This is an important book. Although I disagree with Olson some of the time, she has organized her writing in a way that brings clarity and focus to the great choral director/singing instructor divide that has so plagued the voice habilitation world for all of my life, and presumably for long before. The conflict that she exposes creates a wonderful conversation for choral practitioners and voice teachers alike. Her attention to voice science and its role in helping to create options for singers can not be underscored enough. So much of the perceived need of the soloist community to define boundaries around their choral experiences comes directly from the actions of choral practitioners who, though they mean well and know much about their craft, continue to operate without requisite knowledge of the vocal instrument. They, therefore, create expectations on singers that force them to compromise their own understanding of their voices, or worse, to make unknown adjustments that habituate unpredictable patterns.
On the other side of the coin, however, the soloist community tends to promote a “one voice” approach to training, suggesting that singers have but one capacity, and that capacity must be honored at every turn. By this logic, vibrato, tone quality, volume, etc. become proprietary elements to be fought over. Olsen singly represents the voice teacher perspective at times. She also does a nice job of opening doors to a recognition that the voice has many capacities. Woven within her exploration is a sense that when voice leaders appreciate the value in variation, and the needs of vocalists to have instruction that allows them to grow into their craft, be freed to explore their instrument, and represent themselves in their singing, everyone will be happier and healthier. From within her pages, many vocal instructors can find a map toward appreciating the value of working together as a habilitation team. This book follows the industry standard of approaching solo singing from only the Western classical (bel canto) perspective. Perhaps a loosening of the choral/voice teacher fight might occur more easily when soloists allow for their knowledge to be assessed across the stylistic range of variance available to singers. Choral practitioners can certainly vouch for the challenges of working with soloists from many different backgrounds, and the benefits of having singers trained in multiple styles to help provide leadership when the choir accomplishes repertoire in varied styles.