterpoints will be in front of the orchestra and chorus. For some singers, mikes have to be hung a considerable distance away from the voice so as to capture the fullness of the sound, the richness of the voice, and the ring which growns more pronounced and more intense with distance. With well-trained voices in good balance they usually sound better the larger the space they are in. That applies even to smaller voices suited more to Mozart than Wagner. They still fill the room because they are given space to grow. The voice we hear in the video would not grow in a large space, rather it would disappear. Bellowing will not allow the voice to carry.

    Actually, it is good Michael put such a terrible example up for all to hear. This example is of exactly what what people must not do. This man cannot sing at all. Students need to know that this sound, the sound of this man, is really pathetic. He can no more sing opera than the cat down the street from me sings opera. And what is worse, he has no musicality at all. And that is another thing that people don’t seem to understand: Opera is MUSICAL. It must sound musical. It is expressing human emotions THROUGH music. All aspects of music that make music musical must be expressed in opera. This man simply had no clue about what even makes a phrase musical, nor how to shape one, nor how to turn a phrase using anything other than bellowing noise.

    The sad reality is there are many people out there who will believe him and his ideas on how to sing. YouTube is filled with “supposed voice teachers” all spouting off their wares. Most sound ridiculous to the extreme, not necessarily what they are saying (some actually even say the right things) but what they actually do and how they actually sound. They may know the theories, but they have no clue how to apply them to the voice.

    This man has no understanding of singing. But unlike Grant (even though I fully agree a person must get a good teacher) says, I don’t endorce universities or community colleges either. I have seen so many students come out of them sounding just as terrible as the man we have heard here, and without any more musicality than he had. Just because someone has a degree in singing hardly makes them a good teacher, nor does it guarantee they understand anything at all. Very little time is spent in university actually learning HOW to sing. Yes, the students may read all the various papers on singing collected by the great teachers of the past. They may even understand a term or two they read. But most students will be taught by teachers who themselves cannot sing all that well. There is a terrible statement out there that says, “those that do, do; those who can’t, teach.” Though that is to a point an unfair statement, it has more truth to it than most people think. Many, if not nearly all, the professors I have worked with when asked to give masters classes had no voices at all. They couldn’t sing as well as the students they were teaching, and their understanding of HOW to sing was most limited. Most students, and sadly a huge number of teachers, graduate with degrees, are able to sing a few arias, but really cannot do nearly half of what is required technically in the music. Nearly none can trill, few can sing good coloratura, many cannot even manage the various breaks in the voice, and most have no clue of what is needed to actually perform, and even fewer actually understand what it is they are singing about. They have not developed into even good amateur performers, let alone actually singers that could even venture out into the professional world.

    I do agree with finding a good voice teacher, but that is the challenge. Where does one find one? A degree means NOTHING. Sometimes it is seen as asking too much, but if a teacher really cannot demonstrate what they want a student to do, how can they really know if what they are asking is right? They can’t get their own voices to do it. And even if the information is correct, the fact they cannot translate that into noticeable vocal function even in their own voices demonstrates just how little they really do understand, and how little they understand about how to apply in a real life way what they know. That won’t help a student learn to sing. Though a teacher need not be a great singer, nor even one who was a great singer now retired, they should at least have the ability to demonstrate what it is they are asking the student to do. And if the end result of their own singing is a voice with as much musicality as nails scratching down the blackboard, or fish-mongers bellowing to sell their wares, then there isn’t much a student can learn from such an example. Sad as this is to say, I would say that 80% of all university singing professors I have heard sing sound just this bad. Yet, they push their wares on the unsuspecting students who are forced to study with them because the university demands it. Some students get smart and hire really good teachers, what are known as “Ghost Teachers,” and learn to sing well. The sad result of that is the professor gets the credit for creating the voice, when in point of fact, he did nothing at all.

    I have simply seen too many voices of young people destroyed at the university and college levels to have much confidence in anything that comes out of there. Furthermore, the student is required to study a vast amount of things that have nothing to do with voice, music, or anything that would help them develop as a singer, all of which are required for the degree, but are useless for the development of their voices and their talents. I would say, “Beware!” Academic training is a guarantee of NOTHING. One can be just as abused and duped as if listening to the advice of his video presentation. And that is why a singer must really shop around and see what is out there. The singer must also understand that there is no such thing as a “quick vocal method” that will produce instand results. Even if the voice is perfectly placed right from the beginning, can sing any technical demand required by the music (as such singers like Rosa Ponselle could do), there is still an Everest of work left to do to really learn the art of singing and performing. And a world of understanding to develop even in regards as to WHY the voice, this perfect voice that seems right from the start to have no issues, why this voice works as it does so as not to begin to do things that will work against its natural function. There is a lot of real work which gimmicks (like this singing like Kermit the frog — a voice the man in the video didn’t master at all, not that you would want to, but he didn’t just the same, didn’t sound anything like him) simply cannot teach.

  12. Beatrice, you are correct in finding objection to relying on a college to train a singer. I would agree with much of what you said. Having said that my point was that someone who wants to learn to sing should educate themselves as to what is out there in the way of proper voice training. Going to a community college to explore is just one option. Of corse private lessons with a good teacher is what would be best, but unless you know what is good and what is not or who is a good teacher and who is not, a person has to start somewhere. Sometimes finding out what is not allows you the chance to learn what is good. I know of at least one excellent voice teacher at a local community college and there was another who knew enough that they were not hurting the students in any way and another who was just plain awful. So I say don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You take your chances with every teacher you will ever study with and as the student it is the students responsibility to educate themselves to know what is right for them. By the way the guy in the video is named Jonathan not Michael

  13. It is great to see all of the comments. Grant, I agree that this is not even suitable for Musical Theater. What he is doing is not suitable for anything. But I suspect that Lorna was focusing on the fact that this was presented as being Operatic singing, which she said it certainly was not, which could possibly be gotten away with in musical theater. There people would be less aware of how wrong it is. Especially since in musical theater there is mostly imitative singing anyway.

    I’m going to write more about this post because it provides a nice starting point for deeper investigation. Look for a new post soon.

  14. I do agree with you, Grant, but only to a point. The reason there are so few good teachers is there are so few good places to learn anything about the voice. I happened to have studied with a very famous singer who had a career of over 45 years. She was a real task-master, but she knew what she was doing. By the time I auditioned (but again, because she had connections, not these stupid get nowhere auditions most singers endure; nor did I go the route of endless competitions which never translate into a career either) I had twenty-some operas under my belt, not just my part, but the ENTIRE opera. I was ready. No one graduates with a degree with even a small portion of that. I was scheduled to sing a small role as my debut, but because of an ailing singer, I debuted with the part of Ortrud. But I could do that as I had actually studied it (and all of Wagner’s major operas) for many years. I also had no real rehearsal, but a simple run-through with piano over selected parts.

    It is true SOME universities get professors who can teach a bit, and a few who don’t do any noticeable damage, but that is NOT the norm. And what do the students really learn about singing? Precious little, as they only go to a singing lesson once a week for less than one hour. In no time at all, they have the list of music they must learn to sing for their examinations. As a result, they spend little to no time learning HOW to master their craft, but music to pass the course. And they waste an unforgivable amount of time on silly art songs, and inconsequential junk composed by “local composers” (an attempt to push the music of their own country; often written by composers of no appreciable value, and even less musical value, and of course their exams must include a great portion of this music that no one would pay to listen to).

    If I were studying law in such a university, but in the end couldn’t really understand my craft, it wouldn’t take long for the university to lose its accreditation. It would be seen as an institution that was not capable of really preparing students to practice their craft.

    So it would be in most all fields of study.

    Yet, with music, there is no such expectation. If a student fills the required courses, he is qualified for the degree, even if in the end he cannot even do what would be required to actually have a career in music. This is not just the problem in voice, but in all aspects of music. Although it is impossible to guarantee a career in music, just as it is impossible to guarantee one will get a job in any field, the requirements are far from the same. At least, if I graduate in science, business, law, or medicine, I will have the qualifications to work in those fields. I have what is needed (I actually do have degrees in Physics, biology, and quantum mechanics; music was done totally through private lessons).

    But musicians graduate in music and are completely unable to even sing the music that is required of them to sing. They don’t have the technical skills, they don’t have the mastery of the languages, they don’t understand the styles, and very few of them even know the situation in which the aria they are singing takes place in the given work.

    They have read a few books by Garcia and a few others, but they really do not understand what is written.

    That is bad enough, but what is really criminal is the fact that even if they do get an introduction to voice, and their voices are not ruined, when they are done (and they have stuck with it, usually even if they are feeling their voices becoming far less than they were when they started, all because they can’t afford to quite at that point, they are caught in the need to finish their degree or waste their money) they are not prepared to enter into a career.

