I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’ve not understood why Michelangelo’s David is so famous. I absolutely recognize it as a magnificent work of art, but in my ignorance, I haven’t understood what sets it apart from other statues. Having only visited Florence once while in grad school, the memory of walking through the Accademia is a blur among the zillion churches and museums we visited on that trip.
With so many people traveling this year, travel clients and friends have visited Florence and have seen David. That sent me on a bit of a quest to learn a bit more about the sculpture. Michelangelo was commissioned to create a statue for the Duomo in Florence in 1501 (he was 26 years old!). What I love about the story is that he used a block of marble that was rejected by two different sculptors 25 years earlier. They thought the marble had too many imperfections to create a stable statue since it was meant to be so large.
Apparently, the marble was also pretty narrow, which guided the way that Michelangelo had to position David. The video I watched said that David’s head had to be turned to one side because it could not have been facing forward. He is also standing contrapposto, a “classical” pose in which more weight is on one foot, rather than being evenly distributed. According to the information I heard, this was also due to the nature of the marble block. These qualities are part of what make David such a strikingly beautiful and expressive statue.
I was reminded of a statement from Michelangelo: “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” This is what inspired me today, as it is largely how I view teaching voice. It is also why I don’t care about how talented or untalented someone thinks they are. Any unkind comments someone has made about your singing is ignorant and irrelevant. The perfect marble slab and the rejected, flawed marble slab both have the potential for a masterpiece.
When working with a new student, experienced or not, I first observe the voice and take mental notes. This is not a judgement of quality or talent. It’s like taking vital signs and asking questions like a doctor would do, as I am simply figuring out what is going on and how I can help to reveal something better, more beautiful, more comfortable, more confident, more expressive, and so on. I acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses and help the singer to be aware of them.
As long as no vocal pathology is present (i.e. vocal nodules, polyps, etc.), much of vocal training for me is awareness (being aware of strengths, weaknesses, and tension) and doing the work to strengthen the weaknesses and chisel away at the unwanted or misplaced tension. Since the voice is hidden inside, my training, study, and experience have honed my skills at understanding what is happening in a singer’s body. On a daily basis, singers sing in ways that they didn’t realize was possible for them. Often, this is by chiseling away the superfluous material (tension in the tongue, mental blocks, opening the mouth too much, etc…).
Singers take lessons for so many different reasons. The style of music a singer sings doesn’t matter to me. Although I am a classically trained singer who sings mostly classical music, I don’t necessarily teach “classical technique.” My teaching largely influenced by Jeanie LoVetri’s Somatic Voicework™, in addition to all other education and training I have done. The goal for me is for each singer’s voice to function as well as it possibly can so that the singer can use it to sing expressively in whatever style they choose.
The most beautiful vocal expression doesn’t always come from the instrument that was originally perfect, and the most beautifully expressive sounds are not always “technically” perfect. I have witnessed on numerous occasions a voice that was at once flawed and rejected by others reveal itself as a world-class instrument. Singers like this sometimes are the ones who have the drive necessary to pursue a singing career or be a great teacher. On the other hand, singers with the most desirable, naturally flawless instruments sometimes don’t have a grasp on the hard work necessary to persevere.
I’ll wrap this up by saying that whether you see your voice as a flawed or flawless marble slab or hunk of clay, something beautiful (or more beautiful) is possible. Just as Michelangelo worked mostly in private for 3 years to carve David, voice work takes time, and it might take a while before you are comfortable singing “Happy Birthday” to a friend, singing your favorite karaoke tune, or singing in church. If you have a DESIRE to sing, then you should sing. Contact me to start working!
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