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Lecture Demonstration
Excerpts from a lecture given to non-musician educators
By JOAN CAPLAN

Once upon a time, when there was money available for academic institutions to hire professional musicians as Artists in Residence for one day a week to augment their existing music departments, I accepted a post I was offered at the New York State University at Fredonia. I was consumed with trepidation as I realized that although I had been singing in public for ten years, I had never tried to verbalize what I was doing. I drove along quaking in my seat and gradually realized that because I was out there experiencing life as a singer, I could probably do no worse than most. Once there I got a grip and started teaching, amazed at myself being able to be articulate about a technique of singing.

It is generally a teacher’s goal to instruct students in a method that will help them find a way to produce a free, clear, well-balanced sound that expresses the WORDS so that they can be readily understood, and the music so that one hears the clean, steady pitches sung artfully in balance with the orchestra. They must learn to project the voice so that the orchestra, no matter the number of instruments, does not overwhelm it. Now, what you need to picture is that while singers are doing this they are also required to know perfectly and seemingly spontaneously every word, every note and every nuance on a page of music, while they are running around a stage which could be close to the size of a football field, wearing costumes that might weigh a ton, under lights that could fry an egg, being directed by a person who knows that you can produce beautiful artistic results while balancing a ball on your nose and a conductor who cannot for the life of him understand why you can’t keep your eyes glued to him. So if you think that singing is an easy profession, think again. It is extraordinarily fulfilling, but not easy.

Luisa Tetrazzini, who was a famous singer just after the turn of the 20th century, said, “There is only one way to sing, and that is naturally, easily and comfortably.” You have to have a technique that enables you to perform this way with a stomachache, backache, or even a sore throat. Arbitrary and frequent cancellations can cause trouble in a career; incidentally, not to know when to cancel can also lead to a great deal of trouble.

Somehow a voice teacher must to be able to communicate his/her ideas. That leads us to the fact that the vocabulary of teaching varies from teacher to teacher. If a student begins to understand your vocabulary you have a chance of helping them on their way to a good and healthy technique.

Singers must be vocalists, musicians, actors, athletes and linguists.

What cannot be taught are the three C’s—Concentration, Commitment, and in the words of the Cowardly Lion, “Chhhhourage.” It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of anywhere from dozens to thousands of people and expose your most personal possession, that thing which is uniquely yours—your precious and individual voice.

The singer must know the strongest of disciplines. Had an argument with your spouse? The pipes in your upstairs neighbor’s apartment have burst over your closet leaving you without a piece of unruined clothing? Your roommate bounced the rent check? Put it out of your mind to concentrate on doing the things that will allow you to sing to the very best of your ability. These are the things which must be developed by the performer but cannot be taught.

The good news is that just about anyone with a sense of pitch and without damage to the vocal mechanism should be able to learn to sing. Not be the world’s greatest singer, but should be able to sing. You can learn to project your voice without inflicting any undue trauma to your chords. You can learn a method of breathing. You can learn the languages required and you can learn diction. I have heard many teachers in the past say that singing is just an extension of good speech...

As educators you will recognize this fact. Often what you are saying goes in one ear and out the other. So your job is to repeat in various guises the same things until the student understands physically as well as intellectually. Another problem that arises is to recognize whether or not you can get your student to understand your language so that the two of you can communicate. From teacher to teacher the words are for the most part similar. But the process that achieves the results and the results themselves are often different. So you find that not every singer is meant for every teacher, nor every teacher for every singer. It comes down to whether you can communicate with one another. It is a strangely impersonal/intimate relationship that singing teachers share with their students. Because basically you are a stranger trying to help someone achieve their most personal and treasured dream...

It is important to communicate the joy and pleasure that this gift of singing gives to the one who is able to do it. If one becomes too intent on the perfection of it, the joy goes out of it, leaving us only the fear of being imperfect...

Now let’s get on to the demonstration part of this...

—Given for the Education Division of the Metropolitan Opera Guild