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Bel Canto Bookshelf: The Blog

Reading Fast and Slow

This is the first of many blog posts I will be writing about books, articles and other written (both print and electronic) resources concerning, opera, singing, and various related topics. I embark on this while being told by multiple people on a regular basis that no one reads any more. I disagree. People read a lot these days. It’s just that much of our time is spent reading the flood of email, social media posts, signs, memos and the rest of the endless barrage of words that come at us without ceasing. So the problem isn’t that we aren’t reading. We’re all reading a lot. So what I’m asking people is not to read more, but to take a few minutes every day and reading something that’s longer than 130 characters (the Twitter post limit). 

Short, quick shots of text are good at hitting our buttons to make us feel happy (kittens, puppies, otters) or angry (politics) but they don’t really make us think and don’t cause us to reflect. Even more importantly, they don’t allow us to take in new information, especially any new information or points of view that contradict what or how we already think. What I’m asking for is more “slow thinking” or in this case reading. I’m borrowing this idea from a book called Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011). He compares fast thinking (reading a short sign or message and reacting without much need to think) and slow thinking (what we have to do to solve a problem or in this case consider a new idea or point of view). We do a lot of the former but not nearly enough of the latter. 

A good example of the kind of reading I would like to encourage are Rachelle Jonck’s daily posts on this website. Rachelle spends a good amount of time trying to unpack the practical matters involved in each of the Vaccai exercises or other singing matters. Although many of these skills are fundamental to singing, they are no more easily explained that mastered. Skipping over them and jumping to the exercises is a mistake although that’s what often happens. Take a breath, click on one of her posts and start reading. Take your time. Think about it. Re-read if necessary. (There’s no prize for speed-reading here.) Come back to it as often as necessary. Re-reading something after a time away is always a good idea because after practicing the skills you will be reading it with new eyes. Don’t expect to absorb everything at once. Do expect to put in some time. Read, reflect, breathe, practice. Repeat as necessary. 

I’m also going to recommend a book every week that I’ve read and think will be useful to at least some of you. But first I’d like to encourage everyone to start getting into the habit of putting down the devices and taking some time to read and reflect. There’s a lot to learn. And the field of musicology has taken some interesting turns over the past couple of decades which makes for more lively reading and much that is applicable to singers. 

Read, reflect, breathe, practice. Repeat as necessary.

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