by Meribeth Dayme
I have been an avid student of singing and vocal pedagogy from the time I entered college. In fact, it was my personal project to read every book on voice in my college library—and I did. It became obvious very early in my pedagogical meanderings that the voice world, even from its earliest days of information, rarely agreed on what something meant. There were simply too many interpretations of how something felt. After all, singing is certainly a vibratory sensation. As we know, how to verbally describe sensation still escapes us—sensation and verbalizing belong to two different parts of us. But the part that wants to put it into words continues to try to do it. This plagues us to this day. There are countless books and articles that continue to try to explain feeling, and it creates yet more controversy. Cleverly, we have turned to science to prove what we are sensing when we sing. So now we have lots of graphs, acoustic formulas, and many discussions of the “technical” aspects of singing. We can retune the voice, show formants, and offer lots of interesting, fun ways to “see” a voice. Yet we still can’t describe the feeling.
We doggedly stick to researching and trying to prove the traditional perceptions of vocal technique, which lead us into ever deeper circles and ruts. This is then promoted in the literature and courses as “scientific” truth and fed to students in vocal pedagogy courses who then teach it to their pupils. (This very limited view of science is also outdated by today’s standards in sports medicine, biology and physics). We have teachers who are hammering on physical or old vocal technique issues and sometimes the psychological aspects when many times a little play and imagination would allow these issues to sort themselves out naturally and easily. At the moment, vocal pedagogy is skewed toward analysis and not performance.
What is getting lost in translation is authentic, compelling performance. We now have teachers who are more and more informed on vocal health, who are aware of vocal pathology and some of the ways to aide and correct it, numbers of teachers who seem to sound like doctors, but not teachers who seem to know simple and easy ways to create compelling performance. Teachers are too busy doctoring everything. How many audiences really want to hear “sterilized” singers? Healthy, yes, but not overly analyzed into small bits without being put back together again.
It’s time to take a good look at vocal pedagogy and ask if this is really the direction we want.