January 15, 2018

Hints on Blogging

I started blogging nearly a decade ago, sharing my keen interest in historical vocal pedagogy by creating a take-me-seriously "dark" site. While I loved it, I changed my approach half-way through after conducing research which showed that only 10 percent of readers like "dark" blogs. The result? Readership of VOICETALK increased a great deal—readership itself now zooming toward a million, which is pretty good for a blog with arcane subject matter! With this in mind, here are a few things I can recommend to anyone who wants to get their feet wet. 

  • Do what you love. If you don't love your subject, you won't stick with it, and will ultimately disappoint yourself and your reader.
  • Do your thing. Don't try to copy someone else. Be you. Write like you. Post like you. This will determine a great part of your success. This means finding your voice
  • Go light. Dark blogs can be really cool (I loved mine), but you will find that readership increases with dark print on a light background. The other meaning is: try not to take yourself so seriously. Drop as much baggage as you can along the way. It will just weigh you down. 
  • Keep it simple. This means staying away from fancy color combinations which may look cool, but ultimately tire the eye. A little research in this area can go a long way. 
  • Proofread. It sounds like a simple thing, but it isn't. (I still find typos and mistakes in my old posts.) One way to proofread is the read your piece out loud which catches pretty much everything. And don't assume that spell and grammar check is doing to catch everything. It won't. You reputation is advanced by doing things right the first time. 
  • Don't worry about photos. I used to think that I had to have a photo for every post. Analytics don't support support this approach. What matters most is... 
  • Great content. My own source material is scoured from journals, articles, newspapers etc., with utility in mind. I want the reader to have a "take away", and often rely on the intelligence of the reader to find the gold in any given piece. This segues into...
  • Treat the reader with respect. My own approach has been to cultivate a firm, supportive, and instructive voice, one that (for the most part) steers clear of casting doubt on other colleague's accomplishments & teachings. With this in mind, I require that commenters be registered and not anonymous. 
  • Readability. I conducted research on how people can get the most of out of content online and formatted VOICETALK accordingly. This means a line of text containing no more than 70-75 characters including spaces (the ideal line length is 55). I also use a "drop cap" to attract the eye to the first line. 
  • Keep the header/banner a narrow width. I used to have a full size photo as a header, and while I loved it, the reader had to scroll down to start reading. A narrower header gets your reader into the reading experience faster. All this leads to the recognition that... 
  • Details matter. Your blog should be appealing to the eye (font size is important), while at the same time offering more than eye candy (unless, of course, that's your gambit). In the end, your readers will find you if you make the experience one of welcome, great content, and readability.
  • Find a platform that works for you. In my case, I am staying with Blogger if only because I would likely lose readers and ranking if I transferred to another platform. Stick with it, and you may find that some very interesting that will happen along the way. 

January 14, 2018

A Few Hints for Amateurs

"Of all those arts in which the wise excel,
The best is that of singing; which so few do well." 

There are few exclamations more frequently heard than the despairing one, "How I wish I could sing:" but it would become as rare as it is now common, if the the proper methods for developing and controlling the voice were more generally understood; if the would-be singer would enter upon her studies with a correct idea of the length of time necessary for accomplishing any favorable results, and if more intelligence were brought to the work. 

Katharine Evans von Klenner 
The cultivation of the singing voice is especially beneficial to those in the dramatic profession, for nearly all the new plays to to-day require of some one of the case, a certain knowledge of music, and many engagements have been lost because of the inability to sing some simple ballad. In presenting one of the most successful pieces of the day, it has been necessary to utilize a hidden voice in order to present in the most realistic manner the author's ideal. What would Trilby be without Ben Bolt? 

With few exceptions every human being has a voice which is used with more or less facility as a means of communicating the different states of the mind. Any voice which can express varied emotions in language, can, without great difficulty be taught to express them in song; the singing voice differing from speech only in being a higher development of the same power. Singing is simply musical speaking. Of course, radical defects in ear, or inability to keep correct time, would prevent satisfactory results in training a voice which might otherwise be of most pleasing quality. But even a defective ear may be trained if the pupil has sufficient perseverance and intelligence. 

As a nation, we Americans are in too great a hurry; and although American girls are universally acknowledge to have musical talent and versatility in the highest degree, still almost without exception, they lack the ability to "make haste slowly." In fact this characteristic is so universally acknowledged by the most celebrated European teachers, that the first question usually asked by them of a new American pupil is, "How long do you intend to study?" And I can even now see the look of surprise in the face of Mme. Viardot-García—my own teacher—when I replied to that question: "Until you think I am prepared to do you credit." Whereupon Madam said, "My dear child, that may require years." "Very well," I replied, "let us commence." 

If singing pupils were less impatient and would consider that all must be undergone, all the privations, all the disappointments, and heartaches, there would be fewer failures. They would willingly go step by step, not expecting to become great singers in a few months, but willing to devote years to the work, interested in the daily advancement and improvement, not constantly thinking of the end,—the final triumph. 

