Kids as Soloists?

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Friday, December 03, 2010

With looks like a tyke version of Jodie Foster and a mature-sounding voice, 10-year-old Jackie Evancho initially got America's attention on the television show "America's Got Talent." Since her performance there, she has released an album that sold 239,000 copies in its first week, making her the number one debut artist on the Billboard charts.

In this week's Arts File, Kerry Nolan talks to two voice teachers and professional singers about whether or not Evancho's voice comes naturally, and about what may be in store for the young talent. Dona Vaughn spent many years as a professional singer and is now the Artistic Director of Opera at the Manhattan School of Music. Robert White is a voice teacher at Julliard who has enjoyed a successful singing career since the age of six. Here's an audio clip of Robert (then known as "Bobby") singing on "The Fred Allen Show" on NBC in 1947, at the age of 11.

Vaughn thinks Evancho's voice is evidence of risky business training-wise, but White thinks there might be nothing to worry about.

Take a look at Evancho's performance at Rockefeller Center's tree lighting with Katherine Jenkins and let us know what you think in the comments section below!

And here is a slideshow of young Robert "Bobby" White singing on air, including once on WNYC.

Robert White at age 9, singing on WNYC.

Robert White at age 9, singing on WNYC.

Robert White (center) with his father, Joe White. The older White was known as NBC's

Robert White (center) with his father, Joe White. The older White was known as NBC's "Silver-Masked Tenor" on the radio.

Robert White at age 10, with comedian Fred Allen on NBC.

Robert White at age 10, with comedian Fred Allen on NBC.


Dona Vaughn and Robert White

Hosted by:

Kerry Nolan

Produced by:

Julia Furlan

Comments [3]

Bill D from nj

Kids can do amazing things early with music, there is no doubt about it. My guess is that kids still have the inate mechanics used to learn speech, and as a result can do things 'naturally' that would take a more mature student years to do

With singing it depends the type of singing you are talking about, with operatic style classical singing, it takes years for the voice physically to be there (I have heard wonderfully talented singers in their teens training in classical voice, and as amazing as they are, they simply cannot match what singers older can do, the physical development isn't there).

There is also a downside to kids developing this way, though. First of all, many of them are treated as freak shows and curiousities, the cute little girl in pigtails playing the Mendelsohn who draws oohs and ahs will draw little or no interest as a more mature musician a lot of the time. More importantly, most prodigies when they hit adolescance and adulthood hit a wall, where it doesn't come naturally any more, and a lot of them crash because they simply can't play any more, and don't have the technique and training others have gotten, because teachers and parents took advantage of the 'easy way'.....Menuhin ran into this in his 20's, Starker had to re-teach himself, Perlman spent his teen years re-learning what had come naturally....Menuhin never got back the technique he had as a child for the most part, his adult career had shining moments and a lot of problems as well (though I absolutely love Yehudi for what he was on stage as an adult), and most prodigies who make it will tell you that going that route wasn't all that smart a thing.....might be better to stay out of the spotlight and spend the time learning to play and harness the gifts the traditional way, plus frankly the kind of pressure teachers looking for fame and parents put on these kids isn't healthy.

Dec. 28 2010 02:30 PM
Michael Meltzer

Assuming the parents are not the kind of people who look at their child and see dollar signs, there is a great responsibility, a lot to learn in a short time, and some very difficult choices to make.
I don't think media attention and pressure is exactly what they most need right now.

Dec. 10 2010 07:31 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane

Opera singers, coloraturas particularly, may start their careers in their teens IF they possess the appropriate vocal technique and vocal equipment. Musicianship and precise enunciation and singing on the breath, with an open throat are the essential ingredients. Much "singing" today is no more than throat clutching, screaming, screeching, nasal, falsetto, crooning and ugly, ugly, ugly, NEVER controlled in a bel canto uninterrupted stream of tonal linkage.
CHRISTMAS CAROLS, like Stephen Foster songs, pop, and folk songs can be sung by all voices of all ages if the above conditions obtain.
CHRISTMAS CAROLS are in a sense enjoyable for their melodies, their sense of hope for the future, their warmth of expression, their "sympatico" "gemuetlichkeit" aura, and their familiarity, good if well-performed and scorned if poorly performed or too often performed. Nowadays, there's music and entertainment everywhere, available in so many formats and venues that one is not starved for lack of options. Records, audio and video, complement the options, often in far better performance standards than current live performers and productions. Live performance is often more memorable and interactive, certainly more than "canned" performances.

Dec. 09 2010 05:26 PM

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