January 2, 2012

About those child opera singers: here's the deal

I'm going to let all you music-lovers in on a little secret:  we professional musicians don't have much use for the phenomenon of the Child Prodigy.  Six year old violinists playing Mendelssohn; ten year old pianists playing Rachmaninov; and especially *shudder* twelve year old girls belting out operatic arias... or country music... or whatever... on national television?  Yeah, it's impressive.  Sort of.  You can keep 'em; I have no interest, especially when it comes to the miniature singers.

You know that NPR program "From The Top", featuring adolescent or pre-adolescent performers stunning us with their "maturity" and precocity?

I am not a devotee of that program.

If you are, that's swell for you.  Enjoy. But most professionals in the classical music arena look askance at pint-sized virtuosi.  So many reasons...

For one thing, the great majority of child performers will eventually crash and burn attempting to make the transition from intuitive tot to analytical adult.  There was once a centipede who was asked, "When you walk, in what order do you move your many legs?"  The poor bastard had never thought about that, and became so self-conscious he never walked again.  This syndrome is the norm for talented kiddies.  Child pianists memorize intuitively, by ear; adult professionals memorize in the framework of an analytical system.  Children who have been learning complicated masterworks without really knowing how they were doing it can fall into a similar state of paralysis.

Furthermore, that "unusual musical maturity" you think you detect in the oh-so-polished phrasing of a Chopin Nocturne or Paganini Etude is not organic maturity at all.  It's apery; it's mimicry; it's the result of carefully imitating some adult's interpretation, be it from the teacher or some recording.  Musical compositions which express profound insights about love, loss and life are beyond the ken of a nine year old and that's just how it is.  Having a good ear is not the same thing as musical insight.

Another problem relating to emerging from the prodigy stage:  child stars become accustomed to being the most successful performer wherever they are.  They win the competitions; they receive the adulation; they are Number One, baby!  They are able to play difficult compositions eighty percent perfectly with little effort.  That in itself poses a problem: when such young musicians go on to major in their instrument at the college or conservatory level, they are too often content to continue achieving 80% perfection with 40% effort.  It's not unusual that they find, to their bewilderment, that they are surpasssed by less gifted students who achieve 95% perfection with 110% effort.  It's the old Hare-vs-Tortoise story applied to the piano.  A few of you may remember a child prodigy of some twenty years ago, a Greek pianist named Dmitri Sgouros.  He made a sensation performing on the "Tonight Show" and playing the Third Piano Concerto of Rachmaninov at age ten or eleven.  My wife knew one of his teachers in America and was privy to the following anecdote:  At age eleven, Sgouros played through the Brahms Piano Sonata in F Minor, a five-movement beast to play, at sight.  He then played through it a second time and pronounced the piece memorized and ready for performance.  Wow!  Gee!  Gasp!  Why, he's another Franz Liszt!

It's now 2012 and Dmitri Sgouros is a musician in this thirties.  Is he the greatest living pianist?  Does he perform to sold-out houses in New York, Chicago and L.A.?  Will he go down in history?  And was his performance of the Brahms F Minor Sonata a performance for the ages?

No, no, no and no.  He's got a website; plays in Greece and so forth--that's nice, I suppose.  See, the reality is that for every Yehudi Menuhin (prodigy who became an all-time great artist), there are one hundred Dmitri Sgouros's whose bright flame dims with age.  (I know that statistic is accurate because I just made it up.)

But as much disdain and eye-rolling weariness as I feel for instrumental prodigies (and I've actually taught a few in my teaching career), it's nothing compared to the scorn I feel for Children Who Sing Opera.


As Joan Rivers would say, can we talk?  Let's get something straight:  opera is to singing as neuro-surgery is to medicine.  No pre-adolescent children should ever do it, and few teen-agers should do much of it.  Yes, yes, I know all about Roberta Peters having made her Metropolitan Opera debut at age sixteen.  Big whoop, don't care.  Until their hormones have finished percolating, children should sing (duh) music written for children: in a children's choir, in school, in church, heck - even in an opera, providing it's a role written for a child. with a child's limitations in mind.

Let me explain.  The best metaphor for allowing children to sing adult operatic literature is found in Little League baseball.  A responsible Little League coach ensures that a ten-year-old pitcher will throw the ball easily, with a fluid, non-stressful pitching motion.  Some specimens in the coaching community, however, can't resist the urge to teach kids to throw trick pitches:  curve balls, sliders, screwballs, and so on.

The problem, of course, is that these pitches place a high degree of stress on bones, muscles and tendons.   However, the muscular-skeletal system of a baseball player in middle school is still a work in progress and, as such, incapable of tolerating such stress without inducing inflammation at best and serious injury at worst.

It's the very same scenario with children singing opera.  The fact is that many college-level voice majors are kept away from the music of Puccini, Verdi and such composers until they enter graduate school.

But here's the worst thing, the thing that really drives me NUTS:  when I try to explain this to non-musicians, NO ONE EVER BELIEVES ME!  ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!  Here are the standard responses I can expect to hear:

"Really?  Well, it sounded fine to me..."

"Oh, you and your doctorate.  You just aren't accustomed to working with younger children, I expect."

"Well, I don't see any problem; he/she certainly seems to enjoy it."

"What's the matter, Glenn - feeling a little jealous?"  (Oh yes, how perceptive of you: I'm eaten up with envy that I shall never appear on "America's Got Talent".  *snort*)

"Well, I know the teacher, and that teacher is supposed to be really good.  I'm sure it's okay in this case."

NO!  No it isn't!  Not for an eleven year old girl singing Musetta's Waltz or "O mio babbino caro"!  Not okay, not okay!  That teacher is either delusional or a hack!  Stop singing opera!  Stop singing opera!  The vocal folds which produce musical tones are a highly delicate, extremely fragile, easily damaged organ.  Adult opera singers are at risk of incurring injury from over-use; what chance do you think Shirley Temple Junior has?  Think about it.  That Tweenie girl singing opera is writing checks her body can't cash, even though, yes, it might sound perfectly lovely to YOUR amateur's ears.  You don't get to hear her ten years later when her instrument has degraded to the point that a career in the opera field is no longer an option.

And my objections aren't limited to the vocal hazards.  Putting a child on television to sing, be it a local, regional, or national audience, is no way to raise a kid.  It's even worse when the TV program is in the format of a competition.  You do understand that a child with an unusually mature voice still has a child's emotional maturity, don't you?  A youngster who has been always been praised for her beautiful voice is swimming with sharks once a Career In Show Business has been launched.  Regardless of how much cash is earned, regardless of the fan letters received or the pride felt by the pushy stage-parents, here's what the child faces:
  • Hurtful, snide criticism by the Simon Cowells of the world.
  • Losing; losing competitions, losing recording contracts if sales aren't up to snuff; and public rejection for everyone to see, perhaps with TV cameras trained on their faces as someone else's name is announced as the winner, following the trail of tears rolling down their cheeks.  Losing an election for class president is a valuable experience; losing a damn singing contest on TV at a young age is traumatic.
  • Being regarded as a freak by other children their own age
  • The pressure of doing what they're doing so as not to disappoint the adults in their lives: ambitious parents, the teacher who may be fixated on the vicarious thrill of a student's success; adults with whom they spend most of their time interacting instead of with their chronological peers.
I know there are highly-educated, well-intended private voice teachers out there in your community who "specialize" in the vocal training of children and likely come with any number of glowing endorsements and recommendations.  Here's my recommendation: if your ten year old daughter has a nice voice, do her a favor and let her take piano or guitar lessons.  Then she'll have the solid musical foundation and musicianship skills that will pay dividends when she reaches the age Mother Nature intended for serious vocal study to begin.  If that highly educated private teacher gives her simple songs to sing with a modest range, asking her to perform only in studio recitals, you may just scrape by without doing permanent damage.

I mean, what's your hurry, anyway?  Children sing in church, home and school.  Leave the stage and the recording studio to the big bad grownups.  Thanks.

My new book The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates is now available from Kendall Hunt Publishing. Order online at www.kendallhunt.com/operazoo or by phone from the Customer Service line at 1-800-344-9034 ext.3020.

576 comments:

  1. I agree with 99.5% of this.

    I am now an adult "opera-type" singer, and after being financially forced out of the girls' chorus I sang with as a child (they were going to Europe, my family hadn't the money), my dear mom offered to let me take private lessons instead, as it was cheaper.
    Granted, I was already studying piano, wind instruments, etc. . .

    Here's the thing. Though there are many sham scam fraud teachers who know nothing about working with children, I know there are competent teachers out there. Often, they're found teaching children's choruses, or at the local middle school teaching everything all day long!

    Though I stopped studying voice through high school in favor of band instruments (took up voice again in college), I am certain that Suzy 10-year-old who desperately wants singing lessons could benefit from working with a good, sensitive-to-youth teacher.

    I wholeheartedly agree that such a student should be urged to learn piano, but private voice study in childhood isn't necessarily bad. . .after all, the skill of audiation is taught best through singing. Sight-singing is taught in colleges to EVERY music major - and doesn't require a grownup voice. Phrasing can be practiced without a Puccini sound. Many musical skills can be honed through the original instrument, while the student patiently waits for adulthood (or more realistically for the opera singer, their late 30s...)

    Love the article - just wanted to throw in my anonymous nickel.

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  2. Thank you. I have been on my soap box about this as a singer (19 years and counting in a professional opera career), a voice professor, opera lover, and parent. There is nothing about what is being done to Miss Evancho that is OK. Likely psychological and vocal perils aside (you covered those topics well), she's simply not able to do justice to the art form if she can't even sing O mio babbino caro in the correct key with a modicum textual and dramatic understanding. As you wrote, "opera is to singing as neuro-surgery is to medicine." I couldn't have expressed it better.

    Warning: so zealous are her fans, if they find this post, they will accuse you (and me, probably) of being a pretentious, over-educated, jealous hack. After all, we haven't achieved anywhere near comparable fame and fortune. They get very threatened by the idea that we might know more than they do about the art form and what constitutes good singing, and the ad hominem attacks will fly. Point out that opera singers undergo years of training not just for great technique (that includes projection and range), but to be able to read music, analyze harmony, understand historic musical context, translate and pronounce several foreign languages (if not speak them fluently), figure out where each aria fits into the dramatic arc of the piece, analyze drama and characterization, and explore the rich history of performance practice from the great voices of generations past. They will usually make a logical U-turn and assert that she's really a crossover artist, anyway.

    In the end, maybe it will bring a few more folks out to take in a real opera sung by real opera singers... We can always hope.

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  3. So right on!
    What is it about adults who want children to skip being children? I hate to think it's about the money to be made on prodigies.
    A tiny imitation adult can ape vocal sounds and phrasing, but physically and emotionally can't sustain adult artistry. Vocal imitation almost always is accompanied by tension, and tension over time damages the vocal mechanism.
    Maybe TV footage of tiny divas and torch singers should be accompanied by a warning, like cigarette packaging: Premature adult-like singing often produces nodes and bad habits that terminate singing careers before adulthood. Don't try this at home!

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  4. As an opera singer..."thankyou!" for this article

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  5. I have two words for the Evancho fans: Charlotte Church.

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  6. Very good article, as an opera critic married to a professor of neuro surgery I couldn't agree more.

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  7. Urgh - look, these kids are being pushed by the adults around them and none of them give a shite whether the kids are performing beyond the cash making age (ie: when the cuteness wears off). The Evanchos of this world make me smile- a kid singing with a wide vibrato at 12 is never going to be competition for the real deal. It's the Katherine Jenkins of this world that piss me off. She goes out and makes a fortune selling herself as an opera singer having never sung one. Then the idiot public BUYS it. I guess opera will ALWAYS remain 'elitist' because anyone with an actual education who attends opera and knows what they are talking about will always be considered a 'snob'. Whatever.

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  8. I too agree with most of what you have written. I take issue with steering away from voice lesson at an early age. Our studio has two divisions, junior and senior. My wife teaches the young students and I take them when they are more mature. There is more to singing than just technique. We carefully select music to create a "glide path" to a healthy vocal career. I too watched/listened to voices wrecked by being pushed into repertoire that was beyond the vocal maturity of the singer. This was at a very prestigious university. We use a comprehensive approach in our teaching. We include master classes to teach students how to perform and how to deal with the inevitable mistakes. We teach music theory and sightsinging as well. We do NOT push any singer into singing songs that will damage their voices. Our goal has always been to train well rounded musicians.

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  9. I am so grateful to have had good teachers who taught me to sing age-appropriate literature with age-appropriate technique, especially since my voice changed fairly late in my teens. I'm also glad because, now that I'm an elementary music teacher, I have recordings of myself singing in high school. I tell my students, "This is what I sounded like eight years ago, I don't sound like that now. Your voices will change too." For girls who are in fifth grade and trying to make huge sounds come out of tiny bodies, I know they're reassured when they hear my own vocal growth. I want my students to have the musicianship and confidence to enjoy music throughout their lifetimes.

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  10. agreed, yes, yes, yes right on !

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  11. Well done, but I would go further and apply the same condemnation to the child singers that you do to the instrumentalists: they are simply mimicking what they hear. I've yet to hear one of these 11 year old wonders who doesn't sing with a completely manufactured sound achieved by depressing the tongue to somewhere between the shoulder blades and then using a mic to compensate.

    What every teacher knows is that we've all heard 100 kids who can do a decent imitation of an opera singer, but that an imitation is all it is. The sound won't remotely carry in a living room much less a concert hall. What really happens to many of these kids is they keep manufacturing a sound and fall by the wayside when someone takes the mic away and hears what they really sound like.

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  12. I would correct only one thing - if your child wants to sing, and you think instrumental work would be helpful, suggest they learn a string instrument, or woodwind perhaps. Piano and guitar are both percussive by nature, and leave anyone who studies them with an unconscious aesthetic which is equally percussive - anathema to the singing voice. At least string and wind instruments produce sounds that must be sustained actively, the same way the voice works.

    Other than that, thanks for your post!

