I HAVE BEEN teaching literature, writing, and Latin for almost 10 years, and have been performing as a singer, guitarist, and organ player, both alone and with rock bands, for about eight. My growth as a teacher has been intimately and materially connected to my life as a musician, and my continued engagement with intellectual topics and my students has influenced my music immeasurably. This somewhat rare combination of vocations has allowed me to see connections between being a teacher and a performer that have been useful to me and, I hope, may prove useful to others.
As both a teacher and performer, I am consistently reminded of how valuable each of these acts is to the other. Delivery, proximity, interaction, timing, and register in language are all communicated through the use of the personal voice—the "I"—which is the voice of the teacher or performer as it is connected authentically and sincerely to the person on the stage or on the podium.
The value of sincerity and authenticity cuts two ways. On the one hand, it is viewed positively—it provides an environment in which the student/audience member's own authenticity is reinforced. On the other hand, it forces the speaker to seriously consider the relationship of her own experience to the performance she gives: What happens when the performer (teacher/singer) uses the performance space to inhabit a character, to speak beyond her own experience, to tell a story?
The issues involved with this ethical and linguistic problem may seem self- explanatory: People use different registers of language for different purposes, and, of course, singers tell stories. But how is the "I" viewed in these contexts? And how is this personal voice useful for exploring the boundaries of expectation set up by these environments?
Sarah Dougher just released her third solo album and teaches at Evergreen. She'll appear on the "Personal Stories" panel at 11 a.m. on Sat., April 13 and perform that evening at 9 p.m.