NATS and Music Theatre

NATS and Music Theatre
Sunday rant...

NATS - The National Association of Teachers of Singing - is actually an international organization to which I belong.

As I was offered some information from different chapters on their definitions of Music Theatre singing, I am beginning to wonder why I belong and may have to rethink my membership, or they should hire me to educate their obviously very poorly informed teachers in certain circumstances!!

NATS offers "student auditions" - basically a vocal competition set up by age group and adjudicated by other members of NATS and voice teachers looking to join.

Here is a template so you see what I mean:

All looks great huh? What a fabulous opportunity for singers to try out repertoire - both classical and MT - and get some feedback!

Could be...the idea is good...BUT...

Then we look further into the DEFINITION of Music Theatre singing and the requirements, and Susan sees RED!!!

Here's the document I saw - from the Mid-Atlantic Region of NATS -

When I first read it I thought "This can't be serious", and then I realized of COURSE it is serious!!! It is an ORGANIZATION imposing LANGUAGE on its membership to make it look as if they know what they are talking about. Obviously when you know about vocal behavior and know the styles of Music Theatre, and know how to build a voice from the physical and behavioral aspect, this becomes an absolute disgrace!!

This, my dear snowflakes (!) is why it is IMPERATIVE that you understand your voice - and how it functions, how it is built, why it does what it does, and get your terminology CORRECT as it pertains to your balance. Otherwise, documents like this will scare you to death, or even more accurately, confuse the hell out of you!

And not just singers - teachers too. I am sure that at least HALF the teachers reading this document and using it as a guide for their students don't understand the terminology and will mis-interpret what is written here. And I'm being generous when I say half.

There are MANY so-called teachers hanging out a shingle saying "voice lessons available here" who should be working retail at the mall. Or selling Avon or Amway or something else. A little knowledge or a nice voice or a voice degree isn't ENOUGH to make you a teacher of voice and be responsible for the development of someone else's instrument! Just as the ads that say "Learn to sing in 4 easy lessons" or "learn to belt like the stars", so documents like this show absolute disregard to the style and genre and craft of singing.

I am VEHEMENT in my opinion about this and will NOT apologize for what I do and what I see others are NOT doing. And I will NOT back down. And if NATS decides they want to revoke my membership, then fine, do so, but I believe this needs to be addressed - and publicly. Not within the "preciousness" and safety of the NATS organization!

In this document, there are many vocal science terms. If you are going to use vocal science then please know what you are talking about!!! It has NEVER been established that vocal science or ANY science is EXACT and therefore constant enquiry is NECESSARY to acquire full knowledge.

By using CT muscle or TA muscle dominant means NOTHING!!! What you are actually doing is promoting an imbalanced instrument!!! The whole point of vocal behavior NO MATTER WHAT STYLE OR GENRE IT SINGS is to be BALANCED which means CT and TA muscles share and pass dominance to each other depending on where the singer is singing - tessitura, range, and stylistic information. Anything else is imbalanced vocal production.

CLASSICAL musical theatre which uses middle voice primarily, needs balanced use of both CT and TA muscles to develop even resonance. Why not just use the term "Classical" Music Theatre with emphasis on a balanced voice?

Gershwin et al is still CLASSICAL not "non-legit"!!!!

If an INTERNATIONAL PROFESSIONAL organization can't get it right, how can we expect our singers to understand?!?!??!?!

I see ultimately, that these organizations are afraid to use the word "belt". I see why. They don't know how to use the other words either.

Music Theatre is as large a genre as Classical music. Therefore, you need to subdivide by era - which I will acknowledge has been done - and leave the other complications alone. By adding science and muscles just confuses the issue because it has no reason for being there! Specify the ERA and the COMPOSERS and talk about singing with a balanced and well developed instrument that you sing with so STYLE INFORMS TONE!!!!

I also have issues with the "characteristics of belt" in this document and how it is "translated" -

Belt is not controversial if it is understood and developed correctly. Belt is not spread, not breathy, not nasal - belt is focused, informed by style and physicality, and is done with an OPEN throat. Closed throat, nasal, unfocused and breathy tone is POOR SINGING no matter WHAT style is being sung.

A balanced vocal instrument has the POTENTIAL to sing ANY style if the style informs the instrument. To think otherwise is simply not true. A singer may find that his/her physicality cannot take on a style authentically - from belt to opera to early music to R&B - or find their psyche is not suited to said style, for many other reasons. But the INSTRUMENT must be solid and balanced and built!!

TRUE BELT is not controversial - and is sung with focused tone, and open throat. Vowel choices inform the balance of resonance which in turn leads to stylistic integrity and traditional authenticity.

In this above attached document, there are certain things that are redeemable - however, there are many things that are simply incorrect. Using the terms "legit" and "non-legit" are not clear; Do we use "non-legit" anymore? I think Music Theatre has begun to get more specific as to what is required show to show. Here's the irony - Legit means nothing, if it doesn't have a context. Belting is LEGIT if it's done in balance and correctly. Opera means nothing if it doesn't have a context. Saying you are an opera singer doesn't mean you can sing ANY opera. Specificity is NECESSARY to develop full understanding of what style and genre is and what is requires.

What disturbs me (!!) about documents like this, is that it couches certain truths within an academic vocabulary that is not specific enough to give clarity to what is being required. This is dangerous. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Why not stay with what you do well instead of introducing an entire genre and tradition that you know little about?

Throwing around some truths, with vocal terminology and some absolutely incorrect information does not promote excellence. It promotes confusion, and segregation. And who will "evaluate" these singers who are entering this competition? Can they truly be evaluated honestly if this is the document the teachers/judges are reading?

Vocal science is only one part of the equation. The stylistic information and genre and tradition of music is absolutely imperative for performance. Physical behavior and stylistic information has to live together in order to create a truth in performance.

As an international association, NATS has to be more responsible!

Scientists and teachers can spout terminology all they want, but they need to know how it works!!! They need to be able to DO IT and DEMONSTRATE IT and know how to FIND IT in their singers by understanding the instrument fully. They need to be continually researching, asking questions, developing, discovering... Science is constantly developing. Pedagogy is constantly being challenged and developing. So must we as singers, as teachers and as organizations that are there to support both.

Learn and discover and hold yourself and organizations responsible for what they know and what they SAY they know.

Whether it's NATS, a university, a college, a production company, a teacher, a coach or YOU - challenge, ask, and LEARN!!! Explore and FIND the truth. Don't assume. Don't back down.

Hiding behind terminology or the safety of an organization or some other "business" or institution, is not staying true to good singing and building true instruments. It's hiding. It's okay to say "I don't know; I don't have the answer" - honesty opens us to finding the answer!!!

If you see bullshit, don't be afraid to call it that. Don't be afraid to say I don't know. And then, don't be afraid to get excited and DISCOVER the answers!!!

None of us have all the answers - that's what makes our journey so exciting!!! Constantly learning and discovering and developing: That is what artistry is.

Don't be afraid to ask why. I ask why all the time!!!
I am asking why in this blog. On many levels. And I may get answers or I may not. I know one thing: I will not WAIT on those answers. I will go out and GET THEM.

Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking. 

If you liked this post, please share it or comment with your thoughts below!