Today is Valentine’s Day, and although I’m not so sure I’m in favor of the commercialization of love, it’s certainly not a bad idea to have a special day where we really reflect on what love is and means to us. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean we don’t reflect on love the other 364 days out of the year, right?).

So what is love? Well, one thing is for sure; our feelings of love (or lack of love) provide endless material for song lyrics.

But instead of discussing love between people and song lyrics, I’d like to address something very important that has very much to do with love, and is in response to one of our fellow reader’s very insightful and interesting comments to my previous blog post..

My article was about goals and giving permission to fail, and here is part of her response (read the whole thing here):

"What is the goal or the 'reason' that I want to sing?" It is good to try to permit yourself to fail, but when I think about failing, in an attempt to become better, I think about WHY do I want to work at becoming better? WHY should I think I CAN become better? WHAT is the ultimate purpose for me to do so (other than personal satisfaction for accomplishing something I could not do before). Isn't there (or shouldn't there be?) a goal in all of this? And if that goal is selfish (to become famous, more accepted by others, liked by others, make a name for oneself), then it throws me right back to feeling terrible again.

Yes, why do we do what we do? What is the purpose? I think we all battle with questions such as these from time to time.

I received another email from a customer who loves so much to sing and work on improving his singing. But at the same time he is the only person in his family who has a job and he feels guilty and selfish for spending money on what he loves to do.

I of course don’t know what the situation is here and I would not want to suggest to someone I don’t know what they should spend their time and money on. At every instant in life we must of course always consider what our priorities are.

Personally, I actually try not to ever "spend" any money. My “spendings” are always investments. For example, I don’t spend money on junk food or short term fixes that end up costing more in the long run - such as bad health. I’d much rather invest in food that has a purpose in providing me energy and health. Anyway, I digress….

What I really want to share is this:

What if we engage in what we love to do – irrelevant of what that leads to?

Is it possible that by simply being engaged in what we love to do, that engagement itself drives us to live life fuller? Is it possible that you, by being someone who seeks to do what you love to do, become a role model for others to live a happy, fulfilled, productive lives?

Is it possible that it is the person who engages in what he loves to do who also becomes more creative, productive, and a better contributor to mankind?

Are you a contributor to people when you sing in your choir, at the karaoke place, in your band, or at your family gathering? Or is it just professionals who make money who are contributors?

The difference, of course, is that the professional artist reaches a bigger audience. Yet I truly believe someone who sings in a choir can have just as great impact on an individual’s life as an artist who is world famous. By improving, by becoming more confident and able to express, you are naturally able to contribute even greater to other people’s experience.

So is it selfish to improve in the areas you love to engage in? I don’t think so.

I believe accomplishing something we couldn’t do before – whatever that something is – brings with it a far greater purpose than what we might consider “just” personal satisfaction. I believe growing as a human being, learning, and accomplishing things we couldn’t do before is the essence of life. I believe the person who wants to grow and who seeks to engage in what he or she loves to do is the best role model and source of inspiration for others.

In my opinion, nothing is more important or has a greater purpose than living with a desire to do what you love and to love what you do. The purpose does not therefore necessary lie in how good you become. The purpose lies in the fact that you are doing, that you are a person who engages in improving on what you love to do. That is how we find meaningful occupations that inspire us, and hobbies and activities that fulfill our lives. I truly believe that the world would be an even better place if everyone engaged more in what they truly love to do.

Feel free to add your thoughts below.

With lots of love,

Per Bristow

About the author 


  • Per, thanks so much for this article! I just recently joined your program and I absolutely love how you inspire so much more than singing!

    This is totally unrelated to singing, but this article helped me hugely!! I read this recently, the day after I started my application process to go to art school! This was a HUGE leap of faith for me, as I have wanted to go my entire life, but have always felt it was too selfish, too foolish, or too stupid to do something that would COST so much with perhaps no “real” job prospects after the fact. But I finally decided to follow my heart, despite my fears. And so I take it as a great sign that I’m on the right tract to come across your encouragement precisely when I needed confirmation!

  • Dear Mr. Bristow and Fellow Singers,

    I have been carefully considering this post. By way of background, I have been an avocational singer all my life, and I have taken voice lessons off & on since I was 15 (I just turned 50). Community choirs & church singing have been my primary venues, although I did do opera & musical theater in college; and I have since taken several music theater performance labs. I have sought community choral singing only because it is generally less demanding time-wise than is community theater. And as for worship, singing is the only way I know how to effectively pray.

    Allow me to share a story of personal failure. I was a student in a community music school based in Minneapolis, MN for 14 years, from 1996 through 2010. I won’t mention the name, but I will mention that it is a well-known instution, and boasts itself to be “Minnesota’s Premier Music Education Center.” It is not a conservatory, nor even a degree-granting institution; It is not accredited by any academic governing body; just a community music school, whose mission statement is to allow students of all ages to experience the joy of making music. I took many different classes, ensembles, and private lessons.

    It was at this school that I studied under the same voice teacher for 4 years, from 2006 through 2010. In November 2009, following a voice department recital, my teacher encouraged me to do a solo recital. I accepted the challenge, and she paired me with one of her other students. We set a performance date for March 30, 2010. I worked hard to prepare. I invited an octet of singers from my community choir to join, my oldest son joined on his clarinet, and he & I performed a Bach cantata (originally written for oboe & baritone). By most accounts, including that of my partner, the recital was a success.

