Challenge Yourself

Weekly Teaching Tip – Feb. 8, 2016
by Leigh McRae

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Each new year starts off with enquiries for lessons as I let it be known that I have a number of new spaces open. The main reason for this is that I use the last 2 lessons of the end of the previous year to set goals with students for the new year and sometimes to part ways with some who have not been able to give me a good reason as to why we should continue to work together.

One of the things that has always drawn me personally to a coach, mentor, performer or teacher is that they are doing what they tell others to do, or at the very least have done it at some stage in their life and have proof that it was effective. If you were to consult a personal trainer to help you get in shape and that person was grossly overweight, unhealthy, and low on energy, you would probably get fit instantly by running away from them.

This is true for us as teachers as well. The shape that your voice is in as a teacher will have an enormous affect and influence on the students that you encounter and may determine whether they stay with you or not. It is not essential that you “perform” for students, in fact I have serious concerns when teachers come into lessons or workshops and bedazzle students with a commanding performance, and then lack the ability to communicate just what particular skills had to be honed in order to get to that place. As teachers we must be able to demonstrate and explain why what we ask the student to do will work. You will no doubt get to teach singers who have superior styling skills, musicianship and artistry (I certainly see that every day). More so these folks may have a high profile and their expectations might very well be unrealistic (or those of their management or producer). However, what speaks loudest to them is the state of your voice and the effective way that you communicate your message. I have heard teachers go on and on about their sinus infection, or their lack of time to practice, and how “stressed” they are. My advice, get the sinus infection dealt with, change your schedule to deal with stress and schedule your practice time. Increase your water intake and take some real vocal rest! It is not acceptable to ask of others if you are not willing to lead from the front.

These last few months have seen me working on my voice more than I can recall since retiring from full time performing. I have an EP coming out on February 17 (orders please) and in a moment of total stupidity I decided that I had better have a Launch Concert to accompany the release and now I’m in. During the recording sessions for the EP I decided that I would invite 10 of my students to come in and form a backing choir. I chose these folks primarily on their attitude and secondly on their talents and skills. A point to note is that less than half of these folks had been in a professional recording session before. My intentions were very clear about wanting to get a great result utilizing these talented folks, however I did use a degree of subterfuge by giving each one of these singers a particular challenge, a challenge that in my estimation they would be capable of even if it required them to move out of their comfort zone, which in all cases it did.

So why this “task”? I’m so glad that you asked! For mine it is all very well to work with a student in the confines and safety of the studio, and that must happen. My goal for every student that comes into my studio is for them to not have to rely on me for the rest of their singing career, in fact I want to become obsolete to them. I’ll dispense with full details of each persons task, but I’ll tell you I focused entirely on the attributes that needed the most work such as; giving a singer a vocal harmony that demanded that they mix in a part of their voice that they can do it it but do their utmost to avoid. Another singer was given the responsibility of arriving early with the printed sheet music arrangements to be put into the various folders. Why?, because she is perpetually late! I am about taking those people who tell me that they want a career and making sure that they have their vocal skills in place, and other related skills that must accompany them if they are to be successful. No one in their right mind assumes that a career will be entirely built on just being able to sing. I am old school and I still advocate that having a healthy singing voice is essential, however other skills and traits are required and it is naive to think otherwise. Since that little excursion back in September, all 10 have reported to me that they were challenged and enriched by the experience, and most importantly they “got” the lesson.

To you my friends I want to challenge you to see what you can come up with that is outside the box. By all means hold the hands of those that are new, but don’t enable those who are ready to fly the coop.

Remember these wise words…
“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand. – Confucius

Till next time, Leigh McRae

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