World Listening Day – July 18

“Unless I’m willing to be changed by you,
I’m probably not really listening.” — Alan Alda

I went to a singing teachers conference last week and learned more about listening than singing.

One session I attended was called “Children Will Listen” and covered the topic of teaching children between the ages of 5-12, a demographic I don’t usually work with, at least not before the age of 11. That title comes from the song of the same name from Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Into the Woods.

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see
And learn

The point of this session was that children are going to sing anyway, so we might as well know their anatomy and development so that we can help them do it as healthfully and appropriately as we can.

Another session that dealt with listening was “The Curse of Knowledge,” which was about how we forget what it’s like to be a beginner, and sometimes talk over our students’ heads in language and with concepts that they aren’t ready to grasp. I was guilty of that very early in my teaching. Everyone would get all the information I had to give them in the very first lesson. And their heads would explode.

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I think I’m better at it now, but there’s always more information I can take in.

I talked a little about these both in my previous blogpost, I Learned Something Today.

And then, I happened upon a site that told me that next Saturday, July 18, is World Listening Day. I’d heard about World Voice Day before (and I intend for us to celebrate it next year as a studio), but this was new to me. This is a day that was created to honor the birthday of Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who founded a movement called acoustic ecology.

Next Saturday, spend some time doing some active listening.

  • Listen to the sounds of nature when you go on a walk. What do you hear?
  • Listen to music. Not while you’re doing housework, or talking to someone in the house, but just on your own. What do you hear? What instruments? What rhythms? Especially if it’s a live performance, what do you hear besides the music being played? Do you hear people breathing? Coughing? Feet tapping? Chairs creaking?
  • Listen to others. What are they saying? What are you learning from them? Are they listening to you?

Are you really listening or are you just waiting for your turn to speak?

Are you willing to be changed by what you are hearing?

Is your child READY for voice lessons?

Is your child READY for voice lessons?

Originally, I had this as “Is your child ready to sing?” but then my business mentor, the great and powerful Michelle Markwardt Deveaux (although she’s more authentic than the Wizard of Oz), pointed out that all children are ready to sing. Whether they’re ready for lessons is another story.

I don’t usually teach students under 11. This is not because I don’t think they’re old enough – it’s just a personal choice. I prefer working on a regular basis with students 11 and up. But I’ve decided, since a lot of my regular students are on vacation this week and the beginning of next, that I have the time to do some mini-lessons and evaluations for kids who might want to start taking lessons in the next year or so.

So what determines being “ready?” What will I be looking for when I work with kids?

  1. I’m going to look for ability to match pitch. Do they hear the pitch? Can they match pitch? Can they sustain the pitch?
  2. What’s their range like? Can they sing high? Can they sing low? How do they move between the two?
  3. Do they have a sense of pulse? Can they keep a beat? Even if they can’t necessarily read rhythms, can they feel a basic sense of time?
  4. Are they musical? This could involve reading music or playing an instrument, or it could just be an innate ability to feel the music.
  5. What’s the tone like? Is it breathy? Is it pressed or pushed? Is it nasal?
  6. Do they want to be there? Are they willing to try different things?

As far as my evaluation, the only thing that would make me say, “No, your child is not ready to take voice lessons” is if the answer to #6 is “No.” (And I probably wouldn’t say it quite that way.) But if they don’t want to be there, I can jump up and down and spit nickels (I had a middle school teacher who used to say that) and it won’t make any difference.

Of course, sometimes #6 might be impacted by shyness, but I can usually tell the difference between that and complete boredom.

If the answer to #3 is “no,” that may be also a hard thing to overcome, but it can be overcome.

How will this evaluation go? What will be involved?

  • 30 minute lesson, to which the student brings a song they already know (musical theater is preferred, but I’ll be happy with other kinds of age-appropriate music).
    • 10-15 minutes spent on exploring the voice through exercises
    • 15-20 minutes spent on singing the song and working through problem areas, building on things that go well.
  • Within 48 hours of the lesson, I will write up an evaluation addressing #s 1-6 above and send it to the parent.
  • If I don’t have any room in my regular schedule this fall (and I’m pretty close to full), I will be happy to add the student to my wait list for when we’re both ready to go.
  • I will keep in touch to let them know of any upcoming performances my students are doing, both in the studio and outside the studio, and invite them to participate if I have any small group classes or events in which they might be interested.

So that’s it! If you’re interested or know someone who is, please feel free to go ahead and check out the website at www.mezzoid.com for more info about me or take the plunge and sign up for your evaluation here.

Right now, I’m only doing this through August 13. If I feel that there’s a need for it, perhaps it’ll continue into the fall semester. We shall see!

Ready to Sing