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  13. The science of baby opera singers is an old one. I lived in Italy for twenty five years while I traveled all over Europe as a professional opera singer. I had studied with European teachers in the States. The European tradition of teaching children opera is that no heavy opera is sung before age 18. After that the heavy roles are eased in gradually. Europeans sing professionally from age 18 (light coloratura sopranos) onward. Before that a solid musical background is expected.(Although in Italy it doesn't seem to be really required.) I think that the American teachers are too protective and a harsh criticism is not a problem to a student who has solid moral support from someone. Actually it is important to learn to handle that sort of thing early in life. When my students say "I have to be perfect", I say not to worry about that, Be EXCELLENT!" Lynne Strow Piccolo

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  14. Thank you so much for posting this - and can I please add that allowing a child to sing musical theatre, especially anything written after 1950, is just as harmful to the voice. As a teacher who accepts children (technically for voice lessons, although I spend the majority of the lesson time on theory and ear training/diction-which really helps kids that have speech impediments that their parent's don't address), the very first thing I do is have a REAL conversation with the parents about the expectations that are reasonable for a 10 yr old voice.

    When a parent says to me 'my daughter sings along with Wicked, I want her to work on that' - I flat-out say 'NO.' Then proceed to explain that as a 10 yr old, not only is her voice absolutely too immature to handle rep that is that low/high/belting, but the subject matter is ENTIRELY inappropriate. Instead, I let her work on 'Part of Your World' from Little Mermaid, and while this kills little pieces of my soul, I know that at the end of the day, the music I have her 'practicing' is completely appropriate for a 10 yr old female. I get increasingly disgusted with parents who allow their children to sing/dance/act to material that is completely age-inappropriate. And yet, as a country, we have encouraged shows like 'Toddlers and Tiaras,' 'Dance Moms,' and yes, all of those TERRIBLE performance-based competition shows with no minimum age requirement - showing our kids that we WANT to see a 5 yr old singing 'Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend' (nothing like a small child singing about being the other woman in an office affair, it's heart-warming, really), or a 13 yr old belt out 'Un bel di' to an enamoured audience that has no clue that this 'character' has a child with a man who was never really her husband and kills herself.

    All of that is to say - thank you for writing this, I will definitely be reposting.

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  15. As a piano and voice (age 16+) teacher with elementary age children of my own I am constantly asked if my boys' classmates can start "singing" lessons. I have used the baseball metaphor with great success. I am also lucky to have a marvelous music teacher at our local elementary school. We back each other up. I will tell parents that the children are getting what they need in terms of a children's choir in school. She tells parents of very interested children that they would benefit more from piano, music theory and ear training with me than from hardcore voice training.

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  16. Children should have a childhood. They cannot nor should not have to communicate the emotional contents that only life experience provides, in a piece of music or an aria, unless they have or are experienceing violent abuse, terminal illness, untold losses, in which case all their energy has to be employed to survive, not to sing about it.

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  17. Thank you for writing this! I'm a mid-twenties aspiring opera singer who also does quite a bit of teaching, conducting and private lessons. One of those jobs is teaching 8th grade music part time. It is pervasive in the youth of our culture to try and "strike it rich" and become famous before their freshman year. There is no "stop and smell the roses" and enjoy your youth anymore... While I host a challenging classroom, my aim is to create a space that is still very age-appropriate. Thank you again for writing this wonderful article!

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  18. I would add this: today these so-called child opera stars are singing into microphones and television cameras and wouldn't be taken seriously for a heart-beat on the real opera stage.

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  19. It's a great piece. I do teach kids on occasion (besides my own) and I think it's important to point out that voice lessons ARE beneficial to kids provided the following: I only teach kids to release tension in their voices, breathe better, make better vowels ... and let the voice do what it's going to do and develop naturally. I also work, really primarily, at increasing their coordination and basic musicianship. I tell all my kids (and most of my adults) NOT to try to sound like me ... the kids - all the way through high school - simply don't possess, genetically, the instrument to sound like a 44-year old opera singer. I think that's the main thrust of this article, don't try to get kids to sound like adults on operatic material ... and I couldn't agree more. But, introducing classical music and allowing a child to sound like a child when they sing it simply opens their ears to new music they're simply not going to hear on the radio. And, yes, I also agree the selection of repertoire is vitally important. That's why I spend so much time transposing pieces to specifically fit the vocal range of the kid in front of me. Well written and much needed! Thank you!

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  20. I agree with this. However, the Opera Companies need to stop embracing YOUTH in competition. Opera competitions age restrictions are for signers 18-24 or 26. Some go to 28. Voices don't even mature until they are in their 30's??? I know teachers that are prepping good young singers to get them to win these competitions by 18 or 19. Is it wrong? It is, afterall, endorsed and supported by the Opera industry itself. If an 18 year old has to prepare 5 arias in a multiple languages to compete to be in an apprentice company studio, what age do you think they are begining to learn these arias? The Opera Industry needs to go back to upping the age limits on these competitions back to 32, 34, or even 35. Give the voices who waited to mature and did all the right things get a better chance to hone their craft. It is ridiculous to think that 40 year olds are stuck in a chorus while a 24 year old sings the role of Madame Butterfly a role far too complicated for even a 24 year old. And don't think I am exaggerating. I've seen it... at several opera companies. The same industry where experienced voice professionals frown on singers doing too much before their time is the same industry embracing it.

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  21. I'm 35 years old and I've been singing professionally since college. If I hear one more person tell me that I'm the next Jackie Evancho, I'm gonna lose it.

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  22. Thank you for a great article! I do teach children in my studio, many of them in the tween years, and it can be a difficult thing to remind them that they have plenty of time to grow up. At that age, in any instrument, the focus should be on building a healthy foundation in technique. In singing, this means posture, breath, releasing tension, and learning musicianship skills. There is also an immense library of music available for the young singer ranging from Disney classics, children's musical theatre, and folk songs. Why anyone would want to hear a 10 year old girl sing about flinging herself into a river if she can't be with her lover, all in a manufactured, hollow sound, is beyond me. Why can't she sing "Castle on a Cloud" or "The Girl I Mean to Be" in her own voice and be allowed to mature at her own pace?

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  23. Spot on. Thank you for writing this.

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  24. Sure, Roberta Peters made her Met debut at 16, but Magda Olivero made hers at 65! I hope I make it there by then myself!
    I think it's about time we made the distinction between Popera and Opera - maybe these categorizations will eventually stick. Great article. Thank you very much!

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  25. Roberta Peters was actually almost 20 when she made her Met debut.

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  26. And after all that, Aretha Franklin comes out with this: Aretha Franklin Is Looking For The Next Great Star ... Of Opera

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/01/03/144624251/aretha-franklin-is-looking-for-the-next-great-star-of-opera

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  27. Thank you! I can't tell you how many calls I receive asking to give someone's kid voice lessons. I ask how old and they say 10, 11 ... 8!! Each time I patiently give the same lecture: I'm not comfortable teaching nor would I even remotely recommend lessons for a child that age. I'm sure she's fabulous but call me when she's at least 15, and even then it would depend on her physical maturity, emotional commitment, etc. For now, the absolute *best* thing you can do for your kid is give her piano lessons. Even if she doesn't pursue a career in music, that's something that will serve her well forever. Sadly, most of the time the parent listens quietly, then asks, "So do you know any other teachers in the area?"

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  28. Great article, great comments. I think this all relates to the big push of reality TV, "Ten Minutes of Fame", Prodigy athletes, musicians, etc. We don't have patrons fostering talent like in Mozart's age. There is the rush to make money and ride the "train" before it leaves the station. For singers there are YAP's, of course; but those, and even the Conservatories are sometimes caught in the trap of "churning", instead of fostering. Singers who are ahead are given the attention and the ones that are "rough around the edges", but could be diamonds, are slipping thru. The competition is too great now and the spots are too few. We don't have as many great ARTISTS(actors),(singers, yes) because the slow cultivation is not there. By the time some of the talented ones/or/ late bloomers, are well rounded, life experienced, it is too late, they have to go get a real job, and the ones that might have been less talented but good vocally are out with the jobs, due to connection, luck, opportunity, etc. Survival of the fittest, but not necessarily the best....It is strange, but probably a fact in all professions to some degree. All these issues are hard enough, keeping Opera alive, gaining our future audience, etc. and to add children prodigies into the mix is ludicrous and selfish, but quite American. I am touching on many issues and clumping them together! BUT...My musical evolution was strange, I started in a country band at 12, sang musical theater, then opera in college, but I was never pushed, and my parents saw my motivation and love of singing. I think knowing the world is not going to change, we can only keep up the fight of ideals, good technique, and for me, acting the piece with age appropriate literature. ABOVE ALL: let's keep the music alive and breathing, there is nothing worse than boredom!

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  29. Let's not forget the cautionary tale of the sad, erstwhile "voice of an angel", Miss Charlotte Church. That poor kid turned out to be a hot mess. Even if she still is recording things.

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  30. Echoing what Katrina Lykes said above. I also teach middle and high school students. It's all about releasing tension, learning a bit about breathing and support, diction and presentation at these ages. I'm in NYC and lots and lots of kids have their eye on LaGuardia and the other performing arts high schools. In prepping kids for these auditions it's about making a very well prepared age-appropriate presentation vocally, musically and dramatically. I never let my students audition with songs that are about emotional issues or relationships beyond their years.

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  31. I can hardly express my gratefulness after reading this article, and after so many years of feeling and sounding like a complete crank everytime I expressed finding something objectionable about the resounding success of ten year-old opera singers. Thank You!

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  32. I love this article so very much! I have been struggling with this very issue for the past few months as I took a teaching job in a commercial studio where all of my students are children. I have been teaching for years, but always taught privately and only taught adults (17 and up, and they had to read music already!). Not only does the studio know nothing about classical music in general (the piano teachers teach from electric keyboards, which their students perform on for the concerts, too!), but they were surprised when I arrived for my first day and informed them that the studio they had assigned me would require a keyboard instrument and could lose the mic & amp (the room is about 4'x6'!). I said at my interview that I wasn't going to teach pop and when they pressed, I reluctantly conceded and said I would ONLY do it if the kids brought in sheet music for it (their other voice teacher just downloads the karaoke versions and let the kids learn by ear!) and added that I would require them to sing in a classical style. So I have parents informing me that their little treasure sounds just like Adele or Rihanna (to which I'll answer "um, she's 9!") and I smile and hand them a copy of whatever simple, age-appropriate piece I've chosen for their kid. A few of the parents have seen what I'm attempting to do - aka, teach their kids how to sing in a healthy (and age-appropriate) way, but some were disgruntled that I didn't let their kid sing with a mic at the Christmas concert and that it was too quiet. Many were surprised that I played piano (sorry - keyboard) with their kids as they performed and wondered why. We never even made it to a point for me to let them know that normally they would be obligated to engage the services of an actual pianist and pay for it... sigh. The studio is no help and sometimes I feel like I'm the only sane person around! I am going to save this article and link every one of these parents to it!

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  33. I am a non-musician and I totally agree! It's incredibly awkward watching young "talents" sing adult music and look out of place while doing so. I'll take a seasoned music vet anyday.

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  34. Thank you for this! While I am a singer and not an educator per say, I have been of the same mind for years and have often given the same advice to people who ask me to recommend a voice teacher for their child. It's nice to have someone articulate the argument so well! Bravo!

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  36. EXCELLENT! I cringe each time a new "child prodigy" appears. And don't get me started on "Glee" and what it's done for middle and high school choirs. Who??? can sing well AND dance well at the same time???? Really!

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  37. I have been a choral music educator for 28 years at the K-12 and community college levels. I have one word for you: "Bravo!"

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  38. Oh, this is absolutely wonderful. You express this so well. This is exactly right. I remember walking by the TV when someone was watching America's Got Talent, and my immediate reaction was WHY is she singing O Mio Babbino a step down? Why sing it at all?

    Thank you for explaining this whole issue so patiently and clearly.

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  39. Yes, but Little League doesn't even hurt their future potential! Amen to this. However, I was on From the Top at age 17. And I met a lot of life-long friends and colleagues on it. And we all sang rep that was appropriate, and sang it healthily, thankyouverymuch. ;] It's not about performing young, it's about not having correct, healthy training and development.

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  40. I work with so many damaged young singers. They are getting younger every year. My youngest with damage is now 6. We can say that we don't want children in our studios before the age of 12 or 14, but wouldn't you want these kids who WANT to sing or WILL sing anyway to be in a place where they can learn good technique and get a healthy foundation?

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  41. As a singer, a teacher and a mother .... THANK YOU!

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  42. Hallelujah and Amen! Thank you for this article! When I remember Charlotte Church and now Jackie Evancho, and see those jaws just shaking like an earthquake, I know they are doomed for the future, and what a shame that is. I always take the tack that there is no such thing as a prodigy - just young people who practice a lot - and lots of time to develop that practice into musical maturity. In this country we need to get over the idea that just because a musician is very young they are musically mature. Again, your article says it all.

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  43. Not to mention the situation my husband and I are in - trying to get college scholarships for our graduating high school singers. Pretty much - if you don't audition with at least one kick-butt opera aria you're toast. Or you aren't accepted at all, even with SAT's of 2200. A sad reality.

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  44. THANK YOU. Coming from violinist with 16 years of classical training, the same applies to children learning via suzuki method.

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  45. I could not agree more with everything you said, especially with regard to child "opera" singers. It drives me crazy as well. Bravo to you for saying it.

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  46. I taught for 25 years. Every time I had a conversation with a parent of 3-5 year olds who wanted their baby to study voice, I talked them out of it. If they were a little older,I directed them to a good piano teacher because they all need to be musicians first and be able to read a piano score to prepare their music as singers. I did not take anyone below the age of 16 and preferably 18 with an audition,always. The people in the "junior" level of a music school who came to me for counsel because they had wise parents or grandparents have all, always come back to thank me for advising to run- not walk away from any teacher who tried to get the to belt or sing Puccini at an early age. The character's age has nothing with those ready to sing the role.

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  47. As a graduate singer... I would like to add in my two cents publicly, rather than anonymously.

    The harsh reality spelled out in this article is spot on. To those of you that feel you have benefitted from singing teachers as a teenager- good for you! I'm sure you *did* have a competent teacher who like Glenn said, responsibly had you singing appropriate repertoire. No one is saying you can't open your mouth until you are 18. (Although I wasn't allowed to take lessons until then and personally I think it was a good idea)

    I am now in graduate school and I am STILL shying away from Puccini and Verdi and Wagner etc. etc. and not because my teacher doesn't want me to, but because a very clever teacher of mine in the past explained to me that you have to cater to the limitations of your voice. Whether or not its because you are a light soprano and you therefore shouldn't sing coloratura, or whether it is because your voice has not fully developed and you dont want to push your delicate vocal chords.

