What is a Coach?

and what is a singing teacher?

What is the difference between a Singing Teacher and a Singers' Coach?  Conductor and Singer Richard Cartmale, (who has worked as both) begins an exploration of the subject. This is work in progress.

"In the arena of singing, the term 'coach' is often understood in a rather blurred way, because it seems to mean different things in different contexts. By default, I use the term as an opera company would; as someone who takes responsibility for a singer knowing their work and creating a complete and convincing performance of that music. Opera companies employ outstanding musicians ( pianists and/or assistant conductors) to do this. Most are not singers themselves, (although they usually have a fairly good understanding of what singers do), so singers are expected to resolve any technical voice-production issues with a seperate singing teacher."

"Generally speaking, in the opera world a singing teacher works for the singer, and a coach or 'repetiteur' (like the conductor and assistant conductor, engaged by  the company or for the production) works for the music. He/she is a direct extension of the conductor's role as   (in the words of the great Erich Leinsdorf)     'The Composer's Advocate' .  This clearly defined difference in the emphasis of advocacy best defines the difference between the two roles. However there are, in some companies, vocal consultants who seem to fit the role of 'singing teacher'. They are, however, working for the company! There are also many freelance coaches not attached to opera companies, who may be engaged by either the company or the singer. So in the end it is more true to say that the singing teacher works for the voice and the coach for the music."

"Singing actors in professional music theatre often refer to their 'vocal coach' or 'singing coach' when they mean a singer who can comment on their sound and play them their part on the piano. This person maybe primarily a singer or a musical director/accompanist. However, as this is a field in which less emphasis is given to pure unapplied vocal technique, the issues of advocacy may be less pertinent than they are in opera."

"What does not help the cause of quality singing in musical theatre is that so many training establishments consider that a class lesson in learning a song from the piano (or sometimes a backing track) whilst useful and instructive, constitutes a 'singing lesson', the sad but inevitable corollary of this is that someone starts referring to the worthy pianist in charge as a 'singing teacher', when that person may never have had a real singing lesson in their lives!"

"The higher form of the singing teacher, works for the best interests of the singer's voice, advising repertoire that will flatter without overtaxing that singer, engendering a dependable integrated production that will not break under pressure, and that will survive for a lifelong career. This does not always serve the best short term interests of the music being performed at that time, but it does help to ensure the singer's survival to perform in the future. Of course the highest form of the singing teacher will also be an interpretative artist of skill, taste and intuition. The receptive  student will stand to benefit from these insights, but teachers of singing have a full time commitment with the workings of the voice, and generally know that an artist cannot be created, even though, in the patient hands of a great singing teacher,  a voice can be built"

"The higher form of the coach is a musician who understands the meaning and the demands of the music from inside, and can articulate this in terms of vocal artistry. Such a coach should inspire and enlighten the singer to shape a performance that truly serves that music and it's story."


Richard Cartmale 2008

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