Having worked on both the vocal and instrumental sides of music, I am ever humbled by the delicacy of the vocal art. One bad teacher, one difficult surgery, one lost “Aha!” moment, and the setback can be huge. It’s just not as hard for instrumentalists. Instrumental technique is largely visible, mostly objective; corrective courses are apparent. Diagnostics and prognostics are easier. For flutists (my other instrument) competition is fierce, and it’s not easy, but it is more clear.
One predictor of some kind of music career apart from the instrument is how curious the student is. Students of less than stellar performing ability who are eager to learn about music – history, theory, repertoire, performance practice and traditions, technique – are both more likely to end up in the business somehow and to eventually become better performers, if they keep at it. An outstanding classical musician with a modest vocal endowment can still do some wonderful performing work, but perhaps not in grand opera.
I have a friend who is about 40. She has a tenured position at a small college. She has a ravishing, touching, flexible and expressive light voice, and she is thin and attractive. She was told during her uni years that her voice was not viable for mainstream opera, and her best option would be early music, so she went with that. Recently she has been exploring more art song of all periods, and is a glorious singing beast with the more modern repertoire! She would have been lost to us if she was not a musically curious and tenacious person. I would never, ever not call her a success because her operatic hopes did not materialize. She just had to find herself.
The singers who come into my studio and are really into singing, but not much else around the edges of it, do not tend to be much fun to teach. They haven’t developed the ability to see connections, or to really collaborate with other musicians, if they are 100% voice-centered. Some singers (at some stages in their lives) don’t know what they’re missing that could help them. Hence us teachers and oldies screaming “Languages! Acting! Keyboard skills! Listen to old records! Fall in love and go on road trips!”