After hours of homework and preparation, you go into an audition and perform your heart out, only to be turned down for the part. You did your best, and that’s all you can do. So why didn’t it work in your favor?
These words were spoken to me upon the completion of the singing portion of a recent audition.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve really improved a lot since last year.”
The director said this and caught me completely off guard. A few hours later, he apologized, and caught me even more off guard. He explained that he’d meant what he said as a compliment, and hoped it hadn’t sounded rude.
My response was basically, “yeah, of course it’s a compliment, duh.”
You’re probably not being told everything you need to be the best singer you can be.
Singing is at once an intricate art and a complicated science. We often forget about the science part, because it’s not usually the most visible facet of singing– when we hear incredible singers, we are typically drawn to the depth of their emotional performance, not so much their ironclad technique and mastery of their bodily “instrument.”
Any vocal teacher worth their salt should spend time discussing both the science and the art. Proper understanding of human anatomy and physiology as it relates to the voice will be necessary to produce sound in a healthy, pleasing way. Strict scentific understanding alone nonetheless won’t make someone a great performer if they’re unable to harness and use artistic expression to their benefit. The science is in many ways rather instinctual to humans– we’re born able to produce sound and typically start singing even before we start speaking. As we age, we tend to become less free with our emotions and more reserved, and so the emotional work of singing can become the most pressing matter for many voice teachers. Many new voice students need a lot of help expressing themselves with some small technical pointers along the way. This generally yields passable enough results. Besides, most students aren’t seeking long term careers in singing, and don’t really have enough use for the complicated scientific teaching as would make the effort to teach and learn such principles worthwhile.
This unbalanced treatment, however, means that many beginner and even intermediate singers never fully understand the science behind their voices, and therefore get overly wrapped up in the emotional side of things. We put so much weight on emotion and see so much emotional power in great performers that without scientific understanding of the voice, we assume emotion will be enough to power us through nearly anything. “Pushing” or straining is associated with heightened emotion, and assumed to be the necessary “secret sauce” to make difficult voice work happen. This is not the case.