Here’s one I created earlier: about my research and in preparation for a talk I am giving in November. Should be fun!
We ARE our instrument!
I began this study in order to explore beliefs about singing practices that are tacit and assumed. My interest was piqued when I heard comments made by singing teachers about singing lessons in conservatoriums that suggested – and I paraphrase – “of course one-to-one singing lessons are important, we all know that!” My initial retort to this statement was: “well, do we, actually, know this? Says who? Where is the proof?” I wanted to explore these assumptions. I had initially hoped that by setting up a hypothesis: one-to-one singing is good; group lessons are bad, I might be able to examine through various means the notion of the efficacy of one-to-one lessons reigning triumphal over unsatisfactory group singing lessons.
What I didn’t count on was the development in my own thinking about the nature of singing pedagogy in tertiary environments. What I didn’t count on was the development of my research question from a combative, hypothesis/proof driven question into a more holistic approach that instead asked: how is the impact of culture and upbringing and experiences reflected in the beliefs, values and practices of singers and teachers in singing pedagogy? What I didn’t count on was the siren call of social constructivism that enticed me from my initially strongly pragmatic approach into one that challenged me to reflect upon my own ways of doing and thinking in singing teaching and learning. What I didn’t count on, more than anything, was a supervisor who gently led me to the drinking trough of cultural theory and qualitative research methods and waited, patiently, while I drank from this trough, quenching my thirst for knowledge about how best to approach my research question. Her sage advice and excellent teaching have enabled me to develop my own beliefs about research that, while not always in accordance with her own, allows me to find my best path for my study. This might seem like an aside to the main talk here today, however, it is these assumptions about teaching, learning and knowing that are at the heart of my study. The experiences I had as a musician and singer helped form my values about singing pedagogy that I have had to challenge in order to better understand the values and beliefs of my participants.
My assumptions developed over some 20 years of one-to-one singing lessons, countless piano and cello lessons and a life pretty much dedicated to getting into music faculties at uni and staying there as long as possible. My happiest university experiences were in my one-to-one lessons, despite, it must be said, receiving some pretty poor pedagogy along the way and having to reconcile voice quality and technique with career potential. After all, who needs another blonde soprano?
My musical experiences, from my earliest piano lessons at age seven or eight, to my singing lessons for my Masters at the age of thirty-six, were predicated around the notion that I would have individual, private lessons with my chosen teacher, whatever the instrument. I could no more conceive of group lessons on the instrument or voice than I could conceive that in 2010 we would all be saving work digitally on tiny little flash drives that looked like they came from the film 2001. I came from a middle class family whose parents believed that good education was paid for by the individual, not the state. I remember having music lessons, tennis lessons, swimming lessons, and, if I had shown even the remotest ability, I probably would have had dance lessons as well. My family was not wealthy. I was the eldest daughter of five girls and even I had hand-me-downs. I remember my mother doing a month long itemized shopping budget to prove to my father that she needed more money to run the household than she was given (my father famously used to be tight with money – these days it’s all about spending the kids’ inheritance: he’s much more relaxed). But my parents, particularly my mother, placed a priority on enabling us girls to learn. This included providing enriching early learning experiences at home, such as dress ups and play doh and painting and reading and pottery and gardening, and, as we grew older, music lessons and cultural experiences such as concerts and ballets and opera. I consider now that I was an extremely privileged child. And money, although tight, was never an issue.
When I made the decision to study singing, in my late teens, the options available to me were pretty good. Two universities in my hometown each offered singing in their undergraduate courses: I auditioned for and was accepted into one of them. My singing lessons became extremely important to me. And so the stage was set. Even throughout my traumatic twenties when my life was falling apart in every way, my singing lessons stayed with me as the most important part of my week.