Ever since March, when Covid forced us to shelter at home and take on cyberspace as our classroom, I've been teaching online. The zoom lessons have been going really well. In fact, they're going so well I have to ask myself, "why?"
These are the same private students who had been coming in week after week for private singing lessons long before the pandemic, and while we expected a lapse in successful outcomes due to the technological component, you know, the LAG when you try to sing along with a digital delay, we certainly didn't expect students to improve with flying colors.
Across the board, students are singing like they've never sung before. They're letting loose with strong belty tones, beautiful operatic chimes, husky lows, fluid mid-ranges and ever so soft lullaby tones. Is it that everything is more animated on screen? Or could it be that digitizing compresses the voice to its truest essence and thus presents the strongest version of itself? Maybe it's the ear's ability to acutely tune a pitch within the digital format that exposes tiny imbalances much like a microscope, instead of the way a microphone amplifies the best parts of a person's voice while it hides the flaws behind reverb.
My mind has been trying to solve it like a puzzle for over four months now.
My co-teacher Chandler and I agree that while it could be the new electronic format itself that brings such rapid development, because young folks are so comfortable with all things internet, that's not the cause in its entirety. Every student is improving at such a rapid rate, there must be other reasons.
I've asked several of my students why they're crushing it lately.
Some have answered that there's no pressure. That makes sense because a lack of pressure allows the mind more space and the voice more freedom.
It's been one grand experiment that has made me value zoom and respect the virtual exchange like I had never imagined, so I feel compelled to explore how and why.
And then it hits me. As I watch the students take their laptops and hole up in their bedrooms, or their closets, or their garage (or some inside the car inside the garage), I realize there is a psychological component that is impossible to replicate in the studio setting that might be at play. They're at home in the comfort of their private space where they feel most themselves. This must be the reason. Comfort.
As I further explore this psychological component (which is not new to me by the way—I always include the student's whole being in my protocols) I realize the level to which the psyche is revealing its power compels me to pay closer attention. Maybe beyond comforts of home and self-identity, confidence plays a role. Most people are confident when they are on their own territory. It's a given. There's very little fear when you're in the safety of your own home. So then, the remarkable improvement is due to two things: comfort and safety.
But wait, there's more! Imagine not going out for five months. No auditions, no theater groups, no school, no college campus, no after-school enrichment, no karaoke bars, no church rehearsals, no nothing.
So, I conclude the isolate environment is partly responsible for this growth stint, not only because of the comforts of home where students feel most themselves and safe, but also void of negative influences. Many students are used to going out on auditions regularly, where their confidence takes a ding with every rejection. Singing around others in a competitive atmosphere like a theater group or a choir can also produce insecurities. Add to that a feeling of self-consciousness around peers and it becomes clear that the circumstances lining a singer's path have great impact on the process. And the coronavirus outbreak has forced us inside where students can rediscover their original passion for their craft outside of the influence of others.
Creativity requires a safe environment for growth. Therefore, while dangerous germs in the air present the threat of a serious physical illness, going inside and singing from the soul presents the opposite: the promise of a serious growth spurt. Our creativity can safely come out to play, to experiment, to expand without the pressure of a production or a job. These students sing for the sake of singing, some of them for the first time in their lives.
Without the pressure of an outcome, the voice is allowed to develop without intention or direction, which suggests there is a difference between improvement and development. This is key for our creative drive as well as our tonal vibrations. There is a "what-if" component that includes unseen possibility. Without demanding that we fit a role, or sound a certain way, we can allow the voice to unfold on its own, which is a beautiful experience in itself. To sing and feel for oneself rather than an audience or a casting director, can release the creative drive to fulfill its mission: to connect us first with our inner self and then with others. Whenever we interact with creativity the benefits are plenty: improved health, for one, and better decision-making for another.
I imagine that my students feel closer to their true selves and I am so grateful that I've been allowed to witness this new version of their truer selves, albeit from a distance.
While virtual singing lessons may have drawbacks, I'm basking in the sudden vocal improvement of my singers, as well as their handle on who they are becoming. I am inspired to say the least, and I have shaken any dread or disappointment toward zoom vocal training that I may have felt at the onset of our lockdown. I look forward to the new ways in which we will all expand as we see ourselves through the new lens of our essential selves in our artistic journey, one that is lined with safety, comfort, and curiosity.