As a teacher of voice lessons in Marin County and a singing student myself, I have learned through the years what is expected of me (and what I expect of my students) when taking voice lessons. From a teacher’s perspective, one might view it as the “business side” of voice teaching and as a student I would call it respecting the relationship you have with your voice teacher, which finances represent.
Usually, when a student first comes to me for singing lessons, we talk about his or her needs, my teaching style and approach, frequency and length of lessons and cost. When the student decides to begin lessons, I then tell them where we will be meeting, clarify the agreed-upon time and the cancellation policy. There is a cancellation policy with voice lessons? Yes. When a lesson is set up, I reserve the time and space with my studio “landlord.” That reservation means that no other teacher can use the space at that time. I tell students that if they need to cancel the lesson, for whatever reason, they must give me 24-hour notice. Why? Because I need to pay for the rental space and must give my landlord adequate notice that the space is not being used. Plus, another student might have wanted that time slot and without prior notice I cannot fill it, thus losing income.
Going to a voice teacher is more like going to a therapist or massage practitioner than the doctor or the vet, although now I see that those professionals are putting up signs saying you must cancel within a certain time or pay for your appointment. As a voice student, you are creating a relationship in which you are not only learning to sing but, through this unique relationship, you are building trust so that you might grow as a person. In the safety of the studio, like in the safety of the therapist’s office, you can explore singing and, perhaps, performance with all its hidden fears and potentialities. In therapy, paying the therapist is a symbol of honoring that relationship. If you cancel at the last minute, you still pay the therapist for his or her time. Most voice teachers I know have this requirement. Some even have 48- or 72-hour notice!
I find that the more serious students understand this and honor my time. However, I’ve had situations where, despite the 24-hour notice policy, students seem to conveniently forget it. This tells me a lot about how they view not only our work together but their art. Of course, sickness happens. You wake up in the morning and feel terrible. You have no voice. Of course, we then cancel and move the lesson to another day. But, I always appreciate when a person offers to pay for their missed lesson. As a student, I know it’s painful to pay for a lesson you don’t take – I have had to pay $90 when I either spaced or something happened. Ouch! However, you do it because it’s important to the relationship. It also makes you plan ahead. For instance, if you don’t feel up to par a few days before a lesson, cancel and reschedule. I am especially sensitive to parents of young voice students. They often are overwhelmed by having to keep track of their children’s many activities. The best solution to this is to pay monthly. It saves on having to write little checks every week, lets a parent focus on just scheduling and gives me a cushion in case of a last-minute cancellation. (Again, it’s rare that I take the fee for a lesson if someone has good reason or is respectful.)
I believe clarity at the start of lessons is essential and staves off misunderstandings and hurt feelings for all concerned. I tend to be quite flexible in terms of rescheduling. I am, however, very sensitive to what I call “ghosting” behavior.
What is “ghosting”? It is defined as: “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.” I recall a young woman in our theater community coming for lessons, wanting to audition for the San Francisco Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. She had lovely vocal potential and I was excited to work with her because I could hear she had a unique operatic quality. We had a few months of lessons when she said she didn’t at the time have the finances to continue. She vowed to return. I told her I looked forward to continuing our work. A few months later I found out, through social media, that she was working with another teacher.
Now, there is nothing wrong with switching teachers. In fact, I myself have tried different teachers and styles. But I always told the teacher I was working with what I was doing. And, she was fine with it. (And I always returned to her.) If you haven’t been with a teacher long, as was the case with this young woman, one must have the strength of character and courage to get in touch, say you will not be continuing and state the reasons. It’s very helpful to me to know the reasons – perhaps she changed her mind about that style of singing, perhaps she didn’t like our work together – no worries. But to just disappear with no explanation is not acceptable.
Sometimes adults or children just want to try singing lessons and I say, “Go for it.” The first few lessons are always on a trial basis to see if we’re a good fit. But, once you decide it is something you seriously want to do for yourself, then you are committing to a relationship and I am committed to you. The study of singing and speech takes time, effort, focus and commitment. If you are someone who likes “honey bee behavior,” moving from flower to flower, tasting all that is offered, this studio might not be for you.