Changing Your Story: Private Lesson Fees, Part I

Most private music teachers will price their one to one lessons based on the average cost of lessons in their city or town. While this may be a good place to start, it is something that is in your best interest and the best interests of our communities to outgrow.

I am sharing this post, verbatim, from Cara Transtrom, an Independent private voice studio owner. We met through The SpeakEasy Cooperative founded by Michelle Markwart Deveaux.

Raising rates doesn’t work when you randomly decide to do so without doing the work of understanding yourself, your abilities, your path, your passions, and how that LEADS to rate raises.

Cara’s Words

“Colleagues, I want to share a thought about pricing that has helped me over this last year or two. As is true of many of us, I’m sure, the prices I need to charge for my services in my particular region of the U.S. means that I could never have afforded me (nor could my family) in my growing-up years, college years, or grad-school years.

As you can imagine, I’ve had mixed feelings about this.

So it has often been a struggle to continue to define what it means to take care of myself and my family financially while also fulfilling the passion I have for seeing that vocal education is accessible to those whose limited family resources don’t permit it.

These two things often appear to be in conflict, even though both realities are fully, 100% true simultaneously.

So over the last few years, I’ve been thinking hard about pricing as social justice. I kid you not: if we (mostly female) voice teachers continue to price our services at hobby rates, we help to ensure that the next generation of voice teachers will largely be privileged women who are partnered with someone who can pay all their bills.

So a choice to charge “hobby” rates (which will differ significantly from area to area within the United States, let alone internationally) is actually a choice that will eliminate the following folks from the next generation of voice teachers: large swaths of people of color, first-generation immigrants, some segments of the LGBTQIA+ communities, socio-economically-disenfranchised folks, and others who do not have the luxury of being entirely or almost-entirely supported by family wealth or by a wealthy partner. ”

Cate’s Comment

This may seem like a slap-in-the-face comment to those who keep their rates low to serve a certain demographic. But consider how this can affect anyone who wants to go on in the arts or arts’ education work. They need to work with someone who models both charging a livable wage AND passing it forward to those who can not afford them. After all, your wage has to allow for the on-going bare minimum expenses of self-employment taxes, business expenses, practice and research time and continuing education for the teacher. Otherwise, it is a hobby and you are undercutting those who don’t have a partner who supports them financially.

Cara’s Words

“My choice to charge rates that allow for a basic standard of human needs for me and my family being met, is a choice to help ensure economic justice for the next generation of voice teachers, artists, and teaching artists.

Grit, determination, passion, insatiable curiosity, talent, artistry, creativity, and a relentless desire to grow IS NOT LIMITED only to those with enough privilege to pay for the development of these things: it is instead our human birthright.

I cannot individually change all the world’s economic systems of (in)justice, but I CAN see that the legacy I leave behind for the next generation seeks to ensure that they will have a living wage as artists, teaching artists, or teachers.

We often speak within The Speakeasy Cooperative of pricing for generosity, (pricing in a way that allows us to quietly offer lessons and other services to certain clients in need on a sliding scale different from our published or “usual” rates).

But do we often stop to think of the fact that the way in which we price our services MAY BE ONE OF THE MOST POTENT, EFFECTIVE, AND VALUABLE WAYS THAT WE INSIST UPON ECONOMIC, RACIAL, AND CULTURAL JUSTICE in the communities, countries, and the globe in which we live?

We can and we do touch & change the hearts and minds of people with our performances and our teaching: this we take for granted.

But let’s also embrace the reality that we can and we will change the economic (in)justice that surrounds artists and teaching artists of almost every culture by the ripple effects of our own pricing and money-value choices.

Michelle Markwart Deveaux’s words:

Income + Intention + Impact = BeastyBoss. 

Our money does MORE than help us. 
Our rates are about impact in the world. 

Greed is an insatiable, excessive, selfish craving for more more more. (Jen Sincero) 

Let’s not confuse Greed and Money.

Comments? Thoughts?

Singing Through Change: Who We are Writing For

If menopause symptoms were due solely to hormonal changes then the menopausal experience would be more homogenous.

In “Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause and Beyond, Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman and I are writing for a wide variety of singers who:

–Have sung all their lives but don’t understand that singing through the lifespan is like being active in sports. You need to tend things along the way or you can’t play.

Don’t know much about their bodies or biological cycles other than what they hear in media or what their doctors tell them.

–Work with singers through midlife and aging: coaches, teachers, performers, choral conductors, music directors and medical personal.

