The quality of singing is variable, but I enjoy helping clients improve themselves. Every lesson is different – and there are some really fantastic moments
‘Every client is different and a good teacher will adapt what they do to suit the needs of the singer.’ Illustration: Michael DriverOn the whole, my clients are decent, lovely human beings, but they are not all singers.
Sam, for example, comes religiously for an hour a week but rarely sings a note. She hates her voice and she hates singing, preferring instead to talk about her relationship or job. So why does she come? Perhaps it’s the idea of having someone’s undivided attention for an hour, an opportunity to vent or to be the centre of attention; or perhaps just not to be judged. At £35 an hour, perhaps it’s also a form of cheap therapy.
Then there are people like Mark. Mark really cannot sing. His voice is so hidden away up in his neck that I would need a crowbar and some heavy-duty machinery to get it out. His problem is insecurity: the idea that he is worthless or that his opinion is of no consequence. So when he sings, he locks his voice up inside where nobody will ever find it, behind walls of throttled vowels and guttural glottal stops.
In a nutshell, teaching singing is a responsibility, rather than a job I attempt to extract it, and sometimes fool him into effortlessly “tum-te-tuming” a tune I pretend not to know, which he does with the precision of an opera singer and the relaxed ease of a Rat Packer. But usually he sees through my ruse after a few lines, and reverts to the choked maniacal sounds of a hangman’s victim. We keep trying though, not because I take pleasure from the sounds he makes, but because what I do is important – a duty even – to help people try to improve their lives a little bit by singing. And maybe even enjoy themselves in the process.
My favourite case was Elodie. She was, until last year, a “normal” young woman, if you discounted her desire to sing and dance in public. One day something happened (I don’t know what) and she became withdrawn, anxious and irate with the world. Her psychologist and other medical professionals could not figure out what to do to help her and the only time she would be anything approaching her old self was when she was singing with me.
This went on for several months, until one day we attempted a song she had sung many times before but never really nailed. On this occasion the top note in the song, which had been previously unattainable, was loud and clear, and supported by all the relevant technique we had been working on. In that moment, her demons vanished. She reverted to her old self, except that now she gets paid to sing in the local area. For her, singing lessons turn a profit. Some people love teaching singing because they love to help people sing. I love teaching singing for moments like this.
A class should never just follow a set format. Every client is different and a good teacher will adapt what they do to suit the needs of the singer, rather than the other way around. I like to start with a chat and then we do some warm-up exercises, which often turns into working on technique. Then we look at what we started last week which they have (hopefully) been practising. This is the part where we can really get to grips with a song; think about the story, how to tackle harder sections and how to generally make it an interesting performance rather than just a series of words put to music.
I have been teaching singing for more than 20 years now. I started with only two or three regular students as I was working in musical theatre six days a week. Now I have more than 30 clients and a small portfolio of other musical commitments, which I very much enjoy. I earn half the money I used to, but I’m happier with my work, and working at home means I can spend way more time with my son than I otherwise would.I have an incredible amount of choice as to how much, and when, I work. Currently, I do not want to work from Friday morning to Monday evening, so I don’t. I have a good core of regulars and a few that dip in and out, but it does surprise me how many people have the time, money and inclination to show up for a singing lesson every week. Clearly singing is a priority for them.
In a nutshell, teaching singing is a responsibility, rather than a job. If you understand that some of the people you teach are never going to be singers, but just need an hour to relax, disgorge personal information, have someone really listen to them, or even an hour just to feel special, then you have got what it takes to be a singing teacher. Of course, knowing how to sing is helpful too.
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