During my six years at the Guildhall School of Music the question where can I learn to sing echoed through every practice room in the building. We were in one of the top vocal training colleges in the world but that didn’t stop most of us from floundering around in a desperate effort to find the holy grail of vocal production. We were constantly looking for the answers to a better technique – a magic button that would turn our issue ridden young voices into the next Cappuccilli or Mirella Freni. It’s such a paradox that although singing is one of the easiest things in the world to do, it can also be one of the hardest.
The voice is a musical instrument that is hard-wired to ‘us’ – to our emotions and moods. If we’re sick, the voice is sick, if we’re having a bad day, the voice cuddles up and joins in. If we’re feeling a bit low and lacking confidence, in comes the voice with an immediate and chronic mixture of man flu and acute shyness.
Of course, all these anxieties and our obsession with ‘getting it right’ are hugely wrapped up with us getting it wrong. Sure, the process of singing to a high level is utterly reliant on a firm technique, however to pursue that one ideal is to forget the ‘instinctive’ voice – the voice that just wants to do it’s stuff because it’s uninhibited and full of the joys of spring. Without this ease or approach it’s pretty impossible to use or implement any ‘technique’.
It’s not by chance that the Italians and Welsh for instance often have a high quota of good singers. It’s not totally wrapped up with the language either (although this does play a big part), on the whole they are just less inhibited when it comes to opening their mouths and making sound. They often grow up in an atmosphere where singing is fun, a relaxing thing to do down the pub at the end of the day. No pressure, no judgement. In fact quite the opposite, they sing with their friends and family within a community to release stress. Maybe the disintegration of community plays some sort of role in all this but I think that’s another topic and another article. Didn’t the Brits used to sing around the piano together before Terry Wogan? Now we all stay at home and watch tele – the idea of singing in front of someone would cause most people to go into catatonic shock. That’s not good is it?
To discover singing is one of the joys of life. Furthermore there is also a therapeutic side to simply making sound and expressing emotions that might perhaps be too difficult to express with just words. I’m looking forward to Témi’s article on ‘Music & Healing because that should elucidate other fascinating angles on the physical health benefits of sound production.
Singing transcends culture, language and social status. It covers almost every form of music from Rap to Gregorian chant. It’s skilled and yet non-skilled. Can everyone do it? Yes. Can anyone sing opera? No. Can anyone be a pop star or Frank Sinatra? No. But everyone can enjoy making music with his or her voice and everyone should have the opportunity to do so without ridicule or judgement. I think this is the essence of enjoying the music and getting pleasure from the sensation of singing and producing a performance of substance unhindered by self-doubt. This is relevant for all of us of course, not just amateurs but also professionals. Who wants to listen to an evening of pure technique after all? Having just written that line I realise the answer might be ‘me’! That is the professional (slightly obsessed) singer in me talking mind – realistically I’d much rather have an evening of music making and honest emotion than solely perfect technique that is devoid of substance. If I had both, well, that would be the magic moment we’re all aiming at.
As well as being a singer I also teach singing to kids and adults from ages 10 to 110. OK, maybe not 110, but some are quite seasoned. There are so many opportunities these days for anyone of any age to get singing and to improve their singing. So back to the question Where can I learn to sing? Well, every town seems to have one or two singing teachers coaching privately from their own home and even the county councils have, as part of their music service, the opportunities for anyone to pop in and sign up for a lesson or two. There is, of course nothing nicer than singing in a choir and feeling the confidence of other voices around you. It’s often a brilliant way to improve your musicianship, musical knowledge and vocal abilities, plus the opportunity to meet new people and experience singing in new places. Whatever you do though, don’t forget to be instinctive, just open your chops and make a noise – you might surprise yourself. You don’t need a “technique”; you don’t need to search for any magic buttons, all you need is a passion to sing. Whether you confine yourself to the shower, try out a choir or maybe even apply to a music college, it all boils down to singing with a joy and commitment to sound, music and words.