The world of voice teaching has often been fractured, with various camps, methods, and disciplines, keeping a sense of distance from each other.
In recent years, a new crop of teacher has emerged who is embracing different styles and methods, as well as working closely with science and medicine.
In this episode, John discusses these changes in approach and attitude and why the future of teaching looks very bright indeed.
Episode 99 – The Future Looks Bright
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. Just a little bit of housekeeping here. I wanted to let you know my book Teaching Contemporary Singing is currently available on Kindle for just 99-cents. If you go to the show links for this episode, johnhenny.com/99, I will have a link for the book as well as the other things I mentioned in this episode, or you can just go to Amazon and search John Henny and you should find my book. But you can grab that book for 99-cents. I primarily wrote it for those who want to learn to teach contemporary singing, just getting started teaching or maybe you’ve been teaching more classically-based and want to start expanding your teaching studio. But I’ve also heard from singers that they found it very helpful in understanding their voice.
So for 99-cents. You can’t even get a cup of coffee for that. So you can go check out my book. Also, my Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy is open for enrollment, and I’ve added a new level, which is CVTA Elite, and that’s where I will take lesson submissions and critique lessons. I will even work with your student as you observe for no extra cost. And as well as, offering coaching to grow your teaching business. And as of right now, as I’m recording this, I’m offering this new level at no additional cost to my Academy. It’s kind of something I’m trying out. I want to gauge the interest and I’m just offering it to everyone who’s currently in the Voice Teacher Academy. At some point, if this does prove to be popular, I’m going to have to charge more for this level because it takes more of my time. But for now there is no additional cost. If you sign up now, you will never pay extra for this level. You can just go to johnhenny.com and up in the menu, just click on teacher training and you can get all the information there.
All right. I want to talk about voice teaching and kind of the current state of voice teaching. I was really honored and blessed to be able to present at the Osborn Head and Neck Institute Vocal Masterclass this past weekend. And this was put on by Dr. Reena Gupta, who I recently had on the podcast and an amazing voice teacher out of Salt Lake City, Mindy Pack. And it’s been a little while since I’ve traveled and taught at a voice convention, and I’ve never done a voice conference that was put on by a voice doctor.
It’s usually other voice teachers who do these. So it was very interesting to see a medical professional put on an event for teachers, professional voice users and singers and just the type of speaker that Dr. Gupta would attract and would want to speak at her event. And this event supports the Osborne Head and Neck Institute’s charities where they go and they serve underprivileged populations around the world with elite medical care at no cost, both abroad and in the US. It’s just incredible work that they’re doing. So everybody was very happy to chip in, and Dr. Gupta was able to get some amazing speakers because of the level of work that she and Osborne Head and Neck Institute are doing. But going back, just a bit of my personal history with voice teaching and how I viewed voice teaching.
And so of course, this is all through my own lens with my own biases and my own experience, but I don’t think my experience is completely and totally unique. When I came into this voice teaching game 30 years ago– I don’t even want to say that. Anyway, when I was really getting into this and getting serious and beginning to do a lot of teaching, there really was a divide amongst voice teachers. And for many years, elite voice teaching had really been the domain of the universities, and more specifically classical music, and that is considered the place for elite singing, or at least it was. And I absolutely love classical singing and I love opera. But you know, in my bones I grew up on rock and roll and pop music and growing up in the 70s and, man, if I only realized it then, but you would turn on the radio and on top 40 radio you would hear Joni Mitchell, then James Taylor, then Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin. You would hear The Who. All of these people were having a massive hits on pop radio and stylistically the music was really diverse and a lot of the rock music I grew up on, I mean, that was just really in my bones. The Beatles, etcetera.
So I just love contemporary singing and I really wanted to work with contemporary singers. That was my background. But the whole contemporary singing game was– very often, it’s either people who had been trained classically and now were beginning to teach and work in contemporary, or there were those who kind of figured it out in their own voices and bounced around and then opened up their own teaching studios. And there was definitely this divide, and I kind of fell into that mindset of us versus them and the othering of different groups that we do. And something that just happens on social media, just horribly, where we find likeminded people who have– share our opinions and our passions and our ideals and that’s all very well and good. But then we start looking at those who don’t share those same values. And rather than trying to find a way to reach out or understand, you start to push aside, even demonize those people.
