Sunday, November 8, 2009

When the TEACHER is ready the student will come!

Sunday morning musings from Toronto...

I have the great privilege to be called "teacher". And just as when students are ready for a certain teacher, that teacher appears, so I believe the opposite is also true!

Teaching is a journey too! Knowledge and the ability to partake of it and then translate it and make it accessible for others takes time, development, and a certain skill set and acumen.

I have been listening to many of you discuss "studio hierarchy" and how it has affected you, and many of you have asked me what kind of singer I work with.

I work with ANY singer who is willing and able to WORK. I have singers in my studio who are working professionals in opera, in music theatre, on the concert stage and in commercial venues; I also have singers in my studio who are semi-professional, just getting started in the business, just re-entering the business; I work with singers who are actors who sing, who are dancers who sing; I work with avocational singers, I work with singers who don't know if they can sing yet!!!

I am appalled by the idea of studio hierarchy. We see this often in academia but sadly, we do see it in so-called professional studios as well. This "studio hierarchy" shows itself with the teacher posed as ruler overall who makes the decision about who is deemed "good enough" to be worthy of his/her good graces; It is often based on whether the singer's decision about what they are doing is matched to what the teacher's vision is. And I'm not talking work ethic - I am talking career/path/direction.

If a singer chooses to not follow the path the teacher deems worthy, the teacher dismisses them to the bottom of the totem pole, and thus, the singer is summarily ignored at best and "takes up space".

This disgusts me. And for those of you who are colleagues who practice this, I am calling you out!!

Just as a student must be "ready" to begin studying with a teacher, so must the teacher be "ready" to take on a student!

We are each responsible!!! If we make a decision, as a teacher, that we only want a studio filled with singers who are on career track, then we make that clear from the onset. And if that career track is only what YOU the teacher deem correct, then you need to give your head a shake and come back to reality!!! The career path of a singer in your studio has NOTHING to do with you!!!

Did I say that? You bet I did!! As teachers, we are there to guide, to nurture, to challenge, to listen, to question, to suggest, to task - and ultimately, to let the singer make the choices best for them at the time. We can offer the information, the advice and suggest a possibility of direction, but ultimately, the decision is ALWAYS in the hands of the singer.

If a singer wants to sing, is willing to work to find it, develop it, nurture it and commit to it, who are we to say they are unworthy to do so?

The only person I will not work with is someone who is rude and disrespectful to me and to my basic professional studio policies. I will be honest about the process; and no matter what, I will commit 110% if YOU THE SINGER do the same!! If you are not there to commit to YOU, then why would you ask me to do that?

Being a singer, and being an artist has NOTHING to do with making a living as a singer! One does not automatically assume the other. Thus, a distinction I make, is that I have built a PROFESSIONAL studio - not a CAREER studio. Professional in my philosophy means HOW human beings are treated, the course of study, the approach to the voice, and the approach and individual course each singer can be assured of when working one on one with me. Professional is about the craft, and taking seriously that craft development, and the spirit of the artist FIRST AND FOREMOST. Teaching a singer how to teach themselves, is ultimately the goal!

Honesty is necessary and developing a sense of reality is key. If you want to be an opera singer and only want to study once in a while and don't have any true technique yet, then we need to address this. The goal does not match the commitment. If, once we riddle out the whys and get to the root of statement and find common ground and a reality in which to work, then that singer is more than welcome to develop a professionalism within my studio! If not, I cannot work with a singer who imposes self-delusion so readily. I will not be a part of that. I will not dismiss you, but rather, suggest you find another studio that may be more suited to your goals and commitments.

If a singer is committed to their study, and committed to discovering their path, then NO MATTER WHAT, I can work with that singer! We don't even have to agree on or with everything!!!!!!! I don't have a crystal ball, and last time I checked, nor does ANY teacher, so what happens is not up to me. I have worked with brilliant voices and spirits that wanted careers and never got them; and I've worked with middle of the road voices who really learned to sing well and found careers. The business either makes a place for you, or YOU make a place for yourself!! I cannot determine that. Neither can you. YOUR JOURNEY allows for the possibilities. Your study PREPARES you for that and all the possibilities that may - and do - arise!

Hierarchy? No way. Commitment? ABSOLUTELY!!! Do you need to apologize because you have chosen, or life has chosen a unique path? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!!!!!!! Do you sing because you WANT to??? Because you MUST???? Because YOU are discovering your path???

Then, there is no hierarchy and YOU ARE ENOUGH. Any teacher who says otherwise, is pretending, and pretending isn't teaching. Teachers needs to be REAL, HONEST, TRUE. Teachers need to seek truth, present truth, expect truth and DEMAND TRUTH. Excuses, delusion, pretense, phoniness, posturing and hierarchy have no place on the artistic path.

When the singer is ready the teacher will come. And when the teacher is ready, the singer will come. May you find each other when the time and experience is right, and may the journey be YOURS.


  1. Another fabulous post! I often have students ask if I like their voice, or if I think they could make a career. I tell them I don't see it as my job to like or dislike their voice - it's my job to help their voice function at its highest level so that they can do what they want with it. In terms of a career, I tell students that I will give them all the tools they need - I will push them and help them, but that THEY are in charge of where they go. When I have a student come to me and say "I want to be famous", I let them know what they need to do to have a career.
    I will teach ANYONE who wants to learn how to improve their voice - I see singing as a basic human right. Music is how we learn some of our most basic communication and social skills (see Dan Levitin's "The World in Six Songs).
    Susan, you've hit the nail on the head AGAIN, as usual! :-) Have a great day.

  2. Wow - Thank you for this reminder. As a young teacher I am constantly challenging myself to look beyond the voice and at the person and their goals both in the academic setting and the private studio setting.

    Will be coming back for more of your thoughts!


  3. Can I just say, while I really appreciated my last voice teacher, for telling me to go away because I was just wasting his time (and my money), sometimes we need a kick in the pants from a teacher, as well as a teacher to nurture us to grow as human beings as well as performers. My teacher was right to tell me I needed to refind the love, but wrong to do it the way he did... For the record, I could never imagine you doing it that way... From everything I hear about/read about you, I get the sense you do appreciate the whole person, realising that is part of what makes the artist, the artist...