    My next scheduled voice lesson was April 15th, 2010. The lesson plan for the day was to review the recital, and then begin some IPA study. At this lesson, my teacher’s feedback was (and this is a direct quote): “I could not stand to watch you, you were so nervous. I thought you were going to loose it, but you didn’t. I don’t know how, but you managed to keep it together, and your voice was there for you. I would not have been able to sing through those phrases if I was that nervous. You sounded fine; I just couldn’t stand to look at you.” Later during the lesson, the teacher said that it (being so nervous that the teacher could not stand to watch her student) was “no big deal.” Those two remarks contained a mixed message that I could not resolve in my mind.

    I was stunned. A week later, I sent an email to my teacher telling her how I felt about those remarks. I asked her to please explain exactly what she meant to say by “I couldn’t stand to look at you,” and to say something positive, anything at all, about her student’s performance. That request ultimately went unanswered; but she did reply back with an offer to have a face-to-face conversation to clarify what she said was a communications problem. She felt that email would not be the appropriate format to resolve this. (“Our relationship is important to me, and I want to have an effective conversation about this” were the exact words in her reply.)

    I accepted her offer, but I requested a third-party presence, just to keep the conversation professional (ie–not become personal), and to prevent any further miscommunication. The teacher agreed, and asked of my availability. I replied back with a list of available dates & times, and I was awaiting confirmation on a time & location.

    24 hours later, the teacher completely reneged. Via email no less (ironic, since her first offer to meet face-to-face was that she didn’t feel that email was appropriate), the teacher cancelled the remaining lessons, and deferred me to the Director of Student Services to make arrangements for a new teacher, or seek a refund of the unused lessons.

    And just like that, our work was done: 1) on a negative note; 2) after one bad lesson (our first ever, from my perspective); 3) after an acknowledged but unresolved mis-communication; 4) after 4 years of working together; and 5) after we had just staged a recital, the whole purpose was to showcase and celebrate that work. Moreover, in that final email, the teacher accepted zero personal responsibility or accountability for the lesson she delivered, or for what she herself called a communications problem. Instead, she placed the entire blame for the communications problem 100% squarely on the student (me). Never once prior to that lesson had she ever made any mention of difficulties communicating, or the student “not getting” what the teacher was trying to teach.

    I was devastated. I felt like I had completely failed, as a student, as a singer, as a musician, ultimately as a person. (Singers enjoy no separation between their instrument and themselves.)

    To their credit, the school did assign me a new teacher, and a very good one at that, one in many ways much better for me than my old one. But beyond that, they refused to account for the teacher’s behavior, or offer any explanation as to what I did, as a student, that would justify getting treated by a trusted teacher and mentor in this fashion. This was a TERRIBLE way for any teacher to treat a student, but what made it worse was that the school condoned it. I tried earnestly to end our student-teacher relationship on more peaceful & graceful terms, but neither the teacher nor the school would co-operate in that effort. Quite the contrary, I was threatened with expulsion if I attempted to make any direct contact with my former teacher.

    For a while, I quit singing altogether, but that only exacerbated the depression I was going through following this experience. The lesson learned (one of many) was that singer does not have the choice as to whether or not to sing. He sings. And the minute he stop singing, he becomes depressed. And that depression cannot lift, and will not lift until he starts singing again.

    Needless to say, I left that school, and through the encouragement of my family, I am now enrolled in a degree program in one of our local community colleges, and I am pursuing a two-year AFA in vocal performance. And I have a wonderfully supportive voice teacher.

    I don’t believe for a minute that any great singer could rise to his or her stature without the aid of a great teacher, any more than a great swimmer, or a great boxer, or a great gymnast, or any great athete could achieve withouth the aid of a coach or trainer.

    But that being said, a bad voice teacher, just like a bad coach, can ruin a singer. My entire musical self-esteem was decimated, and it has taken me well over a year to build it back. I am still working on that.

    I am willing to give Mr. Bristow’s course a try, as soon as I have a little extra cash to cover the cost of the DVD’s. After all, the cost of the program is peanuts compared to what I have invested in voice lessons. That said, however, I will not do it to the exclusion of my voice teacher. I would never rely solely on an online course to the exclusion of a well-trained ear, who can aid in applying the technique to the music. I had a bad teacher. Although to this day I don’t know where or how, I failed in my previous teacher’s studio, but I am trying to pick myself up again, and I will use whatever resources are available.

    And truth be told, the pedagogical objectives mentioned in the introductory video is the goal of every teacher and pupil: sing with freedom, and without tension, the same way a baby can scream for hours without becoming tired or hoarse. And I don’t believe that Mr. Bristow’s pedagogical approach is all that unique either: there is a growing movement to re-introduce human-compatible learning to the vocal pedagogical process.

  • Thanks so much for this article! We should be living for others! A self-oriented life is miserable, though we are all self-centered sometimes. 😀

    Thanx for the encouragement! May God bless you and you’re year! 😀

  • LOL !

    Is Mark having a bad day ?

    Great story Mark and thanks for sharing it. It kept me in suspense till the end.

    I guess I lost and forgot what Per has discussed after that so I had to go back and re-read Per’s entry.

    Mark your story is sad and you seemed to not appreciate the bad communication that you were subjected to. I am very curious why you had to include such vicarious comments about Per and his method of teaching ?

    Like I said; Mark must be having a bad day.

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