A wise choir director once told me “When you finish your undergraduate degree, you think you know everything. When you finish your masters, you realize you don’t know everything. When you finish your doctorate, you realize nobody knows anything.” Now that I am near the end of my senior year of college, I appreciate that quote more and more by the day. As a vocalist, I have endured my fair share of jokes about the difference between musicians and vocalists, fought my way through music theory, and felt like my band/orchestra friends were speaking a whole different language when they talk about their musical experiences. I brushed it off at first, but the more I learned the more I realized we vocalists tend to live in a small, small world. Yes, there is absolutely more to our unique art of making music with an instrument than meets the eye. However, being a music educator does not only entail being an advocate for your performance medium, but music as a whole.
A personal epiphany I had this summer came when, after I had taken a summer voice intensive. From a nurse who just wanted to sing better to a young woman who had traveled from China, I was surrounded by people from all walks of life. The variety of experiences I heard about in regard to singing, teaching, the voice, and other topics was so incredibly mind blowing because I was finally out of “the college bubble.” While I feel as though I have been afforded a fantastic education, I came to appreciate how little I knew about what I am getting a degree in and how much more there is to learn. This was hard seeing as a lot of things I heard did not necessarily coincide with what I have been learning for so long but the excitement of having a fresh angle is nothing less than inspiring. I can only encourage students to go out and get as many different experiences outside of school as possible and appreciate that there is so much more to music than you can begin to fathom in four years.
Knowing that going out and getting experience can make you a better musician and thinker, this can only prepare current singers as future teachers for what lies ahead. Fortunately for me, I have had an array of brilliant professors and an unforgettable point driven home by one is to always be mindful of “the other 80%.” Who are these people? They are the 80% of students, on average, who are not involved in music. They are the people who only have music teachers to get well rounded music exposure from. They are the people who can speak life or death into your program as they become adults. We are their resource and possibly only means of enlightenment as to how complex and beautiful the world of music, not just voice, is. What does this have to with being well rounded? Choir teachers especially know that “the other 80%” tends to gravitate more toward choir than band or orchestra. What an amazing opportunity! Let us capture students’ attention with singing and keep them engaged with what the world of music has to offer.
One might notice I did not give specifics as to what “getting experience” or a “well rounded person” may look like. There are so many programs and opportunities available on large and small scales that it is difficult for me to put some sort of parameter on what constitutes a worthwhile experience and what does not. There are so many educational opportunities from workshops to clubs, to something as personal as picking up another instrument that the possibilities are endless. One piece of wisdom I heard and has held true for me in many ways is that “if it’s not comfortable, it’s probably good for you.” All I seek to do is to convey just how essential it is to keep learning and to never get complacent. As vocalists, we need to understand just how vast our field, and that of our instrumental colleagues is, and take pride in how complex and beautiful a skill we are passing on to our students.