    I have even given masters classes (I have done many universities in Canada, the US, and in Europe) in universities where the final grade is based on an official audition before agents. NOT ONE of those students has passed the test. Even if the voice was nice, there was nothing to market. They had no repertoire to speak of (arias are not good enough). They had no real understanding of what they were going to do with their voices, etc.

    Once a singer has auditioned for an agent or an agency, it is very hard to move forward if you were terrible or completely unprepared. Agencies also share information about each singer they have heard. Many doors become permanently closed.

    I never said the man in the video was called Michael. I was talking about the Michael who runs this blog, and it is good he put such a terrible video on his site so we all could see just what to avoid. I purposely didn’t mention the man who made the video by name, as he had nothing to offer and we had no reason to learn his name. I am sorry, Grant, you were not able to understand that point. And you seem to have missed it with everyone who mentioned Michael’s name. ALL OF THEM were referring to the teacher who keeps this blog, not to the person who did the video.

    However, I do agree with you that a student must educate himself as to what would be a good teacher (I have written an entire entry on that subject which is on this site, look it up). But taking a chance just because you are attending a university is not a great idea. Usually you don’t get to choose your teacher, the teacher is assigned. And those with the most important positions seldom, if ever, take on the regular students. They limit themselves to those who are nearly perfect to begin with.

    The issue with students is they have no where to turn to learn what is good use of the voice or not. They end up believing what their professors tell them, as after all, they are the ones they are paying, and those professors have credentials that say they know what they are doing, and they (the students) have no real understanding on which to base or judge what they are hearing to know if it is sound or not.

    It is more common than not, that when a student starts to study at a university, even if they had great vocal teachings prior, will have everything they have learned in the past, even if it worked wonderfully well, condemned. They will be told that they learned everything the wrong way, and then when broken, forced to submit to the instructions of their professor. IF things are not working (which often they don’t) and they say anything, they are condemned for insubordination. They are caught between a rock and a hard place.

    This is the way to learn what is going to be good or bad vocal use? Yes, one does take a gamble when choosing a teacher. But that shouldn’t have to be the case (even though it is). Students should be allowed to see for themselves the results of any teacher’s teachings (including the University professor of voice). If their students sound worse than when they began, they should have the right to reject that person as a teacher and select another one, which is not usually an option in a university.

    Does the student learn by trial and error, by teacher hopping? All that usually does is create massive confusion in the minds of the student as to what is good training and what is not.

    And after the student has learned what isn’t good vocal teaching, where do they turn to find good vocal teaching?

    The biggest problem with vocal teaching is there are no requirements. Anyone can teach singing, even a very poor piano player. Aside from the intellectual understanding, which anyone can gain just by reading the books written on singing, the teacher, in my view, must be required to actually be able to sing, and well. A piano teacher can’t get away with simply knowing how to read the notes on the page and muddle her way through any simple piece of music. She must be able to play very well, and have (at least in Canada) passed many test to prove her abilities. If she can’t do that, she cannot claim qualifications to teach (even though some students will teach children younger than they are). Instrumentalists who teach other instrumentalists, especially if they are training and preparing them for the concert stage and the professional world of music, for the most part have to have been part of that professional world. They have to have a track record of successful performing years.

    That is not a requirement for a singing teacher. If he can say he sang 50 years in a church choir, he can claim he has sung for 50 years, or had a 50 year career.

    I am most passionate about this issue, not because I went the University route (I didn’t; I went from private study directly into a career, and I started singing right at the top with important companies, so I was paid right from the start, none of this singing for some obscure company and paying for the privilege of doing so), but because the ONLY students I have had have been those whose voices were destroyed under the system of academia. Most students end up knowing they will get nowhere, and just give up. But you find others whose passion is to sing. They have invested all into what they hoped would be a career, and they went the university route thinking that it would open doors into the profession for them. They ended up with degrees saying they were qualified to teach, but with voices that proved they could not sing.

    Having a very busy professional career, I haven’t been able to put as much time into these students as I would hope, but I do get them started on the repair, and then transfer them to teachers I know will do them good. And admittedly, most of those teachers were once great singers, many I have sang with for many decades. NOT ALL former singers make good teachers (some are worse than the worst at any university). But there are some who really do take the time to constantly learn all they can about singing, function, and everything else.

    My issue is I have listened to these destroyed hopes and voices far too often. I have seen countless such students when giving masters classes (which I think are totally stupid, for the great singer is there but for a moment, and the student, no matter what good you teach them, usually has it “untaught” by their former professor within no time at all). I have had them beg me for advice because they know their voices are not functioning, but they cannot change teachers, or they have no clue which “ghost teachers” to seek out.

    Though I do not believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as you have stated it, I do believe that much more accountability must be demanded of music departments in systems of higher learning.

    But we are still left with the question of “Where does a student find a good teacher?” How do they know if what they are being sold is really the correct way of doing things? And then, even when you have a good teacher (some teachers are excellent for some students, and things seem to really jump forward at lightening speed; but that same teacher, even though they use a totally correct method of production, will not work well for another student) how do you teach the student and help them understand that what they are learning may be exactly what they need, but that their own relationship with the teacher is what is getting in the way? How many students will even accept that? It is easy to say that when they see what is wrong they will understand what is right. It isn’t that simple. Since nearly every voice teacher teaches their own “method” and few of them are based on the natural functioning of the body but on imagery and cliche statements, and nearly all of them use the same words, imagery, sources to back up what they say they teach, how can a student know that what they are hearing is correct?

    Then we get to the simple idea: Do they even know what a good well produced voice sounds like? The answer is most likely not. The closest they have come to that, for most students, is the CD player. They have heard great singers on disk. But that sound is not at all like the real sound. Very small voices that hardly are audible sound as ringing as voices that fill the theatre and ring in the parking lot. And how many teachers know what a huge well produced voice sounds like in a small rehearsal room? Most have no clue. They just think things must be loud, when in point of fact, they are full with sound, but not ear splitting. A well produced voice takes on its strength and power with space. A bellowd voice has no power and is shouting and painful to the ears when close. Now that I have said that, unless one has actually worked with such a voice in person in studio, one still cannot know for sure what it is I am saying. It is because of that lack of understanding most teachers have students under-sing so far the voice never develops. They think the voice is too loud, when in point of fact, they are not using the full voice at all.

    And even then, a really good teacher who really does teach a great method may hold their students back simply because they have no real understanding of what a free well-produced voice sounds like in a small room. They will be deceived into having the singer hold back the voice.

    And why can’t a student demand to hear the professor sing BEFORE they accept them as a singing teacher? It isn’t allowed. And most students will NEVER hear their professors sing anything, but a scale here or there to demonstrate things. Why can’t they demand a full concert in advance to see if the teacher can really do what they claim they know? Teachers usually make students audition, but why can’t students make teacher audition? I know that sounds strange, but how else will a student hear what that teacher will teach and what the voice will sound like? If they croak like a frog, and your goal is not to croak like a frog, why not know that in advance?

    These are just questions, for it is so easy to say a student must educate themselves as to what is good singing and what is not, and what is good teaching and what is not. That is so easy when they are denied the privilege of actually hearing what their teachers will sound like, or even if they themselves like the sound their teachers (and his former students) make. What little things can a student do to learn what makes a good teacher and what doesn’t? What can they do to assure themselves that a teacher knows what he is doing or not? It is easy to say to read up on what is good vocal form, and the student will do that, only to see that every teacher out there, even the ones most unqualified to teach, will all be saying the same things.

    As I have said, the biggest problem facing a student seeking a teacher is there are no real requirements out there to be a teacher. In most other fields the people teaching have to have mastered that field, they have to have studied it, they have to have actually done it for a considerable period of time. They have to be able to put their money where their mouths are, so to speak. But no such requirements are made of voice teachers. Why not?

    And to make it worse, most universities court famous singers, even awarding them many Honorary Doctorates (I have been awarded a great number myself, but I think Jessye Norman tops the list with 45 such degrees; she has a few of her own she actually earned as well). Their hope is to get this great name to teach at their university. But the catch is, they want you when you are still in full swing and before the public. They don’t really want you when you are retired. They want Marquis value. Your name will draw people into their place of learning. They don’t even care if you teach any students much at all. Your knowledge is not what they want. They want your name. Their greatest concern is not preparing students to be singers, but to get people in the door. I fully understand that. But when that is the motivation of the music faculty, is it any wonder there are more unqualified teachers teaching than those who could really make a difference in the lives of the students.