–Are colleagues, students and medical professionals. We are writing the book we wish we’d had as we moved through our changes.

A very T-A-L-L order? Yes.

That’s why there are three of us writing in collaboration. We are really excited about the very unique way of co-authoring we’ve created! It takes longer than if we each write a chapter, but it’ll be worth it!

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Singing and Teaching From an Undivided Self

In a month or so I am launching a mentoring program for Teachers of Singing and Recovering Academics.

It’s called “The Alchemy of Teaching Singing.”

I put this together because there is a crying need for those who work with singers to understand that the best teaching and coaching comes from those who come from an Undivided Self.

They are teaching WHO they are far more than WHAT they know.

Learning to do this requires a sort of alchemical process to find personal and pedagogical truths amidst the deafening noise of information, data, and a cult of personality. These things don’t work well with singing. Because singing is about the silence of stillness, becoming a channel for bio-electric energy, all human expression and divine connection.

I think many teachers know this–but they don’t FEEL it. They know in their heads how it is supposed to be, but have not been able to embody it yet, even as they help their students considerably. They have degrees and workshop certifications coming out every available body hole but still are wondering where their magic is.

We have more educated voice teachers now than at any time in the history of academia and dare I say it? Very little teaching from an Undivided Self, which means very little true wisdom.

It is about staying centered in spite of (insert performance issue, equipment malfunction, audience reaction, your self-agonizing “oh I didn’t sing that passage well.”) The later is slap-in-the-face to the privilege of singing and having an education. All functional pedagogy must lead to these things, or it is simply mental masturbation

Your “undivided Self” is created, not only in health and wellness, but by exploring your own inner life and creativity. “The Alchemy of Teaching Singing” will introduce practical and useful steps towards integrating your Undivided Self as a teacher and a singer.

Every major thread of one’s life experience must be honored, which creates a state of being of such coherence and strength that it can hold students and subject as well as the Self.

Singing is the “Great Thing” that should exist at the center of our teaching. The ‘center of knowing’ is often placed with the teacher, and ignores the special place where the magic happens: in the space between singer and singing teacher.

Special thanks to Palmer Parker and his brilliant book “The Courage to Teach.”

Book Titles and Search Engines…

Who knew it would take so long to come up with a title for our upcoming book on Singing and Menopause, to be published by StudioBos Media???

We started out months ago by brain-storming every idea we could think of to see what would stick. We ran titles by some of our interviewees, colleagues and friends and our editor. We had to have certain words in the title for the Search Engine. We didn’t want it to be too academic-y or cartoonish.

“Aunt Flo’s Not in the House Anymore” was the first of the spaghetti thrown against the wall. It didn’t stick. (Evidently people in the midwest “get” that but as an East Coaster I was ‘Huh?’)

Let me know if you don’t get it too….

Today we finally decided on

Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond

A quote from co-author Joanne Hayes Bozeman:

Through researching and writing this book, I have come to appreciate that the menopausal transition is far more than a set of symptoms attached to a shift in hormones. It’s a unique, sometimes untidy socio-physiological-psychological metamorphosis for women. For singers, the voice is often a crucial part of that metamorphosis.

Sign up for our mailing list and read about the authors here.

Update on Women, Menopause, Singing

To receive publication updates on the new book “Women Singing Through Menopause, Midlife and Beyond,” please sign up at Studio Bos Media

We are still wooing the right title.

Writing with coauthors Nancy Bos and Joanne Hayes Bozeman has been one of the most rewarding collaborative experiences of a long life spent in collaboration. Combining the voices of three powerhouse artist/educators who are researchers has taken a huge investment of T-I-M-E. But building a solid infrastructure for the book and becoming vulnerable to each other (check out Brene Brown’s The Call to Courage) are birthing our idea into reality.

We are writing a book for Great Aunt Betsy who sings in her church choir, for the college voice professor who has always sung well and then, well, doesn’t. For the community musical theater singer, to the elite classical and popular music singer. For the voice teacher or singer who’s own voice has gotten better and better and may not understand what is happening with others who have a different experience. For the medical community that knows nothing about menopause and voice changes because it is outside of their health model. For the used-to-sing woman who is just fine with how her voice is as she gets older and doesn’t think much about it.

So the challenge has been how to combine our three author-voices, our interviewees’ individual stories AND a curated list of reliable information into one voice–

–to reach all these singers.

It’s happening and we can’t wait to share it with you!

