top of page

Learning to sing in La-la Land

Fear not! The future of opera seems virtually secured. There is no shortage of people who want to sing today. Besides, many parents insist that their children have singing lessons- even If they show no musical gift whatsoever or could not care less about singing. Yet, parents will spare no effort. Unrealistic expectations abound: “Just hire a teacher, and a few lessons later, in no time, the world will be at your child’s feet”- or so they think. Yet, how are parents to choose a suitable teacher for their children- be they talented or talent-free- and how is the advanced aspiring artist who already can sing two or three notes to find the mentor they so sorely need to perfect their art?

NB: The words in black boxes are commentaries by readers.

We are not responsible for their views.

Since we support freedom of speech, we make it a point to include

the opinions of our readers- no matter if they differ from

or even contradict our own.

We only discourage the use of offensive language or profanity.

Offensive comments are not published.

You may use the form at the end of the article

to submit your comments. Thank you! At times we incorporate

some of the comments into our articles.

Finding a teacher would seem to present no problem, for there is certainly no lack of singing teachers today, especially in New York. Indeed, New York City has probably more singing teachers than nurses, policemen, schoolteachers, lawyers, doormen, and hairdressers put together. Some eager teachers have been recently spotted hanging precariously from windows and offering their lessons like desperate peddlers to any passerby.

While no other city in the world can boast as many, an internet search will reveal the names of several singing teachers in any city with a population greater than ten. They come in all varieties. The problem is that many consider themselves the heirs of The Great Tradition. While some instructors are barely able to teach the rudiments of vocal emission- they are rightly called ‘voice teachers’-a few teacher/artists here and there are qualified to transmit the higher order aspects of the art. The second volume of Garcia’s treatise deals precisely with those aspects. Definitely worth studying. It starts where many leave off and it reveals how much we are missing out.

But who in the world is Garcia and what is a treatise? Sounds dangerous...

And second volume?... You must be crazy!... Who has the time?

I am lucky if I make it to the second page.

My motto is: In Wikipedia We Trust. And I get good grades....

Those clueless about how music is put together content themselves with following the melody and teaching it by rote-. Trifles such as phrasing, form, and the workings of tonality they do not bother with.

Wow! I dig that! ! I remember that once I was not sure about the function of

a particular chord in an aria (that is an opera song, in case you don't know).

I asked my voice teacher: "Could you tell me what that chord is doing here?"

She looked at me with a puzzled look and said: "I have no idea.

Plug it into the wall and see what happens."

I almost fainted!

She probably thought I was referring to one of the many electrical cords

that filled the floor of her studio, plugged as needed into the extension

cords or electrical outlets.

Needless to say, I never bothered to ask her anything else.

As far as the text, the words are just expected to fall into place- mostly in the form of meaningless combinations of syllables. Who has time for declamation, textual analysis, even recognizing parts of speech, affect, etc.? The rest of the score (except for the melody) being useless gibberish to them, they royally dispense with it. The YouTube School of Music picks up the slack.

But could someone bother to explain to me what else in the world is there?

I have no clue what you are talking about (workings of tonality?)...

What do you mean by gibberish?

And by the way, why are you putting down You Tube?

I swear by You Tube, and so do all my friends, whatever you may say!

Some eager teachers-to-be, as soon as they have they learned to make a sound, having memorized their first song, set up shop and proclaim themselves singing experts. Others, who have never seen the inside of a theater, armed with a college degree or a shiny doctorate from a university, will proclaim themselves perfect teaching machines. As the adage goes: “those who can’t, teach.” To muddy the waters further, great singers may not always be endowed with the gift of teaching. Often talented students who gravitate towards famous performers will get nowhere, or even see their abilities diminish under their “expert” care.

But what is a parent or an aspiring artist to do in this confusing situation? Other that pulling one’s hair, consulting a crystal ball, or playing Russian roulette with teachers for bullets, there seems to be no easy answer. Perhaps trusting your intuition and trying your luck with a few teachers is all you can do. Be ready to run for the door at the slightest sign of discomfort, mind games, or manipulation. In any case, when reaching the point of maximum frustration, please hold off jumping off that bridge.

