How do we take the teaching of singing forward this century and into the next?
Which of the current trends will influence teaching and singing?
Here are a few thoughts:
The hugely popular self-development movement has been gathering momentum for the last fifty years. Teachers of singing, in general, are just beginning to find ways to bring this into their own teaching. As a profession, they have tended to rely more on past teachings, often following a preprescribed pattern of those they perceive to be knowledgeable. They err on the side of the cautious rather than having the confidence to push the boundaries as much as they might. As more and more teachers become personally involved in their own development, they are discovering that it is related to singing as well as life. This is creating a new confidence in which there is more willingness to explore, experiment and enhance the teaching of singing.
Large areas of self-development have come from ancient Eastern concepts and philosophies that are now globally accessible. The “old” has become ”new”. What are we gaining from exploring these concepts? The Eastern qualities gained from studying Qigong and Taichi are a sense of flow, the awareness of the life force and a new way of being balanced and grounded for singing. Emphasis on being grounded, flow of energy and the variety of techniques to achieve it will give singers new sense of strength, a more authentic sound and a quiet confidence. It is fascinating that many of our “sacred cows”, including posture and breathing, in teaching singing actually interfere with flow of energy making everyone have to work very hard to find something that is relatively easy.
Old-style dictatorial teaching and reliance on prescriptive teaching methods are giving way to many more experimental, exploratory and creative adventures in learning to sing. This follows new patterns in education in general. New directions in learning are emphasising elements of fun, adventure, co-operative work with other students and teachers, involvement with the whole person and not just the intellect. These patterns will be reflected in the teaching of singing too. Teachers will begin to be more adventurous once they realise that new directions in learning are integrally related to learning sing.
There is a lot of talk about healthy singing—it is the vogue at the moment. While this is important, the attention to compelling performance has got somewhat lost in the teaching. There is also an interesting paradox occuring. Teachers have become more “scientifc” and intellectual in their approach to singing. In turn, so have their students. Interestingly, those same teachers cajole their students to get out of their heads and feel the music. We can’t have it both ways. Teachers are beginning to understand that they must set different examples in order promote compelling singing.
But, you say, how does this relate to the huge movement and interest in the science of the voice? Ask the physicists and cell biologists. They are discovering amazing things about life and energy. At some point, these discoveries will beging to make their way into the science of the voice and the progress will be enormous. Science is not going to go away—but we may find we are putting it into a difference context.
When people talk about science today, the discussion is around the topic of energy. We know that we are all made of energy, and our knowledge of it is only at the baby stage. Understanding even a tiny bit about how energy works can begin to make one question the vast majority of answers we have been given in the past. Physicists are finding this out on a daily basis. They are discovering that there are unlimited possibilities in any given situation. We are changing from a one answer provides the truth kind of science to understanding the context and then searching out any number of possibilites for direction. For anyone who has put confidence in finding THE answer, this is confusing and scary. It is something we are living through in order to progress—and it is not always comfortable. However, it can be exciting if we allow it.
Physicists are fascinated by what they are finding. For example, particles can be in two places at the same time; (and we know already that people on different sides of the planet can have the same idea at the same time.) and that the observer influences energy. In other words, the observer can affect the outcome of the research. Hmm. In the same way, thoughts being a form of energy can also be sensed by others and have an influence on the energetic communication of teacher and pupil. The big shocker is to realise that thoughts count and that each person is responsible for what they think in the presence of another. When teachers of singing understand that their thoughts can truly influence the singing and reactions of their students, they will take on the responsibility of being supportive in obvious and subtle ways and find a more positive means of communicatings what they want.
Intent is more than important—it is vital in teaching and singing. The East has known this for thousands of years. It is time to include this as integral to learning, practicing, teaching and performing. It will become part of the new education.
To move into the future we deserve for singing and the arts, we must dance with the times. Here are a few suggestions:
a. Embrace change. Get out of the box. The information in singing tends to be incestuous—that is it is based on knowledge contained within the world of singing without looking elsewhere for useful tools and information. First by looking around to see what we can glean from other performance based professions such as sport. From a young age, these people are taught focus and intent. It is not an extra—it is crucial to performance success. It is easy to teach this to singers, we just need to include it.
b. Broaden our definition of “technique” by embracing all aspects of performance as part of it, not just what is happening in the vocal tract or with linguistic and musical aspects. Technique and performance no longer need to be separated in the minds of teachers and pupils. Singers will be far more confident and grounded with a more wholistic view of “technique”.
c. Teach singers how to practice—believe it not, they do not know how. Establish guidelines for them and help them find a way to bring joy and fun into every lesson, practice and performance.
d. Learn about energy. It has always been here—we just could not see it so we dismissed it as being unimportant. The anatomy of the human energy field is every bit as exciting as physical anatomy and acoustics.
e. Understand that we are influenced energetically by anyone with whom we come in contact and take responsibility for the thoughts and the space in which we teach and learn.
f. Be open to new directions and avenues in education and healing for those involved in singing.
The more we train the “whole” singer, the more creative and exciting possibilities exist for how that training is used. Not everyone can be a performer, but everyone can be a healer—especially singers. We don’t really know what is around the corner.
The future of singing is the singer who knows her/himself and is grounded and authentic in presentation. The future of teaching is the same. We have an exciting time of new developments, discoveries and teaching ahead of us. Let us enjoy every minute of the journey.
Article Back to the future: creating new paradigms from the old
Adapted from talk given for AOTOS Conference 2014 By Meribeth Dayme, PhD
© 2014 MDayme