And then we start posturing for each other. Like how much can we slam the other side? And in the environment I was in, there was some of that going on. I will have to admit, I never really gained a full taste for it. I can’t say I was completely innocent, but it never felt good and it never felt right. And, some of it, the research that would go on in the scientific research was more along the lines of classical music and they would study classical singers. And so very often the science wasn’t completely relevant to us. And then you’re studying under people who are really gifted and have great ears and great insights and getting great results for singers but they didn’t really understand the science.
So there was this almost anti intellectual bent that would occur, that I didn’t really like either. And this dismissing of science that you often see in fringe groups and fringe thought and then you start mixing in celebrity. You know, celebrity is a funny thing. I was just a watching TV recently and George Clooney was doing an ad for some type of coffee maker, and George Clooney is a very good looking man, and I certainly liked Oceans 11, but what does George Clooney know about coffee? How does he have any expertise? Why would I buy a coffee maker because George Clooney uses it? But that is the power of celebrity. Now when you start getting into those who work with celebrities, hairdressers, doctors, personal trainers, and voice teachers, there’s this instant connection of ‘these people must be the absolute best because they are connected to celebrities and celebrities can get the best of anything.’
And you start to associate the celebrity, or at least the teacher would want you to associate the celebrity and they’re supposed teaching skills. And celebrity is so powerful that it just becomes the calling card. You don’t need to have degrees. You don’t need to have affiliations. All you need to do is say, I teach so-and-so. And that creates an instant reputation. And I was certainly around that within Los Angeles. And I’ve taught some celebrities myself, although nowhere near the amount that other teachers have done. But I began to see within that, that the celebrity voice teachers weren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable teachers that I had ever met. They all had a certain baseline level of skill. You have to. You can’t fake it forever. But in some ways the skills weren’t world-class, I would say.
But their networking skills and their ability to be comfortable around celebrity and establish this sense of authority while still acknowledging the celebrity’s status is a delicate dance and they’re very good at it. But I also found a lot of ego and narcissism as well as these little kingdoms that become defined where these voice teachers can proclaim something to be true just by them speaking it. And you start to hear just absolute nonsense in terms of not just science, but I’ve even seen well-known celebrity teachers flat out lie about things that they’ve done, that they’ve accomplished, maybe even fudged a little bit who they’ve worked with. It’s rather mind boggling, and it’s something I just started to develop a real distaste for, the culture, and kind of remove myself from it and just really found more of my passion in content creation, and just education on a wider level, and creating things like this podcast or online products, et cetera, for people rather than trying to play that game.
And so it was within these little divides of the little camps of celebrity teachers, or vocal gurus, or science on some other end and classical teaching on another end. And I went to this event and what I saw was teachers coming from all different disciplines and different sides, but really open to learning, which I know has been out there, but I’m seeing it on a higher level. And what was really, really heartening for me and just really pleased me was there were some celebrity voice teachers there. Rob Stevenson, Joshua Alamu and Mindy Pack. And between them, I mean, they’ve been coaches on major TV shows, competition shows and work with people like Justin Timberlake and Dave Matthews and Pharrell, it’s really wild. But what they all share in common is they’re not in Los Angeles. They’re in London, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.
And the other thing that I’m finding amazing is that they haven’t formed these little, I won’t say cults, but these little guru things around themselves and they haven’t formed themselves as an island, where they’re all knowledgeable because of their celebrity teaching. And they don’t lead with name dropping. I mean, in Los Angeles, in those circles, sometimes the name dropping just becomes nauseating and the fight over who’s got what celebrity. I mean, I won’t go into it more, but it’s just, it can be a little achy. Not everybody. I’m sorry if I sound like I’m painting with a broad brush, but there are some where they’re just there. Let me go back to the positive. It’s not about dropping the names, and it really is about reaching out and learning from others and expanding their knowledge.
And one of the things that just blew my mind– Mindy Pack is one of the teachers who helped organize the conference. And Mindy is working really, really closely with people like Dr. Ingo Titze. Now a lot of times these celebrity teachers, they’re not really steeped in vocal science because they have ways of looking at the voice and they don’t want things like facts intruding upon that and their proclamations. And I’ve seen teachers teach well, but then the reasons for why something worked don’t really stand up. But Mindy’s actually undergone the vocology course, which is just an intense scientific course. And then she works really closely with Dr. Gupta and they were going through– this was just quite amazing to me– I’m going through recordings of singers and all of the videos that Dr. Gupta has of all these patients and listening to the sound characteristics of a vocal polyp versus a vocal nodule versus a cyst and how these sound and creating a library of how to diagnose the voice by sound.
