How early should young singers begin performing?

Evan Bortnick

Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden

This question is of vital importance just because there is no clear-cut answer. Some students DEFINITELY need more ‘incubation’ time than others. Some students thrive on the pressure of preparing for a public performance. One way or another, the establishment and stability of good vocal habits MUST precede public performing. I know there are some teachers out there who believe that it’s possible to learn good habits spontaneously in front of an audience and I know FOR SURE that this happens sometimes. But, IMO, it’s not reliable enough to make it a pedagogical tenet. The risk of forming helping tensions stemming from the excitement (i.e. nervousness) of performing is too great.

A “Hard-Liner” philosophy and/or curriculum here serve some students perfectly (hopefully the majority, but unfortunately mostly just the most talented). Students outside the learning-curve ‘norm’ develop compensatory muscular tensions without even realizing it, which then take years to break down or eliminate. This is not simply the way of things; it CAN be avoided with a more flexible pedagogical approach.

My analogy for my teaching students is; a young singer must go through a gestation period. This period differs from singer to singer. Pushing a young singer too early on stage, out of a hard and fast methodological rule, would be like forcing a young child to walk at two months of age (with the rationale that the child will have to do it its whole life, the earlier the better!). You can only imagine the damage to the spinal cord resulting from the execution of this ‘rule’! Just so with young singers; if they’re pressured to sing too early, as I mention above, they will develop helping tensions and secondary muscular compensations which often takes years to set right again!

This presents us with something of a conundrum, especially in formal educational environments. In a four-year program there are certain requirements which must be fulfilled. These requirements have not been standardized purely with the singer in mind. They have more to do with the standards, requirements and traditions of a liberal arts education. That means that if you teach at such institutions and accept the idea that singers develop along VERY different growth curves, you must learn to be flexible within the relatively inflexible strictures of the system. Making this clear to students is also a challenge. I’d venture to say we all know of singers who were ‘stars’ in college who later couldn’t really find their footing in the professional world. On the other hand, we probably also all know singers who seemed to only encounter stress and  breakdown in college who went on to have major careers. I use these examples to point out how varied the growth processes are from one singer to another. A singer with enormous talent, yet who lags towards the back end of the Gaussian Learning-Bell-Curve (in other words, one who ‘ripens’ later rather than earlier!) needs a special kind of encouragement. Of course there are going to be professors, teachers and coaches who give this student such negative feedback (most of the time it can’t even really be considered feed-back—more like harsh judgment!) that he/she actually considers giving up. This kind of criticism needs to be counter-acted with support and self-knowledge.

On the other hand, as we all know, there are very talented students who are, for lack of a better word, LAZY. Encouraging such a student in the face of harsh, negative criticism is actually encouraging laziness. The point is that you have to know your student and find optimized ways of supporting that student.

Evan Bortnick

Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden

About evanb54

I'm a passionate, curious learning junkie--- an X-Opera Singer turned Voice Teacher, Voice Teachers Teacher, NLP Lehrtrainer, Off-Path Coach, Cranio-Sacral worker and a few other even less mainstream things. Everything I've learned or taught revolves around THE VOICE. The Voice as a tool of artistic expression. The Voice as a tool of emotional transparency. The voice as a tool of flexible communication. More information can be found at my Institute Site: The Wiesbaden Academy of the Vocal Muse Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden, Coaching, Voice Pedagogy
This entry was posted in Archetypes, Art, Inner Game, Lessons, Mental Training, Opera, Pedagogy, Singing, Teaching, Voice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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