Philosophy 2: Ideology and functionality, a point of balance

After contributing to a less than civil discourse on NFCS regarding the issue of longevity in today’s singers, it became clear that I needed to approach this issue in a more balanced way. The success of any singer depends on the one hand on a technical ideology that must be a foundation upon which he or she bases the treatment of the instrument and on the other hand upon calculated risk-taking that may take him or her beyond those very ideological precepts. A certain amount of calculated risk-taking is part and parcel of any singer’s progress at any level of the field, be it a church choir soprano who sings a solo for the first time or a top tenor taking on a role that may stretch the limits of his vocal capacities. The results are those of a conscious quest for balance between the conceptual ideal and the practical reality. Whether the soprano or the tenor fails or succeeds is not the issue, for the possibility for failure or success is part of a conscious calculation.

There is however the tug-o-war between being able to function in a given situation and the possibility of violation of a technical ideology of which the singer is unaware. The difference between stretching against known limits and stretching without a knowledge of where limits are may be what separates the singers of the past (who may have survived longer in the field) from their current counterparts who tend to half a shorter shelf-life.

Rather than this turning into a post about specifics of vocal technique, it is rather a philosophical argument about the general need to have a vocal ideology. The term ideology is often misunderstood for perfectionism. It should be established that perfection is unattainable and should be left out of the practicable discipline of singing. Having an ideology is simply a commitment to a set of principles that helps to keep us balanced. A set of principles gives us a clear sense of our capabilities and limits, as well as guidance in our quest for betterment.

When there are principles that guide us (e.g. an ideology), we are provided with a gauge that tells us how far we have yet to go before breaching our limits, and how far beyond them we may have wandered. In such a way limits may be safely stretched. This is what having a technical ideology offers.

The world is in a particularly strange period where the natural sense of time is no longer a given. Not only is distance practically erased with airplanes, cell phones and email, but the the sense of the passage of time is less a part of every day existence than ever. The idea of immediate gratification is a given. Naturally with time considered an enemy, the desire to live the moment at all cost also means singing now rather than later when the voice might be more ready. In fact many voices are able to impress from day one. This is not new. These types of voices are considered special talents, and it has always been so. The sole difference is that in the past such special voices were considered raw material that needed to be crafted into voices ready for the difficulties of the lyric art. Today, those voices are considered ready. And without a sense of where the limits of such voices lie, singers usually take these voices beyond possibilities and end their career early.

At the moment, I see a dilemma that as a singer and teacher I am compelled to ponder often. On the one hand, time waits for no one, and the world is such that we seem to have little time. On the other hand, the singers themselves whose careers develop spontaneously ultimately get to a challenging point where they must seek the wisdom of those who should know: most often, past singers who have had long careers. Unfortunately, the paradigms between the retired legend and the current young star are so different that what the experienced singer may have to offer becomes irrelevant, because the young singer may have crossed a line that is difficult to cross back.

The only resolution I an imagine is that the young singer from the beginning be armed with a philosophy that guides him through the many stages of the game. But that takes time. And the body that is the instrument needs time. And the development of a voice, a singer, a singing-actor, an artist, needs time. However, when the very concept of time has been changed, this entire argument may be pointless. © 01/19/2008

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