As i was getting ready for long-teaching-day Tuesday, I started thinking about the whole process of teaching which led me to think about the 2008 word of the year, which has to be change. Over the past many many months we have had the word "change" blasted at us every which way, and I wonder if the entire concept hasn't become a little, well...yesterday. If so, that would be too bad because if there is one thing change is NOT, it's blasé.
To teaching voice is to teach change. It's truer for this particular musical instrument moreso than any others because we sing as soon as we can babble. Nobody teaches us how. It's just one of many ways we express ourselves. The problem is, after years of singing with Elmo, giggling through all 99 bottles of beer on the wall and wailing with all due teenage angst with the tortured alternative grunge singer du jour, our instrument (to put it bluntly) has been through the ringer and then some. So, when the time comes to study voice, there is a lot of un-doing that has to be done. There needs to be a lot of change.
But here's the problem. There is one little detail that is easy to forget. Although there is a certain excitement and allure to making the decision to change, the actual process isn't all that exciting. In fact it's often boring. And time-consuming. And frustrating. Progress can be so incremental, it often seems as if nothing is changing at all. Once that happens, the self-doubts set in: to undo past habits we SWEAR always worked before (except, of course, when they really didn't, but who wants to admit THAT?) for an unsure result seems folly. Why spend all this time spinning our wheels going nowhere? Forget the work and turn up the radio. We'll sing what we can and fake the rest. It's so much easier that way.
The important thing to remember is, without training eventually the voice is going to fail. Without changing old habits, the same notes will always be problems. We'll never be able to sing as high as we want to, or as long as we want to, or as freely as we want to. Without change, we've chosen to limit ourselves to only that which we know, instead of that which we imagine we can become.
This semester I've been teaching a pedagogy course -- that is, a course in teaching students how to teach. After assigning a certain set of readings, they came back and said they understood now how I taught. Actually, they accused me of being overly encouraging, which, frankly, I found hysterical. Over the weeks, what these students came to learn was that although teachers teach, the good ones do more than instruct. Good teachers encourage and challenge students to change for the better. Good teachers remember what it was like to be a student and empathize when change seems to come too slowly. Good teachers recognize and celebrate improvements, and inspire students to listen, work and practice diligently on their own.
Teachers are changed with the task of seeing possibilities, hearing potential and inspiring change. Our reward is sharing in the student's realization of a free and relaxed vocal instrument. It doesn't happen with every student, but I never give up trying. Every singer represents another opportunity to embrace change for the better. And looking at all the thousands upon thousands of songs to sing in this world, I know for certain it's worth the work. It's worth the trouble. It's worth the change. Every single time.
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