Recently, my school put together an open house for prospective parents. Quite a few of the parents ventured over to the band and choir rooms (we are across the hall from each other). I talked with one parent who stated that she was only involved in chorus and vocal ensembles. Her husband was the musician. I desperately tried to persuade her that singers can be musicians as well, but it was to no avail. Her longstanding belief was and is that singers cannot be musicians.
Now, there is a degree to which this is true. I have met far too many singers who cannot tell the difference between an eighth note and a whole note, or even knew what forte or piano meant. With this in mind, it is no wonder that instrumentalists take a dim view of singers.
This does not have to be the case, however. Singers are just as capable of learning music theory as anyone else. The problem does not lie with the singer. I believe the problem lies with the vocal and choral teachers. Many times, we don’t require singers to learn music theory in voice lessons and choir classes because they can learn their part by ear. However, operating this way just because we can does not mean that we should. Vocal and choral teachers are doing their students a great disservice by failing to teach theory.
Some day, I will perhaps reveal my own sad ordeal in this regard. I entered college not understanding theory or sight reading. Consequently, I struggled to catch up through most of my undergraduate years. I cannot tell you how many hours I agonized over theory papers and still received C’s, D’s, and F’s.
All this brings me to my point. We must hold our singers to high standards of musicianship. Singers need to know theory. Singers are musicians too.