I have found that, with a good teacher ANYBODY can learn to sing. Some people naturally start with a better vocal sound, but others need more instruction and guidance in order to sound pleasant to listen to.

I have met many people who have a lot of natural talent who never made it past middle school chorus because they have authority issues. They cannot seem to follow directions and therefore have relationship problems as well. In other words, people don’t like them. I am not one to make quick judgments on liking or disliking students, but it is very frustrating to teach a student who does not want to learn!

On the other hand, there is nothing more thrilling to a teacher than to hear a student they have been working with improve. I was judging several solo and choral festivals this month and I heard many singers and choirs, from brand new children who have only been singing for a few months to those who have sung together for years. I could immediately spot the directors who had been working not only hard with their students, but intelligently. It was obvious which schools had directors who knew how to get quality, healthy sounds, matched vowels, correct pitches and dynamics out of their students.

Maybe there were directors who had important input, but students refused to listen. What about them? I believe there must be some talent for motivating others involved in the music director position as well. But the bottom line is, if they listen to the director and do what he/she says, they will usually do well. If you are truly doing this and are not improving, then you need to find another teacher. I even had some directors thanking me for giving their students the no-so-great score that they earned. These teachers wanted their students to learn that you reap what you sow. Some years we get better groups of students than others. I am not talking about talent per se, but personality and drive.

In addition to traveling around and adjudicating other groups, I have had my own groups to deal with. In some of my groups, this rebellion issue has been great, and is getting to be a bigger problem every year. I sometimes have to re-clarify who is the director. Students want to teach themselves and, though they are very capable of practicing independently, my young students are nowhere near able to instruct themselves! They just do not yet know enough. There is this new trend in education (that I hope does not last long), that students can teach themselves as long as they have a computer. I completely disagree with this philosophy when it some to music performance.

I get students who already “know” everything and they usually do not last long. They quit before they really learn what they need to know in order to be prepared for the next level. I also have some “divas” who are not team players and they usually do not do well either, unless they “see the light”…that it is NOT all about THEM. Making quality music is usually a huge group project and there is always a leader—the teacher. Especially at the younger ages, they need to learn, more than any singing skill, responding to authority. Singing is doing EXACTLY what the director instructs you to do.

I also teach drama and I get students who CANNOT even stay in their seat, or turn to the right page in the script and they want to be an actor? Think again! I remind them that I am the director and they are the actor and they need to follow their stage directions to a tea. Often they find out that acting isn’t really for them after a semester of being nagged by me.

In addition to chorus and drama, I teach dance classes to young people. A few times I have had students who complain incessantly about the choreography, the shoes that are too tight (that I bust my rear to provide for them), or their costume. Students, DON”T DO THIS, not if you want to continue performing….if you treat your director badly, don’t expect to get cast again, and in my case, you will find yourself not in ANY show at all! We don’t have time to listen to your complaints. Much like sports, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by arguing with the coach. The coach is the boss, you are NOT.

Here is a video of a very fine group of young men who respond well to the authority of their skilled director who obviously cares very much for them.  A respectful relationship with the leadership is essential for success as a performing group.

You don’t have to be on the professional track as a performer to have a rich, exciting experience creating beautiful works of art. Please, for YOUR sake, listen and do exactly what your teacher tells you and you will be AMAZED at how you will surprise yourself! Happy performing!!

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