When I take on a new student one of the first questions I ask is, “So where do you sing now.” One of my recent students who is in her young teens responded, “I have been in 14 musicals. I sing in chorus at school, I do Karaoke when I am bored and this summer I am going to a singing camp in Florida.” Impressive! But not typical. Sometimes a prospective student’s parent will call me and say, “My son wants to be a singer and he is really amazing. So I decided he should have voice lessons.” I agree to meet with the student and when I ask the question of where they sing I get a response like, “well, just at home and sometimes in the car.” Now the truth is we all have to start somewhere and there is nothing at all wrong with that response. But then sometimes I will say, “Do you have chorus at your school?” And the answer I get is, “well, we had a choice between chorus and computer programming or lunch. This marking period I decided to take computers and next marking period I think I will have lunch.” It’s sad really, and not the young person’s fault for choosing to learn about computers, or for wanting to choose to have lunch. If anything it’s a complete failure of many of our school systems that choose to treat music as an afterthought. But that is a discussion for another blog…Don’t get me started!
Back to the parent. Sometimes when I speak to the parent about finding opportunities for their child to sing they say, “That is why I am bringing them to you, so they can sing.” Now the last thing I want to do is dissuade parents from having their kids come and pay me to teach them how to sing, but they are missing something. Voice lessons are like practicing for the big game… If there isn’t going to be a big game, and if in fact, you aren’t even going to be on the team…why are you practicing?
In some instances I have had new students come to study with me in their senior year of high school. They have participated in choir and the school musical and they would like to go to college to study music. The only problem is that they have no audition material, in part because they don’t really read music. They had very good voices but lacked the basic tools needed to go off and study music at the college level. Two of these students worked very hard but in the end decided to study engineering They decided to take some music classes and participate in some performing ensembles as a way to stay connected to music. One worked very hard and managed to get into a decent music school and after a year of remedial work is now on scholarship. Another is going to take a year and attend community college in hopes of catching up and doing what is necessary to get into a fine music school. Different paths, different choices…I just wonder, if someone had given them some advice before their senior year would their paths have been different or easier…
About a month ago a parent called me to tell me their daughter was not going to be able to continue lessons for a while. The reason was because the young lady was going to be taking dance classes which cost 3 times what I was charging for voice lessons. She just couldn’t afford to do both. The parent had regrets and said, “She loves to dance but I hate to see her give up singing. My husband is going back to school right not and maybe once he graduates and finds a job we can afford both.” Give up singing?
We live in a commerce culture. Everything has a price tag. As a parent we have to balance every aspect of life along with its price tag and we get used to just assuming every commodity is going to cost money. Cheerleading for one kid is $300 a month. Karate for another is $250 a month. Etc Etc. We are always looking for ways to save money. We cut coupons, look for sales, join shoppers clubs to get a discount and we compare the prices of everything. Is it possible that we are so caught up in the price tag that we are overlooking some things that can benefit us that are free?
Here’s the deal. The commercial part of me that is trying to make a living as a voice teacher wants you to know that anyone interested in singing should take voice lessons. In fact, I strongly suggest you take them with me. J I can teach you how to use your voice, increase your range, increase your vocal health and gain control. I can teach you a technique which will allow you to use your voice to sing different styles of music. I can teach you vocal literature in different languages… and so on. But I can’t offer you the experience of performing in an ensemble. I can’t duplicate the benefit of learning how to follow a conductor. There are some things you can only learn by doing. Voice lessons are the preparation. But you need to go sing!
So what do you do if your school has a terrible music department? One that makes you choose between lunch and chorus. What if you are missing basic skills and experiences that you can only get from being in an ensemble.
I do an awful lot of singing for the Catholic Church. I have sung in most of the churches in the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. Many of these churches have very fine church choirs. Many of these choirs are led by degree holding, classically trained organists and choral directors of fine caliber. Some of whom work for local universities, schools, or professional musical groups of various kinds. There are varieties of music being performed from classical romantic sacred music to modern contemporary Christian music and even chant. What I have noticed is that many of these fine choirs are in peril. The average age of the members of these choirs is around 70 or even older. There are not enough new members to take the place of those unable to continue which starts a very sad domino effect. The choir’s stop, the church stops supporting the organist/choir director and hires an amateur pianist and the next step is someone pressing play on their Spotify app and using that for worship. L
My recent experience has been in the Catholic Church but I know that this scenario is similar in many different denominations and faiths. Places of worship are an excellent place to get musical experience. Being in a church choir or other spiritual musical group is free. Often times the time commitment is one evening during the week and then something on the weekend. In many church choirs there isn’t even a requirement to be of that faith. They are grateful to have the use of your voice. It’s really a wonderfully mutually beneficial arrangement.
But what if you are someone who has a strong objection to religious entities? Guess what, you don’t have to be left out. There are community choruses in almost every area. Some, you don’t even have to audition for to join. In my area there are the Liverpool Community Chorus, Syracuse Pops Chorus, Syracuse Community Chorus, Syracuse Gay and Lesbian Chorus, The Syracuse Chorale and many, many others. For those who are singing at an even higher level, The Syracuse Opera has been known for its exceptional opera chorus for the last 50 years or more and even pays its members. Community choruses are inclusive places where diverse people of all backgrounds can come together to make vocal music.
So by all means, please come and take voice lessons with me! You will benefit. But while you do, get out there and sing. It doesn’t have to cost you money, you don’t have to choose between music and eating lunch. You can learn skills that will help you be a better musician and prepare you for continued singing on whatever level you aspire to.