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Cake for a pair of jeans and a mullet. | Greg Enriquez

I don’t drink coffee.

But I love the smell of coffee and I do love the taste of coffee flavored foods. Ice cream, candy, desserts. 

Tiramisu is my favorite.

It is the single most perfect invention.

Simple, smooth, flavorful. Nothing – I repeat – nothing can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a midday or a midnight snack like tiramisu. A bagel? Oh, please. The best pie your favorite family member made especially for you? Not likely at breakfast – even if baked by your mom. By your own mother for goodness’ sake! 

Tiramisu is like your favorite song for a road trip. Or the perfect song when you need to be cheered up. Or the motivational song for a workout (yes, I realize the irony). It suits every occasion. Casual or formal. It is unpretentious and unassuming. When tiramisu is done right, it will always impress. When it is done wrong, it will be your tastebud’s worst nightmare.

You will remember 2 things about tiramisu. The best you’ve ever had and the worst you’ve ever had. Strangely, the worst one can be more memorable than the 3rd or 4th best ones.

One cannot account for taste.

Conceptually we often identify the air we breathe as a single unit. In reality, air is composed of many ingredients. Namely Nitrogen, Oxygen, Argon, Carbon-dioxide, water vapor, and a variety of several other gases.

In contrast, to make tiramisu there are only 6 basic ingredients. Can you believe it? ONLY 6! Italian ladyfingers, coffee, eggs, sugar, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa. As foundational as air is, tiramisu actually has less ingredients. I would argue tiramisu’s superiority and importance over air is directly related to tiramisu’s simplicity.

 

And then there are the variables.

La vita è più dolce con te!

My favorite variation is a blend of coffee and brandy. But not all alcohol and coffee mixtures taste good to me. I enjoy a specific variable of alcohol, but not the variety of alcohol.

A small distinction, but a big difference.

Variety is the measurement of the quantity of items (the number of alcohols). Variable is the measurement of the quality of the item (the type of alcohol). (Oh, and by the way, I don’t drink alcohol either. This is the unique charm that tiramisu has over me!)

Consider those metrics when assessing the teaching of singing. Obviously, there are a variety of singing teachers (quantity). And there is a variable to singing teachers (quality). Those variables have to do with taste. I do not mean taste as the specific sensory mode of flavor distinction (as used for delighting in the greatness that is tiramisu). I mean taste as the abstract, subjective, concept, a preference or liking or bias. Knowingly and unknowingly, teachers of singing have preferences of sounds as well: their tastes. The types of sounds they like or dislike and the conditions that are associated. To say nothing about the ability to skillfully induce one or the other.

To be clear: sounds are behaviors of the human instrument. Some actively learned and some passively learned. Some desired, some rejected. Often a confluence of the culture, all are good and bad habits of the singer and their teacher. The types of behaviors they like or dislike and the conditions that are associated. Again, to say nothing about the ability to skillfully induce one or the other.

“Horror vacui.” -Aristotle

Nature abhors a vacuum. As should the arts and its teachers.

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Nothing.

In the history of the teaching of singing, over time and during periods of time, there were preferences of sound. This organic evolution was more methodic than systematic. That is not to say over the years there were not various attempts to establish academies and schools. Routinely the collective meritocracy of singers, teachers, schools, and churches set the bar of singing and teaching in parallel with the composition and live production demands of the day. Through scholarly comparisons of their predecessors and peers, ideals were elevated. A friendly competition of musical skill would ensue.

Popular songs and their recorded production values influence singing and teaching as well. For singers and teachers in the digital age market-place, a greater variety of influence irrefutably exists, particularly online. Correspondingly, the variable of influence is not codified or quantified. Particularly online. Thus, the rise of the ‘Armchair Singer’ and the ‘Armchair Coach.’ Holding the highest online degrees from Google and YouTube Universities, respectively. In many cases double majoring! And with a turn of a chair or multiple “Likes” and subscriptions or wasta, the honorable “Masters” are created.

At the heart of the Aristotle axiom is the unavoidable truth that vacuums lack interactions. Limited, static conditions when applied to singing are disembodied states in a dynamic environment. This recipe percolates distinct, fixed categories that behave as separate, but equal modes. Vacuums never solve self-inflicted wounds. Never.

Singing sounds can fall out of fashion, akin to bell-bottom jeans and mullets (soon to be man-buns). As much of a fashion faux pax as they could have been, you did not suffer an injury from a pair of Jordache jeans. On the other hand by virtue of the fact that singing sounds are a result of the physical usage of the human instrument, there will be some sounds that are potentially pernicious. Maybe not as fashionably unfavorable as bell-bottom jeans and mullets (soon to be man-buns). Physically pernicious just the same.

Ok, I take back the plausibility of a Jordache jean injury, untold amounts were very tight fitting for sure.

Factoid: the brand name Jordache is a loose acronym of its founding brothers’ names Josef, Raphael, and Abraham Nakash (modified to a French-inspired ending of ‘che’).

Traditionally in teaching, the generally preferred trajectory of vocal production and progress was aimed towards homogeneity. Comparable sounds that could be made with the least amount of change over the widest range of pitches and dynamics. This consistent effect was the affect of the uniting of surrounding pitches and elements. The hubris in recent times has relegated this proven tradition to proffer equal development to the compartmentalizations of sounds. Distinct incongruent ingredients to formulate singing. A variety. Who is not beguiled by variety? Mary Shelley’s scientist could fashion an imitation through a variety of ambiguous parts. And he was a scientist! All scientific endeavors are never wrong regardless the manipulation. Thank you, Dr. Ian Malcolm! But what good is a list of ingredients without a recipe? What good is a recipe without a sense of what the finished product should taste like? Or should be. A tiramisu is not a tiramisu if it is flat.

Similar to the air we breathe, the homogeneity of sound is essential to the teaching of singing. The aim towards a single unit is foundational. Because it is consistent. Consistency and simplicity are the bedrock of thought (mathematics) and function (physics). Give me consistency and simplicity every time (not to be confused with complacency). There is something beautiful there. Something elegant. Art may have to be explained, but not beauty. I realize I cannot live on air alone, but what is the point of breathing without tiramisu? We can have both. There is beauty in those layers!

I don’t think crying babies on a long flight or the screeching of car tires moments before a terrible accident will ever be preferred musical sounds.

But who knows.

The potential of science should never be misconstrued
as the intention of science. The totalitarian nature of the relationship of science to art begs to be questioned if a human is encouraged to be less human and more mechanistic.

The proud mantra of the modern self-appointed pedagogue is belted:
“This is not your father’s singing technique anymore!”

Is modern teaching preferring the variety of compartmentalized sounds over the variable of homogeneous sounds?

Is the essential mistaken for a preference?

Are there purveyors participating in a form of vocal licensing and rationalizing anti-neoestablishment ‘guilty pleasures?’

Will C.C.M. curriculums create vocal interlopers of homogeneity-based singers and teachers?

Is the disintegration of psyche and soma a goal?

Simple, smooth, flavorful. It is unpretentious and unassuming.

You will remember 2 things about singing. The best you’ve ever heard and the worst you’ve ever heard.

Like bell-bottom jeans, mullets, and man-buns, certain singing sounds can be in fashion again.

One cannot account for taste. Especially if one has not developed any.

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