Children’s Voices and the notion of ‘celebrity’

The notion of ‘celebrity’ in today’s music industry – Author / Lyn Gillett / Revised 2019

With so much emphasis on ‘celebrity’ and the fast road to stardom in Australian television, for young singers, it is not surprising that children who love to sing, just love singing pop songs in preference to the well loved children’s classics.

Some of these children, (at times unrealistically) are following ‘ the dream’ wanting to take ‘the journey’, and to be recognised and become household names like their idols. Sadly these idols come and go as quickly as their hits stay in the charts. For longevity for singing students at any age, a solid foundation of vocal principles must be taught.

In children’s singing lessons, the emphasis should not be completely on pop songs, but of course the development of vocal skills. Singing lessons for children should clearly include the classic songs for children, which are age appropriate, and a repertoire suitable for any future auditions, for school productions or in theatre companies.

The decision to teach appropriate reprtoire must be upheld, despite the longing of a number of these children, to be singing only the songs which they are seeing on TV or hearing on the charts. For example if auditioning for a child’s role it is of course not appropriate to sing an adult song at an audition, but a song in the style and genre of the show the child is trying out for. Many parents are not aware of this, and are often completely in the dark as to what repertoire is appropriate for their child to be singing. It has become acceptable to be singing songs completely inappropriate for young voices.

An idea I’ve come up with is allowing a child in a singing class to sing 1 pop song of their choice, in each lesson after warm ups. This is a sensible way for the singing teacher to please the student, and keep the student interested and enthusiastic, while the rest of the lesson can be on skill and repertoire building, which once again should be age appropriate. Very rarely is the same pop song brought in twice, such is the transient nature of the music.

Of course it is important for parents and singing teachers not to burst the bubble for the children who love to sing but to teach them gently that the reality of becoming a singer at any age, is far from what we see on our TV screens in singing competitions.

It seems to me that the pursuit of excellence in contemporary performance is not considered in these situations. The marketable package a child brings to the screen at casting, is where the ‘journey’ stops.  From there it is a roller coaster ride of getting to learn as much repertoire as they can, in the shortest time, in order that filming can continue and the ‘product’ out on the screens week to week.

Parents of children who wish to sing must understand that the journey of learning as a singer with attention to fundamental vocal principles is equally as important as the excitement of being recognised.

Recently on one of the current popular TV shows (with celebrity judges and mentors), one of the mentors did not comment on an obvious enunciation defect one of these young singers had. The mentor could have shown the child a better way of singing the song, but the only element discussed was ‘following the dream’…. “Don’t let anyone stop you following your dream” …

Generally speaking, the winners of these competitions, with the recording contract signed, the song released and subsequent publicity in place, appear to be forgotten after a year, as the next group of singers are presented and the whole process starts again.

It is very simple to teach children easy vocal exercises in order that while singing pop songs they still adhere to correct technique and don’t ‘dirty up the diction’ to the point where it actually sounds like an impediment.

It is clear that a committed singing teacher or vocal coach will possibly be the only person assisting children to seriously pursue excellence first and celebrity second in their young lives, and in my work I constantly see the job of teaching children and teenagers to sing correctly, not being done!

Children emulating their heroes with the ‘licks’ and riffs taken straight from the recording, singing in ranges far too high for their own natural voices, and straining to try to achieve the rough tonal quality often heard, particularly in RnB, are often trying to copy an obviously (to the trained ear) damaged voice.  Making millions, sure, but damaged just the same.

While many vocal exercises for children are simple, a singing teacher for children should not be taking the generic approach and teaching the same exercises to each child, as vocal needs vary from one child to another.  While one child can benefit from say na na naw naw nee nee exercises, another may need extremely forward shapes to improve tone, and free them from vocal and facial tension.

The one size fits all approach taught in many singing schools for example, is inadequate for singing students of any age, and particularly little ones who soak up information like sponges.  In my voice studio, sadly I see the results of this approach too often, and work on rehabilitation these days with all ages.  It is unfortunate that parents have spent money on lessons, only to have the child’s voice damaged.

Children’s singing classes should be fun with sound vocal and musical principles built into the structure of each class.  Not just a few trills before they start singing, but structured with warm ups included in each lesson.

(c) Lyn Gillett 2019


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