Hey, Y’all. Salty Voice Teacher here. Been thinking. Just doing a little philosophizing on this gorgeous afternoon.
Today I’ve been thinking about my path in singing and how not unique it is. I came up singing classical music not because I wanted to sing classical music.
I wanted to sing music theater.
And when I started voice lessons, one did not study music theater. You only did opera. (Seriously—I was singing a Bellini dramatic aria at 16 years old.) I really didn’t have a choice. My first voice teacher told me that people with talent have a responsibility to sing classically and that not to do so was practically a sin. Seriously. She was old school AF.
So I sang classically, and, I judged folks that didn’t because that’s what the culture encouraged.
And then when I wanted to go to college, I only had classical as a choice and I was like, “Okay. This is what we do, right?” Well, it’s now thirty years later and and I’m three degrees deep in classical singing.
And do you know what?
I’ve decided that I’m not really interested in singing classically. And I’m good at it. Like really good.
But I’m done.
(It’s been quite a while since I judged folks for not wanting to sing opera, but getting rid of that mental musical hierarchy is a longer journey. I’m getting there, but that bias was baked in over a long time, it’s not going away over night.)
It was never what I really wanted. That’s not to say that classical singing isn’t great. It can be beautiful, but it is not particularly interesting to me anymore as an expressive art form (and do NOT get me started on opera plots…can we please stop using misogyny and rape as storylines? Ugh. But that’s a different blog post lol).
Here are essential things that I, and countless others that followed a similar path, was denied:
For example, I believed for too long that there was only one way a voice could sound. Seriously. You could only have one type of vibrato. If it was too fast or too slow or too wobbly to too “bleat-like,” then you were doing something wrong and it was “less than.” It was not an acceptable sound.
One of the things I am noticing now, as I continue to move away from classical singing is that I love interesting vibratos. Give me Nina Simone, give me Stevie Nicks, Anais Mitchell.
I just love how interesting their voices sound. Their voices have such unique character and are so emotive and it wasn’t ok for me to believe that. Their voices don’t follow the “beautiful tone is the most important thing about singing” rule. So I secretly loved this music but it was like a dirty little secret. It wasn’t “real” music. Not like what I was doing (ugh, gross, right?).
There is not just one way to sound. In fact, how fucking boring is that? We want all the sounds, ALL.OF.THEM.
Human expression is so varied, thank the gods, so why shouldn’t our voices reflect that? In fact, our voices are just that: OURS. By saying there’s only one way to sing that’s worthy is, well, bullshit. That’s like saying there’s only one way to look: like the ridiculous air brushed skinny unrealistic pictures of models in magazines. Ummmm…. Yeah no thanks.
Here’s what really kills me about all of this: my story is RIDICULOUSLY COMMON. I can’t tell you how many folks I’ve commiserated with about this. People that at one point in their lives considered stopping singing altogether because the way they want to sing doesn’t line up with the classical academic model.
And you what? Neither does the music that we listen to most in this country. The percentages are asinine. Something like 90% of college music programs are classically based, but classical music is only about 5% of the music that Americans consume.
So not only are we denying countless musicians their unique means of music expression and creating shame for them if they can’t sound that magical “one way”, we’re almost guaranteeing that there won’t be work for them when they graduate.
Do you know what happens next?
We’re denied our means of expression. We’re then shamed into believing that one type of singing is the only acceptable type, and that if we want to diversify our vocal talents then we’re going to damage our voices. We’re then judging and shaming ourselves after we graduate for not being “good enough” to make a living.
And you know what? I’m fucking done. In my studio, your voice is sacred. How you want to express yourself is sacred. What YOU want your voice to sound like is sacred.
I refuse to perpetuate a racist system (and yes, it is racist, and sexist) that glorifies the music by mostly dead, mostly white, mostly European, and almost all men. (And did I mention how rape-y so many of the classic opera plots are? I just can’t. Be more interesting.)
Diversity is the spice of life. We all have something special and unique to offer. ALL.OF.US. The sounds you make are unique because you are the only one that can make them. When someone tells you that you can’t sing, then you mentally (or out loud, no judgment here) tell them to fuck right off.
Some of the most expressive and moving singers I listen to do not have beautiful voices but boy-howdy do they make me feel something. And honestly, if music doesn’t make me feel something then I’m just not interested.
So do you know what this 46 year old recovering classical singer is doing now?
Singing whatever the fuck I want.
I just had a group karaoke night with my Feet First Vocal Program classes and I opened the night by singing Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. Was it amazing?
Fuck yeah it was.
Everyone can SING. Empowering singers. Mentoring teachers.