When I started out with singing in the late ’90s, I went to the school singing teacher. And the school singing teacher was, I assume, a classical singer who had moved into teaching as she aged out of performing. So I studied classical singing.
I liked it. I still do. I love a stirring opera aria or a beautiful and creative art song.
However, having come from theatre, I quickly fell in love with the sweeping drama of the musical theatre songs. It’s amazing now I look back on it, as most of the musical theatre songs I sang were those on the graded lists which were all very mid-century!
Back then, I used to think that I couldn’t sing pop/rock. I had this idea that singing classical meant I’d never be able to sing contemporary songs without sounding weird.
As I moved on to work with other teachers, I discovered that just as an actor can use a multitude of accents across a variety of shows, I can use a multitude of vocal styles. The fundamentals of safe, healthy sound production transcends genre. You’re not locked into one style forever!
Now, I teach and sing singers, music theatre and church worship music. I’m also becoming more excited about exploring true pop/rock styles for myself, and eventually for my students. I also love community singing which is, in a way, it’s own style.
So why did I break out of the classical mould?
1 I don’t have to stick to one style
Somewhere along the line, I think we got stuck in this idea that you’re one type of singer. Like there’s this nonsensical idea that “classical music” is separated by a cavern from “popular music” or that “opera” isn’t just dressed up “musical theatre”. In the music world, probably from the competition for money and attention, we got all tribal about our styles.
There’s popular classical music and experimental popular music. Some classical music is really just a three-chord riff, and some pop music is deeply harmonically complex. Most operas have more ridiculous plot lines and angst than musical theatre. So many of them have a random dance break!
Why should I have to stick to some made up rule that classical is over here and popular is over there?
So I don’t. I don’t have to limit the music I can explore. I can enjoy it ALL!
2 I don’t want to
Y’know what, I love an opera aria, but boy is it energetic – the range can be challenging, and the sound production needed is intense to carry over an orchestra. It’s delightful to be able to take it down a notch and sing something that has a small low range, where the challenge is totally different because I’d be using a microphone.
I love to sing a beautiful art song with complex melodies and harmonies. It’s also great to sing a bouncy, tuneful musical theatre song which is all about the jazz hands.
Yes, those are all a bit stereotyping, but the thing is, I love the variety that switching styles around affords me. I can find songs to stretch and challenge me in even more ways. I can find so many more songs to calm and comfort me for any mood.
I’m not sticking to some stupid rule that says I’m only allowed to sing art songs. I want to try everything and explore all the possibilities.
It makes me happy, and that seems to me argument enough.
3 Flexibility means employability
This is less of an issue for me as I’m not a professional singer, but flexibility is essential to getting steady work. Very few people are lucky enough to be on a permanent contract with an opera company, or have a job in a West End show that’s been running for 10+ years (especially right now in 2021…).
Instead, being able to work across styles and genres means more auditions you can go for. More auditions means more chance of work.
Beyond singing, many theatrical productions require singing. Actors need to be able to sing in a range of styles to suit the play they are in.
I even find that flexibility of styles is useful in church. We sing a range of styles of songs, so I want to choose a sound that works best with the particular hymn or worship song. I will often use three or four different styles throughout one service.
And yes, as a teacher, more styles means more potential students.
4 Adaptability means accessibility
A big chunk of what I’m working on at the moment is geared towards community singing. I love working with people who are not professional singers, and instead enjoy music for pleasure alone.
Imagine if I walked in and started teaching in a hardcore classical voice…
Not going to help that room of singers feel comfortable and confident is it.
So being able to change and adapt my style of singing means I can pick the right sound for the group I’m in and even the songs I’m singing.
Just as we adapt our language and tone of voice from business meeting to family dinner to kids playtime, I want to be sure I can sing in the way that’s most accessible and open.
Whatever your preferred genre, learning to sing in different styles, and with different sounds will set you in good stead for a lifetime of music without limits.
If you’re looking for a teacher, choose one who will help you develop a safe, healthy and flexible sound, and one who will challenge you to explore lots of different ways of singing through a variety of repertoire and musical styles.