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Wholistic or Holistic Voice Lessons?

Should you be taking voice with a holistic voice teacher or a wholistic one? Is there a difference? Is the latter an egregious and somewhat pretentious misspelling of the former (some would think so)? And what the heck is “wholistic/holistic” voice training, anyway?

Definitions differ depending on where you look. According to Merriam-Webster, “wholism” is not wrong. “Holism” is from the Greek “holos,” meaning “whole” (it has nothing to do with “holes.”) “Wholism,” then, is based on the English word, “whole.” It gets very confusing when you consider that the English word originates from another older English word, “hāl,” meaning whole or uninjured.

In both cases, the word is used to describe a course of treatment or philosophy that considers the whole as being greater than the sum of its parts. In the case of medicine, rather than focusing on a person’s symptoms, a holistic practitioner focuses on the cause of the ailment, on the person’s lifestyle, values, and on complementary treatments in addition to medications.

A [w[holistic voice teacher is one who considers the student as an individual and creates a program for them that recognizes who they are now as well as their singing goals, not only those goals at the start of their vocal study, but as they evolve over the course of their study.

A non-wholistic course of study would be an old-fashioned master/apprentice model, where the teacher (master) dictates the student’s (apprentice’s) course of study, including assigning vocal exercises without any explanation of what purpose they serve (lip trills for everyone! Why? Because – lip trills for everyone!), and follows a prescribed format of repertoire (Caro mio ben for everyone!) with no input from the student. There is no room for consultation from any other source – unless the teacher makes that decision.

A [w]holistic course of study would begin with vocal exercises based on sound pedagogy and build upon what the student does well. And use those skills that they do have to strengthen the skills that need strengthening. If the student has already sung that day, they might not need to warm up except to make sure they’re in the right place for whatever they’re going to work on. Maybe they’ll return to a vocalise if something seems off in what they’re working on.

Repertoire needs to be age-appropriate and skill-appropriate. I’m not saying that the teacher shouldn’t choose repertoire. But if we limit ourselves to the standard repertoire, regardless of whether or not that repertoire suits the student, we are giving people the equivalent of vocal brussels sprouts – “I know you don’t really like it, but it’s good for you, and if you finish it all, I’ll let you have some musical theater for dessert. As long as it’s not too belt-y.” (Insert whatever vegetable you find repugnant, if you like brussels sprouts.)

It’s become very trendy these days to emphasize the “Why,” especially in marketing. I guess what I’m saying that what you should be looking for is a teacher who focus on the WHO.

What - How - Why - and WHO
Focus on the WHO

Your teacher should know

  • WHAT you need to accomplish (short- and long-term goals)
  • HOW you’re going to get there (technique)
  • WHY you want to do it (you’re going to have to know that as well – communication)

    AND MOST IMPORTANTLY
  • WHO you are

So yes, you need a holistic teacher who will recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and tailor your vocal study accordingly. And a big part of that is knowing just WHO you are. (Plus I’m also really digging the idea that “whole,” as it applies to Old English, refers to being uninjured.)

Is Wholistic a misspelling of Holistic? Maybe. Or maybe it’s exactly what you’re looking for. Someone who knows who you are now and wants to see just who you turn out to be.

Voice Lessons: Wholistic or Holistic?
A pretentious misspelling or something more?

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Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

What do you think?

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