Here it is: Remember that you will be that client one day. And treat them the way you want to be treated.
We expect to get older, but let's face it, it's hard to imagine what it will be like when we actually are older. Especially the hard and not-so-fun parts.
Sure, we can see what is happening to our parents, or other adults that we see in our everyday lives, but still, if you're anything like me, it's really hard to see myself being like that when I get to be that age.
And of course many of the negative consequences of aging are things that I am actively working on avoiding right now. I'm working on my health, so that I can hopefully delay or totally avoid some of the generational and genetic things that I see in my family. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
But some aspects of aging just are. They will happen to some degree, regardless of how we try to put them off.
With singing, hormones can really change things. Neurons react more slowly. Our reflexes and coordination slow down. We fatigue more quickly. These changes can be disheartening, and can rob us of joy if we let them.
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a young teacher who took on older clients was thinking that technique and regular practice could solve just about any vocal issue that my clients had. Boy, was I wrong! As I've gotten older myself, I have learned more, and realized that there are many things that can happen to the body that are outside of any kind of control we have. To dismiss those things as a young teacher was to my clients' detriment. The dismissiveness I expressed for my older clients was wrong, but I know it's easy to do. I didn't understand the impact aging had on my clients' voices, and how deeply troubling it was for them. I've learned better now.
One of the most important things I've learned is to remember that one day I will be the older client working with a younger teacher, or a younger choir director, and I know how I will want to be treated. I will want my concerns acknowledged in a genuine, non-dismissive way. I will want real solutions, if there are any. I want to be pointed toward music that I can sing that celebrates my voice how it is in that moment. I want to experience the joy of singing with the colleagues I will work with.
By remembering that I will one day be the oldest singer in the room, I hope I can remember to treat each of my clients with the respect they deserve. In developing that empathy, we can find a deeper connection to one another, and learn from each other. Especially as younger teachers, strengthening that empathy muscle early can really help to honor the older clients who trust us with their voices, which can be a hard and scary thing.
I'm going to be talking about this later this month during Pedagogy Happy Hour, Saturday, May 28th at 7:00 p.m. Central time. (This is over Memorial Day weekend, but the recording will be available.) I'll discuss some of the important changes that can come for aging voices, things we can do to help, and when it is time to refer an older client for more specialized help. We'll also discuss how younger teachers can be encouraging guides to older clients experiencing voice changes when we haven't yet experienced those things for ourselves. It's hard emotional and mental work!
If you're an experienced teacher who is comfortable working with older clients, you probably have younger colleagues who might benefit from this month's Pedagogy H