February 15th, 2011 3:58 PM

One of my pet peeves has popped up again. In an article about a production that I’m currently involved with, our director stated that, as we sing with backing tracks, “there are no live musicians.” As a vocal musician who has put in countless hours working on this show, I beg to differ.

Why is it that so many people, even those in the music world, feel compelled to differentiate between “musicians” and “singers”? I have heard that distinction come up even when working with professional-quality ensembles, sometimes from the singers themselves. It always grates on my nerves. Why should the title of “musician” be reserved only for those who play an instrument? Are the singers on stage in an opera somehow worth less than their counterparts in the orchestra pit?

As a voice major in college, I had to take the same music theory and history classes as my instrument-playing friends. Just as they did, I worked on technique in my lessons and in the practice room. In the conservatory setting, we were all musicians, and we were all held to the same standards. There, the voice was considered an instrument in its own right, just as worthy of study as the violin or the oboe.

Sadly, the outside world doesn’t always see things the same way. Maybe people think that singing doesn’t require as much work as playing an instrument. The fact that everyone is born with a voice doesn’t make everyone a singer. If everyone were issued a violin at birth, the world wouldn’t suddenly be full of violinists, only people who owned violins.

So why make such a big deal out of the issue? Largely, it’s a matter of professional pride. But there’s also the issue of perception. The overwhelming current perception (as I see it) is that singing is somehow separate from musicianship, that it doesn’t require the same amount of skill and practice as playing an instrument. As such, singers are often devalued and expected to perform for free, while their instrumental counterparts are paid for their services. Sadly, until singers are recognized as musicians, that disparity will likely continue to exist.

As a vocal musician, I take my work seriously, whether or not I’m being paid for it. I urge my fellow singers to do the same. Others will only respect us as musicians if we first extend that same courtesy to ourselves.

5 Responses to “Singer vs. Musician”

  1. garry Says:

    i stand horribly, ashamedly and embarrassingly corrected.

  2. marianna Says:

    I didn’t mean to call you out personally, Garry. Sorry about that. This is an issue that I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time, and that article just gave me the push that I needed to do it.

  3. Carey Fauscett Anderson Says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  4. Addeline Says:

    I think it’s not so much out of lack of respect for the vocalist, but that the speaker/writer can’t think of the word “instrumentalist.” However; as a vocal musician, it grates my nerves as well, and you’ll hear me encouraging use of the word “instrumentalist” quite frequently at rehearsals.

  5. joshua Says:

    I am an instrumentalist as well as a songwriter and I agree with everything in your article. Your voice is an instrument. raising awareness of that in articles like this will help people percieve things in the right light.