    At one time, most of the famous singers of the past became teachers when they retired (and again with varying results). They knew what they were doing and were willing to share it. Some of course taught because they needed income. But as I talk with my colleagues, very few of them want to become teachers. They have no desire to work with universities and just be the name that draws, but unable to really teach the things they know will work, or have vocal lessons often enough in a week to make a difference. Some don’t want to teach because they are not impressed with young people who today simply want a quick fix to get them into instant fame. But most think it a hopeless cause because the world of singing is changing, and not for the better. Fewer and fewer singers are really all that good. One great singer (Tebaldi) called them all Mosquitos. The voices are all too small for the music they are singing. Even Marilyn Horne says that the day of miked opera is inevitable. Things will change like they did with Broadway. And even if we hear nice pretty voices, we are not hearing opera, especially as the composers of the past envisioned it. Perhaps opera composers of the future will write with miked voices in mind, as they do for Broadway. That will be fine for those works, but not for Wagner, Verdi, or those composers. That style of intimate crooning is not what they wrote.

    Myself, I am not so pessimistic as some. I think that people will start to demand great singing once again. More CDs are sold of performances of the 1930s with the great singers of that day than are sold for many singers of today. People want to hear authentic singing, not manufactured singing. But the art form is changing. Some great singers (Renata Scotto) don’t even have a piano in their home after retiring. Some NEVER sing again after retiring, not even in the shower. And there are many who after the curtain falls on their careers don’t even mention it again. They aren’t even available for interview when their names come up. They loved their careers, but now they are over, and with the state of singing as it is, they simply want nothing more to do with it. Besides, in no time flat a person is forgotten. Look at Joan Sutherland; when she died (and the same with Ghena Dimitrova and a whole host of them, including Renata Tebaldi) excepting on the Internet by fans, and in large music centers like New York, her passing wasn’t even noted in the news. The same time she died, some obscure actor from the silent era died, and they were featured as a notible passing. She didn’t even get a footnote.

    That is a reflection on the state of singing. Even great singers that were not of that long ago are forgotten. The only one most of the younger generation even knows is Maria Callas. And very few of them have a clue what she was really like on stage, or what she really sounded like on stage (I had the honor of seeing her twice: in Tosca and Norma).

    The hardest thing for any student is to learn what is great singing when so little of it is around them. How can they know if a teacher knows their business if even that teacher has never actually heard great singing? Just understanding things intellectually isn’t enough. They need more and where are they going to get it? That is the state we are in.

  15. Michael, I look forward to your new post based on the discussion brought on by the video you posted. What I find encouraging is ALL those who have seen it and commented instantly saw that THIS WAS NOT SINGING. I won’t even say horrible singing, because horrible singing implies that there was still real singing happening. I see that as encouraging because people are seeing that what they are being subjected to is not authentic singing. They are hearing the difference. They are noting it. I have seen that amongst students of voice all over the world. They are aware of the fact what they are hearing is not really the level it should be. They know that more is possible. The first thing they all say is “everyone sounds the same and they sound the same in everything they sing.” As you get them talking, they notice that individuality is not evident in the crop of singers we have today. In the past, you could tell a singer by hearing only a few notes. That is much harder to do now. And even if the interpretation of the past was a really off the mark performance in relationship to the style and period of the music, one was still left in awe with the artistry, the intensity of the voice, the beauty of the sound, the security of the function, and a whole list of things. Young people are noticing those things, even if they are not sure exactly what they are actually noticing (they sometimes don’t have the words to describe what the notice, but they are noticing). It is because of sites like this, and lively discussions like we read in this blog, that I do believe have opened many minds. And with the Internet, many more are reading than we are actually hearing from. People want to know what good singing is all about, and they are seeking it out. With such things as YouTube, many singers with fabulous function are now out there to be heard (even if the recordings themselves are horrible because the technology of that day was so bad). People are being subjected to the sound of good voices, even if they are old recordings, as I say. They want that energy and excitement today. And I think they are seeing they won’t get it with mikes or as things are happening now. I do look forward to what you will write.

  16. Thank you for letting me hear your thoughts, Michael. I suppose you are embarrassed to know people need to change their taste in order to understand the genuine operatic singing. The guy starts speaking in a common American nasal accent, and then switches to a kind of head voice. He obviously thinks he speaks and sings beautifully. It took me quite some time to know neither the modal speaking voice nor the falsetto or head voice of mine has very little to do with the standard singing voice: that I need to discover and rebuild my real voice from scratch, that there is a fundamental difference between an imitation and a real one.
    I am often surprised to know even experienced singers have a poor ear: they should not teach. Most of them know something is somehow wrong, but do no know what is exactly wrong. Of course the guy in question is not one of the “experienced singers”.
    I have enjoyed reading you post. Thank you.
    Tsuji

  17. wow, Michael. Thank you so much for putting this clip up on your blog. Currently, I am a music student myself and feel this post is desperately needed. Many who haven’t recently set foot into the music department of a local university may dismiss this griping about young students lacking an ear as just a bunch of people yearning for the antiquated sounds of a bygone era.
    However, I can state from personal experience that this is definitely not the case. at my university, a lot of the voices are constricted and sound more like young teen/pre-teen voices than eighteen-twenty-year-olds. voice majors get only a one-hour voice lesson once a week, and we do have to learn at least four to six pieces for our juries at the end of the semester, not to mention the ten plus pieces we must learn for choir. Furthermore, the week before Thanksgiving we had three performances in that week alone, excluding rehearsals. All of these performances, voice lessons, juries, and choir rehearsals were sung on a bad technique, which was characterized by a high larynx, lack of adequate support, and tremendous tongue tension.
    At first, I tried to go along with what the professor and hour director had instructed us to do but quickly found I needed to change my approach when my voice began to give out on me. By the time our choir concert came around, I was so vocally fatigued I had to mouth the words for most of our program. I may have mentioned this before on Michael’s blog, but during choir I would adopt the same technique just to “blend” with my fellow singers.

  18. This discussion is really interesting. I am farmiliar with this video, however, it was interesting to read your reaction Michael and other comments. One point I found very interesting is comment from Iris, above mine now, who wrote that she would adopt the same technique just to blend with the singers she sang with.

    Due to my very recent singing experience, I found I have difficulty with this as well. It probably has something to do with the way we listen. I would go trough all the pieces I needed to sing at home without difficulty. I would sometimes arrive earlier and sing there on stage a bit to keep this same alignment I practised. However, when I was placed among 20 other people around me who had all sorts of functional difficulties (for example chronic breathiness), and plus hearing the overall sound of the choir with which you sort of have to blend, all combined by bad instruction by choir director, I found it extremely difficult to keep my way of singing among that. It is a strange feeling of a lack of control, but as if the body trough listening all those people around wants to respond in this same way. Later I tried to overcome this by focusing completely on the conductor and how I feel my voice when singing at home, and literary trying to exclude all those around me, except their pitch and tempo, what is probably not very nice nor a goal of a choir experience, but I guess was the only way to go trough this…It ended well, because I managed to get into a group of singers who sing well now.

    But it made me notice how great the influence of what we hear and listen is, or especially who we sing with, on our own way of singing. It makes me think about the things one can find in old books, how, the teachers of the past would demonstrate and the student imitated this single tone over and over again until it was perfect. I am not sure that you can learn all by immitation, however, if the source you’re trying to imitate, or if you have a good reference would maybe be a better expression, especially if it’s a person in front of you, is well, the process of getting to a good tone might be much easier, because the body might respond to it more naturally as well. What sort of comes to Beatrice’s conclusion that a teacher must be able to demonstrate what they teach.

  19. I believe that the first step is to learn observation before attempting any imitation. A teacher is supposed to have developed a keen understanding and observation of the vocal process. His/her first job should be to teach this to the student. What is the point in attempting to imitate somebody doing something if you don’t understand what they are doing and how they are doing it?
    I have had teachers who expected me to just ‘get’ what they were doing – what am I, psychic! Being a good mimic, I made a sound that was similar to their own, and so they liked it and I got a pat on the head – but I had absolutely no idea what they were doing to make that sound, and their explanations were vague, at best, because they weren’t really very good at observation, themselves. I knew what I was doing, though – I was manipulating my throat a la Kermit.
    Like I said above, the problem is systemic. The teacher can’t justify charging $75 per lesson without getting the student to do some actual singing, because students are all too ignorant to understand the value in first learning to observe and understand before attempting to produce any sounds. As long as students continue to remain ignorant, there will always be bad teachers. That’s why you have to become your own teacher before you go to a teacher, so you can differentiate between the good and the bad.

  20. Chris, I really like your observation. When I say a teacher must be able to do what he teaches, I am also thinking he had better be able to actually explain what is happening as well. I have seen this so much as well, the student being required to “imitate” the teacher, not the good way of singing, but the teacher’s sound. Even if the teacher’s sound is well sung, has great and balanced function, unless the student really understands THAT is how to produce that sound, they will produce it anyway they can. We can imitate most anyone’s singing, and even sound really good, and be doing it all the wrong way. I am not sure what you mean exactly by “being your own teacher before you go to a teacher.” I understand the words, of course, but I have seen many students as well who THINK they are doing everything right. It all sounds right to them. They are observing what their bodies are doing and not attempting to misuse anything. But in the end, they still are not singing with a balanced function. The reason is simply because with all their personal observation they still haven’t themselves learned what things are or how they are done, or what may be happening they cannot see. I have seldom seen any student who “was their own teacher” before they came to a teacher who didn’t have a trunk load of faults they had to get over. The only trouble with them was they refused to listen when they were told what would work. It didn’t match up to their own observations, which were often not completely based on solid and wise understanding.

