The Connected Teacher : Teachers and Networking

If you are a singer, do you need a teacher who networks regularly? If you are a teacher, how do you get and stay connected? Five private and university teachers tell CS how they stay connected to the business of singing.

The voice teacher’s primary job is to develop technically proficient singers with polished performing skills. Teachers are also expected to know about voice science and anatomy; vocal repertoire and Fachs; languages and diction; great composers, poets, and librettists, and more. Beyond scientific and historical knowledge, however, today’s teachers also need to be savvy about the “business” of singing and the realities of a classical vocal career.

Does that mean the best voice teachers all have personal clout and “inside connections” in the industry? Not necessarily. Most singers who responded on the Classical Singer Forum agreed: “Unless they can get your voice to professional quality, it doesn’t matter who your teacher knows.”

“Singers pay all this money in the hope that their teacher will pick up the phone and call their buddies at the Met, or wherever,” wrote one singer. “They rarely do that.” Another said, “I’ve talked with other singers who did study with a ‘connected’ teacher, and ‘connected’ was exactly–and only–what they got. Well, that and empty pockets.”

So what’s the difference between “having connections,” and being connected to and informed about the current trends in singing? According to one New York soprano, “My teacher isn’t connected in the sense that he wines and dines with so-and-so. He is connected in the sense that he attends performances, participates in seminars and master classes, and has a lot of students who are out there doing some serious singing.”

There are several ways that teachers can stay connected to the singing world:

Perform

Soprano Leslie M. Holmes, a private teacher in the Boston area, says, “It’s easy to stay connected, because I think of myself as a singer who also teaches.” Dr. Mark Williams, a voice instructor at the University of Nevada-Reno agrees. “Staying active as a performer has given me the most ‘real life’ experience to share with my students.” Dr. Clifton Ware, of the University of Minnesota, believes that all teachers need to perform occasionally in public, “…to practice what we teach in full view of our students–if only to remind ourselves of what it’s like to experience performance stress, anticipatory nervousness, adrenaline, excitement, and the joy of success–or sadness of failure.”

Attend Local Performances

Los Angeles teacher Carole Anne Blum, Director of Euterpe Opera, is committed to “routinely going to performances, staying plugged into the local professional singers’ scene in any way that I can.” Leslie Holmes says, “Being alive to what is going on in your community is being alive to music and many opportunities.” “Guest artists and clinicians regularly visit the campus, and students are encouraged to perform off-campus, as well as in student productions,” says University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor, Dr. Kathryn Proctor-Duax.

Get Out of Town!

Attend performances, workshops, and conferences in other cities. Discount travel resources are readily available on the Internet (www.priceline.com, www.lowestfares.com).

Network in Professional Organizations

“I believe strongly in joining and supporting professional organizations,” says Dr. Ware. “I belong to NATS, NOA, MENC, OA, and several others, and I’m joining MTNA this year as voice rep on the pedagogy committee.” Leslie Holmes is Regional Governor of the New England Region of NATS, and she recently attended her first NOA convention. Dr. Proctor-Duax admits that teachers are “not as connected as we should be. I feel a responsibility to do more than teach students and send them out the door.”

Read Arts Publications

Here are just a few: Opera News, Musical America, Journal of Singing, NOA Opera Journal–and, of course, Classical Singer.

Participate in Online Forums

There are a number of Internet options–for example, the Classical Singer Community (www.classicalsinger.com); VOCALIST (www.vocalist.org); The Singing Voice (www.geocities.com/Vienna /Strasse/2200). Mark Williams, creator of The Singing Voice website, says, “The Internet and my website have enabled me to network with a very diverse group of contacts from all over the world.”

Know About Classical Vocal Stars

“[Outdated information] can often turn out to be wrong for the current situation, if the teacher hasn’t been in that scene for 20 years,” cautions Ms. Blum. “It is the teacher’s responsibility to stay abreast of the current market trends.”

Listening to Recordings

“Listening to recordings and media broadcasts of great performing artists is a compelling way to stay connected. I need to spend more time listening to newer CDs,” admits Dr. Ware.

Network with Music Business Contacts

Leslie Holmes sings many recitals, opera and oratorio in Boston. “Consequently I know the people who book recitals, and the opera directors and conductors of the various choral groups and symphonies. It’s easy for me to direct my more accomplished singers to them.” Ms. Blum adds, “I don’t give out all of my contacts. It’s up to the student to find his or her own ‘power lines.’”

Professional Organizations
for Singing Teachers

• National Association of Teachers of Singing (www.nats.org)

• New York Singing Teachers Association (212/579-2461)

• Opera America (www.operam.org)

• National Opera Association (www.noa.org)

• Music Teachers National Association (www.mtna.org)

• Music Educators National Council (www.menc.org)

• College Music Society (www.vasta.org)

Cynthia Vaughn

Contributing Editor Cynthia Vaughn has had successful private voice studios in Newark, California; Hanover Park, Illinois; Middletown, New York; Arvada, Colorado; and Springboro, Ohio. She is currently a doctoral candidate and Teaching Assistant at the University of Northern Colorado.