Voice teachers are therapists. I've said this before and I'll say it again. Unlike a piano or a trumpet or a harmonica, the vocal instrument is the person. The two are entwined. If the person is having a bad day then the voice probably is as well. Part of my job as a voice teacher is figuring out what makes a student tick and helping them figure out and move past the stuff that's causing them not to sing well. Some of it is technical - the breath, the shape of their mouth, etc. Some (or sometimes most of it) is in their head.
Tonight, I received a call from a mother who almost immediately launched into a story about her daughter's anxiety and low self-esteem. The only thing that makes this kid happy is singing. In her room. Where no one can hear her. This girl (a teenager) isn't involved an any activities, let alone anything musical. She's never had a music lesson in her life. And yet, mom thinks that voice lessons are the answers to her daughter's problems.
I've agreed to see her for an evaluation. I'm not sure I will take her on as a student. For one thing, I'm not convinced this kid will even sing for me. It's a huge leap going from singing along with the radio in your bedroom and jumping to formal voice lessons where you'll be expected to <em>not</em> sing pop music. And she's going to do this in a room with a complete stranger.
And then there's her lack of interest in extra-curricular activities... and probably school if I'm reading between the lines correctly from what mom was saying. When you study with me, it's not a tiny commitment -- it's a big one that requires practice and attention. While I can't absolutely require it, I strongly encourage my students to do something with singing outside of their lessons -- choir, theater, etc. But the alarm bells for me have little do with this and everything to do with how this poor kid was sold to me in the first five minutes of the phone conversation.
If her mom isn't being overly dramatic, this kid is broken. I have no idea why and I also have no idea what steps the mom is taking to get her kid help. I fear that I'm the step she's taking. I've had students with issues before -- eating disorders, depression, sprectrum-related problems, ADHD, anxiety as well as a few syndromes I never heard of. Sometimes I knew about the problems upfront and sometimes they became evident as I worked with the student. In every case, however, these students were there for voice lessons. They may have shared their problems along the way and even leaned more on me more than they probably should have. They weren't looking to me to solve their problems. Their problems often come up, though, as they stand in the way of student progress. I believe that sometimes, though music, my students have found some resolution or ease with their problems, but this was never directly my doing.
So I will meet this girl and her mother next week for an vocal evaluation. In the meantime, I will try to figure out how to best frame this conversation that needs to happen before lessons start. I cannot solve this kid's problems -- I wish I could because she sounds miserable. I can only teach her to sing.