ethics

Copyright.  Why should we bother??  As a private teacher, I have often said to myself, “It’s such a pain to have students purchase music, when I could just copy one piece out of this book.”  Another excuse that I have used is, “Well, this student will only be singing one song out of this book.  Why should I have them go to the expense of purchasing the entire collection?”

This past summer, I was the recipient of the NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) Independent Teacher Fellowship.  This gave me the opportunity to attend the National Conference this past July in Salt Lake City.  One of the things that really struck me was that original music was used by all of the pianists during the conference.  I also had the joy of attending a “Publisher Showcase” during every lunch period.

These Publisher Showcases were opportunities for me to really appreciate all the work that publishers put into preparing new editions of music for those of us who teach.  Hal Leonard has some amazing new editions of Leonard Bernstein songs (Bernstein Theatre Songs in High, Low & Duets/Ensembles books and Bernstein Art Songs and Arias in High & Medium/Low keys) as well as a new complete edition of 65 Songs of Samuel Barber (in High and Medium/Low keys).  The work and attention to detail evident in these new editions of composers we know and love was evident.  Previously unpublished songs are included in each of these new editions.  I was also introduced to the new Schirmer editions of the standard Italian Art Songs and Arias.  The 28 Italian Songs and Arias now includes (in 5 keys, and for only $10/book without the recording) IPA & historical background of each song, in addition to a few songs that are unfamiliar from the traditional “yellow book” Schirmer edition. [···]

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A few weeks ago, I had a young student (age 13) be told by the music director of a local Children’s Theater group (someone I’ve been professional acquaintances with for  many years) to stop studying with me as I was teaching her to be “too classical.”  I received this information from the mother, who was getting ready to go out of town on an extended business trip.

Food for thought

I had been working with this young girl for only 6 months, and had determined that her voice had not yet begun to truly change.  We were working on getting vocal consistency and projection.  I was well aware that her goal was to sing music theater, but did not feel she was ready to try anything even approximating a belt.  She has a small soprano voice.

When I received this communication from the mother, I immediately called her to discuss my concerns.  I felt, as we hung up, that she was aware of the potential dangers of pushing this young girls voice too hard, too quickly (although she stated “I know nothing about music.”).

She tried to contact the music director the following day, and when she had not heard anything within 48 hours, I sent a follow-up email to the director.  My email said the following:

“Hey _____,

XXX’s mom said that you had a concern about where I’m taking XXX vocally/stylistically. Could you give me a call so that I can let you know where I feel XXX’s voice is developmentally and we can work on a game plan to help her have the best of everything? I know she’s really into Music Theater and I totally support that (and I love to teach broadway). I’d like to make sure we’re on the same page and can help this fabulous kid. Thanks!!!

Rachel”

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What do we as music professionals owe our students?

I just came back from the Classical Singer Convention in Chicago.  I heard some AMAZING singing and some really good singing.  Unfortunately, I also heard some excruciatingly bad singing – from people who are trying to make it in the singing business.  This means that they spent the money to attend the convention (fees, hotel, flights…), they are paying for voice lessons and coachings, and somebody is telling them that they are ready for a professional career.

When I teach, I try to make sure that I am honest with my students about their possibilities.  I can teach anyone to sing.  I cannot make them practice.  I cannot overcome certain physical characteristics.  I do have several students who have potential and might want a career.  I have other students who tell me that they want careers in singing, but don’t practice.  Do I have the right, ever, to smash someone’s dream?  But, I also have the responsibility to let my student know that they might be wasting their time in pursuit of the goal of being a professional singer.  I will NEVER tell my student that they “can’t sing,” as I believe everyone is able to sing (even if just in the shower).  I think, though, that I do need to gently let them know that their goals are possibly not within reach – if they don’t have the vocal strength/stamina, dedication to practicing, physical qualifications.  Many necessary skills can be learned and improved on.  If you REALLY want it, I believe that you should try your hardest.  This, though, includes clear self-honesty on YOUR part.   You cannot make it in this business and be delusional about your flaws or bad habits.

That being said, I think that students MUST be aware of their voice and take responsibility for their training.  Do you record your lessons and listen with a critical ear?  This doesn’t mean being hard on yourself & deciding you are a horrible singer.  Do you just like your teacher and are impressed with them, or are you REALLY improving?  Does your voice, honestly, compare with those currently performing the same repertoire (and getting paid for it & re-hired for it)?  If not, what do you need to do to get up to that level?  Is your teacher guiding you in this path?  Are you REALLY making enough progress to be able to achieve your goals within a reasonable time?

Things to beware of with teachers, no matter their qualifications: [···]

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