Recognising and working with a person’s true sound (as distinct from that of a voice working well, or well enough to satisfy certain performance criteria) demands courage, perseverance, sensitivity and insightfulness on the parts of both teacher and pupil. – Peter T. Harrison in “Singing: Personal and Performance Values in Training”
Peter T. Harrison’s book is a stunning work, but the chapter titled “Individual Identity” is especially thought-provoking. In all genres of music, we have types, idols, Fächer, casting calls, and institutions that want voices of a certain kind. It is very hard to resist this and go your own way. A great voice is recognizable because it is wholly linked to a particular artist. That artist is a human being. We are all human beings, and all have unique voices. We allow this uniqueness in speech, but in singing, much less so. This is a problem.
Before the age of recordings, people had access to singing two ways: in live performance, and in memory. With recordings, we have a third mode that reproduces the singing exactly the same every time, and allows for mass distribution. This affects our thinking about singing a lot. The potential amount of exposure to a particular voice is far more now than 100 years ago, and a particular recording can be re-experienced hundreds or thousands of times.
The constant bombardment from the outside has many ill effects on singing. People in general don’t sing for their own enjoyment very much. They tend to listen passively to their recordings. Thus their own singing lies dormant, unless they deliberately pursue voice culture. When they DO pursue singing skills, there is a huge pressure to compare themselves to these thousands of recordings. It is all too easy to feel deficient, or copy someone, or pursue making sounds that are not good for oneself.
To quote Mr. Harrison again: “Neither teacher nor pupil has heard this voice in its entirety. We cannot afford to be prejudiced any more than we can afford to be complacent.” Freeing one’s own voice is a rewarding journey and is intimately connected to one’s growth as a human being, whether you call you deepest self soul, person, identity, or spirit. If you stop with “good enough”, or “you are the next [famous singer]” or “you really should not sing”, you will leave treasure hidden in the hills of possibility. It is your right, and can be your great joy, to continue to allow your voice to become more freely itself.