    I highly doubt that singing scholarships won't dish out the cash if you don't present them with a "kick-butt opera aria." If the judges are worth their salt, then they will see that a perfectly suited and beautifully executed french song (for example) has more worth/shows off the singer and is more appropriate than a full-on aria. Thus, they may respect your high-schoolers more and they may stand a better chance if they go in with a song suited to them.

    You must also keep in mind, that if these scholarship websites etc. are asking for an aria, they may well be catering to the graduates out there who are capable of singing these types of songs. Which also means you should choose the scholarships carefully that your children go out for. They might sing absolutely perfectly on the day, but if the scholarship is only wanting to doll out the money to a graduate then it doesnt matter how good the are.

    But I digress... I'm just glad someone else is as worked up as I am about these 8 year old girls belting out Queen of the Night. I dont hear a pretty noise, I dont hear anything impressive, what I hear is someone destroying their instrument, which is really sad :(

    Happy singing!
    -C

    Glenn, if you fancy a follow or a link back to your blog let me know :) (http://www.tips4singingstudents.com)

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  48. I saw Dmitri Sgouros play when he was 12, in Caracas. He played TWO concerti on the same program - Mozart K.414, a charming, light piece that I played myself at about age nine, and then he came out and played the Tchaikovsky concerto #1. I was an established professional with four years' training at Juilliard and knew exactly what I was hearing. Yes, on one level it was amazing, he could really play the Tchaikovsky ... kinda. The notes were 95% there. But musically, artistically, it felt like eating a small bag of potato chips and then two Costco-sized bags. I was upset and a bit angry, because I had a sense of where his career was going to end up. I'm surprised he still plays.

    As to singers... I also agree with 95% of this article. (LOVE the Charlotte Church mention.) I'm now a dramatic tenor living and working in Europe. I agree that there are good voice teachers out there who would never give Un bel dì to a teenager, though there are plenty of teenage voices being ruined trying to sing stuff like Wicked. I wish someone would write an investigative piece on the parents, teachers, backers, and agents of the Churches and Sgouroses of the world. How they can look at themselves in the mirror each morning is beyond me.

    Isn't the solution education, as it often is? If people stopped caring about a 12-year-old playing Brahms 2nd or singing Pace pace, because these tots have absolutely NOTHING to reveal to us personally or artistically, I think we might see the insane rape of these talented kids at least slow down.

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  49. This is one of those posts I wish I'd written myself. BRAVO and thank you for saying what so many of us have struggled to articulate. It's almost impossible to express to those who aren't steeped in the art form without coming across as a snob, but in the future, I'm just gonna send 'em a link to your site!

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  50. While Ms. Evancho sings tunes from the opera repertoire, I would never classify her as a "child opera singer." She is always mic'ed, she seems to be singing naturally. Her music allows operatic tunes to be accessible to the millions of people to whom "regular" opera music is unpalatable and plays a great role in the music market. But, what is the difference between her singing "Nessun Dorma" and "Twinkle Little Star" if it is sung in the right part of the voice for a child?

    It may be annoying that non-opera friends might think of that music as authentic opera, but really, who cares? It's all semantics.

    It is unfortunate about her likely future, though.

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  51. As someone that has a truly awful ear, and also someone that cannot sing a note, I still have to say thank you for your article. To be honest with you, I didn't care for the mini opera star from the start - and I am a huge fan of allowing children to be children. Once you grow up, it's for keeps. There is no reason whatsoever to hurry it along. I felt, intuitively, that damage to vocal chords, etc., was likely, but you put it so eloquently. So thank you!!!

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  52. Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of 8. Legend has it that at age 2 he identified a pigs squeel as a G#. He wrote his first opera at age 11. Who was he mimicking? There are many successful, happy, well adjusted people who started singing lessons and perfoming on stage at a young age. There are also many people who are not opera singers or famous who crash and burn in their lifetimes. Each individual is different. I know children who are more mature and could handle adult situations better than many adults. I come from a very musical family and yes my child is a singer. I find that there are always people out there that cannot handle when a person, especially a child is better or more successful than they are. This is not a nice article written by somebody who cares about the children; it is clearly written by somebody who is bitter and sarcastic. Its a shame really.

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  53. What I don't like about all these young superstars is that I worry that normal kids with normal voices (that can probably sing well enough without lessons or ambitious parents) will see these performances and think that since they can't sing like those prodigies, then they can't sing. And then they carry that belief with them through life.

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  54. The author is largely right about singing. However, I think he needs to rethink his position on young pianists.

    Evgeny Kissin, Dinu Lipati, Artur Rubinstein, Martha Argerich, and many others were all child prodigies who made it as adults.

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  55. To the anonymous commenter at 12:56 PM: your high school senior emphatically does NOT need a "kick ass opera aria" to get into a solid university or conservatory voice program. You are mistaken. As a voice professor who listens to hundreds of aspiring singers audition every year, I can't adequately express how frustrating it is for us to hear 17 year olds bring in Caro nome or the Count's aria in order to impress us. We are not looking for a finished product, we are looking for an attractive instrument with great potential that has not yet been ruined by oversinging, paired with an inquisitive, bright mind. Musicality and dramatic flair are also appreciated, but not necessarily expected to be fully mature yet. And for heaven's sake, please tell them that crooning is not the same as singing piano. We don't need or even want them to already possess a full palette of vocal colors at this stage. (That typically comes in the early twenties.) Just have them sing the right notes healthily and with a modicum of expression. We'd love to see all that coming from a kid with a 2200 SAT, believe me!

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  56. I teach "voice lessons" to youngsters age 10-16. What do I teach them? Breathing, ear training, diction, theory, basic vocal technique. What do they sing? Folk songs and hymns. My high schoolers work on their music for choir and musicals. We're not all hacks, I promise you.

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  57. One issue I have that annoys me... the larynx, vocal folds, or any part of the vocal mechanism are NOT in any way an organ.

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  58. "I find that there are always people out there that cannot handle when a person, especially a child is better or more successful than they are. This is not a nice article written by somebody who cares about the children; it is clearly written by somebody who is bitter and sarcastic. Its a shame really."

    Nah, don't think so. Glenn most assuredly is not competing for your kid's careeer. Or lack of it.

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  59. Glen, thank you so much for this article! I have had similar conversations with many well-meaning friends who try to show an interest in opera and end up watching the 12 year-olds instead. I am finishing my DMA in Voice this semester and hoping to make a career of both singing opera and concert repertoire and teaching both privately and in a college setting. Even though I've had the opportunity to teach younger students, and being an eternal student myself I'm always broke, I always refuse to teach anyone younger than 12 on principle. I take students of that age only because I know I can teach them musical and vocal principles that will not harm them and protect them from other teachers. Personally I began asking for voice lessons at 5, but a wise piano teacher (who I was already studying with) told my mother I was too young and to wait til I was at least 16. I took 10 years of piano and at 18 began singing lessons. I sang in choirs throughout those interim years and didn't miss not having voice lessons. With the piano and choir training, I was able to skip a couple semesters of music theory and aural skills in college!
    It might also be of interest to many that the great Mirella Freni tried to begin her career at a very early age (4 or 5 years old and singing on the radio!) but was heard by Beniamino Gigli and stopped from singing anything rigorous until 16.
    One other comment, in the singing schools of yore, singers were trained at slightly younger ages (starting in the mid-teens) but they lived with their voice teacher and had DAILY lessons, and thus were not able to practice technique incorrectly and strictly supervised as to repetoire. Maria Malibran, Pauline Viardot, and many others of that age were trained in this manner and this explains their ability to debut at earlier ages (plus they were singing light repertoire). Again, thank you for the article.

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  60. Exactly! Thank you for bringing this to light for both musicians and non-musicians alike. Though I too agree with a couple of comments regarding there being ways to have safe training as a young person, I whole heartedly agree with the punchline statement... "What's the hurry!?" Thank you Dr. Opera!

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  61. As a singer and voice teacher, I cannot applaud this more! I am a teacher who will take young students who want to sing, but don't judge yet! I take youngsters because I've seen and heard the damage that they can do to their voices trying for serious study and instead I focus on Having fun making music vocally - I choose appropriate repertoire and and very specific in having the following goals:
    1. the student wants to sing, so to stop them becoming the next jackie evancho (shudder) I encourage them to sing age appropriate rep with age appropriate 'technique'.
    2. I want the student to come out loving music and appreciating that it is hard work - I teach them how to read music and dynamics and how to have clear diction.
    3. lessons are never longer than 20 minutes unless they are 14 or older.

    All the reasons you mention are the ones that motivated me to take children as students - the goal for that age and vocal maturity is simply to have fun making music and learn how to learn to make music.

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  62. Thank you for saying this. We ALL need to keep saying it, if for no other reason than to be saying it at the moment when someone -- the child singer, the parents, ... -- who 'can' hear, will hear.

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  63. Excellent article. Besides ruining the voice, these kids have no idea what words they're saying, with their parents admiration and approval. Maybe if the English translation is included in the libretto (in the audition score for these kids), and the parents see that they are advocating little Miss Susie to runaway with her lover, or threatening to kill herself if she can be with her lover, then maybe they'll understand that opera belongs to the adults.

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  64. Thank you Glen for writing this article. I have two younger students, 8 and 9 years of age, and I teach them diction, appropriate breathing (little bodies folks) music theory, very light stage craft and so forth. The only time I even think of bringing any other technique into the lesson is when I hear tension that could be released. Especially when the child singer is trying to sound like an 18 year old pop star or scary enough a 40 year old opera singer. Thankfully I only have the temptation for the 18 year old pop singers to worry about. Thank you Selena Gomez...

    I find that they are learning valuable skills that are only reinforced in school, or should be which will serve them outside of music. Namely the expectation of practicing, being respectful to adults, focusing for half an hour or an hour depending on the situation, and having a general respect for music. Lets face it, the majority of students taking lessons won't go on to college, and even if they do I went to a school where we had a nearly 75% drop out rate because the expectations were justifiably high. It's HARD WORK to sing Opera. Most people don't want to work that hard for the possibility to sing it.

    Children do need a basic musical understanding and can get that in the studio. They can also have a safe environment to learn how to sing like a child should and no more in the studio without the zealous teacher wanting fame and fortune.

    Anyone who wishes to post a future comment stating that the author of this article is disgruntled due to jealousy, I assure you that he isn't. The facts are the facts, the science is the science. There is no mystery here...

    Any comment on Mozart needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We haven't had a child prodigy of his level and ability since he lived. And Mozart had an unhappy childhood and a very messed up adult life. He was an addicted gambler and quite childish up until he died a pauper for spending too much of his money on parties. How many other child stars (Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan..) have had rough childhoods because of their early fame and recognition only to take a serious nose dive and become some of the dredge of this society? And they lack the ability to leave an indelible mark upon the world like Mozart did.

    What if Mozart had been protected at a young age? Been brought up well, healthy, and with a good social understanding?? What more would he have left behind? Can you imagine? What a waste...

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  65. Loved your post. The only thing that I think is worse than naking kids sing opera is the TV show "Toddlers and Tiaras"... ~shudders~

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  66. Thank you very much, Well said and echoing what I have been thinking and feeling for the past several years. I also teach children but give them age appropriate material and discourage them from trying to sing music that was written for seasoned adult performers, whether classical or non classical. Too many voices are ruined at a young age because the adults in their lives treat them like a trained flea!

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  67. I'm so happy to read such an eloquent article about a subject I feel strongly about. I am a professional opera singer, voice teacher and children's choir director. I can't tell you how many people want their kids to take voice lessons, and how many people out there are willing to cash in on this and make money off of these ignorant ambitious parents. There is a dilemma for me because I hope if I take the student on and have them sing in children's ranges and appropriate rep for kids then at least I'm protecting the voice and teaching them other things like solfeggio, and to read music. I run into lots of resistance from parents and grandparents who just don't understand why it is NOT ok for their kid to sing Puccini or any other heavier ADULT rep. What do you all think? I hope I'm protecting voices but it is so difficult to deal with parents/grandparents. And if they aren't with me they will go find some vocal charlatan to study with...

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  68. As an Opera Singer and a voice teacher, I couldn't agree more!! I have only one student under the age eleven and I teach her children's songs!! We talk about music theory and intervals and have some fun singing Annie. I would NEVER teach a child opera. If my students insist, I teach them beginner's art songs in Italian and call that opera. NEVER would I introduce a beginner to an actual Aria.

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  69. Thank you so much for this great article! I teach young singers myself (from the age of 13)here in Iceland but am extremely careful with their voices, not allowing them anything more difficult than small children songs and folk songs until their voices develop. A lot can be tought when they are young, breathing technique and finding a good headvoice and focus etc.

    There is a guy teaching with me (fortunately only as a part time teacher) which wanted to steal an 18 year old from me a few years back, saying that he could easily turn her into an opera prodigy in just one or two short years.

    He really pushed her to move to London (where he is based most of the time) and take lessons with him. He bragged about having trained a 13 year old to sing Butterfly, believing that this would somehow impress me. Fortunately I managed to persuade her not to go. I still fume at the thought.

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  70. THANK YOU!!!!!! I as a young singer had those sick teachers like you described, who gave me arias and pushed me too hard, being so young I trusted them and my parents who just knew I had a nice voice and knew nothing about music or opera trusted them too. Now I am in voice therapy. There should be age limits on arias, a law, something
    !! to keep this from happening to other people. Trying to continue my path of music is so challenging,I'm not giving up, but I can not believe how sick some teachers and adults are, using children the way I have been used. Thanks for posting this article, maybe now people will believe me.

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  71. A great write up!
    I could not agree more!
    J. Scott Brumit, General Director, Longwood Opera

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  72. here's an even better suggestion for American parents whose children show an early inclination for opera: in addition to letting them take piano lessons, they should encourage them to learn a foreign language!

    Scientific studies have conclusively proven that learning a foreign language is a task that is best accomplished during childhood. If such children don't turn out to be opera singers in the end, there's no harm done: knowing a language other than English will be an asset to them in any field in which they may end up working. And if they do end up becoming professional opera singers, at least they won't be like most American singers who are scolded and looked down upon by conductors, stage directors and even their peers (particularly in Europe where the ability to speak several languages is the rule rather than the exception) for their inability to speak, work and perform authoritatively in any language other than American English.

