A singer colleague of mine posted on Facebook a link to a recent NY Times article about pop music singers (eg, Adele) and their voice disorders and treatments. This post prompted others, presumably trained singers, to write comments that alluded to the fault of using bad technique as attributable to the pop musicians' vocal problems. This argument always makes me cringe a little. As a classically trained singer who received good, fundamental instruction in the technique of singing from some very fine vocal pedagogues, and yet suffered an inexplicable, devastating, and still inadequately diagnosed, vocal problem at a time when I should have been at the peak of my career, I have a problem with people who discredit singers suffering from voice disorders simply because of "bad technique". Not only does it engender the us-vs-them mindset when applied by classical music singers to singers of non-classical music, but it is also just plain shortsighted. And hurtful.
Of course, all of this has been ushered to current media headlines because of Adele and her cancellation of a great many concerts in North America. Reading one of Adele's blog entries about this issue sheds insight into just how painful this is for an artist. As McKinley points out in his NY Times piece, pop and country music singers are under intense pressure to commit to brutal touring and performance schedules, pressure applied not only by their managers and others in the industry who want to make lots of money, but also from a place that is inherently more altruistic: loyalty to their fans and the desire to give punters what they, as paying customers AND appreciators of the artistry, want and deserve.
By the way, Adele is a trained singer. She was schoolmates with Leona Lewis at The BRIT School, a performing arts school for secondary school-age students that has graduated a host of UK performing artists, including the late, wonderfully talented Amy Winehouse. I would venture to guess that Adele's current vocal problems are not solely, if at all, related to technique issues. She is a singer-songwriter of breathtaking talent, and at such an early age it is simply unfair to label her as a bad singer, as many who have posted comments to an online professional forum within the classical music industry have done.
McKinley quotes a number of voice disorder professionals who report that the issue today isn't that there are more singers suffering from voice problems, it's that singers are more comfortable knowing that they can likely ward off a potential future of no singing by taking advantage of current treatments and better medical technology to get the disorder and/or damage under control. This will also allow for sufficient rest and recovery, albeit under less than ideal circumstances, before the brutal schedule begins again.
The lesson that needs to be learned from Adele's unfortunate illness is not only that (in some cases) singers should keep proper singing technique in mind--and that includes warm-ups, recovery periods and rest, as well as the "how-to" of vocal production--but that the managers and music industry professionals who push these artists beyond what is reasonable should understand that singing is an inherently athletic endeavor, and the body needs adequate rest and recovery after a performance. Good athletic coaches would never demand of sports athletes what most pop and country music industry managers and producers require of their singers.
(Photo by 50 Watts, licensed under Creative Commons.)
I just hung up the phone from chatting with my dad. He is in hospital again. Thankfully, the prognosis is good, as all tests have come back clear. This is another (and hopefully final) hurdle to jump, post-treatment. His spirits are good, and I have to say that if I can sound anywhere nearly as kind, happy and youthful as he does when I am a septuagenarian, I will be content. What he has been through over the past couple of years is enough to make anyone sound weary, but he doesn't. His stamina and dogged will to overcome some scary medical adversity make me sincerely ashamed of my recent kvetching. I owe it to him to stay strong.
Today's delivery of another rejection email in my inbox brings me to the conclusion that THIS FUCKING BLOWS! So instead of using my fingers to mix up some Molotovs to hurl through a number of HR office windows, I'll put them to work on my Mac keyboard. Less rewarding? Maybe, but certainly much more civilized. Besides, I hate the smell of gasoline.
It is times like this that I feel my decision to move to Australia was ill-chosen. I know the preceding statement will be greeted with difficulty by a few who read this (and, perhaps, with substantial offense), but all I can say in response is, 1) in no way do I say it to undermine or deemphasize the intense and numerous joys that my life in Australia has brought me, 2) there are probably a number of other decisions I have made that were chosen without adequate consideration of the consequences, and 3) please, for the sake of therapy, just let me speak.
