Art Is Hard

Are great singers born or made? It’s an eternal question.

Whenever I mention to someone that I’m a singer, I am usually met with “oh, I have no singing talent” or “I could never sing.” My immediate reaction to this is to say “Oh, anyone can be taught to sing!”.  And, truly, this is something I believe. Almost anyone (and I mean anyone, with a little time and trust) can be taught to carry a tune in a bucket. But how far can talent be developed? Is there a point at which the voice can no longer be improved? What does one do then?

Rosa Ponselle, the “greatest singer of us all” according to Maria Callas, rode largely on her natural singing ability in the early stages of her career. Other singers, like Beverly Sills, credit the development of their already enormous natural singing talents with their teachers. There is no recipe for operatic talent success.

Sills with her beloved teacher, Estelle Liebling
Sills with her beloved teacher, Estelle Liebling

The eternally optimistic part of me wants to believe that any one of us could be the next Ponselle–add a little bit of elbow grease and a whole lot of work and the most mediocre soprano could be transformed into a singing star. Still, there’s a cynicism also within me that reminds me that some of us, no matter how hard we try, will ever reach the level of greatness Ponselle, Callas, Pavarotti, Gobbi, or any number of other famous operatic artists achieved. We may never be good enough.

Thankfully, these are questions I probably have to answer. I will not achieve perfection in my lifetime, and thus will not have to worry about reaching the point where I can no longer improve.

The really nagging question, for me, is the question of artistry. Is artistry something that can be developed like the singing voice? If so, how does one develop it? Is it something that can be taught in the studio?

Or is musical artistry inherent and merely waiting unlocking from the person who possesses it? Can anyone ‘become’ an artist? Or is it something someone simply, well… is?

Furthermore–what distinguishes someone with a simple aptitude for singing from a truly great singing artist? Is it the timbre? Range? The size of the voice? The cut (everyone loves good squillo)? The musicality? The acting choices? Variety of repertoire?

I can think of a number of singers who I consider great technicians but not necessarily great artists. Their virtuosity in technique is astounding–their coloratura is precise, their registers are seamless. I can think of the reverse as well–singers who sacrificed their vocal technique for the sake of making bold, brave artistic choices. Glottal attacks everywhere and anywhere, Reckless Use of Chest Voice, repertoire that may exceed the limitations of the singer’s instrument–these are all examples of things one could find singers who fall under this category doing. The result is thrilling music often at the expense of the singer’s career longevity.

But even the brightest stars have to burn out sometime, right?

So, dear reader–what makes a singer an artist? What do you think?

1 thought on “Art Is Hard”

  1. I think it is both. I feel as though I came across a place where I couldn’t become a better singer(hence the reason I dropped out of the voice dept at UALR and realized I wasn’t going to sing in Operas/Broadway). I believe we can always work on our artistry though, by learning new songs, possibly understanding new material, whether this be by listening to a Mahler piece for the 5th time live or taking an Aural Skills 3 class. And yes I believe I developed artistry in my voice studio with a teacher at UALR, I think it takes someone special to help you develop it and I don’t think anyone can develop it(as you dont see random people taking lessons and believing their going to be a singer for a living).

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