Believe me, the bridge is still going to be there when you need it.

I guess you can always jump off it later,

once your teacher has convinced you first that you are a mezzo, then a soprano,

still another time a bass; to then reveal to you one fine day you should

concentrate on high coloratura, the week thereafter

contralto repertory, and finally, after consulting a colleague,

announce that you are a falcon soprano assoluta

semi-spinto quasi soprano drammatico d'agilità!

Or you can jump off the bridge after your overtaxed larinx bursts

during a laborious vocalise, or when,

after acting on you best friend's recommendation, and having paid through the nose

to study with that famous coach who kept insisting you had

a big voice inside waiting to come out, you can no longer phonate.

Yes, the uncertainty in the search for a singing teacher is no joke. People may be tempted to fantasize about a time when everything was hunky-dory, and all knew what they were doing. “Surely in Mozart’s time it must have been easier to find a teacher.” Do I have news for you? Well, get off that ledge for now! and consider the testimonies of great teachers from the past. Perhaps after you hear about it you may reconsider your rash decision.

Let’s go over some simple- and obvious– ideas about our current predicament and see how it was back in the day…

Students need a good teacher.

On the need for a suitable teacher, Tosi writes: everybody knows that there is no other means than study; but that does not suffice; it is also necessary to know in what manner, and with whose assistance, those studies should be pursued. (1723)

(Thank you, Mr. Tosi, that was brilliant!... I had no idea!...

Most parents have no clue about the qualifications of the singing teacher.

Corri warns:

A profession which, of all others, affords the greatest latitude for imposition, — the qualifications of a school-master — a dancing-master, and a drawing master, most people can fully ascertain, — but the music-master’s how few parents are capable of appreciating, or can judge whether he plays or sings in tune or in time, in good style, &c. &c. and even with this, his knowledge may be merely superficial and inadequate to instruct a pupil in the principles and theory of the science. Possessed, perhaps, of a good address, and furnished with a few vocal and instrumental pieces, he exhibits his pretensions with the utmost assurance, stops at nothing, dashes through, right or wrong — confident his hearers will not discover his errors; should they be in some degree perceived, civility, and good-nature, pass over what appears doubtful, — and thus ignorance triumphs; — and it frequently happens, that a shop-boy of a music-seller, exchanging the broom for the tuning-hammer, and obtaining half a dozen lessons from a professor, sets up for a master. (1811)

I do not see anything wrong with trying to better yourself. More power to them!

Is the janitor position a union job? Then it is not so bad! It probably comes with

benefits. On the other hand, having all those crazy sopranos screaming in your ear!

I am not so sure I could take it!

Sometimes parents are convinced that their children are gifted in music, when in fact they are not.

(Yes, I am talking about your nephew, the one whose singing you can't stand!!!)

Corri expounds:

Observation and experience have evinced that there are many whose souls are susceptible to the charms of music, yet, notwithstanding, are incapable of acquiring the art; — few can be persuaded of this, and a master were he honestly to tell such a pupil ” you do not possess the talents and requisite gifts for music” would, most probably, give great offense. I can say, from experience, I have never been able to convince a parent, nor have I ever lost a scholar from a fair representation of a child’s inability : for so prevalent is the rage for musical education, that persons totally unqualified, waste in this unavailing pursuit that portion of their time, which, employed in studies suited to their genius, might reward them with success. What credit and advantage to themselves, or pleasure to others, can such musicians create?

(A teacher told me once that I had the musicality of a pea. Is that good or bad?

I cannot really figure it out)

Even if the students are gifted, they must like music and enjoy its pursuit.

Corri goes at it again:

If Scholars in their Practice do not themselves feel sensation of Pleasure in the sound of a single Note, (and if not in one neither will they from a number of succeeding or combined Notes, it must be attributed either to an improper manner of Practice, or to the want of Natural Musical Gifts , should the latter be the cause all attempts towards the attainment of any excellence in the Vocal Art will be fruitless . And I can say from experience that, this defect is the cause to which may be attributed the very limited number of good Singers, although the Art is so generally cultivated.