Flashback to 1981. A goofy, affable, hard-working and somewhat talented high-school student from a lower middle-class background exits 16th out of a graduating class of 483 from his rural Arkansas secondary school. He is told this is good, but he doesn't care. All he knows is school, drama, band and choir were his welcomed escape from the stifling existence of working in his dad's shop and being made to feel inferior for a variety of reasons. Determined to be an actor and possessing the grades and talent to attend a number of reputable tertiary institutions outside of his home state, he is dissuaded from the goal of attending one of these well-placed schools by family members who feel threatened by the thought of leaving home. Upon receiving the offer of a full scholarship to attend the flagship state university in his hometown, he decided to accept. (Hold the confetti, because in 1981, such a scholarship would cost this school about $1500 per year for an instate resident, but to him that was still a lot of money.) With confusing sadness, he carefully stacked the many brochures and catalogues from exotic places like Boston Conservatory or University of Maryland in the fake, plastic Wal-Mart steamer trunk that housed many other representatives of his early dreams and aspirations, relics which, along with many of his family's other prized possesions, such as discarded clothing, broken lawn mowers and animal husbandry textbooks from his father's ill-fated attempt at university, ended up being stored in a derelict structure known as the "chicken house" at the rear of his grandfather's property. In a few years, these items would perish when the building collapsed and eventually, after both grandparents passed on, razed to make way for further development of the land after it was sold. The scholarship offered, however, was not to study acting. It was to study voice, an instrument he came to late in his high school years, and with which he was still uncomfortable. After many years of being derided for a lack of singing talent by his older sister who, with hate in her voice and a belt in her hand, would often loudly proclaim (when Mom and Dad were busy working in the shop and it was only the two of them in the house), "You can't sing! You play clarinet and I sing in choir, so stick with what you know!" Receiving no real guidance from school counselors or his parents, other than the admonition not to stray from the backyard, and being brought up only to feel that he should take orders, follow rules, be seen and not heard (if that), and never engage in critical thought, he accepted the scholarship because his private voice teacher during his senior year had arranged the audition and thought it best for him. Sadly, no one asked him what he wanted to do.
Thirty years later, I realize that those early underpinnings of adulthood have not held me in good stead for the ability to make decisions in later life. In fact, I do not think I was ever given the tools to make decisions. Throughout my childhood, everything was either black or white, cut and dried. There were rules to be followed. There was no middle ground. Questioning the theory behind rules or a the philosophy that fueled a mindset led to disastrous results. When you are brought up being told what to do with no explanation, and when you are shut down or penalized for diplaying an inquisitive nature, it makes sense that you would defer to anyone who might show some guidance. After many years of this, I am left bitter, sad and without much hope. Mostly, however, I am just scared. I am broke. I have no career. I am growing older at an alarming rate. I feel voiceless.
Let me now add that I have had a number of wonderful experiences and opportunities in my life. Reading through my CV leads people to amazement. To me, it conjures up loathing and self-doubt, largely because the last decade has seen nothing. But CVs only represent the educational and professional components of a person's life. Thank goodness there have been other life events to counter the inverse proportion in which my career has progressed. I am thankful for Mark, Zane and all of my friends and extended family. They are the ones who have made me who I am today on a very human and personal level. For the past few years, as I have tried to eke out a professional existence in this country far away from whatever I have known as "home", they have held me together. I have fought hard to realize that I am worth this attention. Now, having accepted that realization, it is time to move ahead with my professional life. When I approached 40 and returned to graduate school to get my doctorate, I felt I had finally got a good start on this. Unfortunately, given the meaningless nature of my doctorate in Australia, it opens no doors. It gives no choice. So I must face the fact that I, now approaching 50, must consider something different. People have told me to "think laterally", which I have done. I have looked for things in an allied field. I have applied for a great many positions in this regard. For each, I either near nothing or have received a rejection notice without even garnering an interview. I am now considering life coaching. At 49. Yes, life blows.