    Some times it is really easy to see the good from the bad, but not always.

    Here is a monkey wrench to throw into the mix. Most singers think that they should sing a certain way and if it sounds good to them, they think they are singing correctly. There will even be teachers who teach so that you end up liking your sound. What is wrong with tha most of the time is the sound most exciting and fulfilling for the audience often doesn’t sound all that great to the singer himself. Sounds that often sound really ringing to the ear of the singer are dead to the audience and have no ring. High notes that sound ringing and full to the singer sound weak and lifeless to the audience. And that is a thing you cannot observe for yourself. You cannot know what your sound sounds like to someone else, and most especially in a theatre or with orchestra behind it.

    So in all your personal observations how can you know you are actually singing like you think you are singing? How can you know that is what the audience is actually hearing?

    There will always be bad teachers as long as there are people wanting to learn to sing, especially if they live in places where there are very few people who even understand the art of singing, or who don’t even like good singing when they hear it.

    Actually, during the age of great singing (the age of the castrati) most all teachers taught by imitation. All this understanding we have today simply didn’t exist. A singer learned to sound good by imitating a good sound. They learned music, they learned scales, they learned all those decorations they needed to impress the public. Some of their teachers weren’t even other castrati but regular men, tenors to boot (and they were seen during that time as nothings). Yet, in all that listening to tenors show them how to sing a good rounded tone, they learned how to sing such a tone in their own pitch. They learned rigorous breathing techniques that even today are extremely difficult for most singers to do. I am sure there were thousands of teachers even then, but one reads of only a handful who became noted for their teaching.

    Even by the time we get to Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, etc. we have great singers who learned through imitation, being drilled to death in scales, breathing, trills, etc. (there is even a story some composer told, about hearing terribly screaming coming out of Garcia’s home — the elder Garcia, not the son who wrote all the singing books; when asked what it was, he was told “It is Garcia beating trills into his daughter.”).

    But with all their great training many of those great singers of that time didn’t have long careers (Rossini’s wife didn’t yet he wrote some of his most difficult music for her). Others had voices that never were even in scale and never were obedient to the singer’s desire (Pasta always sang the E, F, and G at the top of the clef flat, and in fact, when teaching corrected her students when they sang them in tune, she felt they were sharp; Malibran was a contralto who forced herself to sing everything, good thing she died at 28 for who knows if we would read of her at all if she lived longer and entered real vocal decline that was hers almost from the beginning; even her sister Viardot had many vocal issues and like Malibran sang everything).

    Garcia started this approach through “science” to understand singing. Has it really given us greater singers? Not really.

    Most all these singers in the past learned through imitation and THROUGH THE OBSERVATION OF OTHERS WHO LISTENED TO THEIR SOUND. Yes, they had their flaws, noticeable ones, but they had their virtues. It was the ears of their teachers that allowed them to know when they were getting close to what the sound should be like.

    The fact is, without another pair of ears, you cannot know what you really sound like. You can observe what you are doing, you can make sure your understanding of what the body should do is following sound thinking, but even with all that, you can not really know what you sound like to someone else’s ears.

    Let us say you then, after all your personal observation and being your own teacher, you finally get to study with a real vocal genius. He just knows how to teach you everything. He can explain everything. He can see every little mistake and completely explain why it is a mistake. There is no mind reading, no strange imagery, everything is perfectly clear, and his observations are exactly on. Now let us say he points out to your that everything you have concluded about how you are singing is wrong. You have not really understood what your body is doing. You are close, but not exact.

    And now, he points out that your voice is not the wonder you have concluded. It is very weak in the high notes, but to you they are strong and ringing. Your low notes allow too much breath to escape, but you are not aware of that. You can’t always hear it in yourself. and your lovely brilliant tone is dead and lifeless. How would you respond to that? Most students who think they have figured it all out get really upset and often leave after one lesson. They can’t accept that what they think they are hearing is not what everyone else is hearing.

    Now of course, if your teacher sings well, but cannot even tell you why he does or how to do it in any other way than “just copy me” you are equally up the creek, so to speak.

    Now, I could be wrong, I think you are saying before a teacher has you sing, you should be able to observe good singing and come to understand why it is good. I agree with that. But who else do you have but your teacher? Would you feel right paying him $75 an hour just to hear him sing for a while (a month or two) so you could come to understand what the sound should be like. And then he would take time instructing you as to why it is the way it is, which muscles are used, how to breathe, how to think about your body, and then maybe after 6 months start to actually sing? I am by no means saying that is necessarily a bad way of learning to sing, but would you pay the money for that? Most people won’t. They want to get to singing right away. And of course, they want results yesterday, not tomorrow.

    I am not actually condemning your idea of learning first before we sing. I am just not too much a believer that a singer can teach themselves everything (they can learn a lot, though, don’t get me wrong). They still cannot judge their own sound because they don’t hear it correctly, or as it is heard by others.

    I know when I began singing lessons, my teacher actually did do exactly what you talk about. She did sing for me, and had me watch what her body did, how it responded to singing high notes. She had me touch her solar plexus to see how it moved when singing a long phrase. She spent a while getting me to understand HOW my body worked in supporting the tone. Then we sang, and she would have me explain what I was feeling or experiencing while I sang. She made me observe myself, and guided me when I was feeling sensations that were wrong (like the larynx rising) and then instructed me on what I was doing wrong that was allowing that to happen. I also learned that at times my voice sounded super to me, but in reality was becoming veiled. She helped me see what was happening, that I was putting the sound back into myself, or into my own ear, rather than letting it out to the audience.

    I agree, a good teacher MUST know how to explain things, but also how to help the singer become fully aware of what is happening within their own bodies.

    But most students, especially those just starting out, have no clue of most of that. And even if they read about it, really don’t fully understand what it is they are reading. They will understand the words, but not really how to making real meaning out of them.

    But I do agree that before we imitate we must learn to observe what it is we are seeing happening. We have to be trained to understand what it is we are seeing as well.

    Although I have always known that not everyone was taught as I was, it is since writing comments on this blog I have really come to see (as Michael pointed out to me once) very few singers were taught with the thoroughness I was taught, nor with the detail of understanding expected. I am forever grateful for the teacher I had. Would that everyone had a teacher like her.

  21. Brilliant comment, Bea. Thanks for writing it! I agree with everything you wrote, so there’s nothing I can really add because, frankly, you said it all!
    But I will apologise for not being clear in my earlier comment. What I meant when I said that you have to become your own teacher before you begin studying with a teacher, was not that you should teach yourself without guidance before going to a teacher; but rather, to make the decision to take an active role in being your own teacher before you begin studying with the teacher – to adopt the attitude that you must understand voice as if you were teaching it to others.
    I studied under three excellent operatic singers consecutively, in my early twenties (one was the president of NATS at the time), and achieved nothing as far as natural function goes – why? Because I was a passive student doing what I was told by people who were great singers but not very good teachers. The only active participation I had during the whole process was eventually deciding not to keep wasting my time and money. I never once pushed back or demanded more attention or better explanations – I never challenged them to BE better teachers! I simply expected the person at the piano to take my seventy-odd dollars and turn me into Pavarotti! (well, I wasn’t that naive, but I really did expect my voice to magically become good now that people with teaching degrees were involved) It never occurred to me that these people wouldn’t be able to fix me or show even the slightest desire to get to the crux of my vocal problems.
    So eventually, I realised that what I needed to do was to stop expecting someone else to solve my problems and to start thinking of myself as the teacher, and the teacher as the person who guides me in teaching myself. That way, I ensured that I went to lessons armed with knowledge and questions and challenges, not with unrealistic expectations based on ignorance.
    That being said, there are far too many over-priced ‘sing-a-longs’ out there held by people who can’t even remember their students’ names/faces/fachs/problems and sometimes have even forgotten about the damn lesson (it’s bad enough that they can’t remember your name despite having taught you every week for a year, but imagine driving 45 minutes only to find they aren’t home?!). I can’t speak for others, but your description of the training you had is almost the exact opposite of my experiences with teachers. And these teachers weren’t bad people with evil moustaches or anything, they were just not equipped to deal with what I needed, and I did absolutely nothing to convey my expectations appropriately.(although, I did once voice a concern with a particular teacher that I felt my potential was not being reached, and he quicky referred me to someone else, and I never heard from him again – good times!)

