I was listening to my dear friend/teacher Nicholas Perna’s podcast Vocal Fri the other day, and there was a discussion on Functional Voice Training Vs. Task Based Voice Training. Which I’m going to interpret, for these purposes, as:
Building Skills Versus Cramming
That’s not entirely how it was intended in the podcast; for example, they talked about developing overall technical skills versus finding the quick and dirty way to hit a specific note in a specific style.
The former involves building blocks and developing an understanding of how your voice works so that you can call upon it to produce consistent results whenever you need it. It involves practice, self-examination, and the stuff that isn’t always that much fun.
The latter is instant gratification. Give me the tools, give me the song, gimme gimme that thing called…
One of the reasons I left my church job was because the director didn’t work with us on building repertoire and the skills required for that repertoire. Instead, we crammed.
(The ultimate reason was that they refused to comply with my medical accommodation but that’s another story.)
- We crammed for Sunday Mass, sometimes not knowing what we were singing till that morning.
- We crammed for Lessons & Carols 2022, getting the music only ten days in advance and having to add extra rehearsals to … you guessed it …. CRAM it into our voices.
- The choir sang on a concert this past March 31 for which they were given the music on March 23. And that music was also our Holy Week 2023 repertoire. We had no idea what we were singing for Holy Week – which began on April 2 – until then.
CRAM CRAM CRAM
I can’t work like that. I want to work on repertoire for a performance in a slow, steady manner, where I master the piece and get it into my voice, into my bones, so that I know how it’s going to go. And I know how the conductor is going to interpret it, where their cutoffs are going to be, what the tempo is going to be, because we’ve worked it together. And as a section leader, I know that I am making music with my volunteer colleagues, not dragging them along for the ride and hoping they keep up.
(And yes, it’s a performance even in church because you are presenting it to the congregation in a performance setting. They are listening and you are singing. There’s a difference between performing and being performative, which I’ll talk about another time.)
As a performer I don’t want to cram.
And as a teacher, I don’t like having my students cram by having to “teach to the test” or to the task/audition/event. (At least not all the time.)
I’ve talked about this recently, in the blogpost Blaze a Trail from February 2022.
I find that some of my students haven’t wanted to put in the steady work – they wanted the quick fix, the flashy song that will get them the role, the spot in the dream school, the applause, and the accolades.
We all want that. We want to succeed, to be appreciated, to advance.
But if you don’t have the tools, you’re just cramming to make it work long enough to get ‘er done and then you have to cram again to get something else done.
You aren’t building skills.
Functional Voice Training requires you to be in it for the long haul. As Dr. Perna says, it “only works if your students practice.”
He also said, “Your students have to want to change If they don’t, you’re just going to bang your head against the wall.”
Which reminds me of this Mark Twain quote:
I will add that if they don’t want to change, rather than telling you they don’t want to change or what it is they actually do want, they might just … leave. Suddenly and unexpectedly. And that is surprising and sometimes painful.
(Not that any of my students – past or present – are pigs, of course. And I saw this saying on a mug in the home studio of my Peabody teacher, Marianna Busching – and was chagrined to find out from her that I was the one who gave it to her – I don’t remember that at all!)
My expectations are that my students want to get better over time. That they want to conquer their vocal demons so that they can be consistent and be able to know what’s going to come out and how they need to approach new pieces without having to reinvent the wheel every time.
They have to learn to strengthen their registers, both high and low.
They have to find the balance in their breath, their alignment, their articulation, their phonation, and their resonance (and not every style requires those to be approached the same way, I know this).
And those things take effort. There are quick fixes that you can use from time to time, but first you need to