Saving A Voice Teacher's Energy

It is difficult to believe sometimes, but I have been teaching this technique for almost 30 years now. I started teaching at age 23 when my friend Martha Rosacker offered to be my instructor in Ft. Worth, Texas. She was the first person who was able to offer vocal assistance when no one else understood my technical issues. I had been searching for vocal answers for a long time and felt depressed and hopeless after studying with several teachers who could not help me beyond an ego-centered or superficial level. If anything, my vocal issues became worse during and directly after my university study. My primary vocal problem was of incorrect vocal fach of which I have spoken in other articles. It is primary and crucial that a young singer be singing in the correct fach. Otherwise the singer can develop severe vocal problems such as a high larynx or the pushing of breath pressure and the singer can eventually suffer vocal damage. This was exactly my situation. I feel a great responsibility to spread this message to the public.

Since the development of this web site, I have been teaching at least 7 to 8 hours per day, six days per week. This is mainly due to the fact that singers and teachers travel from all over the world to my New York Studio and my European Studios to study this technique. There is a special interest in the Swedish/Italian School because of the connection to Flagstad and Bjoerling.

Teaching such long hours can create a grueling schedule and it takes a lot of energy to focus while offering one on one instruction for that many hours, especially on an almost daily basis. My professional work ethic dictates that I offer each person the fullest attention of that hour and I do so. So many teachers ask me, "How do you do it? How do you teach so many hours without becoming completely exhausted?" In this article, I will try to answer this question to the best of my ability and offer some ideas that could possibly help other teachers. I take great delight in writing about technical aspects of the voice and the psychological factors involved. Many of the psychological factors have not been addressed sufficiently, especially when it comes to private teaching. One major factor about which I have never read is the 'energy factor' of teaching. I have never seen material in print, which offers factual or even hypothetical information on ideas regarding balancing the teacher's energy while teaching many hours in a given day.

It has become completely clear to me that there are factors in both teacher and singer that effect energy. Most of the time I find that my ability to budget my energy is directly related to the specific type of personality of the singer. In this article, I will try to draw some personality profiles with which I have had direct experience and offer some ideas that have worked for me in my almost 30 years of private teaching.

Personalities: Energy Balancing in the Studio

One need only think of the diversity of personalities within any given family of origin to gain some idea of what a teacher faces every day. Considering the fact that there often exists great contrast in various personalities, it is easy to understand that these different aspects of human behavior represent challenges a teacher may face daily. It is imperative that teachers learn about differing personalities and how they operate. How much energy does one personality demand in contrast to another personality type? This is a rather complicated question and the answer is not clear-cut. The variables are too extreme and the amount of energy in teaching each personality differs with these extremes. In the following sections I will attempt to outline contrasting personality types and define the amount of energy it takes to move them forward in the learning experience.

The Needy Child: The Energy Drain

I find one of the most difficult aspects of teaching is evaluating the individual personality fairly. Experience repeats exposure is a wonderful teacher in this area. Since we really learn by doing, I have learned how to evaluate a singer's personality often within the first hour of instruction and certainly by the second hour of instruction.

One of the biggest energy drains is what I call the needy child: an individual who really needs lots of attention, psychological reinforcement, and demands lots of constant focus from the teacher. This is one of the largest energy drains a teacher could ever experience. Again, I am no psychologist, but even Alan Lindquest once told me that a teacher has to learn about the psychology of the singer. In fact Dr. Gilles Bratt, teacher of Flagstad, studied with Sigmund Freud as well as Manuel Garcia. Lindquest could not have been wiser in his statement. The needy child often suffers from the following characteristics:

Often these personalities are from families where addiction or abuse has been present in the household. I suggest that teachers recommend that these singers read the John Bradshaw books along with the books of Nathaniel Branden. Since self-esteem is suffering from what I call the bottomless black hole, then it is important that these people at least begin a healing journey. A teacher can be a huge influence on starting this process.

