Emergencies, Detours, and Sidebars

drastic-measures-featured“I don’t teach breath control.”
“I teach everyone breath management as it was taught to me by Maestra Wunderbar.”
“My students have to understand low support.”
“I teach alignment of particular points in the body and find vague wholistic concepts like ‘noble posture’ to be unhelpful.”
“Speech Level Singing has nothing to offer the classical singer.”
“Those Reid people are crazy, saying everything is about registration. There should be no registers.”
“I teach lifted palate and laryngeal tilt in my studio.”

You can stick to your guns about any of the above, and then comes a student that you can’t seem to reach. Despite your best efforts, they don’t get what you are saying. Is the student stupid? Are there other ways that you could be expressing your concept? Will they get it in time, if you just keep repeating yourself according to your beliefs?

Let’s ask some harder questions. What if your concept is wrong for that student? What if the TEACHER is the ignorant one? What if there is some concept, exercise, tool, or crutch from an “opposing camp” that might help a student to make progress? Should the teacher make exceptions? And let’s not just look at struggling students. If you have a student who never has a problem running out of breath, and takes breaths quickly and quietly at appropriate times, is it necessary to teach them your “breath management system”? If your young student has beautiful, full high notes and a large range, do you need to fiddle with their palates and other local controls? If the student can sing legato lines for days, and claims to know nothing of “support’, do you make them change everything to your comfort zone and vocabulary?

What if a student makes noisy inhalations, has slumpy posture, and lacks general energy? Teaching all of your standard techniques and systems may be useless until that person learns how to stand up straight, gets some exercise, and takes care of their health. You may hate teaching “breath control” but if that student has never taken an easy, light breath, are you going to not address why their body struggles to breathe?

Maybe you get a student who sings very well who came up through some method that you find abhorrent. Do you re-teach all the fundamentals, ban their unapproved terminology, and disparage their previous work and teacher?

You can be as pure as the driven snow in your own mind about your technical approach, but if you think that you will never have to spend a few weeks dealing with a persistent tongue-tension problem, or a vowel impediment due to regional accent, or a male who cracks into falsetto regardless of every breath and support strategy in your toolbox, you are not adapting to reality. Functional teachers sometimes have to work on breathing and dare I say, “imagery”. “Breath suppport is all” people sometimes have to deal with a bound-up singer who is earnestly following the instructions but still isn’t breathing easily. Estill people may find that the “figures” aren’t getting at a student’s strange concept of how to make certain sounds happen.

The core problem that every teacher will encounter at some point is: A student hanging on your every word, and trying very hard, may still fail. Do you kick them out, or do you explore new ways of helping? If they do something better in their next lesson, and tell you that a teacher on Youtube helped them with a concept, do you discount that? Do you suggest that they work with someone else (this can be a very kind and generous thing)? Do you run experiments and diagnostics that are outside of your protocols and comfort zone? Where are you willing to go and what are you willing to accept in order to help someone?

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