In many conversations with colleagues, it has often emerged that they are more personally involved in their students’ lives than I am with my students. The amount of personal talk in lessons seems to vary a lot. Generally, it appears that more female teachers spend significant amounts of time in the lesson talking with students about their personal lives. Of course, there are some very “involved” male teachers as well.
It is very easy for “How are you?” to turn into a talk therapy session, if the teacher allows it. Some teachers feel that this is OK, because we are important people in our students’ lives, and that in working with voice, we are already involved in a personal way. Therefore, if there is a personal issue that could be affecting the singer, we should discuss it and see if we can help somehow. That makes sense, and I know great teachers who work this way.
I look at it differently. I look at the voice lesson as a special sanctuary, where people come not just to learn, but to be reconnected with something wonderful about their humanity. Getting to the vocalizing quickly and with eagerness (at least on my part) not only gets more done in the lesson, but it can also lift the mood of the singer. It can take the singer out of his problems and into a better place. Rather than discuss the boyfriend problem, or commiserate about the lack of jobs, or what nasty weather we’re having, let’s go to Music. Let’s sing. Let’s go somewhere better.
If it’s a “bad day” for the singer in any way – vocally, attitudinally, situationally – I will adjust the exercises and the things I work on in repertoire so as to build a scaffold of success, to the best of my ability. Sometimes I need to be less demanding or taxing, and more nurturing. I like helping in that way.
My approach of being less of a father or a buddy to my students than some other teachers is based on experience with finding my comfort zone as a teacher, and with how I was taught (many good and bad examples). I could be wrong. Maybe I need to be more “involved” with my students. I know that I would probably impress the young ones more and get more mentions in their bios if I was a “bigger personality”. I might also get more business if I was “bigger”. However, by this time, I have some ideas about who I am, and prefer “gentle but business-like”.
Be sensitive to the student and offer a satisfactory, healthy singing experience that leaves them feeling better than when they arrived. If I can accomplish that, I’ve given the best counseling possible.