The Co-dependent Personality: A Different Kind of Energy Drain

I call these types of singers "too much of a good thing". This kind of person often gives to the point of self-sacrifice and then resents giving afterwards. They often speak of themselves as good people and try to impress the teacher with constant good deeds. This person's insecurity takes a different tact from the needy child. These individuals need to constantly be giving to others in order to feel good about themselves; another type of extreme insecurity and neediness. It can take a while before realizing that someone is one of these types of singers. The disguise is being nice all the time. Usually they do not like or respect professional boundaries. I had a personal experience with someone like this who was always offering me gifts. This individual really wanted my approval so badly that he/she would constantly shower me with favors, gifts, etc. These students usually are not focused on their personal or professional goals and they often do not possess the discipline necessary to become a career singer. Sometimes these individuals are extremely scattered emotionally and really cannot achieve the professional work ethic necessary to have a healthy professional life. I have found that they are often type A personalities seeming to have a lot of energy and appear to get a lot of work done. Sometimes they are actually depressed and disguise this depression with the joy costume. The appearance of getting a lot done is usually where it stops. He/she is often very social and loves or needs to be recognized by others almost constantly. This is a general personality description and there are certainly variables within this kind of co-dependency. I suggest the Melanie Beattie books: "Co-Dependent No More" and "Beyond Co-Dependency". These books will begin an awakening of co-dependency issues.

It is easy to see how this kind of personality is an energy drain on the teacher. The person seems focused and positive, yet he or she does not move forward in the skill of singing and developing as an excellent musician. With time, the teacher often finds that the lack of work reveals itself. In fact, this kind of person is usually more interested being social than in attaining career goals. Again this is not a value judgement of this person but simply an observation. It is important that this kind of singer become emotionally visible and the personality characteristics be clear. It is the only way a teacher can successfully learn more about dealing with the co-dependent.

The Balanced Personality: Those Who Can Move Forward Quickly

How can we define a balanced person in such an imbalanced world? I really don't know the exact answer to this question. I believe that it is rare to find a person in this world who feels emotionally balanced. However, the most emotionally balanced people I have taught have one major characteristic in common: they ALL take responsibility for their professional and person lives. They work toward a deeper self-understanding and take responsibility for a personal growth journey, which broadens their self-understanding. These individuals continue to grow because there is always some level of self-analysis that is encouraged. Having developed a curious mind for learning, there is usually a sharing of questions and answers at the end of each lesson. It becomes apparent to me early in the singer's study that he/she actually gives the instructor energy back rather than just draining. It is a personal delight to teach such singers. Often these are people I could feel good about sharing a personal friendship with as well because they have strong boundaries in their own lives. These strong boundaries help them to develop a respect for my personal boundaries as well and the result is mutual respect and consideration. It is not rare to find young professional singers with these kinds of personalities. Rather than calling them balanced personalities, I suppose I should call them individuals seeking balance and taking adult responsibility for themselves physically (through exercise), emotionally (through therapy or group self-help organizations) and financially (through taking on a second career that pays for the training of singing). So balance is a journey combining the desire to accomplish and the desire to give back to the world. The balanced singer is basically a curious-minded person who thrives on learning.

Tools for Saving the Teacher's Energy:

Unlike the balanced personality, the other two extreme personalities described before take more energy than any individual can offer and still teach 6 to 7 other singers within a day. I have prepared some ideas that have worked for me in dealing with the difficult personalities, which I will share in the following list.

All of these ideas are designed to disperse the intense energy of teaching one on one. This will save your energy because it puts the singer in motion and does not allow time for personal issues to become the focal point of each session. The work will become the center of attention.

Keep Your Behavior Professional

NEVER answer telephone calls or eat during lessons. This does not disperse energy, it makes you look unprofessional and it allows the singer the opportunity to complain to others that he or she is not getting full time or attention. If a singer is needy, then he/she can play victim once again with the idea: "Poor me, I'm not even important enough to have this teacher's attention even when I am paying for professional time." Remember that teachers need to be examples of professionalism. Take your example seriously and keep your standards and ethics at an extremely high level. Respect is earned not demanded and you must earn respect of the singer just as the singer must earn respect from you and his or her colleagues.

Also it is important that teachers stay off the judgement seat. When a teacher comes across as judging someone's character constantly, then the singer becomes defensive and uncomfortable. Remember that a teacher is not a parent and it is easy for singers to project the bad parent role onto an instructor. This is an uncomfortable role to play and one that I do not recommend to anyone.

Finally, good luck in your teaching journey. This is a most rewarding profession if done with a positive attitude, a sense of humor, high standards, and a true determination to help others. Alan Lindquest was an incredible example of a man who became a master teacher through his positive psychological approach to teaching. I once knew a philosopher who said to me, "No one is special and everyone is special." I will never forget this quote because I try to practice this philosophy in my daily teaching and my daily life. It makes everyone worthy of celebrating.

(c) David L. Jones/2002

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