(Luckily for you, your nephew does not like to practice!!!

We must pity the teacher, though!!! I hope she wears ear plugs!)

Teachers can be “a dime a dozen”

Tosi remarks:

There are now-a-days as many Masters as there are Professors of Music in any kind; every one teaches ; I do not mean the first rudiments only, that would be an affront to them; I am now speaking of those who take upon them the part of a legislator in the most finished part of singing. So mischievous a pretension prevails not only among those who can barely be said to sing, but among the meanest instrumental performers, who, though they never sung, nor knew how to sing, pretend not only to teach, but to perfect, and find some who are weak enough to be imposed on.

Some great performers can’t teach

“It may seem to many, that every perfect singer must also be a perfect instructor; but it is not so, for his qualifications (though ever so great) are insufficient if he cannot communicate his sentiments with ease, and in a method adapted to the ability of the scholar; if he has not some notion of composition, and a manner of instructing, which may seem rather an entertainment than a lesson; with the happy talent to show the ability of the singer to advantage, and to conceal his imperfections. ” A master possessed of the above-mentioned qualifications, is capable of teaching; with those, he will raise a desire to study and will correct errors with reason.”

How sobering to find out that the situation in the 18th and 19th centuries was basically no different! But as the mystic saying goes, when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear. There have always been great teachers and some others who are not so great. The answer will continue to be the individualized transmission that takes place from capable artist teacher to capable student artist. And as Melba wrote in her Method:

“Learn from the very beginning to depend upon yourself. Your teacher can do no more than point the way. You must walk along it yourself.”

True story: A neighbor of mine in New York had had 27 voice teachers to-date and was still looking for the perfect one. I always wondered if he could name them all but never dared to ask. I have never forgiven myself for not asking- I really would have loved to hear the list.

But maybe it was better that way. I do not think I could have kept a straight face! In any case, I really hope he has been successful in his ultimate search.

May all aspiring students find the suitable teacher they require.

Or, at the very least, may they have fun in the process.

Are you for real? Twenty seven teachers? That is hard to believe!

That really ain’t funny

I had twenty before I stopped...

Yes, you all should not make fun of that. My sister jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge last Christmas Eve because she could never sing the high e flat. Her body was never recovered. It turned out she had been practicing with a defective pitch pipe and neither she nor her teacher ever bothered to check.

We are now suing the manufacturer, but that will not bring back my sister.


I know who you are, and I know you are lying. Your sister swam all the way to Staten Island and is doing very well, thank you. She trained for that swim for months. I see her now and then in the old neighborhood. She has changed her hairstyle and now wears thick glasses, but I can still tell who she is.

You are not fooling me. I think you are in this together to collect some money. I used to run into your sister when I would go to my lesson. We had the same teacher, that crazy old lady who lives in the Ansonia with a bunch of cats. I still have a lesson with her now and then; I feel sorry for the old witch.

And let me tell you: your sister Mary was never able to match pitch. Her lesson was just before mine and hearing her was excruciating.

Sometimes the cats would join in. They probably got nervous. Believe me, I think they did better than her.

And you better drop this bogus case. I might just tell on you.

In fact, I will. I guarantee it: you are not going to get away with this!


I studied singing for 20 years. My teacher kept telling me I was on the brink of a major career. I was really on the brink of a major nervous breakdown. I lost my house and all my savings, and my wife divorced me before my teacher was through with me.

(The divorce I did not mind so much about. That witch of a wife lived pestering me. Good riddance!)

I remember that the teacher kept saying that some minor sacrifices were needed for Art. By the way, I later found out her husband's nickname was Art. Maybe she meant that I should make sacrifices, so that Art could make the payments on their summer home.

One fine day, after I had been studying with her for 14 years, my teacher told me that I really had no talent, when I

asked her if he could give me a few free lessons, being that I was homeless and totally broke at the moment.

Well, to make a long story short, after almost going crazy, I quit but not without giving the wench a good smack. She sure had it coming!

I now sing in the shower. Thank you very much. My neighbors do not care about my technique. They just bang on the wall if it is too loud...


