A Case Against Classical Training for Musical Theater Productions
- OnStage Michigan Columnist
In my three years as a student at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, I have attended performances of each year’s musical production– Company (2015), Godspell (2016), and Sweeney Todd (2017).
And each time, I have noticed that most performers have been coached to sound more operatic than Broadway, and this is getting more noticeable with each subsequent production.
Classical training has its place in educating music students on proper technique, breathing, etc. And there will always be a need for classical training, as opera and chamber music continue to find niches in cultural hubs like New York and Chicago, and they will need vocalists.
But speaking from personal experience, excessive emphasis on classical technique in rehearsal processes for musical theater is going to leave those seeking future employment in New York’s theater scene unprepared.
Grand Valley’s Sweeney Todd, for example. I know for a fact that certain performers in that production plan to move to New York in the near future and seek employment as a performer.
Given trends in the New York theatre scene, and the direction both directors and investors are taking, classical training and classical styles of singing may prove insufficient preparation for the vocal demands of Broadway.
Okay, then what will benefit potential employees of New York theaters? Classical theory and technique are important. But perhaps schools solely offering classical vocal degrees could offer electives or even a separate degree track in musical theater performance. Not a wholly new and separate department, but an option for vocal students.
Grand Valley does currently offer one-credit courses in musical theater-style singing and movement for the stage. Yet, these are infrequently offered. Perhaps universities offering degrees in vocal performance should consider cooperative courses with Theater and Dance departments, that are offered to all three majors.
Either way, it is important for prospective college students to understand what they are receiving from an education in vocal performance, relative to their career goals, prior to enrolling.
Photo: Rollins College