More steadfastness of purpose is another quality which students need to cultivate. Select your teacher only after due consideration, and then remain with her. Two years with one method is worth five spent in trying all the "splendid teachers" suggested by your friends. For when you have finished your investigations you have neither one method nor another, and your time has been worse than wasted, for the continual changing brings the pupil to that point she knows not what to believe, and with spirit broken, enthusiasm gone, money vanished, she gives up study altogether and puts all singing teachers down as charlatans and frauds. 

Correct breathing is the foundation of all good singing, and the excessive use of breath is the great and almost universal cause of bad singing. Until thoroughly conversant with the art of breathing, and able not only to take, but also to retain the air so that no portion escapes except as used in tone graduation, it will be impossible for a singer to produce that evenness, purity and roundness of tone which distinguishes the cultured artist. As the ability to control the breath is entirely muscular, it is a question of daily and unremitting practice as necessary as the daily training needful for the development and strengthening of any other set of muscles in the human body. 

As has been tersely said:—"Breathing is practice, tone production knowledge." When the voice is perfectly placed, it always remains, but the breath must be conquered day by day. 

Another fault which I would point out to our would-be singer is the desire to attempt selections entirely beyond her capacity, forgetting that while the limitations of the voice may make it impossible for one to sing dramatic arias, she may still make a great success in the interpretation of German Lieder, French chanson or the English ballad, to sing which well, requires the greatest art. This is an age of specialties. The student in Germany is asked, "What are you, a dramatic, lyric, or lieder singer?" And the honor is given, not to character of the voice, but to the proficiency of the singer. 

The question of ballad singing brings us to one of the glaring faults of the day—poor enunciation. What is more provoking than to hear a singer, with a voice beautifully placed, singing a language which is not English, French or German, but which has become so universal as to be called the "singers' language," Too much time and attention cannot be spent upon the correct production of the tones with the words. The ah and oh are practiced for hours, but how much time is given to the e, i and u, and the keeping of all the different vowels of the same artistic value throughout the entire compass of the voice? How many pupils can sing a scale without changing the vocal shade? 

It is known to almost everyone how exact the educated foreigner is in enunciating the English language. Indeed it is sometimes almost painful to hear the slow, careful attention given to the proper value of each vowel and syllable. The intelligent foreigner when once he has acquired the English language undoubtedly speaks it, so far as enunciating individual words is concerned, much more distinctly and accurately than the average Englishmen or American. This, with equal justice, must be believed of an American speaking any one of the European languages. It is almost impossible for us to acquire the habit of slurring over words and even whole phrases and of running one word into the following words which so commonly characterizes the native speaker. We unconsciously exercise much more care in enunciation when speaking an unfamiliar language. This is even more apparent when singing. There can be no doubt that the average English vocalist sings much truer in Italian, or instance, than in his native tongue, and simply because his enunciation is more careful an accurate, each vowel and syllable being given its full an complete tone value. Could the pupil exercise the same care in enunciating his own language, English, the improvement would be marvelous. But we cannot; we are too familiar with our own language. To produce accurate enunciation and to perfect a pupil in this respect I insist upon her learning at least the rudiments of Italian, that is shall be correctly pronounced and read, even though understood only sufficiently to realize the sentiment of the song words, and thorough and honest practice of all exercises using Italian words.

The question of tone color, is one calling for much attention from pupils, who as a rule do far too little thinking while studying. One of the best requisites of a good teacher, is the ability to make pupils think, for when that is brought about, good singing will be the rule, and song shall become in a higher degree than any of her sisters, "the universal art." 

Katharine Evans von Klenner. "A Few Hints for Amateurs," The Vocalist, 1896: 53-56. 

After her aristocratic husband of Austrian descent died in the great influenza pandemic of 1918-19, Klenner (1858-1949) adopted the title of baroness and never remarried. She had been a student of Pauline Viardot-García in Paris, and while still a young woman, became Viardot-García's representative in America, teaching only women in New York City, and in the summer at Chautauqua, NY. 

Swimming in society, Klenner founded the National Opera Club of America which met at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, taught private voice from her apartment on West 57th Street near Columbus Circle, and dove deep into spiritualism with the publication of The Greater Revelation in 1924.

Find out more about her by clicking on her label below. 

January 7, 2018

Why Singers Need to Sing Scales

I can't tell you how many singers just want to sing. Yeah. Just that. Nothing else. "Just let me sing!" they fairly cry in lessons with their eyes. "Why are you making me sing scales?!"

Mind you, I didn't sing scales either when I was young. Didn't want to do them, and didn't think I needed to do them. Shocked? Don't be. I really didn't know what the hell I was doing until I met Margaret Harshaw at the age of 27. Then I got it. In one lesson no less—and that's because I witnessed the transforming power of a 5-note scale in my own voice. Sure, you have to know what you are doing—and why you are doing it—while singing a five-note scale. That's why you have to have a teacher who knows what they are doing—and boy, did she know what she was doing. 