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  73. My teacher, Sunny Van Eaton, could have written this article. She had many pointed words about those who gave repertoire for 35-years olds to boys and girls whose voices hadn't even changed yet.
    And in case anyone brings up Beverly Sills, who was trained from a very young age, her teacher Estelle Liebling taught her very carefully, and drilled her in music discipline: languages, breathing, relaxation, not moving about superfluously, enunciation, etc., so that she had all the tools she needed when the time was right for her to become a professional.

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  74. While I love most of your article, I'd like to clarify a few things. Yes, exploiting children in the musical settings is horrible. Yes, the novelty of a child prodigy is tiresome and no, these kids don't have the depth of experience to draw on when learning this music. However, if you continue to make opera an exclusive little club that only adults can enjoy, you are effectively killing the audience of our future. Many high school singers take voice lessons, most of whom are not prodigies. I don't see anything wrong with a lovely high school soprano learning "O mio babbino" or "Laurie's Song" sung in her own voice. Will she do it justice (whatever that means, anyway)? No. BUT will she be more inclined to go see a production of Gianni Schicci as an adult? Um.... DUH. If you want the current generation to like our art form, you have to allow them to experience the power and thrill of it first hand. Chosen carefully, an aria can be an effective teaching tool to a young singer, AND can get them turned on to an art form as a future consumer. Its rather like the American attitude towards teen alcohol compared to Europeans. Tell them they can't have it, and they'll go to great lengths to have it all and abuse it! Give them a little bit, carefully chosen, and TEACH them how to be wise consumers. Wisdom and moderation in all things, folks.....

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  75. I enjoyed this article thoroughly, except for the fact that I was forced to highlight the words as I read them. It's a very hard to read font over the red background, might I suggest using a bolder, brighter font that would make it easier on the eyes.

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  76. I see your point, but then - it kind of comes off as sour grapes, too. Jealousy, even. If you don't care, big whoop, whatever, why did you just write a long blog entry about it?

    I agree with Anonymous from 3:42 - teaching music is the way to cultivate audiences for the future, moderation is key...it's not good to push kids too hard but if they like opera, why tell them they can't sing it?

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  77. on the other hand, here is an example of a 17 year old opera singer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqpovWEFkQg

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  78. Thank you for such a definitive article on the subject! I sing in the chorus of a nationally recognized opera company, and we see the obsession with the bright and shiney all of the time. I wish they could understand, that the only people who can actually see how physically young the singers are, or aren't, are the choristers! It is the stated opinion of some of those in the most influential roles in the management of this company, that if you are not established by the time you are 30 (?!), it's not going to happen. Woe to the poor soul "blessed" with a dramatic instrument that takes tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime to develope healthily. We probably will not hear a true Tristan, Turandot, Otello or Brunhilde again. Sad.

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  79. Just like many others who have posted here, I agree with much of your view. I would like to point out a couple of notable exceptions to your very sensible rule. Both Beverly Sills and Marilyn Horne started voice study very young and they went on to become two of the 20th century's most deserving opera stars. That said, from what can be gathered by reading their autobiographies, their teachers were very cautious and careful. I've read in many places that if a child wants to sing, they're going to sing, and it's better they do so with as much of an understanding of their instrument as they are capable of assimilating. Sadly, there are just as many examples of children who sing because their parents want them to sing. That is a different matter entirely, and in this, I agree with your views wholeheartedly.

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  80. I am not a musician or singer of any type, not even amateur. (Though I do enjoy singing when the right song and the right mood hits me, and I enjoy the sound of my own voice when I am actually in tune with the song) I can admit one thing from my perspective. As a smoker, I have witnessed my own singing voice deteriorate from mildy good to total crap over the course of about 17 years. And with every cold or sinus infection I have had over the years, the same is true. It is not a noticeable change unless you knew what I sounded like 17 years ago. So, I can certainly understand what you mean about the sensitivity of ones voice and how easily it can be damaged. My voice may not sound raspy and gravelly like many other smokers, but I will never be able to sing as well as I once could, even if it wasnt very good to begin with. I think anyone with intention on entering the musical industry should definitely take care of their voice, and that definitely includes children whose bodies, voice included, are still growing, and therefor suceptable to stressing or straining their body in ways that they werent meant, at their age, to endure. By the way, I started smoking in my teens, when my voice was just beginning to lose that teenage male "crackle".

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  81. Mr. Glenn, your post concerning underage opera singers expresses EXACTLY my sentiments concerning this subject! Opera is an adult pursuit requiring a mature body with fully developed vocal cords, and, as you mentioned, enough years of life lived as to understand the vicissitudes of love and the human condition with which opera most often preoccupies itself. Children are growing up too fast in every area of life, having babies when they should be playing with dolls, wearing miniature adult-style clothes, and sometimes makeup, that make them look freakish, and performing as little troubadors and beauty queens just for the delight of thrill-seeking, exploitative adults. Baby opera singers are in the same category. My high school voice teacher reminded us that the human voice does not really settle into its full character of vocal categorizations until around age 30. That is when one can begin to safely take on one's vocal identity as dramatic soprano, lyric tenor, etc. Allowing 9-year-olds to take on that mantle designed for fully grown instruments is like serving a half-baked cake out of the oven and serving it to one's guests, while expecting it to have all the taste, beauty and consistency of a fully-baked dessert.

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  82. I cannot agree more. Another analogy is that young ballet dancers must wait till their feet are ready before they are allowed to put on pointe shoes. No one argues with this, as any damage done by starting too early might cause them to have an ambulatory disability that would be both lifelong and life-limiting. So much more obvious than destroyed or damaged vocal cords.

    Also, as a wind player, I would highly recommend early training on a wind instrument. Yes, being able to play piano is important, but playing a wind instrument provides training that is invaluable for a singer. First, breathing -- understanding how to support sound from the diaphragm, how to read music (one line at a time, which is, after all, how one sings), blending and being sensitive to others. But an instrument comes with the added bonus of learning to make music WITH OTHERS, be it in small groups, or with school bands and orchestras. There's a social reason to practice more, and develop. Learning to count rests, understanding how your line interacts with all the others, and how to listen are crucial skills that will add to the arc of a singer's preparation. Plus a kid still gets to be a kid, interacting in age-appropriate groups -- but with music as the common denominator. And it makes them a better choral singer, too! There's plenty of time for the more solitary piano lessons later on.

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  83. Diva4Jesus--I love your analogy:

    "Allowing 9-year-olds to take on that mantle designed for fully grown instruments is like serving a half-baked cake out of the oven and serving it to one's guests, while expecting it to have all the taste, beauty and consistency of a fully-baked dessert."

    Well said!

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  84. This article has gone viral on my fb page and for very good reason. Bravo sir!

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  85. I have a small voice studio, and when I accept a student under the age of 12 (rare), it's with the understanding of the parents that we'll mostly be learning theory and applying that to simple songs. We vocalize, but in a narrow range, and only to become habitual about aural training. For my students over the age of twelve, I am mindful of each one's abilities, vocal maturation, and above all, each one's joy and good health.I understand your frustrations, and cannot/would not argue with the facts you present, but I hope you won't always discourage young people from taking "voice" lessons. Not everyone is an instrumentalist.

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  86. FINALLY, an article that we've all been waiting for. I'm 19 years old, getting my degree in Classical Voice with an emphasis on Opera and I'm not even allowed to THINK about singing Puccini or Verdi. You morons out there think you're helping Jackie Evancho when you're actually doing her a disservice. Let her grow up and then she can tackle O Mio Babbino Caro... Correctly.
    Also, I've actually BEEN in two operas, I can safely say I am a training opera singer. She, however, is not. And I'm not saying this because I'm bitter about not being on TV (whoop-di-do), but because I'm concerned for her future.

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  87. Brilliant article. Have been voicing the same concerns for some time now! I don't think that you are discouraging the study of voice-just emphasizing that it must be age-appropriate. Giftedness in children should never be exploited.

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  88. Third Fan Bearer from the LeftJanuary 9, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    Thank you! In reference to another previous post--yeah, I am, just one of many, of those 40yr. olds singing in the chorus. I have people singing all around me in the rank and file, that are outsinging what is at center stage. That's the breaks, I guess. But, back to this: I get so tired of the, "Oh, you like opera; isn't that little Jackie E. just wonderful? She has so much talent, I wonder what she is going to sound like when she is older!" I want to scream back at them, "Aweful. She is going to sound just aweful, unless some angel comes along and makes her stop until she is really ready to sing this lit.!" But, that angel probably isn't going to appear, which is really too bad. She is probably a sweet kid who has some real talent that someone should taking care of better than they are.

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  89. Anonymous said: "Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of 8. Legend has it that at age 2 he identified a pigs squeel as a G#. He wrote his first opera at age 11. Who was he mimicking? There are many successful, happy, well adjusted people who started singing lessons and perfoming on stage at a young age. "

    Except Mozart was not exactly happy, successful, and certainly not well adjusted. He ultimately burned himself out and died at age 35. I doubt any parent would want their child to live the life Mozart led, prodigy or not.

    This is a brilliant article with so much truth to it! I hope more folks listen.

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  90. THANK YOU!!!! As an Adult Opera singer, and a school music teacher, and living in the same town as a "famous" child opera singer, I applaud this article 100%!!!

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  91. I sang the part of the poor boy in a church production of Ahmahl and the Night Visitors at the age of eight. I was a rewarding experience. But my whole life I chased that thrill never able to catch it again. I ended up a drunk by the way. Now I play the piano and sing my own songs and make my CD's and thoroughly enjoy the experience. I am glad that I wasn't pushed into the limelight but even so it was a long road back.

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  92. Actually, the centipede analogy is an erroneous one. Studies have shown that the earlier a child learns, the less likely they are to suffer from "paralysis by analysis." It is precisely because they learn by sense/ motor coordination and not in spite of that fact.

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  93. Exactly! Though young voices can be trained it must be done with EXTREME care and not touching on heavy repertoire until the voice has had time to mature.

    Actually the whole concept of pushing kids too far too fast is a pet peeve of mine, even some respected instrument teachers who maintain that there's no need for kids to finish junior college/secondary school because they Have To Practise So Much to be Good Musicians! I always think one can't get to be a good soloist if you don't get to have the possibility to grow up among kids your own age and mature in your own time. Because if you're not mature you aren't able to touch hearts like good soloists must do.

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  94. Well done, thou good and faithful blogger!

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  95. Thank you for the well written article. Our child got a somewhat late start in instrumental music, is not a prodigy, but works very hard and is doing well in a good conservatory. We tell our child to continue working hard and the effort will pay off.

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  96. I agree 100% with this article. I certainly agree that there are teachers who are experienced with working with younger voices, but anything the student learns to do at a young age with their voice will have to be re-learned in just a few short years. The voice continues to develop and then change just as the physical body does. So while it can be safe for a student to sing while they are younger, I have always felt that it is safer to avoid private lessons till 17 or 18.

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  97. As someone that is studying music in college right now, thank you for posting this!

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  98. This is anonymous poster who's post begins with "I agree 100%..." I just read Casey Ford's post and I amend my previous statement. I think that because you're purpose is teaching them theory and other basics through a medium that they enjoy that you are doing exactly what should be done with a young musician. It's good to know that there are teachers of young voices out there who DO understand the voice and the things hazardous to it.

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  99. Someone needs to let David Foster in on the PROFESSIONAL opinions expressed here. Maybe someone should send him a link via Facebook, just saying.

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  100. Anonymous from 3:42 and from 4:00 I would like to clarify what I think the author is voicing. He is not saying that young singers shouldn't sing opera because they won't sound good and won't do it justice. He is saying that young singers should not sing opera because it is UNHEALTHY for them to do so. I recently took a vocal pedagogy class where we learned the anatomy of the voice. We did a chapter on young singers and it is astounding what people expect these young singers with their not fully developed vocal chords to attempt. Someone can like to sing opera all they want. It won't change the fact that if they don't do it properly they soon will not be able to sing at all. Opera is hard. You don't attempt to climb to Mt. Everest unless you know exactly what you're doing. You shouldn't sing opera unless you know how to do it properly. Not because it's something belonging only to the elite, but rather because it will be harmful to you.

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  101. Great article, but I do agree with various comments that teaching before 18 can be accomplished with care and a Disney compendium. The early grade ABRSM books give plenty of folk songs and short range classical songs that can be used for language work. Ideally a child would go to choir but in school choirs they're singing Adele and the like anyway and good church choirs are a dying breed. I find myself taking singing students of high school age out of fear of who else they might go to and I feel a responsibility to do right by that child in case someone else won't.

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  102. I recognize myself in this a little too easily. I was a prodigy at many things, singing included, and had a miserable time once I finally got into college. I did four years as a voice major, but then dropped out before I could get the degree. I sing in choruses now, but I don't do the kind of performing I'd really enjoy.

    Part of the reason for this is as you describe--a lack of guidance--but there's another reason as well: the kind of opera community snobbery you display here.

    You see, I grew up poor, with parents who barely got through high school. It was a major celebration in my family when I graduated early and went on to college (and bless the Pell Grant for making that happen.) Neither I nor my parents knew anything about proper vocal training; all we knew was that I had an instinct for it, and it was what I was best at. I was encouraged, given confidence and entered school with a positive attitude about my ability to succeed.

    ... and then I was crushed. You see, I hadn't gone to the right high school. I hadn't already studied with the right teachers. I didn't have formal music training outside of my high school chorus. And, worst of all, I was trailer trash, and that was painfully obvious to the people running my school's music program. Whether I had talent or potential didn't matter. What mattered was that I couldn't afford the costume or the travel required to be in the elite choir. What mattered was that tenured faculty were too busy with their elite students to take me. What mattered was that my parents weren't friends with the head of the department.

    I tried my absolute best, doing as much practice as I could while also maintaining a full course load and three work study jobs. The adjunct faculty I studied with was very kind and encouraging--I was her top student, actually. But the rest of the voice faculty wanted nothing to do with me, not for reasons of talent or dedication, but for reasons of pedigree.

    By the time I got to senior year, I was so exhausted and depressed that I couldn't cope anymore. I started failing out of advanced theory and was told that my inability to play piano (for which there's a physiological reason) prevented me from getting the degree anyway. So I quit.

