Beware the Leeches!

An author friend of mine just finished telling me a story about how he (on the advice of a friend), consulted with a publicist and (1) didn’t learn much; (2) had to pay a hefty bill; and (3) was advised to take her workshop. She was also the snooty, superior type, with the demeanor that said, “Aren’t you lucky to have found me?” He knew he’d been had, but he paid the bill. However, I doubt the woman realized she had been seen through. Probably just thought she’d bagged another naive, hopeful writer.

This reminded me (somewhat painfully) of all the people I’ve run into over the years who preyed off singers. The more these people charge, the more respect they seem to get. At one point, I found myself forced to up my rates because otherwise people would assume I wasn’t top of the line.

I’m going to try not to preach too much here, but I’d like to offer a few warning signs for the truly naive and hopeful. Most of these people know how badly you want to keep your dream of stardom alive, and that is how they get you.

Beware the voice teacher who …

  1. Promises you the moon. Sorry, but even Renee Fleming wouldn’t have made it if the stars hadn’t been lined up in her favor. There is plenty of talent out there, and no one can promise you success. Sometimes, as one honest teacher told me, you just lose your place in line. In other words, you don’t make it while you’re still young enough to be taken seriously.
  2. Tells you you have a really big voice. Everyone wants a BIG voice. Yours may be bigger than most. However, it’s a dangerous thing to tell that to students, because they will inevitably try to prove to themselves and others that this is true. And if your voice sounds big to you, then something’s wrong.  A truly resonant, big voice will feel small inside your head because it’s going out into the audience–away from you. Pushing produces a forced, “pitchy,” ugly, sound. We’ll talk about this more in future posts.
  3. Never talks about relaxing and opening the throat, finding the “masque” (or nasal resonance), and never works on breathing. These are the three mainstays of vocal technique. Teachers who work exclusively on interpretation and diction are not teachers, they are coaches.

Beware the coach who …

  1. Spends the entire session telling stories about the singers they have worked with.
  2. Doesn’t nitpick enough. If they approve of everything you do, something’s wrong (or you don’t need them).
  3. Doesn’t know any language but English.
  4. Can’t sightread.

Coaches should be superb pianists, linguists, and stylists. Anything less, and you’re working with simply an accompanist. If so, you should get a discount.

Workshops can be wonderful, if only for the chance to perform. But if you suspect the teachers are bluffing their way through, you may be right. Students simply don’t trust their instincts enough.

Of these three potential evils, fear workshops the least. No matter what happens, you haven’t made a permanent commitment. And you’ll get performing experience.

Bad teachers try to lock you in contracts and make you feel as if you can’t get on without them (read the novel, Trilby, which tells the story of Svengali, for an extreme example). Good ones expect you to make progress. If you don’t, they will let you go. Not every teacher is good for every student.

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2 Responses to Beware the Leeches!

  1. Ratgirl says:

    Thanks Cat! Very good advice.

  2. Dennis says:

    I am not from the opera world, but this is a wonderful post. It applies to all kind of teaching situations. Being a good teacher is a gift and requires passion and an open mind.

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