In this blog, I would like to share a certain situation with you, in order to start a discussion and maybe find the beginning of a solution. This situation is not THE problem, but it illustrates a bigger problem that I don’t know how to handle. I have taken some action, but I don’t know whether I took the right decision by doing so. I’m hoping that this blog will result in an open discussion between voice teachers, vocal coaches, voice students (yes, them too!) and everybody else that thinks (s)he can contribute in a constructive way.
The discussion is already going on with quite a lot of people, but very privately, and I think that has to change. If we strongly feel that something wrong is happening, we have the right to speak up and try to do something about it.
Before I start to explain the situation, I’d like to state that this is my personal story, opinion and my emotions. I’m not acting as the vice president of Evta-Be (Belgian association of voice teachers), nor member of the council of EVTA (European Voice Teachers Association), even though I started a conversation on this within these associations. Because in my opinion, we need to take action on national and preferably also international level.
Last week, I have posted this on Facebook.
I think you get the point. There is a “vocal coach” in my country that I’m not a big fan of, to put it nicely. I didn’t use the name of the coach, but since this post, I have been receiving a lot of private messages from colleagues, asking who I was talking about. And most of them had already figured it out, as they know the situation and share my opinion. This has been going on for years.
Normally, in a situation like this, I turn to the idea that every voice student is responsible for finding a good teacher / coach. With that I mean somebody with an education, knowledge and skills. The voice student also has to remain critical and true to his / her intuition. If it doesn’t work, if it hurts the voice, if the coach is pointing you in another direction than what you need,… then you have to find another coach. But this coach works with a lot of young voices. These children don’t have the ability to be critical yet. So it is very hard for me to keep my mouth shut. Bad voice lessons can not only hurt a person in a physical way. Messing with a voice is messing with a soul. Yes, I admit to the fact that I’m speaking from personal experience 🙂
So. Who is this person? I am still not using her name, but I realize that describing her in such a detailed way makes it pretty clear who I am talking about. I know this is dangerous for so many reasons. But I decided to do it anyway, for the sake of the open discussion. Even though I am putting my own reputation on the line by doing this. Hence the title. Here we go.
This person writes in her biography that she holds a master in music, which is true. But she writes it in such a way, so that the person reading it, thinks she holds a master in voice. She does not. She has a master degree in producing. As far as I know, her only voice education is local private singing lessons. Yes, she has a diploma of a 1 year teacher training. Mind you, this training consists of general pedagogy, not vocal pedagogy. Nevertheless, she calls herself “master vocal coach”. Actually, I have noticed that she has dropped the “master” on one particular social network since my post, so I guess that she agrees on the fact that this term does not correspond to the truth.
As far as I know, she is not a member of any voice association. She does not go to voice conferences, focused on voice pedagogy and / or voice science, nor has she an education in these fields. Nevertheless, she has developed her own method on voice and written 2 books on it. She has admitted to one of my colleagues that she has read several books on voice methods – which does not mean that she has educated herself in these methods – and has made her own synthesis of it. She also trains people to be “authorised coaches” of her method.
She consistently claims that she runs the biggest voice institute of Belgium. As far as I know, she only teaches in Flanders, not in Wallonia. Belgium is Flanders + Wallonia. Recently, she has opened a “vocal clinic”. Yes. She is adding a medical touch to her voice studio. Cooperating with a speech therapist is great. Training yourself in massaging is great (She doesn’t specify how many hours and which massage therapy. But the school she went to offers mainly cosmetic massages). Doing a 10 hour training on kinesiotaping is great. Calling your voice studio a vocal clinic and actually “treating” people yourself is something else.
And then, last week, I found out that she is presenting research on her method at an important voice conference. When I read further into it, I found out that this is how she describes herself in her bio for that conference: “… is considered one of the Belgium’s leading top vocal coaches and a respected vocal expert …”. I kind of… Errr… Well… I exploded.
In my opinion, this is how you do research:
- You start with a question / hypothesis.
- You research this thoroughly according to the standards of good research (If you want to read more on this, click here.)
- If you don’t have the necessary background, you cooperate with people that do.
- You take the time to process the data and come to a conclusion.
- You present that conclusion to your peers by writing an article and / or book / giving a lecture to your peers at a conference / …
This is the timeline of this person:
- 2012: She wrote a book on a method she has developed herself, based on private singing lessons and reading books on other methods.
- 2015: She wrote another book on this method.
- First half of 2017: She handed in an abstract on the research on her method, in order to present it at an international conference.
- July 2017: She actually started the research by making MRI scans.
- August 2017: Presenting this research.
Did you notice the time frame? I don’t think that writing 2 books on something and then researching that stuff is the way to go. An then there’s the fact that here is only one month between making the scans and presenting the whole shabam? Ow yeah.