    Years later, after being in a supportive chorus, I started working with a vocal coach again, and she was astonished that I wasn't singing professionally already. An illness and financial reasons prevented me from continuing, but during the year I trained with her, she was actually guiding me into a dramatic coloratura fach. I had had no idea I had that kind of potential because no one I had ever worked with before had ever taken me seriously. And now, unfortunately, I'm 40 and therefore a lost cause as far as a serious career is concerned. That ship has sailed, and it's not because I didn't work hard, but because the people around me didn't respect me because of my background.

    All this to say: Don't punish the poor child because she's surrounded by people who don't know what they're doing. And don't dismiss these child prodigies out of hand because their career path started in a Toddlers and Tiaras sort of way. Yes, some of them may require a lot of work to undo whatever damage has been done to them, but is it really fair to just shove them aside for the kids who were lucky enough to have attentive and wealthy parents who knew what to do, instead of a financially desperate family looking to use their talented child as a path to success?

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  103. I am only learning as an adult how fortunate I was to have grown up in a small but very musical town. No teacher would take me before age twelve and then only to sing an age-appropriate repertoire. I am not a pro and never will be, but I'm a well-trained amateur who can count on having this voice through the prime of my life.

    @"Anonymous" Who??? can sing well AND dance well at the same time???? Really!

    In fact, some people can sing well and dance well at the same time. There's no need to be snide. I cannot sing and accompany myself on the piano at the same time, but many others can.

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  104. People have told me I could sing opera, but I am a semi professional jazz/ blues singer. Can any child understand the tension and contention of the adult world of relationships presented in any kind of lasting music? I think the reason that busybody parents and huckster promoters have children sing opera is that most audiences do not understand the words.

    If some one coached children to sing Ray Charles', "Hit the Road, Jack!", I believe vey few would find it in good taste. Maybe this is why I have never seen it. Thank God!

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  105. Thank you for this. I'm not a voice major (but all my friends are, I'm actually a classical guitar major) and Jackie Evancho, and all the others who are singing opera at too young of an age, is going to ruin her voice. Maybe not in a year, but she's stressing things which should not be stressed until she is older and her voice has matured. I went on a rant about it at Christmas and my entire extended family was shocked. I told them that if her parents had any sense they wouldn't let her do that to herself because she will not have a lasting career, most likely. It's sad.

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  106. I agree about allowing children to sing like children. If you look at the vocal folds of a child when singing, you will see that they do not close completely--there is a "glottal chink" at the back. This gives the child their normal breathy light tone. You could--but shouldn't--train the child to squeeze that chink closed to produce a manufactured adult sound. But the problem is this: when their larynx matures, the chink will close naturally, but they will still have the habit of squeezing the folds together with great force. All kinds of vocal disorders can result.

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  107. Superb- a cautionary tale worth thrusting in the face of every stage-parent who wants their kid to "make it in music/theatre"...

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  108. As a former child prodigy in music - specifically opera - I take great offense at being lumped into this category with Church and Jackie E. I was trained properly from 8 years old, learned the entire role of Cherubino by the age of 10, did my first fully staged opera at 15 and NEVER had any problems with my voice. I am 30 years old now, sing several professional gigs all over the country each year, and I was always told that I would ruin my voice, etc. It's not the age at which you start singing the rep, it's how you are trained, guided, etc. I know the person who is producing Jackie E, and he's a horrible man who will not listen to reason. Obviously her parents are more concerned with the paycheck. I was lucky to have parents who were careful and wanted nothing but the best for me. The biggest problem I have had in my career was dealing with people who are non-believers in my abilities, and those who refuse to accept the fact that I grew up, matured vocally and TOOK CARE OF MYSELF!!!! Is that too difficult to do? So before you all start yakking about how children shouldn't touch any of the rep because "they will wreck themselves" or "there's no such thing as a vocal prodigy" I beg you to pause and consider that there are exceptions to every rule, and they exist in places you wouldn't think!

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  109. Thank you so much for this article! I am comforted to know that I am not the only person who thinks that vocal prodigies hold little truck in the real world (kinda like perfect pitch in singers but that's another whole can of worms!! :P).

    I work with a lot of teenagers and some of them have truly astounding natural ranges. There is this wee slip of a gal who vocalises up to 4+ octaves without batting an eyelid. It is very understandable how tempting it would be to exploit an instrument like that before it's time.
    Personally I think children who display such prodigious talent walk a precarious path. On the one hand: on the one hand they need to be nurtured but also they need constant reality checks else their head gets too big! It's a very difficult middle ground to strike for me between being giver of hope and a wet blanket.

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  110. D-I-V-I-D-E-N-D-S, not diviDENTS.

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  111. At the end of the day this is a BLOG and should be treated accordingly. This rant can be summed up in one word...Meow

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  112. I agree that being prodigious as a child doesn't guarantee stardom or any real success as an adult, but the reasons you've given aren't the best ones.

    I don't accept your claim that prodigies are only mimicking, and that they are not unusually musically mature - researchers I've heard speak about it have said the opposite.

    Research shows that what we see as talent or raw ability correlates very closely with the number of hours of *self directed* practice.

    That is to say that, generally, prodigies are unusual specifically in how interested they are in their task: This (and naught else) causes them to spend unusually long hours practicing, which leads to ability. Contrary to many people's uninformed opinion it isn't the other way around.

    Or to put it another way: Yes, it's a mystery why a 3 year old is so interested in playing 3 or 4 hours a day; But no, it is *no* mystery why an eight year old can be so good - it's simply because they spent *thousands* of hours practicing (and they wanted to).

    What this means is that, rather than the prodigy in later life failing per se, other people simply catch up. Many, many more 18 year olds become interested enough in music to begin devoting themselves to serious practice. These, similarly, gain skill quickly and become experts. The main difference is it isn't so unusual in their case. So the prodigies, at this stage, begin to blend in.

    Many of them become disillusioned, it is true, perhaps because of a lost youth etc. But the main reason a prodigy's career might become unextraordinary is because older people, as they become interested in their own development and begin investing serious hours, soon gain the same skills. So it's not really because the prodigy's childhood ability is flawed.

    I will grant that life experience adds complexity and emotional depth to a performance (perhaps especially in singing), but that doesn't account for the whole situation here.

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  113. jackie Evancho made more $$$ in 6 months than you did in your whole career. At the end of the day she brings attention to the repertoire and brings new listeners to our dying art. Who are we to say what type of art she can perform? As an artist I say let her sing whatever she likes, let her express herself and be true to what she wants to do. At such a young age she is living the life many of you have dreamed about and will NEVER achieve. You might think that I have missed the point of your blog and I do agree with some points... BUT we can be such snobs in the opera community and this is just one more example of it.

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  114. I love this article! Amen and amen! However, I am one of those teachers that gives voice (I actually call them "singing") lessons to younger students, but for the exact reasons that you give. More and more there are children who "want" to sing, have the pushy parents but unfortunately don't get to sing in church or school (fewer children go to church, many churches no longer have participatory choirs and many schools are losing their vocal music capabilities)...just to the radio...and we all know how that turns out. Many of my children cannot even find their head voice, let alone sing with good, vocally healthy technique. Most young girls today think they should be altos and boys thing they should be basses!!! One of the most common comments I get from elementary aged children is, "I can't sing that high!" Most of the time we are talking about a B or C...ON THE STAFF! My endeavor is to change the perception of singing for children as well as their parents and have some influence for their future vocal abilities so that they will have a spit of a chance if they do want to eventually sing opera well...or anything else for that matter. I am also a community children's choir director and always tell the parents I prefer them to be in the choir...but unfortunately, a lot of parents don't listen these days and I feel the child's best chance is to have me as a teacher rather than someone that wants them to be an opera singer at age 10. I always push the parents to put them in piano either before or at the same time as voice lessons so they are learning the educational portion of musicality as well. While I agree that there may be "exceptions to the rule" out there, the ethical and conscientious route to take as a vocal teacher is to let them have their voice as a child. They will be an adult for around 80% of their life... let's allow them to recognize the beauty of being a child with the angelic sound of a child's voice. They will have plenty of time to be an opera singer later!

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  115. Just a simple THANK YOU!
    Signed,
    An elementary music teacher who is CONSTANTLY discouraging parents from signing their children up for voice lessons.

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  116. Can we have a post next about people with amazing classical ranges who waste their talent in POP music? Hello Mariah Cary... oh and to the previous anonymous poster who spoke of 'jackie Evancho'.. are you always an asshat or just today?

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  117. No one who sings opera ever started for the money.
    Sesame street and other programs also bring attention to operatic tunes.
    I was physically uncomfortable when some readers compared the 'prodigies' of today to Mozart.


    Wonderful article. I wish all the illiterati would read this and just take your word for it.

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  118. I partially agree with this, however, I, like a few others here, have some issues as well.

    I remember when I was young and all I wanted to do was sing, but people like you said no, that I wasn't old enough and that I should just stick to piano until later. There was no choir, there was no church, it was either lessons or nothing. This situation is true for more and more young people these days, especially if they are located in more remote areas.

    As a child, when you hear an adult say, "no, you can't" it will do one of two things. It may simply destroy their self confidence, causing them to never want to sing again (an affliction that I myself suffered from for many years) or the child will simply ignore you and sing anyways. In that case, the child will then be singing all of the repertoire that he/she wants to sing, without the help of a professional, which will ultimately lead to bad habits and potential vocal damage.

    So isn't it better to help that child learn the best way that they can rather than leave them to fend for themselves? I know I think so.

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  119. This article was spot on and the comments are awesome!

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  120. I agree about the age and experience thing generally... and no small child should be doing any kind of aria, true. But I don't think all child prodigies have the limited understanding a child typically possesses... I mean, that's kind of why they're prodigies to me. No they clearly don't have the experience of an adult but to write them off as just another misguided kid is kind of... silly, I think.

    I guess that part is all a matter of personal opinion, though. You can think I'm as wrong as you want.

    Also, just because you're a professional doesn't make you the ultimate authority on what sounds good. Not in the realm of music. Of course you know more than most, but still. The musical experience is extremely subjective. I was a music major in college so don't think I don't have any experience with the classical world and music theory and training and I'm just offended by your viewpoint. I'm mostly saying things like "it might sound perfectly lovely to YOUR amateur's ears" are just really pretentious sounding and unnecessary.

    I'm not really saying you're wrong... you could just be a little less moody about it. That's all. But you are, of course, free to do and think as you please.

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  121. The world is littered with music educators who teach because they cannot do. It has left them embittered and disillusioned with the performing arts world. They are quick to judge and speak ignorantly and snobbishly about all the other facets of this INDUSTRY.

    This is a business at the end of the day. Let these musicians you write about make the art they want and cash in while they can.

    We are all in this to be happy, express ourselves and VERY importantly make money. If these kids have the opportunity to advance themselves and their families then all the power to them!

    Good luck with the Rants/BLOG.

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  122. To the former child prodigy Anonymous posting at 6:45:

    If I am correct in my thinking, I believe your example dovetails perfectly with others offered, such as Sills, Peters and Andrews.

    I believe this demonstrates two things:

    - There are exceptions to every rule.
    - It is the exceptions that require the most guidance and care.

    You and those who came before were obviously exceptions in your vocal acuity, and more importantly, received close guidance and support. This include singing correctly and singing the correct things.

    I have no doubt Jackie Evancho's parents believe they're looking after her well. Nevertheless it does seem she's not following the blueprint created by others that have been successful in their transitions from child prodigy to adult success.

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  123. I had a pretty amazing voice as a child and never was trained classically. I wonder if this applies to non-opera situations. I mean, a woman's voice still matures fully by age 30, right? (I'm really asking, I'm SO NOT an expert). So should I not have practiced my singing for hours and hours and taken lessons in college? Did I do myself permanent damage? I love my voice and want to take care of it. Mind you, while I have a great range, I've never sung opera. Frankly, it terrifies me. I think I'd fail miserably. I love to listen to opera, and I don't think I could ever get my voice to be that controlled. Anyway, your thoughts just gave way to some thoughts of my own...

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  124. What bothers me most about these alleged "phenoms" is that they are being promoted instead of talented, mature artists who have spent their lives devoted to their craft. (As one commenter mentioned, many of these alleged "phenoms" are no more talented than anyone else was at that age.)

    What does it say about our society when those with the least experience are valued over those with the most? Honestly, I find it absurd, but unfortunately, its spread beyond the entertainment business and is infecting more of our society. Sadly, we are an empty culture.

    ps - I can't stand anyone who David Foster promotes. They are all garbage in my opinion!!

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  125. Amen! Glenn.

    Garyth Nair
    Drew University

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  126. Thank you for this post! As a singing teacher, I have little girls wanting that experience, and I keep telling them to wait - let's do folk songs, sing a different language, etc. They don't realize that they are not ready for that. Thanks for backing me up! I say "here, here"!

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  127. I am the mother of an 8 year old who has been taking "singing" lessons both in a group and individually for about a year now. My daughter has LOVED to sing since infancy, has a great ear, and especially given her diminutive size, a HUGE voice. She sings as a soloist in our church as there is no children's choir, and limited choir/singing opportunities at school. As a speech pathologist (and a former singer), I really wanted her to have lessons so that she could learn healthy ways to use and ultimately grow into her voice, as I was afraid of the damage that she might do if left to her own devices (and she wouldn't listen to me, I'm only her mother!) I know firsthand about the myriad of vocal problems one can develop...I feel very fortunate in that her vocal coach has always stressed ear training, basic vocal technique, breathing to minimize vocal fold stress, growing her vocal range/head voice slowly etc. He also has always been very cogizant of her age and has given her material that is age appropriate ("Girl I Mean to Be", "Maybe", "When you Wish Upon a Star", "Born to Entertain", etc)...I personally could never see insisting on her learning material that is too old for her (she was annoyed when I nixed most of the HSM songs that she wanted to learn). She's grown musically and vocally a great deal thanks to her voice teacher...I still feel that she's better off taking lessons and learning how, and better yet, how NOT to use her voice! I certainly will consider the piano lessons (she's been asking for them too, very interested in improving her ability to read music...just need more hours in the day and $$$!). Thanks for the article.

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  128. The difference between singers and pianists is vast. I've met and heard the most amazing "child prodigy" pianist, Anastasia Rizikov. Her grandmother is her piano teacher, and tries to reel her in to have a real childhood and puts limits to her performing so she can do that.

