Teacher vs. Friend

As teachers, we learn that it’s important to have boundaries.  Don’t get too attached to your students, you can’t save everyone, you’re their teacher and not their friend, etc.  I knew from the start that this would be a bit of a challenge for me.  I am a person who cares too much.  Getting attached is what I do, and even though I understand rationally that I can’t save everyone, I still wish that I could.

I also know that I would not be where I am today if my college voice teacher had not gone far beyond what was required of her as my teacher, because she knew I was struggling and wanted to make sure I was ok.  I had a particularly rough patch during my first year of college.  My boyfriend at the time talked to his teacher about it, who shared his concern with my teacher, who summoned me into her office for a serious talk.  She was there for me when I desperately needed some level-headed guidance, and she continued to be there for me during the next four years.

I can’t even count the number of times I went to her office, crying, distraught over some boy who wasn’t treating me well, or friends who weren’t treating me well either.  When I was having relationship problems, she’d shake her head and tell me, “I’m sure glad I’m not young anymore,” and try to help me understand that the boy who kept hurting me was not worth my time.  When I had a falling out with a group of friends, she reminded me that the actions of other people should not determine my self worth.  I was an emotional mess, and she was a rock that kept me grounded and pulled me back when I’d start to get lost again.  She was so much more than just my teacher.  And she is one of several amazing music teachers I had who inspired me to become a teacher myself.

I know that I can’t get that involved with all of my students.  It wouldn’t be appropriate, and it would be emotionally exhausting.  It’s important to maintain that boundary of professionalism, because after all, I am the teacher.  It’s not my place to get involved.  With my younger students, it’s easy to stay in the role of teacher, because they see me as an adult.  It’s a little harder to maintain a professional distance with my older teenagers, because they see me as closer to their age (even though I’m older than I look), and a few of them want to treat me more like a friend than a teacher.  So I build up walls and boundaries and call it professionalism, I try not to care about them too much, because that’s how it has to be.  I am the teacher.

But if there’s one student that just really seems to need someone to talk to, if I can be there for her, then maybe I should.  When this student comes along who is so talented but doesn’t seem to believe it, all I want to do is make her believe in herself a little.  If I might be able to help her become a little less shy and a little more confident before she goes off to college next year, then why shouldn’t I?  I know what it’s like to be that student who just needs a little extra encouragement, and I can only imagine where I’d be if I hadn’t gotten that help when I needed it.  

On the dumbing down of art

I watched The Sound of Music Live on NBC last night.  Well, part of it.  At 10 I had lost interest so I switched over to Scandal…

Every time I see a “mainstream” TV or movie production of a musical, I’m disappointed.  Every time a celebrity is cast in a leading role that they lack the skills to perform, and “real musicians” of the world can’t stop talking about how awful the performance was, I’m disappointed.  

I’m disappointed that musical productions that try to reach a mainstream audience feel that they need to resort to these kind of stunts.  Why can’t a production be exciting because it is filled with talented performers who do an excellent job of bringing the show to life?  Why is it so inconceivable that an American audience might appreciate art without it being dumbed down and celebrity-filled?  Why is a mediocre performance by a superstar more marketable than an exceptional performance by a skilled musical theater singer/actor?  

This is why people think musical theater sucks.  This is why opera is considered a dying art form.  Because the general assumption is that the public is too stupid to appreciate truly great art.

It’s also disappointing how many of my singer friends have felt the need to jump on the “Carrie was awful” bandwagon.  Now I’m not saying that she did a great job as Maria.  Her acting was lackluster, but honestly she did better than I thought she would.  Her singing, in spite of the tendency to inappropriately slip into heavy pop-style belting, wasn’t terrible.  Considering that she totally lacked the skills to succeed at what she was attempting, she did just fine.  Those of us who have worked hard to hone our skills as singers/actors/dancers/performers should be supportive of others who are trying to do the same.  We shouldn’t have to destroy each other to feel better about ourselves.  

Changes

The past few months have been an absolute whirlwind.  The beginning of a new school year brought me several new students who are turning out to be quite delightful.  I now have such a perfect assortment of students:  younger and older, classical and pop singers, beginning and intermediate pianists, highly motivated and a bit challenging.  I love watching their progress as well as my own growth as a teacher, since I learn just as much from them as they learn from me.

But the most exciting new development has been starting a master’s degree program in Vocal Pedagogy at Holy Names University!  (I’ve also discovered that most people are not familiar with the term pedagogy, which basically means the study of teaching.  Vocal pedagogy includes physiology and anatomy of the voice as well as different strategies for teaching vocal technique.)  HNU is a wonderful, small school, and I am so looking forward to these next two years of intense learning.  It’s only been a couple of weeks, and I absolutely love it!

However, I’ve had to make some tough decisions recently about how to manage my time and where my priorities are.  I had hoped to keep working part-time at my office job to supplement my teaching income.  I’ve been broke for long periods of time before, and have no desire whatsoever to put myself in that situation again.  But I’ve also pushed myself too hard before, to the point where I fall apart and can’t function because I am so overwhelmed.  Last week my body  reminded me that I need more than 6 hours of sleep per night if I want to stay healthy and productive, and I realized that it was time to rethink my plan.

Yesterday I gave two-weeks notice at my office job.  I am taking the plunge, giving up the security blanket, and becoming a fully self-employed music teacher.  Yikes! This is both exciting and terrifying!  As scary as it is, I know it was the right decision.  The crazy schedule I’d been attempting to manage just wasn’t going to work.  I need to be able to finish my school work AND keep up with chores at home AND get enough sleep.  It’s time to fully devote myself to the career I love, because I know that I can do this.  More importantly, I was meant to do this.

So hopefully this also means I will have time to write more!  I certainly have lots to say.  (I didn’t even mention that my graduate program includes taking voice lessons, and my new teacher is amazing, and I’ll write more about that later!!)

Big Decisions – Part 3

Part 3: My advice

Should you major in music at a conservatory?

If you are certain that all you want to do with your life is music, if you have an abundance of raw talent and potential, and if you understand the challenges that come with a music career, then going to a conservatory as an undergraduate might work well for you.  It is inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by talented musicians and instructors.  However, the more competitive the school, the fewer performance opportunities the undergraduate students get, and it’s easy to end up blending in with the scenery.  For some students it might be better to major in music at a university with a strong music program, and then go to a conservatory for your master’s degree.

If you’re not sure, and if music is not the only thing you can imagine doing with your life, don’t limit yourself.  There are plenty of universities that have great academics as well as wonderful music programs.  If you do decide on a music career, where you earned your Master’s Degree is more important than your Bachelor’s.   (More info here:  What does an Operatic career look like?)

You’ll have plenty of time to focus solely on music in graduate school, if you decide that’s the path you want to take.  Especially for opera singers, there is no need to rush!!  Your voice won’t even be mature until your mid- to late-twenties, so there is plenty of time to get a solid education before focusing on music.  Trying to do too much before you are ready will only lead to frustration and rejection.

Finally, understand that a career as a musician takes a while to establish, and you’re probably going to need some kind of day job to get you there.  While you are in college, try to get some work experience that will be helpful.  A part-time office job on campus is a great place to start.  Try to work your way toward a steady day job that will pay enough to support your budding music career.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that going to a conservatory as an undergraduate is a bad idea.  For a lot of young musicians, it’s the right choice.  It’s just not the best idea for everyone.   Consider all of your options and choose what feels right for you.