Songs for Non-Singers
Since 1976 I've taught a course called Songs for Non-Singers. It's always been massively over-subscribed and wildly popular; you'd be amazed how many "tone-deaf" people are actually dying to sing.
Anabel Graetz invented the method I use. I was her franchisee -- Adult-Ed programs through the Boston area wanted her, she needed a clone. So she farmed out some outlying classes to me. Every week I bumped over dark country roads on my moped to Concord. There, I dealt with the first of many classrooms full of anxious, uptight, but hopeful adults who had considered themselves Non-Singers all their lives, but now were determined to sing. I found this incredibly moving, and still do, decades later.
It takes courage for adults to try something they're not good at. Kids are used to it - we make them try new things all the time. But adults specialize. We have jobs and hobbies we've mastered and which bring us satisfaction. We adults are out of the habit of failing. This makes my students' willingness to bare their fears to me, and to each other, and to try something which terrifies them, all the more inspiring.
The people in my classes are competent people: they are professionals and academics and blue-collar workers and college students and retirees and moms. What they have in common is that at some point, sometimes forty or fifty years ago, somebody told them: "you have a lousy voice." Nobody who hears these words ever forgets them. No passage of time dims the pain they cause.
It's amazing how often the person who says: "you can't sing" is a parent or a teacher. A parent or a teacher would not tell a child: "you won't ever walk" or "you will never read" or "you can't do math." Why is it ok to tell a child he or she will never sing? These words, spoken in a careless moment, are internalized as a life-long curse.
Most astoundingly, the person who makes the malediction is often a MUSIC TEACHER. What does teacher mean, anyway? That you reward and encourage those who already know the material, and castigate and reject those who still need to learn it? Music teachers' most common and execrable command to those who decades later take my class: "Just mouth the words, honey." Right, like a math teacher would tell a kid who is struggling: "Just move your pencil over the page, honey - don't bother trying to work the problems."
Obviously I have a lot more to say on this subject, but for today I close by asking you: have you ever told someone - your child, your spouse, your student - there's something he or she is incapable of? You have? Go say you're sorry.
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