Look, if this Garcia guy was really that amazing, students could very well study with him through a medium. Nothing wrong with that. The lessons might even be cheaper.

But come to think of it, you would have to pay the medium as well.




Hey, that sounds reasonable. Does anyone know any reliable mediums in NYC? I live in the Upper Westside. I have absolutely no idea what they charge. Can anyone tell me the going rate?

Silvia Luduena

September 24, 2016 at 8:03 pm


Dear D, the story is hilarious, but the comments… especially those at the end, are out of this world! I could even imagine people talking as I read, like in a movie, hahahaha 🙂

Yes, dear Silvia! It is funny but true!!! I am glad you liked it!!! We are still on the same boat, basically, three hundred years later! But at least we do not have to wear wigs!!! Especially if they had been created by Haydn’s father in law….

guest blogger

I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of all the fuss about Ancient Greece. You can hardly open a book- not that I read that much- or watch a video without hearing about all the great things the Greeks did. But let me tell you about how the name of the country came about; I bet they did not teach you that in school.

Violetta Malatesta, Celebrity Soprano

The Greeks ate a lot of fatty foods

meat, cheese and such- they still do, but not as much now- and, on top of that, they used to drown everything in olive oil or lamb fat. With so many banquets, and after eating as many lambs, olives and mountains of cheese as they did, little by little, the whole country came to be covered in grease. Grease would ooze from the ground; it came down mixed with the rain and it collected on every surface. It even covered the furniture, the sheets and the pillows. And that is how the name Greece originated, from all that grease- only that they changed the spelling, to camouflage it a bit.

Luckily, after many centuries, the rain washed away most of that fatty stuff, which then ended up in the sea. Swimming was never the same thereafter-not that the local sea creatures had much choice. And when Greece heats up in the summer, the sea still gives out its characteristic soupy smell, from all the ancient grease that gathered in it.

It is no secret that during periods of famine, the ancient inhabitants of the Greek Isles would survive on a few scrawny potates or whatever roots and leaves they could collect to cook in the sea water. The rich protein content of this miraculous broth would tide them over. Thanks to it, they were able to keep body and soul together for months at a time, until conditions would improve, bringing about a good harvest and better times.

Once they had put some meat on their bones again, the men would go back to their usual occupation: killing each other, burning down enemy cities, and making slaves of their inhabitants. The women left behind wove during the day and undid their work at night, to keep off unwanted suitors. This would sometimes go on for years.

And you may ask yourselves, well, the name of the country may make sense in English, but did the Greeks speak English? Yes! I know it for a fact, and I can prove it. The folks that own the corner deli store on my block are Greek and they all speak English (talk about ancient: the lady who serves the olives must be at least two thousand years old). Besides, did you ever see the movie My Big Greek Fat Wedding or something like that? Guess what language did they speak? I am no scholar, but I do know English when I hear it.

And please do not tell me anything else about Ancient Greece. I don’t want to hear it! The summers were torrid, no air conditioning, the roads impassable and not even one decent mall.

I still don’t get why all the fuss…But who cares? It is all Greek to me!!!!


This post has been contributed by Violetta Malatesta. The views expressed herein are solely her own.

The Opera Atelier

You may learn about Mademoiselle’s Malatesta exploits in the post entitled “Introducing Violetta Malatesta” in The Opera Atelier Blog. The pirate video of the private conversation between Violetta and her manager (Diva meets Manager) can be found on The Opera Atelier YouTube channel and The Opera Atelier MOZ-Art YouTube channel.

Daniel Daroca

18 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Musical Coaching

Most musical coaching- and most music teaching, for that matter- falls within what Freire called the “banking education” model (Freire, 1968). In a typical session, the expert (the well of knowledge)


Just as Mediocrity helps to balance out and enhance Excellence (see In Praise of Mediocrity) , musical works and musical performance are enriched by the workings of pairs of opposites. Here are some i

In Praise of Mediocrity

Mediocrity rises early and goes to market. Her daughters: Superficiality, Banality, Vulgarity, Triviality, Vanity, Frivolity, Vacuity, and Envy accompany her. One may recognize them by the way they wa


bottom of page