Episode 122 – The Crumbling Walls

East is East and West is West – so went the Kipling poem and opposing voice teacher camps.

But now the walls between educators are crumbling as science and knowledge are creating a common language and understanding.

In this episode, John discusses the bridges between the classical and contemporary voice teachers and why it’s a great time to be a singer.

Episode Transcript

Episode 122 – The Crumbling Walls

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. All right. The first day of October and this is going to be a crazy month for me. I now have all the corrections back for my upcoming book, Voice Teacher Influencer. I’m incorporating those, sending it back to the editor for one more round, and then off to be formatted, cover art, et cetera. I’m really pushing to have this book out by the end of the month, as well as my new belting course that I’ve tentatively titled Boldly Belting. And I’m composing original songs for that, that are going to utilize certain words and vowel sounds to help registrate the voice and to help you find that really strong, safe belt sound. And that I am pushing to have out by the end of this month. So October is going to be a very, very busy month for me, but I love it.

But I really look forward to getting both of those out into the world and into your hands. All right. I am freshly back from the International Voice Teachers of Mix conference, and besides the fact that my head is just swimming with all kinds of information, I am just so excited and happy to see the walls between voice teacher camps crumbling. At this conference we had people presenting from the commercial music side, specialists in Broadway music, as well as classical music and voice researchers, voice science. And it really is science and knowledge that is leading the way to breaking down the resistance that voice teacher camps have had to each other. Historically you’ve had the academic/classical voice teachers. They tend to be able to work with students long term. They work with classical music and they tended to be more studied up, if you will, because of their degrees.

And then you had the commercial teachers who tended to come up through the streets, a lot of performance experience themselves. And they worked in the world where you had to get really fast results. You’re working with people who you had to fix issues very quickly. You weren’t usually getting the voices for long periods of time. You had to get people ready for auditions, performances, recording sessions, et cetera. And on that side, they learn to work really, really fast. And they found ways to analyze and correct the voice quickly. And within that you had the commercial teachers looking at the academics and thinking, well, they’re a little elitist. And you had the academics looking at the commercial teachers and thinking, yeah, and they’re a little full of crap.

And both I think are true. You have the commercial teachers who may be getting results, but the reasons that they would come up with why their methods would work were, in the light of voice science, some of them nonsense. It’s not that it didn’t work, it’s just the reasonings weren’t correct. And then it would be further compounded by going out and teaching these reasonings or this is how the voice functions and that would lead to problems. And as we get voice science and we see how the voice is working there on the other side, I am seeing the academics embrace commercial singing. Even if they don’t teach it, they’re embracing belting, which years ago, many of them would tell you would ruin your voice, especially for women. They’re embracing that and they’re even embracing extreme styles, distortion, screaming because science is showing us that these can be done in a healthy manner.

One of the beautiful things that I am seeing is, especially on the commercial side, is the timely demise of the guru model. And it would be years ago you’d find a successful teacher, how are you doing this? What are you doing? This is really how you learn to teach commercial music. Because so much of the literature and the research and everything was focused on classical singing. So those of us who wanted to teach commercial music and pop, jazz, Broadway, rock, we were forced to apprentice. And you would get very good and successful teachers and you would apprentice under them. But then it started a model of, you would get the voice guru and then all knowledge would filter through this teacher and all truth would filter through this teacher. And that became extremely problematic because one person, and I don’t care who this person, is going to be wrong on certain issues.

And I’ve seen it on the other side. If you’re really good in one area, it’s a fallacy of logic, but people will do it. You start to believe that you are good in other areas. And I have seen very, very good teachers start to believe that they are experts in voice function and voice science as it was back then. It’s nowhere near as advanced as it is now. But again, you had to adapt these ideas of voice science to commercial teaching and they would just make proclamations and believe them to be true because they were getting good results. So therefore everything they were saying must therefore be true. And then they would teach that to their disciples. And if their disciples got outside information and questioned it, there would be repercussions. And on the other side, I’ve seen knowledgeable voice researchers decide because they know more, they must therefore be the best teacher and start to create methods based around their science knowledge.

The guru model, again, the problem I have is it all comes through one person and the more it becomes through one person and there are followers, the more flawed that logic can become. And the more mistakes there can be. And I’ve noticed in these organizations– I think that word cult is thrown around far too much and it’s used far too readily. Although of course there are cults, extremely dangerous ones like Jim Jones and Jonestown. But cults’ methods, the methods of cults, do find their way into more benign organizations. And one of the things is favor being withheld from the guru and ultimately you being shunned by your peers within that group.

