Today I finished up my first year of teaching voice at an official college. Last night two of my students sang in a recital, and this morning, between hospital drop off and pick up times for my son, I taught my last lessons of the semester. Now that I am on the other side of things, it really makes me think about when I first started taking lessons, and how much I must have driven my teacher crazy.
I never took a voice lesson until college. Some of my friends had started lessons in high school, but due to lack of time and money I never did. Suddenly, they were free! And required! I guess being a voice major will do that to you. So I arrived having no idea what was going on or what to do. I basically walked into the music office and told them I needed to sign up for lessons, and I was whisked away to the Cadillac of teachers, Dr. Bob.
Dr. Bob was not accepting any more students because his schedule was full, but after singing for the choir director, it was decided that he ought to make an exception for me. Either I was so awesome that I deserved the best, or I was so terrible that I needed the best to survive. I still can’t decide which it was. But ether way, I got onto his calendar, and suddenly I was a voice student.
I felt a great pressure, initially anyway, to be excellent, since I had somehow hacked the system to even be taking lessons from this man, and I was nervous. My previous singing experience had been all church choir and musical theater, and suddenly I was going to start expanding my musical world (although I had no idea at the time by just how much). We did some vocal exercises, got comfortable with each other, and then started to sing. It was as simple as that.
And then I had to start fixing things. And changing things. And remembering things. But really I just wanted to rollerblade around town listening to Blind Melon and the Crash Test Dummies. I did not understand that if I didn’t go over this stuff on my own, and frequently, that when I was suddenly in front of people on stage my mind would immediately freeze and revert back to whatever singing techniques I was the most used to. So probably not the latest few things I had learned. I remember poor Dr. Bob trying to get me to consistently improve, and me thinking that I had it down solid when I clearly did not. Ah, youth.
So I get where these college students are coming from. And now I also get where Dr. Bob was coming from. As I listened to my students sing last night, I was on the edge of my seat, mouthing the words along as they performed without any help from me. I rejoiced as they nailed things we had worked on together. I despaired as they slipped back into old habits that we had fixed one million times before. And I silently shouted “WTF?!” as they performed in vocal styles that I have never heard from them before. It was terrifying and gratifying and wonderful. I was so proud of them.
So now it’s over for the summer, and I can go find some more private students to teach, or begin to prepare for next semester. But whatever I do, I have to be mindful of the college mindset, and remember what being a beginning voice student is like. And then I have to show no mercy.