    I also know from the baseball metaphor. My maternal grandfather was a prodigy pitcher, pulled out of college to play for the Major League, and blew his shoulder when he was 25.

    I studied music at a REALLY good conservatory; musicality was stressed, but the meme of "you may not enjoy performing" was stressed even more. Most of my class burned out by 30. Too bad, since the best baritone would have made Nathan Gunn pale in comparison.

    The voice is something different. If you want to sing Butterfly when you are Butterfly's age, if you want to sind Salome at Salome's age, then be prepared to sing the Countess in PIKOVAYA DAMA when you are 30, and you can bank on playing the 1971 Heidi in FOLLIES when you are 40 with a wobble they could drive a train through. If you sound like you are 40 when you are 20, count on sounding 60 when you are 40.

    End of discussion.

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  129. Finally.

    I started taking voice lessons at (*gasp!*) twelve years old, but I had some BRILLIANT teachers. When my voice teacher realized that I had a high C# inside my 4ft self, she said, "that's very nice. We'll leave that exactly where it is until you're in college." I'm now a working professional singer and am incredibly grateful for my training. SO MANY college-age singers are so impatient with their vocal development and DEMAND Quando m'en vo & Signore ascolta.....

    I do agree that there are a few arias appropriate for teens, but the operative word there is FEW. If your teen wants an aria, give them Voi che sapete OR a Pergolesi aria, NOT something from Rosenkavalier!!

    And if you want your kid to enjoy opera, take them to see one!! Or if there's not a place nearby to go, put a recording on in the car! The opera stage is a place for adults - it's a place young singers dream of. It's not a place to put them. Plenty of kids dream of playing at Wrigley Field, but that doesn't mean their parents should push them onto the mound when the Cubs are looking for a new pitcher.

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  130. So boy sopranos are screwing up their voices?
    I don't think so... It depends on what they are being taught.
    I'm more concerned for the broadway girls.
    While working around the NYC area as a voice teacher I found that I was in a kind of competition with teachers who "specialized in pre-adolescent girls". They sounded like "Annie" from about six until they hit puberty and then their voices would collapse. I found I had to take them early or I would have to pick up the pieces and fix them later (which is much harder). I was often in competition with teachers who insisted they were somehow teaching children to use their false vocal folds until the real ones were ready to take over (talk about a mess!) What's better? Should I refuse to teach young kids who want voice lessons, let them go to other "teachers" who have suspect ideas, and then help them later if I get the opportunity and they aren't irreparably damaged??? (I've had more than one pre-teen come from another teacher into my studio with nodules.)
    Although I agree with a lot of the points in this article, it's far to black and white. It's no good to be an extremist in either direction. If a kid is bored singing folk songs (which I do assign up to a point) they'll just go to another teacher- someone who may not work as hard to protect them as I will. Some kids desire a challenge, and keeping them dumb until their bodies are ready is not the answer. I have kids who sing all sorts of material. They sound like children. While I find the "famous" child opera singers rather nauseating and feel they are misguided, I have no problem with a young girl singing L'ho peruduta provided she sounds her age and is singing in a healthy way. To my knowledge Mozart did not permanently insert any razor blades into his musical lines. Assignment of literature must be done on a case by case basis. To say that opera is "OFF LIMITS" is amazingly arbitrary and simplistic.

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  131. What about the symphonies and opera companies making money by sponsoring concerts by prodigies, such as Jackie E.? I find this choice reprehensible.

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  132. As a high school choral director I thank you for this.

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  133. During their childhoods both Beverly Sills and Julie Andrews were touted as being the world's smallest coloratura soprano and achieved a certain amount of notariety. Didn't seem to hurt them... I think the major difference is that they each had really good voice teachers who gave them really good technique. Perhaps there are more important windmills for the writer to tilt at. Admittedly Charlotte and her ilk are really irritating-- but the voice teachers of today have bigger fish to fry. This particular kind of problem is so minute as to be laughable.

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  134. http://youtu.be/YAz2HgSZaDs
    http://youtu.be/iV2-YGGn0y4

    Just two people who would have been discouraged under these blanket guidelines. I generally agree with the sentiments of the article, but let's be careful about cookie cutter approaches. By discouraging the truly exceptional, we get a race to the middle. Not unlike the performances I hear at the opera today, where everyone sounds generally good, but no one sounds great and they all sound the same (too dark, for my taste). Today, we hear good singing as a rule, but I would argue that we hear less exceptional singing. And that could be a by-product of our institutionalized instruction and packaging of what an opera singer must be. If Callas came to the Met auditions today as a 26 year old and sang Ho Jo Tos and Qui la voce, she would be crucified. Rosa Ponselle debuts at the Met in Forza opposite Enrico Caruso at age 19. Some of Guiseppe di Stefano's greatest recordings are from before he was 30. Would we as a music loving world have been better off without these people and the music they made? Would they have been better off? To sacrifice the great on the altar of the good is a price this music lover is not willing to pay.

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  135. Whoever wrote about Mozart being a success and child prodigy couldn't be more incorrect. Mozart was also brought around like some performing monkey around the world. Then he turned 18 and wasn't a child prodigy anymore (because he wasn't a prodigy). He could never really keep a job and died in severe debt. This relates to everything in life - you can be amazing at something when you are a child but nobody cares when you aren't a child anymore. Spelling Bee champions? Not a big deal. Kids who win Jeopardy? Employers don't care. Super smart in school? Go to college and see who's still impressed. Nobody. If you teach children that all they need is one talent for life-long success then you are teaching them a lie and setting them up for failure. The issue isn't really about being a child prodigy; the issue is the adult reaction not only to the talent but also to the CHILD before them.

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  136. Correction to the above comment - Mozart wasn't a child prodigy at 18 anymore because he wasn't a CHILD. He was obviously a prodigy.

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  137. As a mother who was considering voice lessons for my 9 year-old daughter this article really put into perspective what is and isn't axceptable for a child her age. She has been singing in the local city children's choir learning about music...how to read it, how to interpret it, and how to be musical. I'm perfectly content to leave her there until she's much older. Thank You!

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  138. I began singing at 10, just short of 11, but didn't do anything beyond the simplest songs for about two years. When it came time to pick new repertoire I would beg to do more complex music, but my teacher insisted on the easy stuff. By 14 she was trying me out on light opera, but once again, it was only the very lightest. I turned out to have an insanely large, wide-ranging and powerful voice (dramatic coloratura), and I thank God for my voice teacher, who had the sense to give me the music that would let me keep it that way. She never failed to challenge me, but always made sure the voice was healthy.

    I think 10 is the absolute minimum for voice lessons, and only then if the teacher knows what she's doing. And that's a big if.

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  139. If a song is a good match with a kid's vocal range and the kid does not attempt to force anything vocally, it really doesn't matter what musical genre the song is written in. Almost any song done wrong can hurt the voice as well. A young person is more likely to need help knowing what is bad for the voice. Generalities about musical genre are useless.

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  140. THANK YOU! I wrote about this recently myself, and am thrilled about your blog post! http://www.nicolewarner.com/blog-open-intervals/entry/jackie-evancho-way-too-young

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  141. As longs there are greedy parents and ruthless promoters, this will continue to happen. It's a pity that the children involved will ultimately pay the price for this foolishness. In years to come their psychiatrists will be on speed dial.

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  142. This post gave me a lot to think about. I agree, and disagree, and found the comment chain very useful.

    I immediately took issue with the assumption, at the end, that children should be interacting more with their chronological peers than adults. I hope that my children care a lot more about what I, and the other adults in their lives, think and feel, than about what their peers think of them.

    Children raising each other doesn't seem to turn out as well as adults raising children.

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  143. I think it's fine for kids to learn how to sing in private or group lessons at any age, so long as their teacher is not pushing an agenda on them, nor letting their parents push any agenda, and is assisting them in developing their musicality, understanding of their instrument, proper breath support, control etc. I teach a lot of kids, none of whom suffer from any physical or vocal tensions as a result - had I not been there to guide them, a lot of them would be experiencing vocal pain/issues based on trying to imitate voices they were hearing on the radio....I thank GOD I'm here to help them out, and know I could have used a compassionate, understanding, and knowledgeable voice teacher when I was a kid.....I think it all depends on the teacher - at any age, get a bad teacher, you end up with bad problems. Do your research, and find someone who cares about the actual art form as well as your child; not living vicariously through your child and receiving recognition from their student's short-lived fame.

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  144. Nothing more to say. I am so happy my daughter had the proper voice teacher at age 10 while she was taking piano lessons, theory and still being a fast ball pitcher. She is 27 today and is becoming an incredible opera singer. Although she did not win all competitions, I saw her grow to be a mature adult and confidence on stage

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  145. Something to this effet has been written before, but I would like to re-iterate: There are many reasons to sing and enjoy opera,only one of which is to pursue a career. A simple fact of life is that most singers will not be professional, and that even many serious students of voice will not "make it" professionally.

    I agree with the article entirely as related to professional vocal students; I did see my own voice deteriorate, to some degree, in the course of some of my vocal training at a collegiate conservatory.

    That said, I have not ultimately pursued a career in voice (for personal and religious, rather than vocal, reasons). My brief time singing opera (primarily as a chorus member for some lighter works, but also with easier arias and art songs), was a great introduction to some themes that were beyond my eighteen year-old understanding; I learned about love and loss, at first, by attempting to sing about it. That, in turn, has been of great benefit to me during the rest of my life and career.

    There are many reasons not to sing difficult songs, especially as a young singer with professional musical ambitions. This article has addressed that perspective admirably. However, there are also acceptable reasons to do so - one of which being to gain some of the visceral and experiential benefits that music can provide. Who better to provide insight into the human condition, for a novitiate of humanity, than some of the greatest operatic composers?

    Where a child chooses or is expected to pursue music as a career, this article is spot on. But where a career in music is not intended, why not be exposed to some of opera? (Within reason, of course; I am not advocating that a thirteen year old sing "Mad Lucy's aria.) For students who are beginning to be intellectually andemotionally apable of understanding some of the themes of opera, and who are not pursuing a career in vocal music, I do not see the problem with experimentation.

    If I may make an analogy: a youth who is slated - from personal decision or external circumstance - to play the violin professionally should probably not play American football, for fear of breaking their fingers. Similarly, a student pursuing a career in voice should follow the advice of the article. But for students who are not becoming professional violinists, it is perfectly acceptable, even laudable, to play both the violin and football; there are benefits from both. So too with vocalists. Care should still be taken - no one wants their fingers, or voices, to be broken - and this article gives some great suggestions for that. But a voice, and a body, are to be enjoyed, not preserved like a museum piece. Musicians, please - enjoy music, take from it what one can, and benefit from it as much as you can - either over a long professional career, or over a shorter period as a youth.

    Both are acceptable.

    (As a side note, yes: there IS a difference for the professional listener between Charlotte Church and a true opera singer. But again - if Charlotte Church made enough money to begin a different career, and she is happy in her life as a non-professional musician, who is to fault her?)

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  146. EXTRA EXTRA!!

    READ ALL ABOUT !



    Exclusive tweet from Jackie E !


    My vocal chords are "pristine" according to Dr. Scott k, NYC. Thank you Doc. K. It was great seeing you!


    Dr. Scott K, MD Throat specials in New York, NY. Review detailed information on Dr. K 35 years experience and background in medicine.

    Scott K, M.D. tends to the vocal cords of some of music’s biggest voices.



    QUIT WHINING OPERA SNOBS !

    ReplyDelete
  147. EXTRA EXTRA!!

    READ ALL ABOUT !!

    Great News !!

    Exclusive tweet from Jackie Evancho !!!

    jackieevancho jackie evancho
    My vocal chords are "pristine" according to Dr. Scott Kessler, NYC. Thank you Doc. K. It was great seeing you!
    31 minutes ago

    http://twitter.com/jackieevancho

    Dr. Scott Kessler, MD Otolaryngologist in New York, NY. Review detailed information on Dr. Kessler's 35 years experience and background in medicine.

    Scott Kessler M.D. tends to the vocal cords of some of music’s biggest voices. Here is a article about
    him on another scribe WMagazine:

    Read More http://www.wmagazine.com/beauty/2009/03/voice_doct...

    JACKIE 4 YEARS OF PERFORMING PUCCINI OPERATIC ARIA'S AND NO VOCAL ISSUES !

    QUIT WHINING OPERA SNOBS !!!

    ReplyDelete
  148. Come hear the Greater Richmond Children's Choir, Ebenezer Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir, and Grace & Holy Trinity Adult Choir on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. at Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 8 North Laurel Street, Richmond VA for a Celebration of Unity Concert honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Fifteen years ago Glenn Winters did the research on starting a children's choir and hired me to direct the Greater Richmond Children's Choir to give children "age appropriate vocal training" and we are still at it! We have a strong emphasis on theory and sightsinging, and study music from many cultures and in many languages. Visit our website grcchoir.org. When I sat down for the interview with Glenn and John Guthmiller, I knew we were all on the same page. Thanks Glenn for getting GRCC off the ground and for continuing to wave the banner for quality music education. Hope Armstrong Erb

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  149. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
    Matthew 19:14

    Besides as Jackie states before every performance, " I pray to God and ask him to sing with me"

    If one has God;''s Gift, Share it to the world !


    DO NOT HINDER JACKIE !!!

    OPERA SNOBS !!!

    Gabriel (ArcAngel) protector of children !

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  150. Totally agree with your post! For a child, opera is far too extreme for their growing voices. Opera requires a fully mature voice to sing properly to avoid vocal strain. I'm a Music major undergrad in college and have been taking voice lessons for, I think, 7-ish years. I was fortunate, though at the time I didn't appreciate it, that my first voice teacher would not work on Musical Theatre with me. I was 14-15 when I started studying with her, and it's still my dream to do Musical Theatre, but she demanded that we start with the foundation of good breath support and technique. I learned light operatic pieces for our yearly recitals, but certainly nothing with a crazy range. I'm a high soprano and we never sang anything above a high C in my pieces. I wanted to sing higher songs, but my teacher said my voice wasn't mature enough, and that I would not be fully mature until at least the age of 25. I'm 21 now and I can definitely tell my voice is still growing and maturing. My previous voice teacher wouldn't even teach me how to belt. As a result, I'm kind of learning it now, but it is very difficult as I have really only been singing in my head voice and some mix when singing lower stuff. It's one of those things that has to be learned to do correctly because otherwise it can really mess up your voice. Children need to take time to get acquainted with their voices and let them grow and mature on their own. They can also take time to learn the ins-and-outs of music so they know what they're singing about and how to sing it properly with good technique. With good classical technique comes the ability to safely sing rock, pop, musical theatre, etc. I have an equally great teacher now, and she is making sure I keep that classical training going and applying it to my musical theatre pieces I do with her, but as a good teacher, she still wants me to work on classical and opera pieces. So, while I am glad I can finally start working on musical theatre songs, I am glad I have that foundation from my classical training.

