Sunday, April 30, 2006


I have have had the enormous fortune of making my living in music for my entire adult life... well, up to this point anyway. In that time, i've worn many hats and one that I enjoy very much is teaching vocal production both privately and in group settings. I started my education by taking traditional approach but accross the years, I've drawn information and inspiration from a wide variety of sources, some coming from quite unexpected areas not normally associated with music in general or vocal culture in particular. Some of these "influences" will have to remain nameless for reasons which will become evident as this entry progresses.

When I was seventeen, I studied with a pompous ass with a big name and as much business teaching voice as an organ grinder's monkey. his "technical exercises" screwed up my technique so badly I couldn't make a sound for nearly three months. Looking back, I am thankful because that experience started me on the path of true skepticism. From that day forward, I made a vow to myself to assume nothing, ask questions, demand answers that I could understand and never to think that my education had been completed.

After my throat had recovered, I began a journey of vocal discovery with a teacher who had a genius for building the singing voice as well as the confidence to use it. He introduced me to a little book by Anthony Frissel entitled simply, "Tenor Voice." I loaned my copy to a student years ago and it was never returned but that student has since become a teacher himself so it went to a good cause. The book explains the "lift" and "break" and how to properly train the voice as one seamless register from top to bottom. An absolute must read for any student of vocal culture.

Some of my more off-the-wall inspirations come from the writings of Buckminster Fuller, from which i adopted the concept that inspiration is every bit as valid as data. Everyone is different and using your mind instead of your brain can be a key process in problem solving. Sometimes a student comes to a teacher wih a vocal problem and many teachers can only teach what they know. Being willing to think outside the traditional pedagogy is extremely vital when working with singers, especially professionals in the music business today. A teacher or vocal coach can't possibly think they are acting in the best interests of an established professional by attempting to change the singer's technique into something the teacher can understand.

I do have two criticisms of the way singing is taught or in many cases, not taught today. The first is a question of relevance. Singing is or should be communication. A singer could have the most cultured, flawless technique, and still communicate nothing to an audience on an emotional level. Peter Pears and John McCormack were amazing technicians. Joe Cocker and Van Morrison are not. All four are great singers. It would be a grave error to press the technique of the former on a singer who seeks a career in the arena of the latter.

My second peeve has to do with co-dependance. My first words to a new student are usually "Someday, you won't need old Pete anymore. And when that day arrives, we will know that we've been successful." Too many times I find that before coming to me, a singer may have been studying with another perhaps much more reputable teacher for six months to a year, and have no clue as to the mechanics of their instrument. That's just not right. If a singer has no talent, a teacher should recognize that and steer the poor thing toward a career in auto repair. And if the student isn't motivated to practice, that is the teacher's fault as well. A teacher should inspire and instill a hunger for learning in a student. But in many cases, a teacher may be dependent on the income from teaching and this can easily generate a co-dependent relationship which results in less than successful results.

I love to teach. And I love to learn. I'll never stop doing either.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete, Lucia here. So..when can we start the lessons? :) I love your approach. And I checked out Kenny Rankin "Blackbird" on itunes, which I'm gonna buy, although they don't have "Silver Morning".
Great seeing you and Amanda the other day and hope it won't be the last. Cheers!