When Things Go Wrong

One of the unalterable truths about life is that things do not always go the way we want them to.

This past Friday evening the studio where I teach voice put on a Christmas recital. I sang in it, and some of my students sang. It’s funny how you get more nervous  about your students’ performances than your own. You want them to go so well and be such a good experience for them. This was not.

My first student is such a dear. She reminds me of myself in a lot of ways. Unfortunately I had thoughtlessly placed the microphone in the wrong spot and when she got up to sing she got a huge amount of feedback. It jangled her nerves so badly that she cried later. I was so proud of her for going on with the performance. I don’t know if I would have been so brave at her age.

My second student did fabulously, bless her, but then my third had microphone issues, and could barely be heard.

What do you do when life doesn’t go as planned? How do you help a little person learn to pick up the pieces and go on? Sometimes being a teacher is really hard. Because I’m not just teaching voice. I’m teaching these kids about life, about how to be themselves and be proud of that, and about how to be a better person. And sometimes teachers have to teach things we’re still learning ourselves.

The Measure of a Musician

You know, some people don’t consider singers to be real musicians. They label us as undisciplined, unmusical, lazy, and the list goes on. I once heard a pianist complaining about his singer friends who were required to practice less than he as an instrumentalist had to, but they, lounging about doing absolutely nothing, still groaned that they had too much to do.

I will admit that some of what they say is true – of some of us. But what many of this opinion don’t know is that many singers work very hard at what they do. It saddens me that the lives of some of us ruin the reputations of us all. But I suppose that is how things work in all areas of life.

Do you realize how many tasks a singer juggles while he is performing? Just like an instrumentalist he has to sing the tune correctly, worry about tone production, battle stage fright, and work with his accompanist. But in addition to these hardly trivial tasks, the singer must sing words: he must sing them as if he means them (and this is made doubly hard if the language he is singing in is not his native tongue) and he must enunciate clearly enough that every person in his audience can understand him. The singer must also become the character that the piece calls for – he must be an actor as well as a singer.

But, as a singer, I suppose I’m a bit biased toward my kind. I find as I listen to different instruments and styles that the instrument that moves me most is the human voice. I wonder if this is simply because the voice is my instrument. But no one can deny that the human voice is different from anything else on earth. Humans alone have been created with the ability to communicate with words, and the voice stands alone among instruments in its ability to combine both music and words.

Violin, Piano, Oboe, Flute, Trumpet, Voice. All of these and more are instruments, all require musicians to be used to their utmost potential. And while I love voice and vocalists, I admire many instrumentalists for precisely the things they criticize singers for. I guess nobody’s perfect.