Does Learning Have an Age Limit?

Join Patricia Caicedo for the CS Music Online Masterclass on Friday, September 25: Spanish Diction.

I can say from my own experience that my voice and the voice of many singers I know got better after 40. From that age on, the voice, the body, and the technique are mature. Moreover, we have much more life experience that we can bring to the performances—experience that allows us to relate with the subjects that we sing about; therefore we communicate much better with the audience. We are also much more confident, and this confidence reflects in our performances. The voice and the experience of singing only get better.

Knowing this, I wonder why the singing world continues to work under the structure of Young Artist Programs, auditions, and summer programs oriented only towards people younger than 28. It is absurd!

I created the Barcelona Festival of Song (BFOS), a summer program dedicated to studying the Latin American and Iberian art song repertoire in Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan. The BFOS has no age limit because I firmly believe we are continually learning, during all our lives. I think we singers and artists in general who are curious and creative need to express our creativity in many ways throughout our lives.

On top of that, life expectancy is now longer than ever. We will probably live to be 100 years old, and knowing that, I wonder if we are planning to stop learning and developing new skills and repertoires at 30. Of course not!

I think the paradigm that supports this structure is the same one that trains classical singers mainly to sing opera and always the same repertoire. This mentality only contemplates the economic survival of one type of singer—the one that sings in opera theaters. Music education institutions don’t show prospective professional singers all the options they have that are beautiful and the many ways a classical singer can contribute to society that are equally rewarding to singing at opera theaters. You can be a church singer, a voice teacher, a recitalist, an entrepreneur singer that develops his/her own repertoire, and develops his/her audiences, etc.  Following those alternative paths is a lifelong journey and is exciting.

Talking specifically about summer programs, during the 15 years of existence of BFOS, we have received students ranging from 19 to 71 years old. Every year we receive up to 20 professional singers.  For each singer, we design a unique repertoire according to his/her type of voice and level of development. It is beautiful to see how this transgenerational experience creates a supportive environment, learning from each other, at any age, not competing.

Each singer, regarding his/her age, confronts different challenges. Each singer has a unique instrument and unique goals.  Many of the older singers who participate are voice teachers, and they want to learn new repertoire to teach and enrich their students, but they also want to sing new music.

Working with singers of all ages during the past 15 years at BFOS has been incredibly enriching to me. I only hope there will be more places where singers can express their talents and their thirst for knowledge regardless of their age.  What do you think about it?

Patricia Caicedo

One of the most celebrated performers and researchers of the Iberian and Latin American art song repertoire, Patricia Caicedo, has performed around the world, recorded 10 CDs dedicated to the art song in Spanish, Catalan, and Portuguese and published nine books considered a reference in the area. She often visits universities and conservatories as a guest artist and teacher. Patricia is the founder and director of the Barcelona Festival of Song. She holds a Ph.D. in musicology from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and an M.D. from the Escuela Colombiana de Medicina.