I sat stunned at the adjudicator’s comment. With a few thoughtless words she had crushed the feelings of a young girl. I could see it in Shelley’s face. “I can’t give you a high mark on this because there is just something unpleasant in your voice that I find hard listening to.”
I was not Shelley’s teacher. In fact, I was not even a music teacher yet at that time. Her teacher had chosen her as one of the top girls in her school due to her musicianship. She had even won first place at the festival the year before. Yes, she sang with a tightness in her throat, but tell her that so she has something to work on! Don’t take her voice away from her in such an ugly way! There was nothing I could say at that time. My words did not have the clout to undo the damage.
Though I saw that devastation with my own eyes, I hear it often when others learn I am a music teacher. “My teacher told me to just mouth the words in choir.” “I wasn’t even allowed to sing in the choir.” So many adults fear using their voice publically because of supposedly well intentioned but thoughtless judgments that limit instead of giving feedback about how to grow. There are only a few with very specific medical conditions who cannot sing. Otherwise we all have a voice we can raise expressively. The bane of our competitive society is that it has limited those who are called singers to those who can win contests. Prizes don’t make people singers. The goal is enjoyment and fulfillment. Training needs to keep that in mind.
If there is a need to sing together as a choral group, listen to the specific need of the child to help them grow. The important thing is to see the child and balance other musical activities to affirm their musicianship while they are developing their singing voice. Often their greatest struggle is a fear of their voice that causes them to stay in a talking range of notes. And when it comes to matching notes. That has to do with training the ear.
But did Shelley’s story of singing end that day? I watched her with concern as she sat silently Sunday after Sunday in church. She shied away from anything that had to do with singing.
About a year later I was in the position to talk to her about the experience. “Shelley, I noticed you weren’t singing at church and you used to love to sing. Do you sing at all anymore?”
“No,” she answered, head low. “I won’t even sing in my room or in the shower.”
I opened up and talked to her about how I felt about the adjudicator’s words and what I had noticed she could work on. Then I made her a deal. I would work with her on her voice for three months. At the end of that time, she would pay me for the lessons by singing a duet with me.
Shelley began singing again in church and before long helped lead the children’s music.
The last time I saw Shelley, she was coming through the town to sing with her college choir. Her eyes sparkled as she opened her mouth in harmony and joy.
**** While looking up a question on line I came upon this site: Natural Voice Practitioner’s Network, http://naturalvoice.net/ . The quotes in the banner are wonderful.