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book of mormon

Once Upon a Time in London

I made a weekend trip to London in September and attended a conference on ‘Teaching Singing in Higher Education’ at London College of Music. I also went to see two musicals: Book of Mormon and Six. Saturday was pretty packed for me. I flew from Helsinki to Heathrow early in the morning and went straight to the conference site in Ealing. Made it just in time! After the conference I took the Piccadilly line to West End where I finally got to see Book of Mormon. I think it is one of the best and funniest musicals I have seen. My preliminary fear of falling asleep was totally unfounded. After the show I took the bus to my hotel in Whitechapel. On the way there was a never-ending stream of walkers supporting a cancer charity dressed in blinking lights. It was quite a sight.

The conference program was interesting. It was also nice to discuss with British colleagues and hear about singing education in UK and challenges they are facing. Some teachers told me that due to high university fees the level of students has become much more varied.

Gillyanne Kayes started the conference with her presentation. She went through all possible things that can be related to singing teacher’s work. And there's quite a lot! After her Janice Chapman was reflecting on the current teaching system and if it is fit for the purpose. Insights and examples provided by her long career made her presentation very dynamic.

Denise Borland and Ali Bell gave a presentation on ‘Psychology of one-to-one teaching in the studio’. It was easy to agree with them. Among other things they discussed physical touch in teaching and its boundaries which I found important. Johan Sundberg gave a presentation that I was largely familiar with already. He was busting some vocal pedagogy myths with his vast knowledge on voice research. I was hoping to hear more about his and Brian Gill’s research on velopharyngeal opening and its resonance effects but unfortunately I seem to have to wait a bit longer.

Tori Burnay gave an interesting presentation on BAPAM’s new initiative for performers’ vocal rehabilitation. In UK doctors, SLPs and singing teachers seem to collaborate more when treating professionals with vocal problems. I would like to see more of this kind of collaboration happening in Finland too.

Susan Yarnall is the current president of EVTA - European Voice Teachers’ Association. She presented energetically on European vocal pedagogy. She brought up the problem of multiple terms which mean different things in different countries. She also mentioned that in Netherlands there are some universities that require teachers to be trained in certain method and thought that this is problematic. I think she might have mentioned Estill here. Anyway, I agree with her. However, I think it’s also problematic if studying a method or technique such as Estill or CVT is considered negative and would prevent a teacher getting hired. For example, the only music university in Finland, University of the Arts has not hired any authorised CVT teachers (with the exception of when students of certain faculties have been able to pick their teacher from outside the university, including me). Could it be that such continuing education as CVT teacher training is seen as an unwanted asset at the University of the Arts Helsinki?

After Susan’s presentation we were divided into groups to discuss what major areas of knowledge singing teachers require to teach effectively and what are the core competencies essential to our work. We had a lively discussion in our group and I’m sure others groups had too. Afterwards one person from each group recounted the key points. All the groups had pretty similar views including teacher’s singing skills, knowledge on styles and genres, vocal anatomy and physiology, acoustics, psychology and motor learning principles.

One subject that I think we often forget about is the relationship of our profession with general pedagogy and the meaning of teaching singing in the society. I believe we should also reflect on them more critically. Pedagogy is easily forgotten when we get absorbed in vocal folds, formants and breathing. I wish that this subject would be discussed more actively. I did mention it in our group discussion but sadly it was omitted from the summary. However, I believe that if you keep on bringing something up eventually someone else will catch it and maybe think it’s their original idea and make things happen.

To sum it up, I had a good time in London. I’m looking forward to the next conference which I believe will be PEVOC in Copenhagen next summer. Anyone else gonna be there?