Now, I know about listening to the voice in hearing, okay, there’s something going on there. You need to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor. But the idea of hearing a cyst versus a polyp is just remarkable. I mean, this is next level stuff that’s going on. And then, Mindy was on tour with a major artist and she decided she wanted– she actually asked Dr. Titze, Hey, is there a program that I could enter his entire set in that would calculate how many collisions per night? How many times this client’s vocal folds are coming together, opening and closing? And there is no such software. So Mindy actually sat– broke down the set, got the sheet music for every song, calculated the frequency of each pitch. So if the person’s singing an A440, the vocal folds are going to open and close 440 times a second, then timed how long each note was held, and over two months did the hard math to compile these figures to figure out that this artist is– the artist’s vocal folds are opening and closing approximately two and a half million times per evening.
And that’s not counting patter between songs, et cetera, talking during the day. Just purely in song. And while that number is very interesting, what I find is just the mindset to want to figure that out, to want to learn it, to want to know. And I’m seeing this next generation of teachers, and I can say that because I’m watching teachers come up that I taught on some level become major, major voice teachers, with major clients. And it’s starting to be a different world where there is an openness and they’re bridging the gaps between voice therapy. I mean, they’re learning laryngeal massage. They’re becoming speech language pathologists on top of their voice teaching. They’re taking vocology courses. They’re working more deeply with ear, nose and throat doctors than I’ve ever seen before. They’re using celebrity not as a way to grow their name and to give them bragging rights and to be able to when the name drop game at some teacher function, but rather as a way to help these really important voices continue to tour and continue to record and continue to keep all of these people that are involved with a tour employed.
And it really is, I’m seeing people use their powers really for good. It’s not about glorifying the self as much as it used to be, and I see the walls starting to break down. And I see classical teachers, and again, I come from this contemporary place, but at this conference, there were classical teachers there sitting in when I’m talking about how to teach high intense belt, especially in the female voice, which is a very different approach than classical. And they’re really interested and they want to learn. And then I see contemporary voice teachers really understanding what classical teachers are showing and classical teachers learning how to scream. And people looking into that. I was told, don’t scream, you can’t scream. It’s unhealthy.
You’ll ruin your voice. And those who are screaming are just an accident waiting to happen. And yet Paul McCartney could still scream and Dave Grohl and all of these people, and I knew in my heart this wasn’t right. And now you have people in the classical community and voice researchers looking at screaming, looking at belting, and there is an openness now and a shift that just really, really warms my heart. And I have to tell you, this is a great time to be a singer and it’s a great time to be a voice teacher and it really is exemplified. And if you go to the show notes, I’ll give you links to their website. But I’m with Rob and Joshua and Mindy and ear, nose and throat doctors like Reena Gupta who don’t just look at– ‘the voice teachers over there, and I will give them my diagnosis and my suggestions.’ But really getting in and understanding voice science and acoustic science.
Ear, nose and throat doctors don’t study formants and harmonics, but Dr. Gupta does. And working very, very closely with people like Rob and Mindy and then forming networks with other doctors so that singers in a greater geographical sphere can have access to care from dedicated laryngologists who really work and focus on the professional voice user. I really walked away from the conference feeling so good about what’s happening in my industry. And even though I will still occasionally go on the voice teacher boards and see the brawls occurring and the arguments, I think they’re getting less and less. And I think the arrogance is dropping, and I’m hoping that this horrible othering of those who don’t agree with us and the arrogance and the promotion of self is something that’s going to fade with teachers of my generation.
I’m seeing some good things with, sorry, great things with the next generation of teachers. So I’m just really excited about what’s happening with the voice. There’s so much good information out there. I think that the science and sometimes the gobbledygook that we voice teachers come up with to explain sensation and the singer psyche, there’s starting to be a marriage. There’s starting to be a search for terms that will work in terms of what’s useful, what the singer experiences, but also what’s true. And we’re getting closer and closer to that goal. So, I’m just here, I’m just basking in the good vibes and really happy about teaching and singing right now.
Hey, if you want more information about me, you can always go to johnhenny.com. You can get past podcast episodes, and speaking of this podcast, please subscribe. And if you find the podcast helpful, please share it. Please leave a review on iTunes or wherever you, listen. I really, really appreciate you helping spread the word. You can also get information on my different courses. I do have my free straw warmups course you can get there. Just click on courses in the menu. And you can also check out my Secrets of Belting, that little mini course is currently available for just $17. And again, my book is 99-cents. Hey, thank you so much for listening. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.