Wenancjusz Ochmann

Why some technically great vocalists, or singers, do not achieve stage success? Why often people with lesser voice qualities become superstars?

These are some of the questions I have been trying to find answers to during my long work with singers. Usually singing teachers focus mainly on the technical development of the vocal apparatus, on the right emission or on the right choice of repertoire. They practice with their students singing and breathing techniques and phrasing and they work on the interpretation of lyrics. But doesn’t a singer need something more to succeed? Are pretty songs, an interesting timbre and vocal range all that?

It is not uncommon that difficult songs can be performed technically correctly by quite young people and… it will even sound pretty. But the interpretation of difficult lyrics, the emotional message of a song is a completely different thing: you need insight and emotional maturity for this, as well as self-control, resistance to stress (few people only do not have the stage fright before a public performance) and ability to focus and to manage emotional tensions. Being a singer, therefore, entails mental strain, but often it is also a physical effort (a concert together with preparation is a few hours); it requires precision, patience, consistency, even… good memory (so necessary to master the music material) and ability to concentrate. That’s why training a singer is not only strictly music work, but also extremely delicate and responsible psychological work.

Working with our voice, we work with emotions. We work with our own emotions, and predominantly, with those of the listener’s. On numerous occasions, I repeat to my students that when they perform a song that has a sad message, it is not them who are to cry, but their listeners. But how to do that? To what extent are we able to separate our emotions from those conveyed and shown to the listener? And also, more broadly, how to deal with failures and the much more difficult situation of premature success when worship by fan and whispers of a sycophant can completely disrupt the world of values.

How to simultaneously prepare singers, quoting Churchill, for ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ of hard and consistent work without any guarantee of success, and for bling, fame and quick money? A fascinating voice and a wide vocal range are not everything. Strong personality and determination in pursuit of measurable, realistic goals is the other side of success. Thus, to work with singers in this way you need not only a singing teacher but also a mature and broad-minded mentor: this might be the same person and oftentimes this is the same person.

Sometimes the role of a mentor in the world of music is played by a career coach, but it is not exactly the same. Such an ideal teacher/mentor should have an artistic and psychological background, the knowledge of the industry but also the knowledge of learning processes, motivation mechanisms and communication techniques. On the one hand, he or she should be able to establish a good relationship with the mentee, give feedback and clear information, but also be open, empathetic and committed. In his or her work with singers, he or she should help to name and see talent, create space for the best possible use of talents and resources but also support the mentees in working on consistency in their actions.

Working with artists is not easy: they are often open-minded people characterised, on the one hand, by an active attitude to the world and life, high level of self-awareness, ability to manage themselves, emotional and perceptual sensitivity and on the other hand, introverts and hypersensitive people who are uncertain about their talent. Each of them requires a different approach…