In 1979, I had the rare and unique opportunity to meet and study with Alan Lindquest himself. As I have said in past articles, he welcomed me with warmth of spirit and a gentleness I had never seen in any other teacher. It was as though his light was shining from a very deep core of the type of confidence that a master teacher feels: a confidence that glows from the depths of the human spirit. I will never forget his philosophy of teaching the "entire person" not just the voice. He believed that the singer had to be inspired to move forward vocally. This is a critical piece that is the basis of master teaching. At one point in my study with him, he told me that excellent singing was extremely effected by the human psyche. Singing, in his opinion, was extremely effected by the psychological aspects of the singer's personality. I remember hearing him say to me that singing was 90% psychological and that a singer had to achieve physical, vocal, and emotional balance in order to become the total artist. At that time, my youth judged this statement as old fashioned and out of date. I thought anyone could be taught to sing no matter what issues were involved. I remember my Father once said, "The older you get, the wiser your Father will become in your mind." Well this was definitely the case with both my Father and Alan Lindquest. The older I get, the more I realize the extent of their extreme wisdom and nurturing of the human spirit. Over the years, I also have come to understand how crucial emotional balance is in the development of a singer. In this article, I wish to clarify some of the emotional components necessary to be a healthy singer without false expectations.
Generally speaking, when I teach young singers today there are several common issues that come up into the voice studio over and over. Culturally speaking, young people tend to live at home with their parents longer, sometimes even up to the age of 30. Basically, this arrests the development of a person. Healthy autonomy or independence is not established early enough in life so the extreme focused discipline that is required to be a true singing artist is extremely difficult to develop and understand. One of the largest problems in teaching such a classical art form as singing is keeping the focus on this aspect of learning called discipline. Many in today's world went through a childhood filled with almost total electronic stimulation. This cultural influence, effecting the attention span greatly in many young singers, makes the discipline part of study difficult. I do understand these cultural effects are not only felt by the young, but to a great extent on all of us. Since we live in an electronically stimulated world, this seems to build in a type of instant gratification mode. This instant gratification is really poisonous to the art and process of studying singing, an art form that takes time and nurturing to develop the skills of the human voice. Many have compared becoming an excellent singer to a similar time frame of becoming an excellent doctor of modern medicine: about 11 to 13 years. I can understand the lack of patience that many have. However it is critical that any singer embrace the long-term process of learning not just to sing, but to become a singing artist; one who truly love the music itself, even without an audience. It can take years to build a singing artist to a world class level. It not only takes a good vocal instrument, an understanding of languages, and an excellent technique. But it also requires a deep musical understanding, a knowledge of style, a desire to develop a strong stage presence though acting and stage direction, and a basic ability to be a team player or an ensemble member. Even private study requires one to become an ensemble member in order to learn to be a good team player later. I again use the quote of Luciano Pavarotti; "There is no singer and there is no teacher, only two disciplined minds that come together." This statement alone suggests that study is a partnership requiring the singer to take responsibility for his/her part of the vocal process. (This is why I required that singers tape their lessons.) A teacher is simply a guide, but the discipline involved in becoming a professional singer requires a lot of self-analysis. Self-analysis is not encouraged in a world where entertainment is based on almost constant outside stimulation. The culture alone discourages the art of self-discipline by creating a mental focus which is from the outside inward rather than the inside outward. Since a singer must achieve a way of learning the art of self-discipline in order to become successful and become a singing artist, self-analysis is a critical aspect of learning to sing. Relating to the world from the inside out is paramount in one's development, even if he/she is not a singer. It is especially necessary that a singer develop his/her independence and self-analysis skills.
Again, I must clarify that I am not a psychotherapist. However, my dear friend who is a top psychologist in the New York City area has referred to narcissism as a chronic psychological condition resulting primarily from a lack of a child's early life-needs being met. Even though I am not a therapist by profession, I have studied psychology enough to carefully observe and study the characteristics of narcissism when I encounter one who suffers the symptoms. I call this the "all about me" syndrome. In the "all about me" syndrome, it becomes obvious that the singer places himself/ herself at the center of importance in any given situation. It becomes an 'I' and 'me' and 'my' kind of verbalization that centers specifically around that particular person and his/her career. One of the character studies I have done is the singer that is constantly checking his or her voice to see if 'the instrument' is still there. Observing this behavior, one might think that the instrument was the ONLY useful vocal talent in the entire world. (Remember that there is a huge difference between self- observation one becoming self-obsessed.) Usually this kind of singer feels insecure and incomplete. Sometimes, this makes for a rather humorous study of a strange human behavior for a time. But after a while it becomes obvious that this kind of singer wants the art to serve the singer, not the singer to serve the art. Most of the time, this personality flaw stops that particular singer from working professionally. The principal reason is that at some point he or she must learn to become a musician and really serve the art of singing by embracing the process. (In today's world every singer must learn to become a fine musician.) The singer must at some point view himself or herself as a vessel through which the great art of singing is expressed. This of course demands that a person move away from his/her own sense of self-importance. It saddens me to see this kind of person struggling for acceptance. Often with a great singing voice, this kind of person rarely succeeds in his/her goals. Then the singer suffers from a severe sense of isolation. Their personality profile includes: (1) inability to be social without dominating the conservation. (2) constant self-focus. (3) Inability to sympathize with the difficulties of others. (4) neurotic behavior: can be in the form of constantly talking about 'their career' or 'the voice' and its condition that particular day. (5) inability to share healthily in a social conservation with a sense of give and take. (6) constantly wanting special attention from any authority figure. (7) need for constant positive stroking.
