Stanley Cornett: Thoughts on pedagogy, the process, and what it means to be a successful singer toda
How would you describe your pedagogy?
“You’re trying to help someone learn to sing better in terms of improving their craft. Most often you do this with improved technique, but ultimately with the goal of the singer achieving an artistic experience both dramatically and vocally. At the same time, as a teacher, you are building a personal relationship to support the student; you often become ‘a professional parent’, in the best sense of the words.”
“We have this unique relationship in conservatories and schools of music--and in music in general-- of being able to have a teacher-to-student ratio of 1-to-1, which is unheard of in normal academia, and is for the most part financially untenable! But we still have this, and we should be very grateful for it. As teachers we have an opportunity--really a responsibility--to become this ‘professional parent’ – offering much more potential for mentorship than a classroom teacher. We see these people in a closed-door situation, where they come in with their heart on their sleeve.
“In terms of how to sing and improving your vocal technique: I think to work at the highest level, you really need to have a plan--a systematic plan-- not just about the way you perform, but about the way you actually sing: the way you make your own voice work efficiently and beautifully. It is the teacher’s responsibility to help give you that, clearly and effectively.
“Beyond that, and importantly, singers need to know how to pair emotional and technical intensity--so that it does not seem technical in performance at all, and hopefully appears as a completely emotional rendering at that moment. Yet at the same time, the emotion cannot overwhelm the technical efficiency or we have lost the moment entirely. This is not unlike the goal of an athlete in his/her performance ‘zone’: first the technical set-up and a sort of ‘prepared relaxation’, and then the ‘just-go-for-it, all-out-there’ mentality.”
What does it mean to be successful as a singer?
“Rather than spending a lot of time thinking ‘I am an Artist’ in order to try to be one, (well, we all know a lot of singers who get the ‘Diva problem’ with that one!), try to learn to enjoy the continual process of working on your special ‘craft’. The greater concept is: Craft is the process of creating Art--and we spend most of our time and discipline working on that. The trick is to enjoy this crafting time, and to get to your most creative level—your athletic ‘zone’--as often as you can, and on a consistent basis. It is here where we often find satisfaction and happiness. Then, if someone you respect comes along and calls it Art, then you are fortunate indeed. And you should bask in that achievement, that moment, and reaching that goal! So, it is good advice when they say, ‘It’s all about the journey, not the destination. But perhaps we could tweak that and say, ‘Relish the Craft, and the Art will happen.’"
“Being a successful singer means somehow learning to deal with our competitive instincts, both good and bad. Self-esteem and confidence are continually challenged in our career (well, in everyone’s!). Sometimes trying to be successful and happy actually conflict! If you can maintain your happiness based on where you are now ( a kind of ‘happiness-maintenance philosophy’), rather than continually saying to yourself ‘I have to be number one; I have to be the best,’—obsessing yourself with that-- it prepares you to be happy at this level, as your norm, and in your current existence. You still have goals and a strong will to attain them, but this way, when something really wonderful happens, you get to feel an overwhelming joy and appreciation even more. You treat it like dessert; the main course is the happiness you received through your diligent crafting process over the years.”
Dr. Stanley Cornett recently enjoyed his third summer teaching at ACMAF. This fall he celebrates his 30th year on the Voice Faculty at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore; he was the 2015 Recipient of the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association's Excellence in Teaching Award.