This might bug some people, but I feel I need to speak out against a trend I am seeing more and more of these days from vocal instructors. For some crazy reason, there are teachers who seem to want to reinvent the wheel when in comes to vocal training. My question is why?
It used to be, the most acclaimed voices worldwide were from the infamous opera singers such as Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, etc. who dedicated their vocal life’s work to the excellence of singing. Singing was a sport, requiring the singer to use their whole body to achieve the greatest projection, tone, tamber, technique, and purity of sound imaginable. Hours upon hours were spent conditioning the voice to hopefully fulfill its greatness. These singers were able to sustain their vocal mastery up into their 70s. They also were able to back their professionalism with pursuasive passion; winning the hearts of many with their vocal beauty. What has happened to this dying art form? Where has culture taken the voice? Why is this kind of foundational training not being inforced when it comes to the contemporary vocal artist?
I have studied under some vocal teacher masters as well as had the opportunity to be a vocal performance major in college. Never once, was I taught to yell as a form of vocal projection technique. Never once was I required to create a “gravely, edgy” sound to my voice so that it would be more welcoming to the listener. I was always taught to protect my vocal cords (folds) and take good care of them because they were one of the most delicate organs in the body. I was able to learn how to project through classical technique that never caused my voice to strain, but gave it a power and authority unlike anything I could achieve without the proper guidance. Because I learned the foundations of singing and because I had a passion to sing all kinds of different styles of music, I have been able to find ways to achieve different styles and still hold true to vocal excellence through my classical upbringing. I have the freedom to choose when and how to use an “edgy” sound if I wish or use the proper technique to project when needed.
Now, it seems like vocal instruction is being more and more streamlined to meet the needs of the impatient vocal student. “How can we learn to sing in three easy steps?” “I want to be able to sing like the professionals in 6 weeks.” “If I can’t sing like those on the radio within a year, then I’m not getting the best instruction.” What?!? The art of singing takes years to learn. I am still learning! I started studying at the age of 16 and am now 36 years old! I am finally feeling like I am coming into my voice’s potential. Yes, with the proper knowledge about the foundations of singing, you can begin to apply great technique to your vocal experience, but don’t expect overnight success. It takes time and a regular routine of correct vocal practice to achieve true vocal excellence.
I am tired of hearing the judges on “The Voice” hit their buttons for the singers who have “grit” in their voices. Gosh, if I knew that would get them to turn, I could easily put some of that into my voice, but why? Why is that kind of destructive singing applauded? What happened to the hidden treasure of a pure voice? Yes, some of the pop singers have mastered impressive vocal runs, which I esteem highly, but so do the operatic voices.
As a worship leader/vocal instructor, I believe whole-heartedly that those in the music ministry need to strive to be properly taught through the already proven success of classical instruction that will provide a strong foundation for those who want to better their singing. Once you have understood and achieved the foundation, you can then branch out to other styles like contemporary worship, rock, country, etc. safely and effectively.
Some might say that I have too much of a “pure” quality to my voice as a contemporary pop worship leader. Guess what? I am able to choose to have that voice. Most people can’t choose. I choose to have that voice because I want my voice to last into my 70s like my previous instructors. Sometimes I go the “rock” way and use my throat and grit sound, but I try to do that sparingly because I know what it is doing to my precious vocal folds. Most singers these days do not.
Yes, Janis Joplin, Rod Stuart, Brian Adams, and Michael Bolton have great “gritty” voices, but they’ve had vocal struggles. I remember hearing how the day before Rod Stewart had a concert, he wouldn’t talk to anyone because he wanted to save his voice. With the proper instruction it will be very unlikely that you will have that issue. Michael Bolton and Janis Joplin, both acquired vocal nodules. So their talent came at a price later on down the road.
Celine Dion is one of the true vocal artists who really works at her craft the right way. She respects her vocal cords and her body. She knows her voice inside and out and she knows how to take care of it. Her voice is timeless.
So if you are looking to be instructed by a vocal coach or teacher, please, please, PLEASE find one who has been classically trained and who teaches classical technique. Even if you are a pop singer and have no desire to sing in a classical form, you will thank me for it. I promise!! It will protect your voice, teach you vocal boundaries, give you power and projection, and allow you to take vocal liberty when you want to because you will always remember where “home” is.
We must bring back vocal excellence! It is a dying art form.
I will now get off my soapbox. Thank you for reading.