Paths not taken – or "I might be out of touch"

I am a teacher. It is in my upbringing (my biological parents and stepmom were teachers), my history, and my soul. However, I am a teacher of SINGING. I am a singer. I identify very much as a performing musician, although that is not my main source of money.

If I had not taken a decades-long break from singing, and if I had found good teachers and coaches, could I have had a career as an operatic tenor? Maybe – I had some things going for me – tall, not ugly, good actor, very good musicianship, strong languages. But I was not a developed singer when I left the stage at the tender age of 18. I channeled that musical desire into the instrumental side of my musical life, and into teaching others how to “do music”. But the fact is, I was not a good singer when I left off, and I have struggled to get my own singing in shape as a much older adult. Anyway, that’s that, and I am too old for the operatic track, but I am having a BLAST singing song literature. I am a teacher who sings, not the other way around.

Recently on the New Forum for Classical Singers there has been a heart-tugging thread about a successful youngish singer’s frustrations about the lonely life on the road that comes with the territory. As a teacher of young singers, I wonder if my lack of having walked the path of “full-time professional singer” is a hindrance. There are those who think that only a teacher who has done so can help to prepare those who aspire to do so. I say, well, I am only a human being who has done what he has done, and I seem to be able to help singers sing better, so I stick to that and don’t offer advice about things that I do not really know about, like life on the road.

I have such respect and sympathy for those professionals who come up through the ranks and find themselves jetting all over the western hemisphere to perform. I think I would dislike the long stretches of time away from home, and the isolation that many feel, not to mention the pressure to “produce”. I have mixed feelings about my students becoming “successful” and experiencing this sort of life, if Fortune gives them this experience. I hope they can all know wonderful youthful romantic love, and have supportive people in their life, and the joys of nesting, and a feeling of belonging, and be able to have children if they want them. But I’m not really teaching them how to have a balanced life; I am teaching them how to sing.

What sort of authority do I have to comment on things I have not experienced? Perhaps all I have to go on is my good old Iowa “common sense”. We all have our lonesome valleys. I try to remember that, and that singing is one of the great joys in life, just not the ONLY one.


2 Replies to “Paths not taken – or "I might be out of touch"”

  1. You know, Brian, I think that we draw the singers to us that we are to help. That being said, I think that experience as an opera singer is fundamental to helping a professional prepare technically for a role just as singing 2-3 sets a night is imperative for helping a jazz singer pace their gigs. If you are teaching a high school singer who loves classical music, that is different than working with a professional in musical theater. I was on the road for two years singing chamber music and living out of a suitcase–there is NO WAY I could have understood these demands without having done them. That being said, I think the important thing is that we all continue to grow and learn as teachers and serve the students with whom we choose to work.

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