Updated: Dec 22, 2019
Chris, a guy in his 20’s, looked at me like I had a screw loose when I asked him what he wanted to do with his singing. “I want to be famous. Like, win The Voice or get huge on YouTube, or get signed to a label and tour,” Chris said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
After a couple of voice lessons, it becomes clear to me that Chris wants to know the program. How does he get from where he is now to Famous? He’s sure that if he follows the instructions for Getting Famous, he’ll reach his goal. He’s hoping I have a copy of the program that I’ll share with him.
Linda, a young musical theater singer, wants to pursue her dream of being a professional actor. She wants to study in New York and go to Broadway. In my estimation, Linda doesn’t have enough of anything - talent, tenacity, looks, chops, or smarts – to make it. (Not to say that she isn’t smart, talented, and pretty. She is. Just not at the super-duper level that Broadway demands.) But she figures if she goes to the right college and follows the program, she’ll make it.
My guess is that Chris and Linda, like most singers, will discover somewhere along the way that being famous is not really what they want. Instead, it’s what they believe they should want; because anything “less” means failure. Or something.
The reality is that there isn’t a cookie-cutter way to do anything, never mind something like achieving fame as a singer. The trick is that you have to want something, and that, in moving toward that thing you want, you learn all kinds of things; things about yourself, about your industry, and about the world. Everything you learn influences you, causing you to stick more doggedly to your existing path or to veer off a tad. Or even take a different path.
Many of us, like Chris and Linda, have the idea that, by following an existing blueprint, we can achieve an end game. We hold to the idea that achieving that end game will bring us what we want.
And it might.
Chris might turn out to be the kind of guy who’s a bulldog, who never let’s go of an idea once he’s got his teeth in it, and who’ll work hard and take whatever risks are necessary to see his original dream to some kind of fruition. Linda might stick it out, get some lucky breaks, and find success on Broadway.
But even if they “get famous,” they won’t have arrived. There will still be more life to live, more experiences to have and people to meet. Even if they each reach a point at which they can look at life and say, “Ok. This is what I said I wanted when I was 22. Now I have it”, they won’t then finish that sentence with, “so I’m done.” Because unless they think that thought the instant before the plane crashes, the book of their lives will have more chapters.
Learning as you go is inevitable, and wonderful. Everything you learn today will influence your decisions tomorrow. And every new decision shapes your unique journey. Nobody else has a blueprint for your life.
How does a voice teacher – or any teacher – help a student understand that life is full and complex, and that everything counts? How do we accept that about ourselves? How can a teacher who is not a famous singer tell a student who knows he will become a famous singer that it’s all good? How can we internalize, and share, that most artists discover different passions along the path to Fame?
I don’t know, but I suspect there are a lot of answers to those questions. I suspect that, in most cases, the answer to how can I tell them should be, you shouldn’t.
Every step of that person’s journey is important to them, even if it seems to you they they’re headed in the wrong direction. Your student, just like you, has a need to explore and express. All artists do.
I think that for our students (and our children) we need to understand and value the roles that art plays in peoples’ lives. We should help people move a step or two forward from where they are. We should create a safe space where they can try things, and help them process their experiences.
If we can do that for our students, we can learn to do that for ourselves. If those are the choices we make, we can help bring all kinds of rare and beautiful things into expression.