The prof Kurt met with at Throatwreck University wants him to get rid of the Quilter and do Every Valley from the Handel Requiem. Do you have that music for you and Kurt to look at this week? It seems a little ridiculous for a high schooler, but the prof said that the competition will be steep for the scholarship Kurt is interested in and thinks he will have a better shot if he comes in with this.
The student and school are fictitious but the rest is a real message I got this week. This kind of thing happens all the time.
The Quilter song mentioned above, which the professor wanted to ditch, is “Where Be You Going?”, a song of great subtlety, charm, and detail, set to a classic poem by John Keats. One can perform that song dozens of times and find new things to do with it, and “Kurt” likes it. There is no reason to replace it with something “impressive” that he will not do well or feel connected to.
In this case, we are talking about replacing an art song with a modest range and technical requirements, with a major aria from an oratorio (i.e., full blown opera style singing), that makes huge technical demands on a young voice. I have not yet taught a 17 year old tenor who should be singing “Ev’ry Valley”. I have had some who were almost there, but this is not a starter aria.
16 year old girls should not be singing “Defying Gravity” or “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”. A 20 year old soprano singing in an early music ensemble should not dabble with “Rose’s Turn” or “Stride la vampa”. High school baritones should not under any circumstances be singing solos from “Carmen” or “Il Trovatore”.
Young singers need to be guided to sing repertoire that they can handle, and that will not build faulty muscle memory. If a young woman learns one of the Dalila arias at age 16, and she later does become a mature contralto, the muscle memory she learned at 16 will be very hard to override at age 35. That is a practical professional reason for such caution.
Another reason is the risk of physical injury. The actual structure of the larynx changes in subtle ways after puberty for many years, gradually (in the 20s and the 30s) becoming more ossified (cartilage turning into bone), and the folds themselves thickening somewhat. A well-trained voice will handle heavier vocal demands much better at age 30 than at age 18. We cannot rush this growth.
There is so much great material out there for singers at any level of development. To push them to sing “hard” things is foolish. To sing a simple song beautifully is never easy. The skills of musicianship and interpretation can be learned, in a proper sequence, at any time, but the physical skills must have both a proper sequence AND be in harmony with the physical development of the person’s body.
Young people trying to sound older will make adaptations to the way they use their throats that can do great harm. This is why Jackie Evancho should not sing opera YET, and why my student should not sing oratorio YET, and why elementary school pageant competitors should not sing cabaret-style belt songs YET. These things can hurt them, and ruin their future singing. I don’t say so, Nature says so!