If you leave the group, and even though there’s less and less of this within these groups, people you thought were your friends will suddenly not be your friends and there will be intense pressure in order to stay within the group. And as a student of one of these teachers, you may hear things like, if you go to study with someone else, you’re going to be told that no, what they’re doing is wrong. They have this wrong technique. There’s so much of this labeling back and forth of being wrong within those structures. But what, again, is wonderful is those are starting to go away and the ones that still remain are being forced to be more and more open because of the free exchange of knowledge. That is what is so beautiful. If you look at some of these cults, true cults and you get into religious cults, one of the most damaging things that is happening to them is the free exchange of information.

And some of these cults resisted like crazy. I mean they would try and sue people and copyright their materials, but in the light of day, it all begins to wither. And what I love in voice is now teachers on all sides are really starting to look for common terminology. What we had before is you’d have these camps break off and even more so on the commercial music side, you start to get into the guru model. They start to create their own terminology and this just creates confusion. It leads you to believe they’ve discovered something brand new about the voice. But very often it is an older idea, an older concept that has just been relabeled. And then we’re arguing about the labels and so starts the confusion and the mess. So my recommendation for any of you, whether you’re teaching or if you’re a student, is to just always stay open.

No matter who you are working with, they are going to have limitations. And the most beautiful phrase that I heard more than one time at this IVTOM conference was, “I don’t know.” Voice teachers are more and more feeling empowered to say they don’t know. And I have been in situations where I’ve watched voice teachers be asked a question and they don’t know, but they make up a nonsense answer because they’re in a position of authority and they’re afraid to just say, I don’t know, and that’s the beauty. There’s so much we don’t know. So realize that whoever you’re working with, studying under, there are gaps in the knowledge. 

And in that area you have teachers whose voice science knowledge is really shaky. They have little to no– or they think they have voice science knowledge, which actually doesn’t make sense. However, what they’re doing is working, and that has to be looked at and really respected. So it’s this combination of building knowledge and then looking at things and saying it’s working. That’s why I love that more and more people, it’s still biased towards classical singing, but more of the research– they’re open to the more extreme sounds of intense belting and vocal distortion because they are seeing singers do this. They used to write it off as, no, as damaging and then they would write it off as, okay, well that’s just an outlier. That’s a voice that can take this abuse. And now there are actually a lot of voices that can do this and do it successfully and they’re not causing damage to their voice.

So the question is, what is going on? What are their methods? Why do these methods seem to work? The anecdotal evidence is there and so we can apply the focus of science to it. And what I love about science is it’s always questioning itself. And science is always being improved. Scientific method is not perfect, especially in voice research. There are things that we’re trying to find out that are very, very invasive, like sticking electrodes into the larynx, which apparently is really, really painful and the sample sizes are really small and there’s not a ton of funding there. But the knowledge keeps moving forward, and what is so beautiful, is now more and more teachers from all different sides are working towards a common goal. The academics are embracing what the commercial teachers are doing and the commercial teachers are embracing the research and study and knowledge that the academics have.

And I’m just so happy and I’m so grateful. This is a fantastic time to be a singer. You have so much available to you. And with this podcast, my main goal when I started this is I just want to provide a filter as best I can, obviously, I myself, we’re all flawed but to my best ability, I want to just give you a filter with which to look at information as it’s all thrown out there and just kind of discern what makes sense, what works for you, and then you can begin to apply it to your own singing. I’m so excited about the explosion of knowledge. 

I find that scientific consensus for me is the best way to understand our physical world, and it’s not perfect, and scientific consensus will move and there will be outliers outside of consensus. But consensus really is a really good filter, and in voice science right now, there’s discussions about how to label resonances and formants, which I’ve talked about before and the definitions of that. But people are working this out. And so just keep embracing this, keep learning, keep practicing. Always be asking questions. Always look outside of whoever you’re studying with. I have people who are members of my Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy and under no circumstances do I ever say this is all the knowledge that there is or you only follow this method. It is a breakdown of what I have found helpful. What I find works in a systematic method that I’ve put together, but it’s all just taken from the knowledge that’s available to everyone. So just keep partaking, keep what works, and keep on singing.

Hey, if you want to know more about me, visit my website, johnhenny.com. I’ve got courses there for singers and voice teachers. My most popular one is The New Science of Singing. It’s the 2.0 version is out now. So if you go to my website and click on courses up in the menu, you can find out about that. And I also have a free course on straw warmups, and I will tell you, there are so many reasons why the straw works and the science on that is just absolutely phenomenal and I highly, highly recommend vocalizing with the straw. And I’ve still got my Secrets of Belting course on there. It’s a little– a shorter course. It’s only $17. So you can understand how singing works, how belting works. I’m probably going to take that down when my bigger belt course opens up. So if you want to go ahead and grab that, it’s still there for the time being under the courses. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye. Bye.