Regina Spektor and a Classical Vocal Exercise

I owe this idea to a recent conversation on The New Forum for Professional Voice Teachers. Many on this forum sing, train and teach both classical and popular genres of music. We have a wide assortment of training methods, resources and approaches stored in our mental libraries and our own music-making.

Recently someone posted Regina Spektor’s “Us,” to illustrate her technical approach to one part of the song. One of the comments was that some passages were “straight out of Lutgen.”

So I went a-looking…..

Lutgen was a German composer who wrote many books of vocal training exercises in the mid 1800’s. The exercises were for those studying European classical singing of the time.

Intrigued WHY my colleague would relate Regina Spektor to Lutgen’s 18th century vocalises, I looked them up. And there it was. Lutgen exercise #1–

Listen to Spektor and then see how the above exercises could be used to help someone sing parts of this song. Or ask your young students to listen for these exercise patterns in the song. This might be a great project for them or you when you need to work less strenuously. You can also search for Lutgen exercises on Youtube. Some enterprising music educator has put up keyboard renditions of all the Lutgen exercises!

Help your students find patterns between 1) CCM singer/song-writers and 2) classical vocal patterns found in old exercises! A little sleuthing is lots of fun.

Evidence-Based Vocal Pedagogy and Other Mystifications, Part II

If you haven’t read Part I, head over for a quick read.

My husband is an Instructional Designer. We have long, sexy talks about Andragogy, which is the art and science of teaching Adult Learners. In his field, (and many others) Pedagogy means the art and science of teaching children.

These conversations have got my WHEELS TURNING and I am thinking that “Evidence-Based Vocal Pedagogy,” when working with adult singers, would be enhanced by using a few principles from Evidence-based Adult Learning.

So If you work with adult singers or voice teachers, here’s a short quiz to find out if your teaching might be more effective with a few of these basic principles of Adult Learning. (and maybe you already do this–BRAVA if that is the case.)

I. Adults learn better when the instruction they receive is tailored to their learning styles (e.g, Visual, Aural, and Kinesthetic)

DRAMATIC PAUSE

The answer, according to Evidence-Based Adult Learning is, no. Most of us were taught otherwise. But here are some interesting articles that explain more:

Debunking Learning Myths

The Atlantic “Are Learning Styles” Real?

II. The more you give your students, the more they will learn.

TAKES A SIP OF TEA

Once again, the answer is no. A colleague asked what is meant by “the more you give.” In this case, they are referring to the amount of information or ideas presented in one training session, whether that is one class or 10 classes, or in a private lesson or coaching.

To get how this might apply to both private lessons for adults and courses, here are three sources to jump start your thinking:

Compulsory Teaching, by Dr. Shannon Coates

Shut Up and Let the Student Sing, by Cate Frazier-Neely

Giving Students ‘Think Time

III. Making mistakes is useful for learning

STARES OUT WINDOW AT DAFFODILS

Here, the answer is yes. The enemy of learning, creativity and authentic vocal expression is Perfectionism.

There’s a fine line between expecting a student’s best and demanding perfection.

However, my colleague, Jennifer Cooper, says that in teaching adult singers, making repeated mistakes at the fundamental level (pitches, rhythmic accuracy etc.) can create a reinforcement of inaccuracy (i.e. once that pitch is learned “wrong”, it takes dozens of accurate repetitions to correct it).

And I would add that the educating the ear and physical coordination, to make music, is harder as an adult that it is for a child–just like languages and sports. Making mistakes is only useful for people who do the work of learning from them.

The Secret of Creativity: Make Mistakes

IV. Students who express satisfaction with a training course are more likely to have learned more than students who say they were dissatisfied with the training course.

WATCHES CAT LICKING HIS PRIVATES

This one may surprise you. The answer here is no, too!

Expressing satisfaction with a teacher or training course may not be the same as learning what is being taught by the teacher or in that training program. The five-star, ‘rate your professor’ nonsense that has taken root does not measure anything accurately or well. I have seen amazing teachers given one star because the student thought the homework was too hard, and charismatic teachers given 5 stars because they acted like buddies with their students. Expressing satisfaction, or no satisfaction, has little to do with what has been learned in many cases. To read more:

Alliger, G.M. Tannenbaum, Bennett, Traver, & Shotland (1997) A meta-analysis of the relations among training criteria. Personnel Psychology, 50(2), 341-358

Sitzmann, T, Brown, Casper, Ely and Zimmerman (2008) a review and meta-analysis of the nomological network of trainee reactions, Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 280-295

Please share your thoughts on this series! I am preparing the infrastructure for a new voice teacher mentoring course and could use your reactions to these posts.