For decades, I have taught voices to sing. In the beginning, I used the practices that groomed me as a singer. I soon realized that those methods, though they worked well for me, were not always effective for each of my students. Voices are unique; the one-size-fits-all approach did not suit every voice type. So I began to seek out gurus who were experts in the art of vocal pedagogy.
As I researched, I developed my scientific understanding of vocal function, the scaffolding I now use for voice building. I became the consummate student, trying on different technical “hats” and applying this information to myself and others. Lo and behold! Consistent and dependable voice production emerged. I thought I had arrived! My ultimate mission as a voice teacher was clear: to help singers establish and maintain their peak vocal performance while giving them options in their creative process. How? Solid vocal technique. Seemed like a worthy goal to me.
Oddly enough, my goal started shape shifting. During the decades of studying technique, science, and styles, I accumulated a well-stocked toolbox of voice building strategies. I knew I could train a functional, musical, marketable voice. But was that enough? According to my students at Berklee, no, it wasn’t. These students were coming to me searching for meaning. They were lost in a sea of societal expectations and mass media images. Those that fit the mold felt empowered. The ones that didn’t frequently came in confused and anxious. They were the ones that intrigued me the most. I could help them technically but their artistry was compromised by self-doubt.
I began to realize that a singer’s path is far more than an expression of technical prowess. Their internal frame of mind sets the stage for their growth, and how they define success is critical to that process. I realized each human voice has an inner navigator, a soul connection that will not be denied. No commercial trend, academic expectation, or scientific model can contain it without a cost. When that inner source drives creativity, the results are powerful and poignant. When it doesn’t, an artist can experience disconnection and stress. I realized that a completely functional human voice, though skilled, did not always express the artist’s authentic self, which needed to be freed. Conversely, a voice that was sometimes limited by technique could be quite rich in human soul content. Hmmm… technical skill could certainly be in service to artistry, but did not guarantee it.
I decided to become a “Vocal Wayshower”…replacing my well-worn path as a vocal pedagogue with a more adventurous approach to voice development. I began seeing teaching as a co-creative process where the student and I explore vocal possibilities without judgment or limitation; a journey to find their unique expression and freedom. I became a tour guide, so to speak, of human voices. How does one start such a journey? Well, for me, before a student sings a note, I ask these questions:
- “Why do you sing?”
- “What fuels your passion?”
- “What is your career intent?”
- “What do you want your music to accomplish?”
- ”How does music enhance who you are?”
Then, we examine the answers. Do these answers involve the opinions or approval of others? Then it is likely that the artist has lost their inner GPS. For true authenticity to emerge, a singer must find the voice of their internal navigator. Only then are the artist’s wheels set in motion. Only then will they carry a sense of who they are and why they do what they do.
So what is a Wayshower? Someone who helps an artist remember their purpose and artistic identity. They are both a guide and an explorer, knowledgeable but intuitive. A Wayshower mirrors the best version of others in an effort to unveil their greatest potential. Wayshowers are non-judgmental. They don’t believe in failure, just in challenges. They help create integrated artists and they embody that process within themselves.
Wayshowers co-create in the learning process by being fully present with it. They encourage fearless discovery while navigating toward an ever-moveable destination. They value what’s unique and authentic in someone. Effective Wayshowing is not a neat and tidy process. It’s messy. It’s scary. It’s fun, but it’s always honest. And…it’s not for everyone.
Since I’ve adopted Wayshowing as a teaching strategy, I listen to voices differently. I search for an artist’s sound after I’m clear about who they are. I see technique as a means to facilitate their end goal. Of course, there are academic and professional demands that must be met, but when we can, we choose material that reflects the student’s artistic intent. What’s interesting to me is that since taking this approach, my students have been more powerful and confident in performance. Those that take the journey succeed academically and professionally with much less stress. And more often than not, the world becomes a better place because they took the time to see their place in it.
I’m blessed to work at a place that encourages artists to experiment. I also hold deep gratitude to all the wonderful teachers I’ve had through my lifetime. Each provided a piece to a larger puzzle. The goal of vocal health and freedom was a great place to start this process but it was not the final destination. I think, at this time, I’ll choose to remain a Wayshower. Consider becoming one yourself! Then watch the magic unfold.
Have a great 2020!
Marcelle Gauvin is an associate professor at Berklee College of Music and faculty member at the Contemporary Commercial Music Institute at Shenandoah University. She owns Double Bar Music with her daughter, Kelsey Jacobsen in Westport, Massachusetts where she facilitates artist development programs for both upcoming and established artists.