    I do understand that paying $75 to listen to a teacher phonate is a little bizarre, but I remember a story I read about a sound engineering graduate who got a job with a studio, but wasn’t allowed to touch anything for two years – he just had to sit behind the head engineer and watch what he did all day. I don’t know how often that happens in mixing circles, but I can understand that the ears need time to learn what they are listening for. It’s certainly something to think about in this quick-fix, fast-food world. I have had so many setbacks and wandered in so many wrong directions, vocally, that I am certainly prepared to learn how to observe correctly before I set off down yet another vocal path. I think it would save an awful lot of time in the long run.

    But I definitely agree that imitation and a good teacher’s ear are essential, and that people must be open-minded when receiving feedback. These are non-negotiable,vital elements when learning anything, really. My only issue is that they are also useless if the student is passive in the learning process, like so many are in singing.

    As for your experiences with people who are self-taught and have brought their ego along to the lesson – I have found that there are lots of people who value FEELING right more than actually BEING right – I believe psychologists call it cognitive bias; but those people are almost always mediocre, miserable, or usually both. Objectivity cannot be achieved if ego is involved, and learning singing requires objectivity.

  22. Great discussion, Chris and Bea. Lots of important points being covered here. Thanks.

    Chris, I want to follow up on some of the things you said. I had much the same experience when I was young and starting out. I started singing when I got to college and had five teachers in my first four years. I learned very little from any of them, but because of my own determination started relying on my own research.

    It has been said many times that you can’t learn to sing from a book. And I was proof of that. I read and studied every book I could find, and I gained quite a vocabulary. But I still wasn’t really functioning any better.

    I had big hopes for the last teacher I had in college. He interviewed the spring of my third year and talked about the things I had read. I thought, “This guy will be able to teach me what I’m looking for”.

    I studied with him for another three years and never really became capable of singing any tenor repertoire.

    After college I went and introduced myself to the tenor faculty at the major University in my city. I figured he had to be able to teach me how to be a tenor. After all he was already one and had been performing for years. On top of that he had a position with a major University teaching people to sing. He had to be able to show me how to do it.

    But, unfortunately, after three years of work together (two years doing my Master’s Degree) I still suffered from major interferences to my functioning.

    During my degree program, after another disappointing jury, I wrote a letter to my teacher. In this letter I voiced my displeasure at my lack of progress. I was very disappointed. And it was hard because we had a great relationship.

    He was the pedagogy chair, and I was his main pupil in that area. I showed the most interest and in the ped. classes I was clearly the most gifted. Nearly everyone else was more gifted singing, but I was the most gifted in the pedagogy classes.

    I even had another student calling me a prodigy. It was half in fun, but I did feel that way. When we discussed potential vocal problems that you might come across as a teacher I always understood the remedy and explained it to the class. It was almost intuitive. I just knew, even though at that time I couldn’t even function well at all myself.

    And that was why it was so frustrating for me. I intuitively knew what I was not learning. What I should be able to do. But I couldn’t teach myself.

    After Grad school I consulted with the head of the Coach/Accompanying department. She is now at Julliard and is at the top of her profession. She has played for some of the biggest names in the classical singing world.

    She referred me to a teacher with a huge reputation that happened to move to the city from California. She is a member of the prestigious American Academy of Teachers of Singing. (This group is an exclusive organization made up of top teachers. Allan Lindquest was a member during his life, as was Berton Coffin, William Vennard and Richard Miller, among others)

    Again I thought, this person is a big name in the teaching world. She surely will be able to teach me how to function as a tenor so I can actually sing the rep.

    After half a year of weekly lessons I felt very little progress. I still couldn’t sing things any easier. She took a break to only coach singers that were going to be doing the district Metropolitan Auditions. I chose not to continue after that.

    By that time I had sworn off any more teachers. I started to conclude that in general teachers didn’t really know what they were doing. Even the so-called good ones had limited understanding, which didn’t provide them with enough to reconcile significant dysfunction.

    As I have said before, I was lucky (in a sense) in that I knew what I didn’t know. Most singers don’t. And so are at the mercy of the limitations of the teacher. And have no way of knowing.

  23. To Dinko,
    Yes, I completely understand that “urge” to blend. It is a very helpless feeling to know that if you were to sing fully that you’d overpower the choir.
    To b, Chris, and Michael,
    What would be a good solution to this problem? Usually, one is assigned a voice teacher and is expected to study with them exclusively, depending on them to help develop their technical foundations. Although some voice faculty will allow their students to study with other teachers during breaks etc., I don’t know of any music program which would be comfortable with the idea of a student exclusively studying with a non-faculty voice teacher. Should one invest the money privately and study with the teacher of choice during the year, or should one speak to the head of the voice department and make arrangements accordingly?

  24. Michael and Chris, what interesting stories. That is my point and why I don’t like academia very much. But that is also a problem with being taught by famous singers. Very few seem to know how to teach what they know how to do. They can’t really see what is wrong with what you are doing, so they can’t really understand how to fix the problem. They know you are not sounding right, but because they are not sure why it is not right, they often resort to just “copy me” and learn.

    Because my teacher was also a great athlete, Michael, would you say that gave her an added insight into how the body works? She was also a great singer of great renoun, but she seemed to know things about the body, function, and all sorts of things that at that time I thought EVERY VOICE TEACHER KNEW. I have come to realize through the years that very FEW teachers know these things. I have even worked with singer who were trained by some of the big teaching names you mentioned, and who knew a lot about pedagogy, but still they didn’t sound good, knew they didn’t sound good, but couldn’t figure out why. Nor could the big name teacher figure it out, as they were doing everything he said they needed to do. They were doing everything they were taught. So even working with a teacher who actually has very excellent understanding of pedagogy doesn’t mean he will know how to fix a problem. Nor will it guarantee he will even know what is the cause of the problem.

    That is why I ask, would the fact my teacher was also an athlete have a thing to do with it? Athlete see the body differently. They work it as a whole to produce a certain result. Singers seem to think of singing, and have this huge disconnect with the body. Yes, they know they have a larynx and all that, but they really don’t understand how things connect. They may spend hours studying anatomy and how the throat is constructed (which even an athlete doesn’t do — they are aware of their leg muscles, for example, but they don’t analyse them endlessly) but in the end have no clue as to why they should know all that at all (or even if they should know it; understanding the throat muscles doesn’t help you control them all that well, as we can’t see what we are doing).

    My teacher saw singing as part of the body and no different from swimming (which was her sport). Breathing is used a certain way in swimming, which in many respects is not all that much different than singing. She made me learn fencing, dancing, and a whole host of things so as to learn HOW the body works and how to keep things balanced doing such activities while singing. There was a lot of discussion as to what was happening and why. There was a lot of discussion as to why something hurts the voice or makes it better. But at no time were her explanations like attending medical school.

    She didn’t use imagery like some teachers, but she also didn’t sound like an anatomy textbook either. The names of things, to her, were not nearly as important as knowing what they did in relationshp to everything else.

    She also was not threatened by questions. If I really didn’t understand her explanation, I could freely tell her I didn’t get it. She would simply demonstrate the same thing in a different way with a new explanation until I got it. She was kind, but also very firm. I know when she thought I wasn’t doing my best, wasn’t concentrating on what I was doing, or being lazy allowing fun and social life to interfere with work. Her rebukes could be sharp, but never cruel or cutting.

    Her praise was extremely limited, so when it came, I knew she meant every word. And her evaluations of my progress were always spot on, even if I did disagree with her once (I wrote of that before). I also had lessons 5 times a week, which is unheard of, especially in the world of academia. She insisted weekends were to rest and worship.

    Chris, I agree with your vision of being your own teacher. I am so glad you added more to that thought.

    What gets me about this entire discussion is the fact that one really does take their voice in their own hands when seeking a teacher. There are no guarantees at all that one will find anyone who can teach anything. Yet, I know there are great teachers who DO understand things, and how to teach them clearly. I can’t believe I was the only one in the world who lucked out so.

    Michael and Chris, your stories alone should raise eyebrows. It is stories such as there that make it so I don’t trust the idea of just going to a university and take your chances. If you learn the wrong thing, well, then you are the wiser for it. And if you learn the right thing, well, lucky for you.

    I have always appreciated my teacher, but as I read things and see what is happening, I am become really thankful for her. How did I luck out finding such a wonderful teacher?

    Chris, I also agree fully that a student must NEVER be a passive student, simply allowing whatever to happen. They must take charge of their voices and their voice instruction. After all, you are hiring someone to teach you. You are paying them, they are not paying you for the privilege of teaching you. Too many students just sit there and let things happen. It is really bad in the university setting because they dare not say anything. They can get kicked out of the course!

