Studying Voice during a Pandemic—Part 3
Thoughts from Five University Voice Professors
By NAfME Member Linda McAlister
This is sponsored by Schmidt Vocal Arts,
sponsor of the 2021 Tri-M Music Honor Society® Chapter of the Year Award.
Read Part One and Part Two of this three-part series.
Recently, I sat down with five university voice professors to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on their instruction, their universities, and the arts in general. In Part Three of this three-part blog, we talk about what the arts may look like in a post-pandemic world.
- Dr. Soon Cho, Assistant Professor of Music-Voice, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA
- Prof. Judith Haddon, Artist Faculty-Voice, Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL
- Prof. Amy Kane Jarman, Senior Lecturer of Voice, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
- Prof. Beth Roberts, Voice Faculty, Mannes School of Music, The New School, New York, NY/Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ
- Dr. Randall Umstead, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Voice, Baylor University, Waco, TX
COVID-19 and the Arts: What Happens in a Post-Pandemic World?
McAlister: What do you think arts organizations will look like on the other side of COVID-19?
Cho (Pacific Lutheran University): Arts organizations have a unique opportunity to find creative solutions and implement innovative ideas to make the arts more relevant to the people and communities that they serve. I think the arts organizations can come together during this time to think collectively and to combine limited resources to execute high impact programming focused on education and serving the profession the organization supports.
Haddon (Chicago College of Performing Arts): They will definitely be hat-in-hand/fundraising. For singers, auditions will most likely be online. There will also be more of a focus on social justice—companies will need to be more aware how they marginalize some singers.
Jarman (Vanderbilt University): I think there will be a renewal once it’s safe. Industries are figuring out ways to safely work together, but, unfortunately, the companies that struggled beforehand might not survive. Organizations with more robust finances will still be here and people will be much more mindful about keeping a safer and more sane environment. In addition to COVID related issues, I think companies will have more of a sense of social responsibility and will be much more mindful of representing underserved and underrepresented people. There is a bigger picture that is swirling around us. What do we want our world to look like? Circumstances like we’re in today might lead to more entrepreneurial choices.
“There is a bigger picture that is swirling around us. What do we want our world to look like?”
Roberts (Mannes School of Music/Montclair State University): Pent up demand for the arts and live music will be a reality! Arts organizations will need to scale back in the immediate future and then reinvent themselves as they emerge stronger after COVID.
Umstead (Baylor University): That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? While the situation looks dire right now, I am not a fatalist by nature. When we look back at the 1918 pandemic, the recording industry boomed in much the way we are seeing streaming performances become more and more popular. By 1919, with the end of the war and the pandemic, musical performances sprung up to record-breaking levels as people clamored for the music they loved and needed. I am hopeful that people will respond similarly when this pandemic eases or passes. One thing we’ve learned is that the labor model behind the performing arts is built upon a highly competitive hiring system. That allows for tenuous working conditions for most artists, and I hope that what is built back after this system is more sensitive to the challenges of a freelance career. Some organizations are beginning to make these sorts of adjustments.
McAlister: With so much uncertainty in the performing arts world, what would you say to parents who are hesitant to encourage their children major in voice (or music/arts in general)?
Cho (Pacific Lutheran University): I would encourage them to think long term and to not make an important life decision based on a shorter-term issue. I would strongly encourage them to consider a minor in a complementary field (business, language, arts management, professional writing, etc.) alongside majoring in the arts to better prepare for the professional workforce.
Haddon (Chicago College of Performing Arts): I cannot dissuade your children from following their dreams. It’s something that pulls you in as it did for me. Remember, you will have a degree! You can do a lot of things with a voice major.
Jarman (Vanderbilt University): A major in music is a preparation for so many things. Analytical skills, working well alone and with others, and creative thinking and research. There is a small percentage of people who make a living being on stage, but many who make a living in tangential arts: administrators, nonprofits, etc. Music majors also have a very high acceptance rate in medical and law school. The arts are even more necessary now. The image of what parents have of what their child does has to be a one of openness and willingness to support their child. It’s a complicated issue, but the world needs people with a broad education. Music plays a huge role in maintaining that need.
“The arts are even more necessary now. . . . It’s a complicated issue, but the world needs people with a broad education. Music plays a huge role in maintaining that need.”
Roberts (Mannes School of Music, Montclair State University): Majoring in music and the arts does not limit career opportunities. The skills and curriculum will prepare students for a variety of career paths including performance. It may be a year before we begin to recover and enjoy live performances. But this is a good time to pursue education. If you are passionate about the arts and have demonstrated talent, don’t let COVID discourage you from pursuing your dreams. Throughout history, the arts have survived and thrived during many crises.
Umstead (Baylor University): Being at the early part of your career now may end up being a good thing, as students who will be artists in a few years will find a less competitive but, hopefully, more valued landscape. Additionally, studying music doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you can do. Many of our students double-major, and music helps keep them on-track with the other part of the degree. Several of our students have gone on to medical school and law school, for example, and their performance and arts backgrounds helped them become empathetic doctors and persuasive lawyers.
McAlister: How can singers make the best of the disruptions of study and performance opportunities during COVID-19?
Cho (Pacific Lutheran University): Stay focused on achieving long term goals, yet stay flexible on how you will achieve them. Continue learning and practicing to sing during this time. Practice recording good audition videos, because submitting audition materials online will be part of the new normal from here forward.
Haddon (Chicago College of Performing Arts): For the older students, if they know their Fach (voice categorization), they can learn/look at the whole role if they are ready for it. Watch videos! Watch productions, so you can see where your character fits into the opera. For song literature, work on the poetry. Know why the poet wrote what the poet wrote!
Jarman (Vanderbilt University): The internet is an amazing resource. Students can watch YouTube videos of singers, listen to recordings, and watch opera productions. They can take virtual tours of art museums. They can read poetry and novels. Practice the piano. Study theory.
Roberts (Mannes School of Music, Montclair State University): Take advantage of online master classes and competitions. Address aspects of social media, websites, etc. Take advantage of this time to immerse yourself in your craft—learn a role or prepare a recital that can be live streamed. Discover your side hustle, and cast a wide net while most live performances are on hold.
Umstead (Baylor University): Persevere. This, too, shall pass. You can still practice, learn, and hone your craft, even in this environment. Many people will move on from this work, for perfectly understandable and justifiable reasons, over the next few months. Be ready to seize upon the opportunities that this exodus creates.
The Disruption and Quick Pivots of COVID-19: How the Pandemic Has Affected Their Own Teaching, Their Students, and Their Universities
The 2020 Fall Semester and Audition Advice for Young Singers in the Current Environment
About Schmidt Vocal Arts and the author:
Schmidt Vocal Arts is dedicated to encouraging young singers to pursue their passion for classical singing and the vocal arts through scholarships and vocal programs for high school singers. NAfME member Linda McAlister is the Executive Director of Schmidt Vocal Arts, where she oversees the organization’s breadth of programming. These programs include the Schmidt Vocal Competition, Schmidt Vocal Institute, Schmidt Vocal Scholarships, new education and training opportunities, and a growing alumni network. Learn more at www.schmidtvocalarts.org. Follow Schmidt Vocal Arts on Facebook and on Instagram @schmidtvocal.
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September 24, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)