Impasses

We teachers sometimes hit impasses with our students. 

I used to think students were lazy or had bad attitudes when they would suddenly become resistant to progress through different tactics, including not practicing for a little while. Then I learned something profound from Jeanie LoVetri: “Always assume they are doing their best, even when you think they're not.” At the same time, I was delving into The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. In it, Julia says, “Being blocked and being lazy are two different things...Do not call the inability to start laziness. Call it fear.”

Now when a student suddenly seems lazy, defensive, belligerent, forgetful, etc., I recognize that it may be because we've finally found the locked door we’ve been searching for on their journey of development...the door that has been preventing them from sounding the way they want. Chances are good that they’ve either tried to unlock that door already with no success, that someone else has told them they can’t open it, or that they’re terrified of what will happen if they do open it. It’s my job to help them craft a key and to help them believe it’s safe to go through. (Help is an important word here. Almost always, the student needs other support and knowledge to fully unlock the door. Help often means referring a student to books, activities, therapists, medical professionals, and avoided conversations that are needed for them to take the next steps after they get through the door.)

Assuming a student is doing their best forces me to keep asking questions that will help me create a better solution and forces me to keep believing they will ultimately choose to go forward, even if they don’t choose that today. It’s my job to lead them to the truth, but I can’t force them to swallow it. Trying to force progress prematurely only seems to amplify the voice of whatever is keeping a student from moving forward. They’re ready when they’re ready. In the meantime, there are always plenty of things we can do to work on other things that aren't so scary to them. (The value of working indirectly is another post for another time.)

Assuming that the student is doing her best has saved me from wasting a lot of energy resenting my students and assuming the worst. They wouldn't be studying with me if they didn't want to get better on some level. Even if they are holding themselves back from success due to other reasons that they need to explore, I have to teach them under the assumption that they will eventually deal with those reasons, and when they do, they will need the tools that I am teaching them to use.

I’ve learned to look forward to those difficult “brickwall” lessons because it means we’re almost on the other side. They’re, by far, the most uncomfortable lessons, but some of my best and most rewarding solutions for students have been created there. If students never get through the door, they see these lessons as the worst ones, and sometimes quit lessons altogether if they’re exceptionally afraid of taking the next steps that would follow. If students do get through the door, they tend to see those lessons as profound experiences of clarity and hope about the progress they’ve made up to that point and the progress that is yet to be made. 

Eventually, if a student decides that they will not take the steps needed to finish forging the key to unlock the door, I have to let them go. It's very rare for me, but it does happen. There is a limit to the amount of solutions and help that I can give without the student putting their share of work into the process. It’s a difficult decision, but these students tend to sap more than their share of the limited energy and creativity that I have to give…energy and creativity that needs to be shared equally among all of my students. When I realize that this is happening, I have to let them go for the sake of my other students.

I’ve found many powerful solutions by first assuming that there’s more I can do, and the lessons where I see a student finally open the door make it all worth it. Do you have similar experiences? What were they like? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Jess in July

Hey everyone! Here's a quick review of the past month.

July 10: Recording at Peachfork

Recording has become a very important goal for me this year, so I'm slowly putting together one track at a time as I can afford studio time.

Bernie Nau at Peachfork Studios has been so great to work with. The drive to the studio is through beautiful southeast Ohio, so I get a chance to center and relax before I go in.

Right now, I'm recording tunes that I performed as part of the American Traditions Competition in February. This month, we re-recorded the vocals on the country tune and did most of the mixing, so we have it pretty close to release. We also did a little work on "Two Sleepy People." Needs some more tweaking before we start mixing. 

 

July 17: Jazz and Rib Fest in downtown Columbus

My quartet was invited to play the Jazz Cafe Stage. We had a great crowd who stuck around despite intermittent rain showers and heat waves. The stage was right by the river with the city skyline behind us. Great setting. Hope we'll be there again.

I shared the stage with the wonderful Andy Hall and Ryan Kennedy. Our usual bass player, Steve Heffner, wasn't available that weekend, but that gave us the opportunity to play with Craig Burletic, who graciously stepped in while he was in the midst of moving to Miami. Craig graduated from Marshall last year with a degree in Jazz Studies. He moved to Miami right after the gig, then flew right back with his girlfriend Molly so they could both play on Mountain Stage with Tyler Childers & The Food Stamps. Have a great time in Miami, Craig! Hope to play together again soon!

 

July 20-24: CCM Institute

July is always one of my favorite months because it's when I attend the Contemporary Commercial Music Voice Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah Conservatory. The CCMI opens me to the expansiveness of human experience, both in myself and in others, and not just in the world of singing. 

I first attended in 2009, getting my certification in Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method in Levels I, II, and III. After getting my master's in voice pedagogy, which, in almost every academic institution, is focused on classical singing, I wanted to know the science and methods behind other singing styles. Not only did I find that information, but I found a great community of people. 

There were 18 different countries represented at the Institute this year. I hung out with people from Israel, Colombia, Australia, Taiwan, Chile, Brazil, and Canada, just for starters. There is an enormous need and desire for the kind of work that Jeanie is doing, so people travel huge distances to be here. 

At CCMI, I've heard Brazilian folk music, Brazilian popular song, Indian classical music, Israeli music, Chilean folk music, Columbian folk music, musical theatre, classical, jazz, pop, rock, R&B, folk, country, and more. I've been in many academic settings where there would have been significant amounts of tension surrounding the fact that people were singing some of these kinds of music. But at the Institute, every genre is given a safe space to exist. Every year, I watch walls crumble. Defenses drop. Prejudices dissolve. Genres (and the people who sing them) coexist not just respectfully, but happily. It may seem strange to most people that this wouldn't be the norm, but this is indeed a very rare and unique environment. It's hard to describe just how amazing the energy is, and it only seems to get better every year. 

I want to say a huge thank you to the Institute's faculty for another year of helping people move closer to vocal freedom and authenticity. It is not just your knowledge of this information that helps people, but the way you teach it. When we are given practical tools to better understand our bodies, our minds, and our craft in a shame-free space, we step further in to our true vocal identity. Yet again, I was overwhelmed as I witnessed the recovery of people who were abandoned by other teachers and were losing hope. Jeanie LoVetri is indeed a master teacher. Can't wait for next year!

 

 

Check out what's coming up in future months here: