I was nineteen years old when this photo was taken and no, I was not going to military school. I was a member of my college choral group and we were required to wear this outfit, which I think looks sort of like a cross between a military uniform and mâitre d’s outfit! I guess I would have been ready to serve the audience some food, after we finished singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic!
At nineteen I changed my major to Voice Performance from Piano and Cello Performance. I went on to obtain two degrees in Voice Performance and added Post-Graduate studies in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences to round out that period of my education.
At nineteen, I also won a full scholarship to study at a prestigious music training ground called The Meadow Brook Music Festival. There I studied with some of the greatest and most famous musicians in the world in areas of solo vocal and choral performance style and repertoire. My assigned voice teacher there was a best friend of my regular university Voice professor, who was thrilled that I would have the opportunity to work with his friend.
The main gift for me from studying with this man, was being able to objectively review his skills as a trainer and therefore be able to choose to NEVER teach a student in the future (if I ever taught Voice) with such an amazing lack of clarity and insulting ego-laden detachment.
Not every trainer can be a “warm and fuzzy” type of person, and I don’t think that teachers should be required to be! I also think that “warm and fuzzy” can be a possible hiding place when you are not entirely sure about how something you cannot see, works. My rule is that the Client deserves correct information—-not just what the accepted, usual slogans are.
This guy looked right through me and not at me with any recognition of the fact that I was just another human being on the planet trying to figure it all out. He was a teacher who was patently unclear in his instructions, so I was at a loss to grow the entire time I worked with him. What he had in his favor was the fact that I was open and willing to ingest any pearls of wisdom he could share about how to sing better.
His big moment came at the end of our last lesson together. As though he was bestowing the keys to the kingdom upon me, he threw up his right arm and hand, pointed them towards the ceiling, continued to hold them aloft while walking out of the room looking like a moving version of the famous statue of the first emperor of Rome, Augustus. As he strode out of the room he loudly declared:
“Sing Like a Dying Dinosaur!!”
Do you have any idea what that means?? Well, I certainly don’t. Unfortunately I have discovered over many long years of teaching literally hundreds of people how to sing and speak better, a lot of voice training is exactly like this! Generations of people have tried to “breathe from the diaphragm,” “lift the soft palate, and ”direct their breath down into the pelvic floor!” These are all statements which have been passed down for generations without investigation and with blind trust!
You cannot “sing from the diaphragm!” You cannot even “breathe from the diaphragm!” Both are physiologically impossible! The soft palate, normally coordinated, is lifted by the body in the act of swallowing or to prevent certain phonemes from being deflected into the sinuses during singing or speech. A person cannot just lift the soft palate… ever! They can coordinate the lowering of the back of the tongue, creating a particular sense of space in an extremely small area. This action truly alters the natural, default quality of the the singer—which I don’t always agree is a good thing. Why put your unique quality in a box that says “woofy and dark” when your natural quality is already rich or crystalline? And, there is no way in this life or the next, that breath can be
directed into the pelvic floor!!! Ever.
What I am saying is that the only way a person can solidly learn anything in a mentored field such as this one, is to be given clear, accurate instruction…instruction which is the truth and springs from what the body actually does as a machine. In this way, chosen adjustments can be replicated correctly over and over and over again, with clear understanding. As a student, I swore to myself—on that very day—that if I ever taught Voice, I would never make Clients feel as stupid as I was feeling in that moment and I would discover how the “moving parts” all work together so that I could make accurate statements about function and accomplishment to my students.
I read recently that what people say about you, is your Brand. This is the reason, I think, people mention in their testimonials that I know a lot about the science concerning how the voice really works!
Anyway, NEVER try to sing like a dying dinosaur. It will only annoy your neighbors. And pay attention! Are you receiving relatable and understandable instruction, or do you listen to what is being said, and then do something that might get you to “yes?” I understand this type of predicament because this is what I did as a student too!