Singing Teaches Confidence
I’m a singing teacher and, sat here in the studio where I give lessons, I’m surrounded by memories. Whenever any kind visitor asks about my work they naturally zoom in on the singing ‘success stories’ – opera stars or West End belters (and nowadays they also want to know if any of my students ‘made it’ on The Voice or The X Factor).
I would be lying to say I didn’t derive a rush of joy when I was invited to hear a celebrated debut at Glyndebourne or to witness a breakthrough Jean Valjean at The Queen’s or basked in some small reflected glory as a great student ‘redefined Lieder’ at her very first Wigmore Hall recital. But it is not only those students who have gone on to acclaim who occupy my thoughts. I think of the many reluctant singing students who came to me at their first lesson, hanging their heads, fearful anyone might notice their flaws, the ones who were convinced they couldn’t sing, who believed they were not worth hearing and who may have stayed that way without my determination that they would grow and flourish, that they really would sing!
Instilling confidence first and then the ability to communicate with audiences are the cornerstones of a singing teacher’s job. A singer may possess perfect pitch, tone, diction, breath control and linguistic knowledge. They may develop artistry in their phrasing and shaping of melody and they may become admirable sight-singers. They may have the soul of an actor and a voice to melt hearts! But if they do not accept that they may have something to offer audiences, they will find themselves entertaining their pet cat with some world class Verdi. Singers need to sing and be heard. They have to make mistakes and live through them. They must learn that audiences respond to the humanity in performers.
It’s important to shape students’ performing experiences and support them in examining and accepting these. They should be urged on as we notice and affirm all their qualities.
I recall one young girl who persisted in singing with a whispered cloaking of her big sound. I knew she could do otherwise, but she feared that ‘singing out’ would expose her (largely imagined) errors. Over time, I found her more and more performing opportunities. She progressed through steadily more ‘scary’ situations. She went from tearful quacking, with her mother, for another girl’s rendition of The Ugly Duckling in a student soiree, to unison duets, then eventually to playing Maria in her school’s Sound of Music.
Many other students, whilst gaining undoubted skills, have learned how to handle po-faced audiences and grumpy examiners. Armed with polished stage manners, resilience and trust in the stage persona they have developed, I’ve watched them go on to be, variously, barristers, university lecturers and even a cabinet minister (really). So, learning to sing with confidence is one thing and learning some stage craft another. And confidence in both is about much more than musical know-how. It seems to help in the widest sense.
Someone recently remembered that we’d competed together, as children, in a local Music Festival. She reminded me that a very particular adjudicator had openly disparaged her singing and effectively advised her to give up. Apparently, I had indignantly nudged her, and furiously told her not to listen and that she was a singer. She had subsequently pursued her love of music into folk singing, and developed an associated, successful music business in the community. A singing teacher will always be instrumental to the process of helping people truly stand proud and sing!