Learning to Learn

Lake Orford

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m off to Orford Arts Centre Academy.  I will be a student of Denise Massé, who is one of the French diction coaches at the Met, and I’ll be studying one of my favorite opera roles with her – Marie from La fille du régiment.  These are the kinds of experiences that are just as valuable as a degree program, because they provide the opportunity to make connections with professionals in the field without the time commitment of a degree or training program.

I have, however, run into a little problem which exists in my mind and in the way I learn.  I have blogged about it before, but in a different form.  At the beginning of the summer it was manifesting itself as a resistance to getting a real job as a recent Masters graduate.  Now, I can feel a resistance to artistic suggestions.  What I mean to say is, I have become a bad student.

One would think that after so many years of schooling, the one thing that a student like me would be good at is, well, being a student.  I have had years of training in listening, respect, submission, opening my mind, acting based on external guidelines, and accepting minute adjustments to the way I do what I do.  Or, to put it simply, being a sponge.  Most of the time, at least in my experience, the transition of attitude from student to professional is one of the most difficult transitions of graduation.  It is safe to be a student – you get alot of attention because you are paying an institution for your learning.

It is possible that I have spent so much of my energy trying to make a smooth transition from student to professional, that I have overshot my goal.  I don’t mind tweaks and improvements on things that I clearly overlooked in the musical score, or suggestions that improve something that I know was in dire need of improvement.  What I mind is, someone messing with the things that I have worked hard at, things that I have researched, things that I have painstakingly decided on as an artist.  It is a very sensitive issue, especially with singers.  On top of the fact that we are actually artists and we have a very personal attachment to our art, our instrument is in our bodies, indeed it IS our bodies.  Many artistic decisions in singing are woven tightly with the dictates of our voices, our breathing apparatus, our individual tensions or talents.  We spend hours every day singing, and thinking about singing.  This art form is part of us.

When I was a very young singer, I loved my voice lessons.  I felt privileged to gain each and every figment of knowledge my teachers would pass down to me, and I would work hard to integrate it into my voice.  I was a natural sponge, as young minds are.  I remember this feeling clearly, and that is how I can recognize that something in me has shifted.  I am still very grateful to work with the people I do, and I respect them very highly.  Now, however, I feel that I have something to contribute, something that is based on the years and hours and mental energy I have spent with my voice.  I do not know nearly as much as my world-class coaches, especially regarding performance practise and repertoire.  And the fact remains that I will never be able to hear myself sing, so the immediate feedback a teacher gives is incredibly valuable.  I do know things about my voice, my artistic personality, and my repertoire, and this is why I feel as though I would be a fake if I pretended to be the same student I was at age 13.

I learned to learn, I learned to be aware of what I learned, I learned to release the attitude of someone who knows very little.  Now, I need to re-learn how to learn.  I need to learn to learn more intelligently; how to learn from my coaches and teachers as a professional that has some prior knowledge.  I wish I could finish this blog post with a paragraph on how I intend to accomplish this next phase of learning, but I am at a complete loss.  The only thing I know to do, is to embark with a keen self-awareness – awareness of what knowledge I think I possess, but with a constant reminder to myself that there is always more to learn, even if it is in the form of a new approach or point of view.  My new learning begins this week – think of me as I take the first few steps.

You have learned something.  That always feels at first as if you had lost something.  ~H.G. Wells

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