Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I have millions of stories about teaching voice, but generally don't tell them on the internets because, you know, I try to respect my students' privacy and preserve my semi-sheer veil of pseudo-anonymity. I'm sure you understand. This is sad for you because it means you miss out on a lot of hilarity, but probably okay in the long run. There's a lot of you-had-to-be-there stuff going on in voice lessons anyway.

I've taken on some students over the years who have had little background in singing or who really wanted to improve their speaking voices instead of learn to be opera stars or whatever, and that's all fine and interesting and I like it because these people are generally adults who are taking a chance and they challenge my methods and my ingenuity and I learn a lot from them.

Earlier this year, I wound up with a student who, at some unspecified age near 60 and with an entire life outside of the arts, has decided he would like to sing. At that point he had zero, and I mean zero, background in music. I don't know if I can properly express how foreign this is to me. Singing is about as basic to me as speaking, and I really don't remember not being able to read music (though I don't consider this a prerequisite to musicality--just so we're clear). So to try to understand someone who isn't able to tell the difference between two pitches is a real challenge for me, and an interesting one.

That was several months ago, and I'm proud to say that my student has made a ton of progress, and I have had to think quite a lot about the way I present my ideas, and the best way to teach the basics of music theory, and all that kind of stuff. But I'm not really trying to toot my horn, here. I just want to suggest that it is quite an amazing thing for someone who works in a very concrete profession to choose to try something as vulnerable (and potentially foofy) as learning to sing. To come to a teacher, another adult, and say "I don't know anything, I am a total beginner, what do I need to do?" I try to give the guy props for this as often as I can, because in addition to deciding to learn something new, he tries absolutely every crazy exercise I ask him to do. This might involve hooting like an owl or marching around the room clapping for a half hour.

I think of this student in the context of my long history of easy achievement and just generally being good at stuff. I avoid stuff I'm not good at. Can you blame me? So I've been pondering ways I might challenge this part of myself and work on some new neural pathways. I don't know if that's going to mean taking a physics class or running a 10K, but I need to do something, specifically something that makes me flounder and feel uncomfortable and learn something new.

The other update: still no baby. My sister was really hoping to give birth over the weekend and then show up at Thanksgiving with the joybundle. Since that will obviously not be happening, she will obviously go into labor at Thanksgiving dinner. That's just my guess.


  1. I would enjoy marching around the room clapping for a while AND hooting like an owl. Sign me up!

    That's a lovely story, actually. I have love feelings for your student.

    Happy joybundle -- here's wishing you all a very safe, sitcom-Thanksgiving-special holiday.

  2. Happy vegetarian anniversary too.

  3. Wait, did I say that here somewhere? About the anniversary, I mean. If not: congratulations on your excellent memory, and also, thank you.

  4. Er uh...yeah. It's my memory. It makes me appear psycho.

  5. As does commenting four times on the same post.

  6. I have the psycho memory too, including remembering the middle names of people I never really talked to in college, just because they happened to be printed in the directory.

  7. I have the psycho birthday memory, with a minor in middle name psycho memory. It's really, really useful and makes people impressed.

    So... I want to lead a class of people who hoot like owls upon word of command. And spraggle upon waggle. Do you also have them do that?

    AND, AND, I just took a belly dancing class because I have zero knowledge of it. I would like to report that I displayed every shred of that knowledge during class. What we won't do for a few new neural pathways.

  8. Violet, good for you. I think the spraggle upon waggle thing is a good idea, especially if I want my high school students to think I'm an even bigger freak than they already think I am.

    I actually did a belly-dancing mini seminar at a baby shower once. I think what I'm looking for is something that makes me feel inept. My sister's hip hop class this summer was pretty good for that, actually, so maybe dance is the way to go.