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  151. Glenn is not ranting or writing because he is bitter, trust me, he's an incredible musician. This blog post is educational and informs it's readers of the possible dangers and common mistakes committed with training young children in the musical arts.

    To the person who said, "let these musicians make money while they can", I couldn't disagree with you more. These are not musicians, but children. They might be able to make a ton of money, but at what cost? If they suddenly are no longer successful and they don't understand why, then it could lead to serious psychological repercussions (among other non-monetary costs).

    On top of that, it could abolish the possibility of a long lasting career for a person. Who would knowingly risk that? Many stage parents and children don't understand the serious risks and repercussions associated with misusing the voice, or the potential damage that extreme levels of attention and high praise can inflict upon a young person's mind.

    Thank you for your informative post Glenn. To the people just interested in money, you really need to learn what is valuable in life and about music. I'm really glad that I will be able to sing for many years. Singing has brought so much joy into my life.

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  152. All Great Opera singers recieved training at a young age.
    Bev Sills age 7 memorized 21 Arias. Maria Callas started at 12 , Cecillia Bartoli performed at age 8 , Julie Andrews age 11, Deanna Durbin age 13. All these Great singers were trained
    by Opera Singers


    TEAM JACKIE
    jackie evancho vocal coach is Yvie Burnett (former Opera singer )Lorraine Nubar outside consultation(Julliard Vocal Instructor) Danielle Siena (Italian diction coach) David Foster (16 time Grammy producer ) Lisa Evancho (Mother, manager, musician) Matt Evancho (Uncle, Composer, PhD in Music Composition)

    Unless you have superior credentials than TEAM
    JACKIE, your negative assertions about Jackie is INVALID !!!

    JEALOUS OPERA SNOBS !!

    Gabriel (ArchAngel)

    ReplyDelete
  153. It is a huge leap from "Children shouldn't sing opera" to "children shouldn't take voice lessons". Children love to sing--some can't stop singing! Why shouldn't they learn good posture, breathing, relaxation, sight-reading and diction? The children I teach all are involved in childrens theater and were beginning to develop some bad habits that I have been able to correct before they became lifelong habits which would limit their voices as time goes on. And I love the "if they want voice lessons, give them piano lessons!" Really? They need both, but a child who wants to sing is not going to be very motivated to learn piano when it is the replacement for what they really want. One commenter said that some parents are pressuring kids to take singing lessons. That might be true of piano lessons, but rarely does a parent force a child who doesn't want to sing to take voice lessons. That's one of the pleasures of being a voice teacher-my students love their lessons.

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  154. I think that if a child wants to sing for fun let them sing. Start teaching them how to have a healthy singing voice and how to properly take care of their vocal chords.
    I was a child who grew up singing all of the time. It was my favorite thing in the world! I was also taking piano lessons while singing so I had that musical foundation to fall back on. I became a voice major at a well recognized university and my voice took a beating. My vocal chords became partially paralyzed and I couldnt talk without pain for almost 3 years, and most times in those 3 years I was not able to talk-I had to use a dry erase board to communicate. Part of the problem was that I did not pay enough attention to my vocal hygiene and as an 18 year old I did permanent damage to my voice. I cant sing very much anymore, and I still struggle. I had to drop out of the program and I felt like I had let everyone down. If the children want to sing, let them sing-for the fun of it. Dont put expectations on them, just teach them to take care of their instrument just like they would take care of a piano or flute. Encourage them to do it because they love making music-not because they are expected to be famous.

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  155. Opera Snobs need Therapy !

    Jackie Evancho sings The Lord's Prayer at 2011 Concert Tour
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp_5WZoxkZM&feature=related

    Our Father

    Which art in Heaven,

    Hallowed be... Thy Name,

    Thy Kingdom come,

    Thy will be done,

    On earth.. as it is in Heaven...

    (musical break)

    Give us this day

    Our daily bread,

    And forgive us our debts,

    Lyrics provided by http://www.kovideo.net/

    Source - http://www.kovideo.net/the-lord-s-prayer-lyrics-jackie-evancho-1237474.html

    As we forgive our debtors,

    And lead us not into temptation,

    But deliver us from evil.

    For Thy is the Kingdom, and the power

    And the glory forever...

    Ohhhh

    Thy is the Kingdom and the power,

    And the Glory Forever................

    Amen..

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  156. With regard to the idea that Lorraine Nubar is working with Jackie Evancho, it is my understanding that she is not. Perhaps others have more clarity on the situation.

    ReplyDelete
  157. As a young pianist, my first Liszt piece EVER was the Spanish Rhapsody, a 24 page, 14 minute beast. After getting injured and also having to backtrack miles in standard rep, I agree with this article a lot. True, my teacher may have pushed me, but honestly, it was so much about competitions that I hit quite a few brick walls getting to where I am now...

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  158. I was just going to weigh in on the ballet analogy when i noticed that someone else already has. However, the comment that 'no one argues about this' may unfortunately be untrue, as i've now unhappily seen several videos of young nine year old ballerinas performing en pointe. Even if they Might be making use of the advanced body training knowledge we now have, it's downright dangerous and very sad to see.
    I enjoy watching genuine young talent and even unusual maturity - especially within a true love of an art form. That's always inspiring. But when it begins to be packaged for fortune and fame, the spontaneous motivation is co-opted and sadly doomed.

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  159. Dr. Opera, or should I say Dr. Envious? I assume you were far from being a child prodigy yourself.I assume you worked too hard to achieve a level of performance that is only acceptable.

    Accept that there are younger people more talented than you and move on with your life!

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  160. Someone above wrote "Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of 8. Legend has it that at age 2 he identified a pigs squeel as a G#. He wrote his first opera at age 11. Who was he mimicking?"

    The answer: His father. His father Leopold wrote a book on how to teach violin just before W.A. was born. His father then gave up his own career in order to form his son into a child prodigy. If you look at the manuscripts from Mozart's childhood, you'll notice that the handwriting isn't always that of a child. Read the book Talent is Overrated if you want more about the "What About Mozart" phenomenon.

    And several other people have already said--he went on to have great difficulties getting and holding jobs, was constantly borrowing money from his friends and died very young with very little. He did not go on to be the happy, well-adjusted person "Anonymous" seems to think.

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  161. I love all the people here who are trying to justify the fact that they teach kids voice lessons "relaxation, support, breathing." I say just DON'T do it. When parents ask me if I will teach their child, I simply suggest piano (for musicianship) or instrumental music to help them develop musical skills. Then, I suggest singing in choir, and if they are still persistent, some musicianship lessons where all that is covered is reading music, matching pitch, and listening to music. It's especially offensive with very young children. I can see teaching a 15 year old about breathing. But, it's important to remember that the voice at that age is going through so many transitions, and children that age are prone to using their voice in damaging ways. Some minor instruction on natural usage might be warranted, but that can be handled in the choir at school. I guess I have strong feelings about this.

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  162. P.S. - what is an "opera-type" singer? Does that mean you sing art songs? Either you sing opera or you don't.

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  163. Just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD. These youngsters can sing lighter music, play difficult but not as involved pieces of music. They can always do the more involved music, dance, sports or whatever when they are a bit older. Why not wait? The money? That must be it. While not child miracles perhaps, I do remember reading Michael Jackson and Donny and Marie Osmond saying the were taken right out of their sand boxes at such a young age they can't remember playing. They can't remember having a childhood. Whatever their exceptional talents, all children deserve a childhood.

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  164. To the person who suggests that Mozart was "well-adjusted," do you know anything about music history? The man was a walking disaster who died in his 30's. Yes, he had a natural gift for music, but he was, as another commenter pointed out, mimicking his father to some degree as well. In addition, he struggled a lot in his life, which ended about five decades too soon. Beyond that, are you attempting to suggest that Charlotte Church or Jackie Evancho are Mozart? Mozart is pretty much the only Mozart ;).

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  165. As for Jackie Evancho, she is having right now the career that most people who study for years,get all of the credentials,etc. will likely never have. And,for each of us, right now is all anyone ever has. How many of us will ever get to sing all over the world, with top-notch orchestras and meet all kinds of famous people and have the kind of opportunities that this precious young lady is enjoying now? And I think anyone must admit that she is sincere, genuine and is truly touching the lives of those who listen and watch her. To me, this is pure Spirit,coming straight through her voice to our ears. As a retired elementary music teacher and the parent of a professional opera singer, I say that we are all doing the best that we can with what we have at any given time. She and her family are living the dream that most of us can only dream of. Jackie, like some other young performers, will go on and live whatever life they choose.And no one can ever take away from them the wonderful gift they have brought to so many lives. Lots of child stars go on to other endeavors and re-invent themselves as they mature and who knows what the future will be for Jackie Evancho? She has said in interviews that she would like to be a writer...there are no limits as to what she will do in the future. I feel confident that she has enough professionals as well as loving parents who are going to have her best intersts at heart. So, live and let live--count your blessings and relax. All is well--if you must worry about something, how about doing everything in our power to ensure that every child has a good quality education, and that their parents can provide a loving foundation so that all children can grow up to be happy, well-adjusted, productive citizens.

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  166. My only argument with this is, as others have said, younger children CAN study singing appropriately IF the teacher knows young voices and assigns appropriate repertoire, if the child has the attention span and interest to deal with this, and if the parents stop pushing things that they see on television (America's Got Talent, etc) as the goal for their children.

    I have spent a lot of years teaching 11-18 year old girls to sing with a fair amount of success. Recently I took on a 10 year old with some trepidation. Her parents assured me that she was very mature and motivated (in fact it was the child's idea to begin music study -- she had no background at all). With very low expectations, I agreed to try it. In fact the young lady in question is astonishingly mature and focussed in lessons (which are full hour lessons). The voice is what you would expect from a now-11 year old, but that will come. She is learning to breathe well and to sing a line and all of that sort of thing. Success. When her mother asked what she should be listening for at home -- I simply told her to be sure that she sounded like a 10 year old -- not a 20 year old. I have far less experience with boys of this age and, given their slower rate of maturity, suspect that would be a very different experience.

    Amen and amen to the remarks about musical theatre. I have three types of students I refuse to teach in my studio: smokers (obvious reasons), cheerleaders (I made one exception when she proved to me that she did indeed know how to yell properly -- that was a weird audition!), and anyone who sings Annie -- which is at least as damaging as the other two -- perhaps combined.

    The less said about Ms Evancho the better -- though I object far less to O mio babbino (to which I object strenuously) than I do to Nessun dorma -- which would be hilarious if it wasnt so devastating to what is/was a really potentially fine instrument.

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  167. Very well said! I agree with you. :)
    Greetings from a professionally trained singer and vocal teacher!

    ReplyDelete
  168. As "Dr. Opera" was decrying "child opera singers", the object of his wrath was singing "O mio babbino caro" for the Emperor & Empress of Japan by their invitation.

    Doubtless this tragic experience will scar her for life.

    Or....

    Consider what Jennifer Pike has to say about it. Now 20, she was a violin prodigy.

    " "The number of young people I've met with somebody speaking for them, literally forcing them to do this... I am lucky. I have a very inspiring & supportive family." As a child, she always wanted to do more practice & play more; it was she who had to push her teachers. "It's funny, the mentality of England is often, 'Let's just keep everybody at the same level', rather than assisting individual needs."

    Accordingly, in this blog & thread many have made conceptual & factual errors I’d expect opera lovers to be too sophisticated to make..

    1. Presuming that Jackie is singing opera. She is not singing operatically, never has, never said she did, doesn't now. She sings classically--relatively softly, into a microphone, with arias transposed to reduce danger to her instrument, & only sings more demanding arias on rare occasions, with other easier songs & performances by other people interspersed during her concerts.

    Her concerts only take place on average less than once a week. She invariably has at least one parent & one of her three siblings with her on all excursions.

    The safety of her instrument is being looked after by the same otolaryngologist who handles elite opera stars in NYC, & gets voice coaching from people with operatic training, though not rigorous training because she's too young for that--mostly they make sure she isn't doing anything to damage her instrument or get bad habits that will impede training when it does begin.

    Her last exam was a day or so ago, & Dr. Kessler called her vocal cords "pristine.” And her voice coach declared her singing technique healthy & sustainable.

    Assume the worst about all of this without research is only partially justifiable by the horror stories that abound.

    There are plenty of success stories as well, however, but they don't get headlines.

    And what gets the least headlining is stories of brilliant young talents whose souls were crushed by the one size fits all mentality that I see on display here.

    Jackie is an interpretive genius, according to voice specialists who have worked with her. There's nothing different about her physical apparatus--it's her mind. She's also a prodigy, but that's a different matter. Prodigies may not have exceptional talent--they just get what they've got early. Geniuses are different. Jackie has a talent for singing that few adults possess, with or without training.

    This is coupled with an interest in serious subject matter that she's had since before she was eight years old. The quaint Victorian concept that she shouldn't sing about serious subject matter until she's an adult belies a profound misunderstanding of both childhood & genius.

    Human children Jackie's age are engaged in real work in traditional societies around the world, continuing a pattern that has been in existence for 150,000 years. Kids were not raised in a bubble, like so many here perceive as "normal. It's bad for children to raise them that way, as anyone knowledgeable about child development would tell you.

    "One law for the liion & the ox is Oppression."
    --Blake

    She is unbelievably lucky to have the parents she has, like Jennifer Pike's parents, instead of exploitative Thenardiers...or well-meaning soul-crushers like some folks here.

    And when she’s 20 & happy & successful. I hope those who thoughtlessly railed against her & her family will have the integrity to publicly apologize for having been so narrow-minded.

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  169. I likely have less vocal music training than the vast majority of contributors to this entry (although I have a lot more training in neurosurgery). But that lack of education did not prevent me from recoiling in horror the first time I saw/heard Jackie Evancho. I know a trained chimp when I see one. Having raised three daughters, it made me sad to see this girl being sold the way she was.