She has made MRI scans of twang and belting, among others things. By now, the vocal world knows what twang and belting are, what they mean and how to use them. They have been researched and studied for decades. This coach has integrated them in her method in a way that shows that she doesn’t understand these terms. On top of that, she calls them vocal effects in the same category of distortion and growl. This makes absolutely no sense.
The success of this persons seems to grow bigger and bigger, as her PR is VERY good. And yes, she also managed to get herself hired as the vocal coach of a TV show. Another reason why this can go on, is that many vocal coaches keep their mouths shut, as they don’t want to be the one that gossips and slanders colleagues. While posting on Facebook, I felt so many emotions: Guilt, fear, shame,… But even so, I didn’t keep my mouth shut. I just HAD to post it. The result of us keeping our mouths shut is, to put it bluntly, that a lot of clients of this coach are paying good money for a lot of glittery blabla, while losing time in their vocal growth, and even getting hurt.
I have shared this story with an ENT specialist that I work together with and respect very much. I wanted her opinion on this, as the profession of a voice teacher and vocal coach is not protected. Anybody can use this name. The profession of a doctor is protected. I was thinking of an ethical code, but she brought up a great idea: A certificate, created by an organization / association that is acclaimed as an authority on the subject. She made the comparison with the profession of managers. Nowadays, in Belgium, the certificate of Vlerick Management School is much wanted, as it stands or quality.
As I have represented Belgium at the council meeting of EVTA (European Voice Teachers Association) being the vice president of Evta-Be (Belgian association of voice teachers), I decided to bring the topic up during the meeting, obviously without using the name. It has been incorporated in a brainstorm session, together with other interesting topics. Going to this meeting, I remembered that the associations of voice teachers in Germany and the UK have great initiatives that can be part of the solution. I even wrote a report on it in my blog on Eurovox 2015. Scroll to FRIDAY JUNE 19TH, Pathways: A new teacher training course in the UK & Continuing education opportunities for singing teachers in Germany.
Why not a European initiative like this? Yes, it’s a huge thing to set up. And we are all volunteers in these associations. We don’t get paid and work during our spare time. Budgets are extremely limited. Maybe we can apply for European funding? Are there other ways to find the money / support?
After sharing this story with you, I’d like to start this discussion with these questions.
- How do we protect the people that might be hurt from people like this, especially the younger ones? How do we “spread the word” without hurting our own reputation?
- Do you like the ideas of an ethical code and a certificate? Do you have another idea on how the national and international associations could contribute to solving the problem that the profession of voice teacher and vocal coach is not protected?
- How do we handle situations like this personally? Do you think I have handled this wrongly? Should I have kept my mouth shut? Am I a bad colleague? Yes, I’m asking this round of questions, because I’m having a lot of emotions on my actions. Guilt, fear, insecurity,… I worry about my own reputation and the one of the associations I am board / council member of. And it might surprise you, but I also worry about this person, now that I have started all this. I know that I have hurt her. She must be so angry, sad, insecure,… And I am sorry for that. But is that a reason to remain silent?
- Is my information on this person incorrect? This is an important one. If anything I have written is wrong, please tell me! I don’t want to claim something that is not true. It’s bad enough that I’m doing this. Doing this with wrong information would be so much worse…
Please, reply with your real name, function, and evt. your training.
UPDATE 05/08/2017, 10h00, half an hour after making this blog public:
I am currently in Stockholm at ICVT, the International Congress of Voice Teachers. Johan Sundberg, the GOD of vocal science, just advocated for solving the problem that anybody can call himself a voice teacher… It was difficult not to shout “Hoorah!” 🙂
Apparently, she is not only performing, but also training her employees to perform kinesiotaping and manual facilitation of the larynx (MFL). She herself has had 10 hours of kinesiotaping. That’s it. While kinesiotaping can be very dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Taping 1 mm wrong and you can harm a person’s voice very badly. I don’t know where she got her training in MFL, but I sure as hell know that she doesn’t have the background in order to safely pass the method on to other people. The more I know, the more the word ‘dangerous’ comes to my mind. Brrr…
In the meanwhile, this blog has been read nearly 600 times. I still get a lot of private messages of colleagues that are happy that I have posted this and people are discussing this non-publicly. Unfortunately, the typical Flemish reaction is the ostrich-kind 🙂 There are not a lot of replies to this post. But I get it. It is not easy to speak up when your own reputation might be harmed. People might call you jealous. But that’s not the word. The right word is indignant. We have the right to be indignant about this.
UPDATE jan 2018:
She didn’t present her “research” at the conference. In fact, she was not present at all. I believe that that says a lot.
A lot is happening within national & international voice teachers associations! For example, France is working on a law that states that you can’t teach voice, before you have had a 3-year education. A good beginning!