    I totally disagree with this teacher as dictator and student as subject situation. We all know that teachers die, yes, they die, and we must be able to continue on our own. We must know what is happening. We must understand fully what is happening. We must know, not just sing.

    I guess I never really thought about being a passive learner because in the situation I was in, I couldn’t be a passive learner. I had to be actively involved with everything, not just the singing itself. I had to understand sensations. I had to understand what caused them. I had to state what I was experiencing so she could see if I understood why it was right or wrong.

    But again, I have learned that studying like I did is not the norm. Most students dare not ask a thing, question nothing, and just let things happen, and keep it to themselves the fact nothing is working. And I fully agree with you. WHY SHOULD THEY DO THAT?

    After all, it is their voice and their futures.

    And teachers who can’t even remember the names of their students, well, I would simply stop coming and find someone else. I doubt the teacher would notice you never came back.

    That is totally unprofessional.

    Actually, Chris, in a lot of professions a person is required to apprentice. And often, even though they do much book learning, when they first start apprenticing they spend a great deal of time WATCHING, then doing. Since my teacher had me to a lot of that, I really don’t personally see it a waste of money. Some would. My teacher also had me meet and listen to, as well as sing for, many known singers. I learned a lot watching them. Not everyone sang things the same way, but they were trying to achieve the same thing. There were some who really did force all the time, and my teacher would drill me privately on what they were doing that made them force so much. She taught me to hear and listen, and then learn. That never stopped during any portion of my lessons with her. I worked with her even after having a very established career. I worked with her until she died. But I worked with others on repertoire, on lieder, on various other things. I learned much from all of them. But the foundation of singing was learned from her. Most of the people I worked with were very much like her, all this give and take. They wanted me to learn HOW to interpret music, not just do what I was told. They wanted me to add my unique view to things.

    As I read about this teacher who dismissed you because you were questioning your progress, well, that is a teacher who didn’t care about a student at all.

    Now that we have discussed all this, I wonder, what is it we can do to CHANGE the situation? There has to be something that can be done. I guess even talking about it is something. Maybe people will read all this and then figure out that they cannot be sheep simply doing what they are told and understanding nothing.

    Michael, every time you share something of your life it is truly a revelation. And not only that, it is evidence that something CAN be done, for you learned ultimately what works. You may not have had a singing career, but you have insight into teaching that is so needed out there. That is something you earned through the school of hard knocks, even if they called it academia to soften the blow.

    These are great posts.

  25. Iris, you are exactly correct. As far as I know, not a single university will allow you to study with any teacher other than the one they assign. They won’t even allow you to consult with another professor who seems a better fit. That is the university’s stupidity.

    What many students do is search out really good teachers. These are called “Ghost teachers” because no one is aware of them. Any student that admits to having one is usually kicked out just that fast. There are real tricks you have to play so that when you are singing with your teacher your sound is good and you don’t do anything stupid he may be teaching you. But you have to appear to be listening to what he is telling you. Then you see your ghost teacher. Most ghost teachers will also teach more than 3 times a week. But it can be risky. You can confuse yourself with two different approaches constantly in your ear. You can be learning and unlearning all the time (there are some professors who are real tyrants, and they will expect you contort your face to match their ideals which will cause all sorts of problems).

    I have even been a ghost teacher myself. I hated doing it, for the poor girl was so conflicted all the time. When we worked, her voice just blossomed. But when she was with her assigned professor, she had to sing with such a restricted sound it took a few days to relax her throat. In her case, she finally quit the music program and simply studied with me. When she went back to the program a few years later, her skills were so advanced she was allowed to study with her chosen teacher rather than a faculty member. The head of the music faculty simply saw no reason for a voice like hers to be destroyed with inferior teaching.

    But that is really a good question you ask. What does a student do? They have no choice for a teacher to begin with. And they could be kick out if they chose a different one.

  26. So the question we have come to is “What is a solution to this problem?” That is tough to say. I don’t know if there really is one because the problem is so pervasive. It is found throughout the whole system. And you can’t really change academia. That system is set in stone. This discussion illustrates the opinion shared by Allan Lindquest that I believe as well, you can’t really learn to sing in a school setting.

    As Bea mentioned, she had lessons 5 days a week. To be truthful, that is not realistic in a private setting either. Costs have just gotten too high. But the big thing, in my opinion, is the requirements. Rep requirements and everything else. Not everyone progresses at the same rate. A singer is more like an athlete than an academic student. The rate of success for a college athlete going pro is pretty slim as well.

    Bea brings up the idea of “ghost” teachers. I remember on my first trip to New York to meet David Jones he and I attended a Master Class with Shirley Verrett sponsored by the Marilyn Horne Foundation. David and Verrett had become colleagues when she started teaching after retiring from her performing career. She actually consulted with him on teaching concepts to help her in her position at Univ. of Michigan.

    After the Master Class David and I went back-stage and he introduced me. (By chance I met Marilyn Horne as well) Shirley Verrett told of when she was a student at Julliard and she had a ghost teacher. She said it was very common at Julliard. I think the school has changed its policies so singers can study with who they want. Maybe it depends on what program you’re in also.

    But for me, the bottom-line is it is your voice. You have to decide what is right for it and protect it. It is like money, no one is going to care about it as much as you. So you need to be in charge.

    I always welcome questions. In fact that is often what convinces people to work with me. They have questions they have asked others and not been satisfied with the answers. I spend as much time as necessary to explain what they are asking about.

    Bea, you asked about your teacher and her athletic background being the reason she was so good. I’m sure that was part of it. Being athletic gives you experience with your body that non-athletes don’t have. The big thing that I think I get from that experience is having a sense that physical activity, which is what singing is, is determined by the relationships of the various parts of the body. The key is understanding that the parts work together in coordination to achieve the desired result.

    But I think the real reason your teacher was so good was plain and simple – information. She knew and understood the correct information about how the body works as a singing instrument. I see that as the root cause of all of the confusion in the world of singing.

    The great majority have been convinced of inaccurate, incorrect information about how the voice works. Plain and simple. I was discussing this last week with someone. The reality is that just about every single aspect of vocal behavior is taught directly opposite to how nature has designed it to operate. How could things not be a disaster.

    I mean, it can’t be a surprise that if you are taught to do things opposite to how the body is designed to behave that you will end up with problems.

  27. Michael, you see, that is the difference between now and then. When I was studying, you simply took lessons so many times a week. You were charged so much a month, not per lesson like happens now. Though, in my case, I didn’t pay for my lessons. I did the first year, then after that she wanted no money. Even after I was making good money and still consulting with her, she never took a dime. I believe a number of singers had such experiences: Maria Callas was never charged by her teacher, nor was Beverly Sills, nor was Helen Traubel.

    Now this is certainly NOT what I would think would be normal (it isn’t, though it is amazing how many really great singers ultimately were given free lessons and for years; did teachers see a potential that made them think they were witnessing something) and it is definitely NOT what any student should expect, and no teacher should feel obligated to do.

    I have even taught people for free because they had great potential, but often very little money. Even then, I wouldn’t make a habit of it because when people have to actually sacrifice a bit for something, they usually do more work. And the ones who usually want it for free can afford it, they are just too cheap, and not only that, they usually don’t work either. Those who are too poor to pay, I have never found ask or even suggest getting lessons for free. They simply plug on continuing the best they can.

    Some teachers when I was studying (though at that time it was certainly dying out as a practice) actually signed singers to contracts, not for money now, but on their future earnings. Again, one has to see incredible potential in a student to do that. But such teachers usually were ones who were in the know. They knew they could get their students a listen by important managements. So a huge part of the equation was dealt with.

    But some of those contracts were robbery. We have all read of the contract Caruso signed where he had to pay for so many years of singing, which he thought would be singing that long, not as the contract stated, that many years of actual singing, meaning he would be paying the rest of his life as only when he was actually singing for pay was it seen as time to be put to the total time.

    But you are right, the cost of lessons is simply too high for most people to pay for 3-5 lessons a week. Yet, if the truth be known, people don’t really progress well with one lesson a week, even if they record the lesson so they can repeat it at home. When at home repeating what they learned, they don’t have a watchful eye to keep them on track. They simply repeat what they think they remember. They hear the instructions, but they don’t see what they are supposed to be doing.

    In some ways, that is one of the reasons vocal study is all out of wack. Students are not studying enough to build really strong and true foundations. They are learning, but a bit here and a bit there. They wait too long between lessons so as to reinforce bad habits more than the good ones they are supposedly learning. They also don’t get to see their teachers often enough to consult over things that simply didn’t make sense or that they didn’t understand.

    And again, they are not really hearing real singing very often, if at all, to help them chart their journey.

    That was one of the differences that many of us older generation had; we were exposed to singers. Our teachers were part of the industry, not just people out there teaching. Many teachers in the past knew who to recommend you audition for, they knew managements and could talk you up to them. If you lived near a good opera center, you could even have important management people stop in to witness singing classes of the various teachers. They were out looking for new singers.

