Excellent Bedside Manner Required
Teaching voice is more than perfecting your students' technique or choosing great literature. As the teacher you also become Mentor, Friend, and Therapist. Many of my students actually began calling their voice lessons, therapy sessions! I've discussed before how studying voice is a very intimate thing in that you do not have an instrument between you and your teacher. Because of this, it's natural to develop a close friendship and bond with your teacher. This is why it is SO IMPORTANT that the voice teacher have an excellent bedside manner.
I am a true believer in being realistic with my students. It will not do my students any good if I build their hopes higher than their talents will allow. With that said, I am NEVER negative in a lesson. (As Mary Poppins would say, "I'm firm but never cross.") What good will being negative do? It is important for the student to know when they've made an accomplishment, whether it's pronouncing the text correctly or achieving the tone of Bryn Terfel. I have noticed many students, either in a school setting or beyond, leaving their teacher's studios crying. Or sitting in their practice room in tears. Why is it necessary to cry after every lesson? When we give criticism, it is sometimes necessary to wear kid-gloves. That is not to say that being firm with a student is wrong, but negative criticism only reinforces a student's already lowered self esteem. Instead, let's make the singer self-aware by using positive reinforcement.
It is also acutely important that the teacher be willing to have warm, therapeutic conversations with the singer. This student has not only put their voice in the teacher's hands but also their dreams and goals. Has someone knocked their dream today? Were they told by their parents or school teachers to get a business degree rather than a theatre degree? Did their buddies tell them they weren't that good and not to bother? In my opinion, it is the job of the teacher to keep the student's dreams alive-so long as that is what the student still wishes. If a student comes to me and needs to 'talk it out' then I am there. Over coffee, a chocolate shake, or a giant box of doughnuts, I will be there ready to hash out the issues and give 'therapy' to my students.
Teachers, please consider your bedside manner. Make sure your students feel strong and self-assure in your studio. Please help them to secure their goals and enable them to make good decisions. Allow yourself to be more than just their teacher, but to also be a mentor and friend.
Students, allow yourself to be open with your teacher. It is truly our pleasure to mentor you.