Saturday, July 07, 2007

"Why is it Important to Know This Stuff?"

I had an interesting voice lesson recently. While I was running off at the mouth (as I often do) on the subject of voiced and unvoiced consonants, My student asked a very astute question...a question that frequently goes unasked.

"Why is it important to know this stuff?" she asked me. My very first reaction was to respond as my father would have..."Because I said so!" But her question made me could I answer that question honestly and in a way that would make it clear that it is, in fact, very important to "know this stuff."

Look at the patch bay in the picture. Now picture a recording engineer following signal flow through that maze "by ear" to use a well worn phrase offered as an alternative to education by the ignorant.

In my experience, singers are BY FAR the most uninformed of all the performing artists. Yes, there are exceptions, and I suppose I'll get a ton of damning emails from the brilliant cogniscenti of the singing trade...but my opinion is built on solid ground

The fact is that anyone can sing. There are singers with natural gifts and others that have worked hard to master gifts of lesser proportions. Singers, more than other performers, have a tendency to be lazy because there are no toys involved. There is no external instrument to master, clean or maintain. There is nothing to praise and nothing to blame save for that which resides internally.

Every endeavor is enriched by fundamental knowledge of the technical skills required to carry out that endeavor. At the time this question came up, I had a repair man working on my air conditioning unit. I didn't wonder if the repairman knew his craft. He didn't show up with paint brushes or carpenters tools, he showed up with the right stuff and my house is cool again. I can't imagine a car mechanic doing a computer analysis of my electronic ignition system "by ear."

And yet, that is the attitude many singers have. Of course, ears are important. That isn't the point. Information is power. Knowledge of the instrument and vocal mechanics will never interfere with natural abilities or style. A singer's individuality is defined by much more than just knowledge alone.

Years ago, I made friends with a prominent magician, perhaps better said, an "illusionist." He was of a democratic mind set and had no qualms about showing me how nearly every illusion actually was executed. I knew how the ring trick worked, where the duck was hidden, and why the girl in the basket wasn't stabbed to death two shows per night. He showed me how the most amazing card tricks are broken down. You see, for him, there was no magic...his art was in executing the technical skills he had learned and repetitiously practiced for hours, weeks, months and years in order to allow the audience to believe that he had done the impossible. I could go through the motions he showed me, but without practice, I could never fool a soul.

So why is it important to "know this stuff?" Well, to go back to my magician friend, if he did his tricks "by ear" there would be blood in the basket...two shows per night.

Don't be lazy...learn you shit and practice!

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