    This doesn’t happen anymore. No one simply has the time to do any of that. Managements are far too busy to be taking time to hear up and coming singers in studio. I would say 99% of the teachers have no connections at all, except with perhaps professional teaching societies, but not with the people who really matter when it comes to getting careers started. And absolutely no one has the time now days to groom an up and coming singer.

    I came in at the tail end of that practice where conductors would work with new singers and help them understand their craft. Where couches really knew about singing, about the voice, and about the repertoire, and what was required. Time was taken to help a young singer learn how to move, how to interpret, how to understand what they were doing. That simply doesn’t happen anymore. Conductors are there one day and gone another. You may not even work with the main conductor for most of the rehearsals, but with an assistant conductor.

    The entire approach to the industry is entirely different.

    Some singers, like Marilyn Horne and Martina Arroyo, and now Dolora Zajick, are trying to help younger singers understand their craft and have set up organizations to help them learn what is expected of them. They remember how much help they received during those important beginning moments, and how there is nothing out there now.

    Since not a lot of singers have finished such programs, we are not able to see what they are really doing. But there is hope. Eventually those singers will be ready.

    The strange irony is when I started there were few opera companies and far less opportunities than there are now to sing, but so much more done to make sure we could succeed. Now there are tons of opera companies (almost every city has one now, which was not the case when I started) and yet, there are FEWER opportunities for a singer to sing and actually learn their craft. Most of those smaller opera companies never use local talent, but only bring in big names (if they can get them) or moderately known names (but who can all claim they sang at the Met). Even some of the small roles are sung by people brought in. The most local singers get as opportunities is to sing before high schools with piano (and never in a full production) IF the opera company actually does that sort of thing. So people study, some actually become very good, and then they get no where.

    I think that fact in and of itself also has played havoc with vocal study. People really feel they need to get out there or there is never going to be a chance. So, they try with all their might to get all their studying over with in a year, if they can. They audition when they aren’t ready. They seek agents when they have nothing really to offer or that is sallable. They sing willy-nilly anywhere just for the experience and pay more attention to that than to their own progress in proper vocal function. And everyone knows now days that very few people who study will ever become singers.

    In a way, I think it was easier in the past when very few people actually wanted to sing opera. There were those who had the “right voices,” powerful enough, ringing enough, and that from the beginning sounded like opera is about all they could sing. Then training began and the direction was set. People whose voices were only suited to Broadway or singing in church simply didn’t entertain the idea of opera. Nor were they encouraged to do so. But with the advent of opera companies in every city, more and more people decided they wanted to sing. The problem is no facilities opened up to handle all those new people with the desire to sing. Academia took over and with all things academic created a plan, and outline of what must be covered to qualify for a degree. People thought that would be good. But the problem is, nothing planned was based on getting out there and having a career. Rather it offered the fantasy of forming a career because you studied.

    When I began, almost NO SINGER had a degree in music, nor did they feel the need for one. They learned their craft. Even conductors didn’t have degrees, rather they apprentices under some great important conductor. There were even singers who couldn’t read music!

    Now everyone and their dog has at least one degree in music, and yet they don’t sing any better. To make a music degree, especially in voice, seem more legitimate, students had to perfect Theory, Harmony, counterpoint, form, composition, choir, and a whole host of other things (not to mention real classes like math, English, literature and the like) and maybe piano if they didn’t already play. The exposure to music was much better. Even skills that can help them learn the music were better. But all that took the place of actually learning HOW TO SING. Learning to sing is but one course of many. And to be a singer, it should be the most important course of all.

    Even private lessons can stand in a singers way. Even if you have a super great teacher in the sense they really know what to do, if they are not degreed no one thinks you know what you have learned and what you have learned is suspect. Music societies will not listen to you, and even opera companies may not audition you, simply because they may not have heard of your teacher. People turn to lists of people on some voice teacher society page and that instantly makes them legitimate. Yet, most of those teachers couldn’t teach anything to anyone. Most of them became teachers because they couldn’t make careers. They couldn’t even get through the door. So, in order to not waste their education become teachers. Some even become school teachers in school music programs, others get more education and become professors. But a career, or any shadow of one, was never on the horizon.

    You mentioned my teacher had correct information, and she did. But she had more than an understanding of the voice. She had an understanding of the industry and what pressures a singer would be put under by that industry. She knew from experience just what could destroy my balance and how to make sure I didn’t fall victim to that.

    Her experience became my experience.

    That is why to me the problem is far reaching, not just as it deals with teachers teaching singing. It is the entire industry itself. In fact, the fact we call it the music industry in and of itself tells us how our entire thinking has shifted. We are not maintaining a great art form, rather we are producting a product. Now of course, music and opera have always been a product for sale. But in the past, people did like to think that product had some form of sacred flame that was to be kept burning for the good of all society. Maybe that was a bit too much in some ways. But we have replaced that idea with a commodity to sell, to make profits, to market, and to sell shares on the open market. Every aspect of it is simply a business and is handled with the same coldness of most businesses. People are expendable, talent is negotiable or can be created through marketing, and a whole host of other things. That has probably always been part of the art form, but now that is ALL THERE IS TO THE ART FORM.

    I think because people are concentrating on the wrong thing is exactly why we have all these “theories” about singing, and everyone doing the wrong things with it. It is just an industry, and everyone is out for a piece of the pie.

    Most things in our society have been reduced to the bottom line. And in most fields we are paying a price. Music is no different.

    Now that doesn’t make it right. It is just what it is.

    And because singing is so “mysterious,” it is impossible to set forth a certain set of rules that must be followed to become a great singer. As a result there are no set standards for any teacher to follow. And anyone can become a teacher. And since 90% of what we read about singing, especially from the old masters, never actually puts the human body into the equation, but rather speaks of things that create a sound, is it any wonder no one even knows what to teach or that most of what they teach has no connection to the body? Most singing teachers of the past never talked about any connection to the body. In fact, most of them wrote mostly scales and exercises to be sung without any real explanation as to what you were to be getting out of what they were saying. The real important information they kept to themselves so as to cause people to have to come to them to learn “the secrets of singing” rather than to one of their compeditors. And since every portion of study stresses learning all this from the past and doesn’t even entertain the idea that there is a way the body functions, is it any wonder no one is on the right track on anything? We read and study half recorded vocal methods and use them as the basis of our understanding. Those teachers were like teacher today, trying to make a living off teaching, and they would never give more in their little books about their method than would be common knowledge with maybe a little touch here or there to make their method seem “new and special.” Then, what they actually did in lessons was never recorded.

    Singers, even today, guard their “methods” like they are guarding a gold mine for fear some competitor or up and coming will learn what they do and out-shine them. That psychology is what fuels the industry and has from the beginning.

    With everyone hording their understanding and only allowing small nuggets of inspiration to tumble out occasionally so they can get students, is it any wonder most people have no idea what is involved in singing, even teachers who have studied in university?

    Part of the reason there is so little correct information out there is so few people are willing to allow the correct information to actually go out beyond them. They are hording it for fear someone else may learn what they know.

    Because of that attitude, I don’t think there has ever been a complete understanding of voice and singing ever out there for anyone to learn. Jealousy and fear someone else may learn your secrets has created all this “half given” information. Now days nearly everything we teach is based on this half-shared information. Everyone else then fills in the blanks with what they think they know.

    With that, is there any wonder again that no one knows what to teach?

    I am left with the belief that great singers became such because of 1) a god-given talent and ability that was nearly perfect to begin with, 2) by some stroke of luck they found a teacher who really did understand and know what to do, 3) the fates opened the doors so people would listen to them and give them a chance, 4) and they worked ever so hard to attain what they did.

    And with all our study and understanding of today, I think we are still very much at the same place. Singers become great because they were meant to become great. The rest of us simply are what we are and nothing else.

    I say that because we are talking about the failure of teachers now days to create sound vocal use. Yet, even if you look at those great teachers from the past we worship so highly, most all their students had flaws, sometimes majory flaws in their voice production. Jenny Lind who was taught by Garcia ended up singing wonderfully well, always had a slightly veiled middle voice, and was NEVER able to sing dramatically (her Norma was a failure, though she had all the notes, but her Amina was without peer). Pasta always had pitch problems. Malibran had a rebel as a voice and had to beat it into submission all the time. Viardot was about the same and actually had many flaws with her voice, but made it sing everything. Colbran had amazing coloratura but her voice didn’t last all that long. The list goes on.

    All these singers were taught by these “secret and special methods” of those old teachers of the past. None of them were perfect. Most of them were super flawed in what they did, but it is what they did with those flaws that made them great (like Maria Callas of our day). So we worship all those old methods certain they will open some secret door to great singing. They haven’t.