    But I certainly don't blame the monkey all dressed up and turning flips. I blame the organ grinder, and even more so the passers-by on the street who toss coins in the hat.

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  170. I wonder how many arm chair doctors and opera experts wrote about Beverly Sills, Deanna Durbin, July Andrew and Judy Garland. Just think how great a career Beverly Sills would have had if she had paid her dues in study and waited until she was in her 20’s before starting her carrier. July Andrews could have become famous if she had not ruined her voice singing when she was ten. Then there is Deanna Durbin. What a waste of talent. She started to sing when she was also ten. Could have been a big star in the 30’s and 40’s maybe the highest paid female in Hollywood in the 40’s if she hadn’t burned out her voice singing on all those radio shows as a child. The same thing applies to Judy Garland, though not a opera singer, she to started singing at the same age as Jackie. I agree with you lets protect the children from fame and fortune.

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  171. After reading Mr. Pages article again, I started to wonder what on earth caused him to write such a thing. I imagine that his thought process could have gone something like this.

    How I miss being a music critic, life is so boring and I know I still have one good article in me, maybe another Pulitzer Prize Article. Now all I need is a subject.

    Well let’s see, I dislike child prodigies and dislike Classical Crossover Music. That’s a good place to start. I have heard of a child named Jackie Evancho is selling music like mad, heading the classical music charts. Can’t have that. Perfect.

    Subject: How about: The role of child stars in classical music and how they will burn out.

    I could compare her to Beverly Sills (Nope that wont work, may prove there is a role for children in classical music and I don’t recall her career ending after being a child) How about Julie Andrew (No that doesn’t work either.) Let’s see Deanna Durbin? (Same problem)
    There has to be a child that didn’t have a good career. Got it Jon Bonnet Ramsey. (Knew I’m a genius, dint get a Pulitzer for nothing) Let’s see I need a hook that can link them together. Both sing real well, maybe I better come back to that latter. (Just know I’m a genius) They are both the same age; well I guess they were once. Have to get back to that latter. They dress inappropriately, (The only clip I saw of Ms Evancho she was wearing a red dress but if you’re Amish you would buy that one). That’s a keeper. Make slight references to possible parental abuse. Got to watch that one, could get me in a law suit. I’ve got it, should have seen it from the beginning, THERE BOTH GIRLS.
    I guess I should do some more research, but what the heck, let’s go for it. Holly crap I’m good, knew I was a genius, I smell another Pulitzer coming.

    Its interesting that critic can say whatever he or she wishes. When I critical reply is posted to Slipped Disc, then it is rejected because it would offend the tender ego of Mr. Lebrecht’s good friend Mr. Page. Critics can defend other critics, but who defends the Ms Evancho’s of this world.

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  172. Disney market research got children’s psychic right when they produce their sitcoms. Just about all of their sitcoms are based around the theme of one or more smart gifted children outwitting adults who act as buffoons. That’s the reason Disney is so successful with children’s programming. It’s also the reason that Disney pop music is so popular with children. That’s the music children hear. As you look back over the whole debacle, concerning Ms Evancho, Mr. Page and Mr. Lebrecht, it’s a perfect script for a Disney sitcom. The smart talented girl singer is up against two adult music critics who act as the buffoons. .Ms Evencho plays the lead as the gifted singer. The music critics, who belong to the International Society of Music Critics and Advisors to the Lovelorn say stupid things. One would have a newsletter called Cracked Pot. Since membership (which only cost a dollar) gives them diplomatic immunity from speaking utter nonsense without any relationship to reality. Mr. Page and Mr. Leebrecht would be perfect for the adult rolls. They would play their parts perfectly. No acting skills required. Disney, if you like this, give me a call.

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  173. Mr. Lebrecht is the worst kind of critic. Attack Ms Evancho he prints it, make fun of Mr. Lebrecht, he wont print it in the Cracked Pot, sorry typo error, the Slipped Disk. Nothing worse than a critic without a sense of humor.

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  174. To Kavic: This is Glenn Winters' blog. Responding to others will be in vain. They are not here.

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  175. Mr. Lebrechts, blog The Cracked Pot, (sorry, I keep getting that wrong the Slipped Disk) is the worst kind of example elitism and snobbism. It certainly can’t be called good journalism. He says what he wants, post anyone who agrees, but reserves the right not to publish anyone who disagrees with him. I then find posters in the Washington Post blog that say, Mr. Lebrecht must have it right, not many Evancho fans are disagreeing with him. A guess Hitler and Stalin also had it right also, no one disagreed with them either

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  176. I agree with this wholeheartedly! When I said it, I was told to shut up!...so glad to get some back up on the issue, finally! I am horrified by "trained" voices on children....they lose all inate beauty and charm given to all children. Fake vibratos, "placement" that will eventually choke them, choreographed movements that look robotic, Their voices are GROWING as well as their bodies....how on earth can you nail down a technique on an ever-changing instrument?? They should not even study voice until they are in their late teens. Bless you Dr. Opera! You have made this opera singer a very happy camper!

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  177. To Kavic: Your post crossed a thick line, and crossed it badly. I shudder to think that you represent Jackie Evancho's fans.

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  178. @anonymous,
    Since Mr Lebrecht blocks post to his blog about this very subject. then reply's will get posted here. I find most of the same characters saying the same thing on this blog, Washington Post and the Cracked Pot.

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  179. To Kavic: I am speaking of your comment about Hitler, of course. Entirely inappropriate. I will not say more.

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  180. Wow... so I see that Godwin's law is still strong in 2012!

    I absolutely loved this entire article. Great writing; I can't wait to buy your book.

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  181. While I'm 99.44% in agreement wiith Glenn, I'm also aware that there are very rare instances (e.g., Roberta Peters, Maria Malibran, Pauline Viardot) when a precocious teenaged girl singer successfully makes the transition to acclaimed adult performer. In a field as technically and artistically demanding as opera, they're rare as hen's teeth. I can think of one sad case. Between 1998 and 2005, Charlotte Church (b. 1986) enjoyed commercial success as a "classical" singer before making the transition to pop music, where her career has pretty much dead-ended. The "chanteuse de l'enfant du jour" is 11-year-old Jacqueline "Jackie" Evancho, who came to public attention on "America's Got Talent" in 2010 by singing "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. It's alway possible that she'll be the exception to the rule, and will develop artistically as a teenager. But I wouldn't bet the house on it.

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  182. Excellent blog post! I don't know who Jackie Evancho is (nor do I really care), but I do know that in my freshman year at university studying voice, a girl ended up dropping the program because she already had damage from improper training. For every child who is a Charlotte Church or Judy Garland or [insert your preferred talented child here], there must be so many more who do long term harm by pushing (or being pushed) too hard too fast. The Little League analogy is spot on.

    To all the teachers out there who DO teach children and teens things like breathing, pitch and the fundamentals of music at an age appropriate level, keep it up! We need more of you.

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  183. Two of the finest opera singers of thh 20th century--Jussi Bjoerling and Rosa Ponselle---each sang a lot with their siblings as children, both at home and in performances. Jackie E may not yet have a fully developed adult voice and her current handing may have later repecussions, but what do folks think about her actual voice now, and is she reallly ruining it by singing lots of Puccini type arias?

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  184. Interesting society will live in. Compare a dead little girl innappropriatly to an another little girl and you are supported and praised. Make a statement that says Hitler didn't support freedom of speech, and you feel that's inappropriate. Funny that comments about Stalin, who I find a evil as Hitler, didn't offend you.

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  185. A few years ago a good friend, a soprano who had a successful international career (including the Met), introduced me to one of her prize pupils, a 14-year-old coloratura soprano, who sang Olympia's aria from Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann." I was astounded by the ease with which she sang it, and by the maturity of her interpretation. Three years later I had the pleasure of singing with this young lady in "Die Zauberfloete," where she was the Queen of the Night. Today she's a college freshman, studying voice with an ex-Met tenor. Given the number of very good coloratura sopranos auditioning for roles with opera companies, she'll have lots of competition and may eventually succumb to the numbers game. But at age 18, she appears to be an exceptional singer...and just might have a shot at the "big time."

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  186. Now I need an explanation. I crossed a thick line? Hitler and Stalin cannot be mentioned when discussing censorship. Why not, they were masters at it. Who should be mentioned Ms Piggy. I'm just trying to find a character that not threatening to you.

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  187. I am one of those who enjoys listening to NPR's From The Top. I have yet to hear any pre-adolescents on the show. The performers are nothing at all like Jackie Evancho, or Charlotte Church in her day. Most of them are instrumentalists in their late teens, well on their way to a promising career. What's the big deal? The pieces performed are usually really beautiful works not often heard, and sometimes you hear original works, performed by professional musicians.

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  188. One person said:

    "What is it about adults who want children to skip being children?"

    Reminds me of those RIDICULOUS beauty pageants for girls under age 10. It's all about the parents living vicarious dreams through their children. In my view this - and musical child prodigies pushed by parents - teeters on child abuse.

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  189. Kavic: You compared another blogger to Hitler. But of course, you knew that. This is particularly ironic given the blogger you chose.

    @Anonymous at 8:50: I've never heard of Godwin's law until now! Excellent.

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  190. PS. - Anyone - I mean ANYONE - that uses Hitler analogies in attempting to make a valid and logical argument valid needs try a little harder. While the user thinks it is the ultimate trump card, in fact it just makes them look like a douche-bag.

    That extremely tired analogy makes for great drama but it is very weak logic. "Let's find the worst tragedy in human history and compare our argument to that."

    It makes no sense whatsoever, it is weak, idiotic, and it lacks thought and imagination.

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  191. “About those child opera stars: here’s the deal” and what should be the role of child stars in classical music” Those statements alone poses problems to me. Should child stars be limited only to pop music? If so, that is the reason, so few people listen to classical music, especially opera. Classical music a few generations ago was on the radio and TV. Back in the 30s and 40s it was on radio and in the movies. The fifties had the Firestone Hour. The in the sixties you still had Liberace, who the majority of the classical world despised. But the fact is he was on T V and was exposing people to classical music. Now you are lucky to hear it on NPR or PBS. We are losing generations of future fans by not reaching out to them. They simply don’t hear it. They hear rap, country western and Disney pop. When a little girl goes on national TV and sang an opera aria, a lot of Americans went wow I like that. That is reflected in their voting. Next it was reflected in purchasing her music. Opera fanatics woke up to the fact that she was getting a lot of attention. According to them, there is no way she can do this; they insist that it takes years of work before you can sing opera or even light classical. The fact that a number of very talented children in the past Beverly Sills, Julie Andrews, and Deanna Durbin to name a few, went on to have great careers means nothing to them. They see it their way; don’t bother me with the facts. I especially like the ones who state that because they have a degree in music, they know what they are talking about. Well I also have a degree, not in music, but I learned a long time ago not to be arrogant and assume you know everything. Then comes a has-been, music critic who starts to compare her to a murdered child, who I didn’t know could even sing. Now all hell has broke loose. Opera fanatics are out in droves to prove that she can’t sing opera, or yes she has a nice voice, but needs years of training. She will burn out her voice by singing this way. Or better yet, this is child abuse. They have no facts, just opinions, but don’t disagree with them because they are right. I have three grandchildren; they love to hear Ms. Evancho sing. Why, because she is a child and they can relate to her. That how Disney gets the young hooked on Disney Pop. The only classical music they hear is on 30’s and 40’s loony toons. I look back on her performances last year and they were very good. My wife went to her concert in Vegas and it was superb. Her voice is improving that fast. We both agreed it was one of the best concerts we had attended, and we were season ticket holders to the Cleveland Symphony for years. We just wished that we had taken our grandchildren as they were begging us too. Now I know to most of the people posting her would say that I am just one of the unwashed masses and therefore, must know nothing but this is just my opinion and I am not forcing it on any one else. Don’t purchase her CDs if you don’t like her voice or style of singing, but don’t expect millions of people who have purchased her CD or DVDs to agree with you. If Ms Evancho eventually has the most beautiful voice in history of recorded music, and please note I said if, then after this debacle, I doubt that she would touch opera with a ten foot pole. You can then thank all the experts who posted here.

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  192. YES. Thank you!!!

    I will definitely be directing folks to your post, as this topic comes up quite frequently in my studio, as well as the vocal health presentations I give. Thanks for being willing to write this!

    Jennifer Barrett
    MA, SVS Level III

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  193. Again I would point out that Hitler was the master of censorship. Are you so afraid of history that you cant learn from it?

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  194. KAVIC - I would point out that while you are correct in stating that Hitler was a master of censorship, comparing that cherry-picked tidbit of fact to Norman Lebrecht is seriously flawed logic.

    While I would agree that Lebrecht is a self-serving pundit that spouts a lot of garbage, he was not responsible for the death of 6 million Jews. In using the flawed Hitler analogy, that dark fact of history also comes with the package. Comparing then the censorship of Lebrecht to that of Hitler is, in my opinion, inflammatory and extreme and makes no sense.

    Are you so afraid of rationality that you can't speak or think logically with resorting to hyperbole, histrionics or Hitler analogies?

    While I might agree with your sentiment in regards to Lebrecht, I do not agree with sensational comments such as this. Why don't you just type in all caps and be done with it?

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  195. Thank you for bringing this up. There was a post on the Washington Post blog, that the supporters of Ms Evancho are not on the Lebrech's blog. I made a point that you will not find them there if there is censorship. Just because you did not find critics of Hitler or STALIN does not mean there was none. Critic were simply shot. Now there is not degrees of censorship. First degree offence censorship shooting people, Second degree simply refusing to publish it. Yes I agree Hitler was a monster, so was Stalin. But they did know that by silencing decent, you proved you were right.

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  196. Jan 10 at 12:01am.... THANK YOU for those comments. There is such an ugly attitude of elitism in the operatic world, and you have hit the nail on the head with your football/violin analogy. Opera and music in general are for EVERYONE to enjoy! Lots of opinions here.... which is just to say that there is NO one-size-fits all to music, singing and voice. People have different motivations, and are attracted to it for different reasons. Let it be, folks; and respect that not everyone is like you!

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  197. I'm a private voice teacher and it took me ages to read your blog because I kept stopping to run excitedly around the house bellowing yes, yes, and YES!

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