It is unfortunate that we live in a world where dysfunctional families are the rule rather than the exception. John Bradshaw (Family Center in Houston, Texas.) produced a series of books that I strongly recommend to everyone. In these books, he defines the intricate details of dysfunctional family life and the road to healing the family wounds. One personality type I have experienced in my 30 years of teaching is what I call the "right of entitlement" singer. This person feels strongly that because he or she has a beautiful voice, then the world is, without doubt, going to offer an international career. Often these singers have so heavily invested their personal identity in being that of a world class singer that they never consider the hard work of the profession. They often miss the road to deep emotional discovery. In his or her mind, the world owes the singer a career simply because of the greatness of the vocal instrument. I have had several singers with this attitude and the result has been quite unfortunate and disappointing for the singer and those who must deal with this kind of personality.
When the career does not happen through fate or misfortune, then I often observe a result of one of two or both of two emotions: rage or depression or the two in combination. It is sad to see a person living in a state of anger or depression simply because of a childish expectation without the hard work required just in order to have a competitive chance. Nevertheless, I observe this state of mind often and these types of personalities often need professional help through counseling in order to achieve an understanding of priorities and discipline. It is important to realize that singing is a gift that many have and one person is no more important than another. I once knew a philosopher who said to me, "No one is special and everyone is special." This was indeed a true statement. As my friend and teacher Evelyn Reynolds once said, "There are many great voices in the world, but few who know how to use the voice correctly." I have found this to be entirely true. Often younger singers are not prepared for the competition that exists in the professional singing world. Sometimes there is a false sense of success because one has a large and beautiful voice. This is simply not the case in reality.
I have often found myself observed as the authoritarian who can sometimes be confused as a parent figure. In fact, I observe many teachers who enjoy assuming the role of parent. It is important that true mentoring not involve co-dependency or enmeshment. Rather it teaches independence and the discipline of behaving in an adult manner (healthy self-analysis without becoming self-obsessive.) "Parenting" a singer simply opens the opportunity for the singer to remain a child. Often this kind of situation will reveal misplaced anger toward a parent and it can be directed at the teacher or authoritarian figure. Of course logically thinking persons know that this is not emotionally healthy. However, I have had several experiences in my voice studio that revealed such misplaced anger. Most of the time these individuals do not have the discipline to work toward high singing standards. Anger is often accompanied by the "right of entitlement" mentioned earlier. The singer quite often believes that he or she is owed some sort of success without the responsibility. The result of their professional failure is usually anger or bitterness.
The opposite side of this kind of behavior is that of the true professional mind. I have had the opportunity to teach several famous singers in my career and I must say that there are basic characteristics that they all have in common. One of the most basic characteristics is that of personal discipline which develops a healthy work ethic. It is rare that one might find a professional singer in the classical world who does not have some sort of driving passion regarding the art of singing and performing. I recently have been working with a dramatic mezzo who has been singing all over the world. She was suffering from hoarseness after each large-scale performance of a dramatic role. She is not only a delightful person, but she is an example of a singer with a professional mind. This singer does the vocal work I offer in a disciplined and consistent (meaning every day) manner. I have rarely seen a singer make this kind of progress in such a short time. Not only does she now sing without vocal fatigue, but she also has one necessary piece of the formula of a professional singer: the desire to sing well so that performing becomes a joy instead of a dreaded fear-provoking experience. This is a singing artist who performs with world famous singers yet she never avoids the hard work and the discipline required of a professional singer. Her success is evident. She is already enjoying the fruits of her work because she is enjoying auditioning and performing. Even though this singer has a world class voice, she never once exemplified the 'right of entitlement behavior'. Success has been based on a foundation of hard work rather than childish expectations and she always faces a vocal crisis head on, determined to find a solution. Her strong work ethic combined with the concepts of the Swedish/Italian School have taken her to a high and consistent level of singing in only a matter of months. One of the most impressive aspects of this singer's personality is her consistent belief that a singing career is made of hard work and an ability to be emotionally centered and able to concentrate deeply. This requires some degree of emotional balance or at the very least, healthy self-analysis or monitoring. Recently I taught several singers at the San Francisco Opera House. It was a complete pleasure because each singer had such a positive attitude and a healthy work ethic.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work for many years with singers from all over the world both with professional aspirations and with amateur aspirations. It is with equal fervor that I instruct each singer in the area of vocal technique because I believe that everyone deserves to sing well. Nothing offers more pleasure than to see someone move forward in his/her vocal ability at a fast pace. However, before finishing with this article I think it is crucial to list characteristics that are in direct contrast of the 'right of entitlement' singer. The following is a list of positive behaviors that I have observed in some of my professional and serious amateur singers.
Taking a realistic inventory of the state of the voice, career, and potential personal growth. This includes an emotional inventory to help one take responsibility for one's emotional balance.
So you find that the right of entitlement singer really rarely experiences success. He/she lives on an unrealistic level or constant expectation wondering why 'the career' has not happened. On the other hand, I have discussed the truly serious singing artist; one who has discipline in multiple areas of life.
I wish all singers a positive vocal journey in this very difficult job of becoming a singing artist. I also wish them to take a realistic approach to the singing career, expecting only a positive return on the hard work of becoming a seasoned singing stage actor.