    Sometimes I think to improve things we have to get over our worship of the past. Those teachers had insight and sold their information to make a living, but only just enough to get people’s attention and bring them into their studios. The singers were great because of their personalities and what they did with what they had. I am not sure that if we heard any of those singers from the past now if we would even like their sound. What people liked then is not the same as what people like now.

    To me, it is when we strip all that from singing instruction and see it as a bodily function and start thinking in terms of how the body works, then we will see sanity return to song. That is at least, my view on this.

  28. To illustrate the point of our silly worship of the past, people talk about the “Caruso scales” like he invented something so mysterious that, if singers only used them they would sing like he did. Well one can find his scales, and even a description of how he practiced, in the book, “Caruso and the art of singing” by Fucito. The man writing the book was Caruso’s coach and accompanist.

    When one looks at the scales, they are no more than the average scales we all learn. Singing up octaves, skips of a third, etc. Each one repeated a semi-tone higher until we finally reach the top of our range. In fact, his scales are not even as complicated as anything in Garcia or Marchesi’s singing books. The big key was he sang them with an Ah on the bottom, and O in the middle, and OO on the top. He aften used them as his breathing exercises by firstly taking in a very slow but full breath, then working until he could sing an entire scale on one breath. There is absolutely NOTHING revolutionary about the Caruso scales. Yet, so much is made of them. People think they hold some mystic key. And if truth be told, most all vocal scales are no different than the standard fingering exercises used by Hanan for the piano, but only with one staff of notes.

    People have on YouTube entire sites with HOW CARUSO SANG, giving you how he used his jaw, the tilt of his head, etc. All this supposedly will make you sing like he did.

    But the question still remains: Did he sing perfectly with proper function? Actually, great as he was, and as full and marvelous as his voice was (and he worked endlessly to achieve what he did, that in and of itself is the best of his examples to future singers — his work ethic and his personal demands on himself) he still had nodes removed a couple of times. That is more than evidence that not everything was done correctly. Proper use should never cause nodes.

    His scales will no more make a singer sing like he did, than singing any other will make someone sound like Nelli Melba. Tenors cling to this belief that there is something mystically special in it all. These are nothing but common scales sung so that the larynx stays in the lower position, that is about all. And as his voice darkened and grew in size, these scales kept it so it would be more flexible and agile.

    Even the Swedish Italian method uses Bjorling and Flagstad as examples of what the system can do. Yet, very few who study with it become a second Flagstad or Bjorling. People may learn great and useful principles, but the sales pitch is the example of these two singers. The implication is clear.

    But you know, Wagner in all his writing never heard a voice like Flagstad or Melchior or even Traubel or Lawrence, nor did he ever hear his music sung by such powerful voices (that is why in his theatre the orchestra is under the stage, the voice carries out to the audience unobstructed; mind you, the singer is then swamped with sound all around them, which poses other problems). In fact, few singers who used the same method but prior to her had such powerful voices. That was her blessing and gift. The method just got her over those things she was doing that were stopping her voice from reaching its full potential.

    Sometimes I think it is this almost religous worship of the past that makes it so our vision is clouded as to what we should be doing. Those people were people, not gods. They had certain gifts and used them. What they couldn’t sing well, they avoided singing. What they could do well, they specialized in.

    They also existed right for their time. Would a Flagstad be given a chance now days? She was hardly thin. Her voice was huge and ringing. Her style of presentation was sort of wooden at times. Her acting passable but not much more. She was a voice, a glorious voice that sang in a time where voice was about all that did matter. We live in a very different time.

    Would Melchior have a chance today? If he studied at any university he would be required to cut his vocal size into about a third of what is was, and be forced onto a diet of Mozart not Wagner. Would they even allowed him to sing with his potential enough to discover he was not a baritone (like he started out as)? Would his potential ever have been reached?

    Would even Bjorling have been given a chance. He had a wonderful voice that could express so much, but he had very limited acting ability and a pudgy face, and he was no matine idol. Would his voice have been enough to get him by?

    Of course, no one can really answer those questions, but they are valid, for those greats lived in a different time when different expectations were the norm.

    In a sense we can blame Maria Callas for making people think singers MUST look the part, and be beautiful, and act well. We can blame Renata Scotto as well who felt that looking good for the camera was very important, even if her vocal skills were sometimes questionable (and even her choice of roles).

    Even Marilyn Horne, who does believe losing weight can weaken the voice, must admit that larger singers, no matter how good they are, have more limitations than others who are far less blessed but who look good.

    Personally, I think that also plays a part in how things are changing. To support the strain of a career requires a healthy body that is able to withstand strain. Small delicate bodies simply cannot withstand the strain. It isn’t that fat is needed, but a fairly large portion of muscular development. When all the support muscles are working as they need to, they are large, developed, just like any muscles would be if they were used regularly. But the result of that is singers cannot be small. They will be larger than the average person. Even small singers will be larger in the waist than the average person. Huge voiced singers usually come in huge bodies and the muscular development of the support muscles show that. You will not find a Brunhilde that will look like Jennifer Lopes or like Angelina Joli. It simply will not happen. But managements expect that because stupid directors want it. Teachers are all following the trend, even to the point many tell students that they don’t need to understand support at all. It is a thing of the past. Just like any athlete looks like his sport, so should singers look like their sport. A swimmer doesn’t have the physique of a weight lifter, nor does a football player look like a hockey player, yet they are all developed as is needed for what they do. Singers are not ballet dances, disco dancers, or movie stars, they are singers, and their body development must reflect the muscles they use. It is the lack of understanding of that fact that allows teachers to create stupid methods that work against the body. Their goal is not working with the body to begin with, but against it. They want to create Brunhildes that look like Shirley Temple and are as slinky and sexy as Marlena Dietrich. Those images cannot come in the package needed for a singer. It is that simple.

    But people think mystic scales and the like will replace the development the body must go through to support the sound. In the past I personally don’t think they thought about the body all that much because no one cared if an opera singer was huge. If the body needed to so develop so the singer could sing, so be it. That was allowed. And even in the age where women wore corsettes, the expectation of the voice was no larger than the corsette would allow. Small and delicate for such singers, and small and delicate roles is what they sang.

    We are so disconnected from our own bodies, especially now that we are fixated with being “healthy” really defined as THIN. Those bodies may be small, firm, and look good in clothes, but they are also very limited in what they can actually do when it comes to singing and many other activities people have to take part in.

    In many ways, we have become so image conscious we have forgotten that every image must have some substance behind it, or it is nothing. And we are seeing singer that have tons of image, but no substance when it comes to their sound.

  29. Chris, something I forgot I wanted to say in response to part of your comment. You spoke of singers needing to take responsibility and lead the way in their lessons. I agree, which is why I operate the way I do. I don’t call the singers I work with my students. I think of them as my clients. They need to be serious enough to find me.

    I feel that if they think of themselves as a student they are never ready and always have something still wrong. That they can’t actually sing yet. This is a very damaging attitude. You can always sing in whatever place you are in at that time. Yes, you can work on getting better and continuing to improve. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sing yet. There is always some type of repertoire that even the most beginning singer can sing. And so they should.

    Students go looking to be taught. Clients go looking to find out something that they want. And are willing to pay for it because it is important to them. There is a difference. Like you were saying, they need to take an active role. Not a passive one.

    In the same way, I dislike using the term lessons. Or voice teacher, for that matter. It actually makes me feel queasy when I am in a music store where they teach “music lessons”. I’m not sure why, other than it is not what I want to do. I want to work with people that are actively looking for help to figure out how to do what they want to do.

    That is what I do. We have to teach ourselves. That does need to be facilitated through the help of another. But we can’t really be “taught”. Maybe these are personal idiosyncrasies. But that is how I think of things and why.

    Another thought about what we can do about this. Tell everybody you know about this blog. Let people find out that there are other possibilities than the ones they have been presented with.

  30. I like your way of seeing things, Michael. I think that change of viewpoint really helps a “client” see that they are active or should be active in their studies.

  31. I really appreciate your responses and will definitely consider a ghost teacher. Unlike many voice faculty, my voice teacher was completely fine with my studying with another teacher during holidays etc. Although she’s got a good ear, she just doesn’t know how to reproduce the sounds she hears, in my opinion, and we’re left to figure out on our own how the imagery might apply to our voices. This, of course, leaves a lot to the imagination and interpretation.

  32. Wow, yeah I had already seen this myself. I’m glad you made a point about it Michael.

  33. It does sound like that a bit, Joseph. It actually isn’t uncommon. That was my point. There are all kinds of throat manipulations that people use, they just aren’t as obvious as this Kermit guy. But that doesn’t make them any less off.

  34. Anna Marie Roselli

    This is the funniest video I’ve seen in a long time. Kermit sings opera!

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