Throwing Out The Baby With The Bath Water

Got your attention with that cliched title, right? Good!!

I have a concern about us contemporary voice teachers.

It is a little disconcerting that we seem to actually discourage our clients from learning classical music. We are so caught up in making everyone sound commercial that we throw out a very rich body of art that can add to what our students are learning as vocal musicians. Why is it bad to have teen singers who we are training in a balanced, unaffected technique try some art songs or arias to complement their pop/R&B/rock/musical theater repertoire? Now, I am not promoting the invalid notion that learning to sing classical music means you can sing anything- that has long since been proven to be untrue. However, I do think that we do them a disservice if we don’t challenge them beyond styles of music they already know and love. These young vocalists may discover a real talent and love for traditional art music. Hey, everyone is not meant to be a pop star!! 

Let us be mindful that some of our students may want to attend contemporary pop music programs such as Belmont University or Berklee College of Music. Guess what? They will be required to do some classical vocal study to augment their non-classical training. Besides art songs, they may need to know Concone and Vaccai exercises. We can set them up for greater success by making sure they have already been exposed to these materials before getting to college. 

Look- I get it. I am an R&B/pop/gospel/rock dude myself. I never had any plans to sing opera. As an undergraduate voice student, I sang nothing but classical music and legit theater stuff in the private studio. The only time we touched pop music was in preparation for my senior recital, and that was not very in depth. I love my teacher from those days, but his approach with my voice, though beneficial is many ways, didn’t quite prepare my voice technically for what I needed when singing demanding R&B and gospel songs. BUT I am forever grateful that I was exposed to repertoire that I never thought that I could actually sing before. It made me a better musician, even if the technique didn’t transfer adequately to what I really did outside the private studio. 

If we have professional clients or those who are working towards serious careers in popular music, I understand focusing their studies expressly on the style(s) that they will be recording and performing. That only makes sense. My hope, though, is that we will not be the kind of elitists that we accuse classical voice teachers of being by not broadening the cultural and artistic horizons of our young students. 

3 thoughts on “Throwing Out The Baby With The Bath Water”

  1. As someone who fell from Gospel and R&B into Classical (while trying to get Mariah Carey’s high notes) I completely agree with you, the exposure to such great rep is invaluable, but also found the technique really enabled me to flow through different genres. Once I understood that the basic mechanics of healthful singing are the same for any genre, I could apply the principles wherever they were needed. Mind, I’m one of those freaks of nature who can sing both well….by that I mean, I don’t sing “Sweet Thing” in Classical vocal style…..yikes! what a nightmare….but, I digress. The Classical technique helped me a great deal in singing Gospel and R&B. Power ballads and Gospel belting became effortless and must have gained two octaves one either end of my vocal range. I also began to understand that the voice needn’t be forced to make a great, full sound which is often the case when singing Gospel. I also really developed the the “colour” of the voice and how to play with that or control it in different genres. Now, I’m studying Opera, but I still sing everything else with ease and my voice is better for it. I’m so glad you shared your thoughts on this because it’s such a relevant perspective to take with access we have to so much great music.

  2. Hi Earl! I’m the classical singer on here. I find it interesting that teachers shy away from the classical rep in their studios. I encourage it in my students, because many of them are not exposed to it until they walk through the doors of their respective colleges. Many times it has enlightened the student to the joys singing in alternate languages and styles. It also gives a good gut check as to whether s/he wants to go down that conservatory or traditional education path we’ve all been exposed to. Thanks for “not throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

    You’ve enlightened me to something I was not aware of!

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