I’ve been in the voice, music, tuition & writing business for almost 4 decades now and I’m glad I can still say that I truly love my job. Singing, music, theatre, coaching, writing and the media business is not only what I do, it’s who I am ! On such a long journey one comes across lots of special situations: nice ones, difficult ones and the ones that challenge us, question us to make us learn and grow and keep us sharp. I talk about them here.
My Ambition, My Mistake
Besides vocal technique, artistry, pedagogy, emergency aid, speech & presentation, vocal rehab, hearing & listening, bodywork, stress & performance and media training, one of my endeavours is to always work on ‘self-connection’, a determining issue in the arts (in life) !
I’ve met quite a number of vocalists who focused on what others did, tried to sound like others, act like others, look like others, but often without knowing very well who they were themselves. It’s also a phenomenon of the era we live in, as our western society likes to teach people to focus on what’s outside, not on what’s inside.
Of course we all imitate sounds of others when we start singing, allowing us to learn to understand what we hear and feel, how to reproduce it in order to develop our own sound and finally develop our vocal signature and artistic identity.
However, we deal with different kind of stuff when someone has a identity issue.
I coached a student vocally and pedagogically for quite some time. Many things happened in that learning curve, including things we would interpret as positive: a technical breakthrough, a different approach, a different awareness, but also maybe something that may not even have been there. Ss teachers/coaches we like to think we understand someone, kind of know someone, to sometimes realise … we were wrong !
At some point the behaviour of my student started to change to finally find myself facing a reflection of my work on a website that wasn’t mine. My thoughts and my own way of expression myself had been copied without any request for authorisation, nor any credit. Yes, you might as well call that copyright infringement, or … theft !
As someone with a healthy connection to him- or herself is aware of his/her own worth and wouldn’t even consider acting this way, I realised there was a problem. I gently but firmly urged the student to take down my work and develop her own content. Without success.
I recalled the student’s tendency to seek a trial of strength in our encounters, as well as in the ones with others (colleague-vocalists, sound engineers etc). Simultaneously I started to receive feedback (she had started teaching some singers I had passed on) saying she was unable to adopt a listening attitude, often didn’t have a clue and sometimes was on the edge of being obnoxious.
There was no way I could accept this situation any longer. Bearing in mind the above and knowing a discussion wouldn’t make much of a difference, I preferred to cease the collaboration. An online harassment campaign reared its ugly head (website hacked and social media pages crippled by spam), which made me decide to completely cut ties.
So the big question here was ‘where did it go wrong’, or rather ‘where did I go wrong ?’ Probably after I’d been assuming something that had not really been there. My ambition, my mistake !
It shows the importance of separating our own ambition as teachers/coaches from the student’s ambition. There are traps in a teacher-student relationship, and the art is to be aware of them and juggle your way around them. It’s tempting to accept responsibility for a student’s development, as it’s flattering and makes us look good.
But pedagogically it’s wrong. We are meant to coach or teach, not save or direct people. Let the student decide where he or she wants to go, otherwise he/she is being kept in a depending role, which is counterproductive and can even become tricky when dealing with fragile personalities.