Most voice teachers encounter this dilemma weekly. How do we get the young student to understand what they should and shouldn’t be singing? Yes, there is the eye roll from the pre-teen and teenager. It is not merely a matter of style or musical genre but more what is appropriate for the age and what are BELIEVABLE lyrics to be coming out of their mouths. (There can be a whole other chapter on what is appropriate vocally, good for their voice, teach good technique, etc.) . The fact of the matter is, there is a great deal of repertoire out there for our young singers to sing that they can connect to and learn how to communicate in all realms of literature.
What do you do when the 11 year old student wants to sing Adele? Ask what it is they like about the songs. Ok, nice voice, being in “in” crowd, good beat. Are these songs right for them? Yes, the eye roll again. Read some of the lyrics of the songs- are they believable if they are coming from a young girl? Can a young student relate to those words? Who in any audience (besides close friends) will believe them if they sang these grown up songs? Who is going to believe a 12 year old singing about the loss of a love that is crushing them to their core? (www.nats.org, R. Edwin, Journal of Singing, April 2012)
It is so important in our song selection that the believability and connection to the character are sound and secure. This is what carries the successful delivery of a song. We must find pieces that the young student can relate to and then can learn how to communicate. This authenticates their performance and enables them to truly communicate with the audience in song.
What are some sources to consider? Explore your Broadway books for selections from the Young Cosette in Les Miserables, Mary in Secret Garden, Gretel, Brigita, and Louisa in Sound of Music, Baby June in Gypsy or Nellie in Annie Get Your Gun. All of the Walt Disney classics and new musicals have a plethora of options. With Pop options, you may need to be more selective, but look at Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Christina Auquilera, Demi Lovato. They are believable pieces for your pop-loving students. Remind your students that sometimes the voices are electronically enhanced. In exchange for and in addition to these selections, have your students sing folk repertoire or art songs which have easy to interpret messages. GUIDE them in interpreting the repertoire and guide their ears to open to all of the wonderful music out there.
Careful explanation of WHY the song might not be believable shows a lot to a child (and parent). Finding pieces that achieve the believable goal and teach solid technique are priceless (and all the more reason to keep those nugget pieces of a more classical nature) in your pocket. This approach may help you merge the common Barrier Reef and help students not only discover their wonderful voices but learn to like a new genre of music.What are your suggestions for other great repertoire for the young or child singer and overcoming the Barrier Reef?