Which begs the point. There are singers who sing scales very, very badly, going through the motion of doing them with their minds somewhere else. No one has taught them to listen to what they are doing (insert the word feel for listen if you like—it's the same thing in my book since feeling is the vestibular function of listening in the ear—and is why Mandy Harvey can sing), and they tend to think of scale work as a mechanical process—which it isn't. Why so many have this shoot-first-aim-later approach is beyond me. But many do. They want to just get the whole thing over with so that they go back to singing, which amounts to driving with your eyes closed. They even think of scale work as pushing a button or tightening a screw. "There! I did it. Now I don't have to do anything else." (Yes, I am mixing my metaphors, but you get my drift.) 

But the mind is not blind. If you aren't sure how you sound, you don't sound very good. And the technical journey singers endure means learning how to maintain a high level of skill, of awareness of what it means to sing—both the feeling and the sound; what tears at it, what enables it, and how to stay at the top of your game. Which brings me back to scales, a nifty article at the Bulletproof Musician making my point. 

It seems that progressively difficult scales lead to actual ease, the kind of ease that singers desire in the first place. And let's be really, really clear here to those of you who think you are so gifted that you can just sing and don't need to work on your technique by singing scales. You are fooling yourself big time, if only because life is going to knock you on your ass at some point, and you aren't going to know how to get back up. Your colleague, however, who is less gifted than you and but has a lot more training will be able to stay in the game. 

At some point, you have to sacrifice your ego to the work. And it is work. Never ending relentless work. Work that becomes a real joy, something that you can rely upon, and is a great comfort. Scales aren't meant to break you, but to reveal yourself to yourself.

My 97- year-old baritone neighbor Charles sings his scales every morning, and can still sing high G and F and sounds really good. He hasn't given up. He's still a singer. 

Get interested in the work, the craft, and the art of singing‚ which includes scales. They are your friend, not your enemy.

December 23, 2017

Open Throat

What is it exactly? The feeling one has in the pharynx? The exterior of the neck itself? The elevation of the soft palate, or the space above the tongue in the front of the mouth? Hello? What exactly is it?

The problem with these questions is that they all refer to anatomy and physiology, and that's not what the old Italian school meant by an open throat. So, what did the old Italian school mean?

They meant that which is not hard to describe on the page, though it can't be heard on the page. And that's my point here: An open throat is heard both by the singer as well as the listener. Sure, it may involve movements within the pharynx, neck, and soft palate, but if you reduce it to the movement of muscles you have missed the whole point entirely. 

This goes back to an earlier post, which offered the perspective that singing is not a mechanical proposition. 

Does the runner strive to move various muscles of his or her leg to run? I think not. But the mechanical view holds sway with many voice professionals now—and I say professionals if only because conductors, coaches, and acting teachers, etc., are all in the act. Everyone is teaching voice, and, I wager, a great majority of them from the modern view—which concerns itself with the movement of muscles. 

But what does this have to do the the training of the student's ear? Very little actually. 

There was a time—not that long ago—when students were taught to hear different qualities of tone—and one might even say the right quality of tone—and learned to find their way by inculcating the old concept referred to in this post; one that is evidenced in fullness and freedom; no hint of the throat or nose; and a vibrant buoyancy that hangs—spins if you will—in the air of a theatre and reaches its farthest corners with great ease and immediacy.  

Openness is open: not closed, muffled or squeezed; tight or emitted through the teeth. Yet it can be a hard quality to attain if only because American vowels have none of it. Italian does. But oh, we are singing in English! Why do we need to parrot those sounds?

Because Italian vowels contain the sounds of singing! Master these sounds—make the vowels pure—and the muscles will follow. 

Does this mean the American has to sing in Italian? No, is does not. But it does mean that the student has to study with a teacher who can demonstrate their meaning and practical application. 

The fact remains that muscles can only obey the ear; and the ear of most singers needs a great deal of training. Train the ear and you have a real thing. Train muscles without the ear, and you have achieved nothing more than a great waste of time. 

November 7, 2017

Remembering Margaret Harshaw

She died 20 years ago today, on the 7th of November, 1997. Remembered and mourned by countless students, colleagues, and the listening public, Harshaw was known for her full-throated, gleaming, silvery voice—the likes of which this listener has yet to hear again—and her strong influence on vocal pedagogy as the doyenne of voice teachers. Controversial, intelligent, quick-witted, authoritative, and possessing the best one-liner ever heard, she embodied the teaching of the Garcías through her studies with Anna Eugénie Schoen-René, who had been the student of both Pauline Viardot-García, and her famous brother, Manuel García—the first person to use the laryngoscope to view the vocal folds in action. Harshaw's strong influence ripples throughout the community of singers today; a bulwark against the boys with toys, teachers with credentials but no voice, voce-vista mad world we live in. A singer and teacher who lived and breathed bel canto, she was the pole star by which many found their way.

Photo Credit—Shigo Voice Studio, 1957 headshot. 

Drink, You Goose!

Though vocal music seems no longer to be the exact science it once was in Italy, though its methods have become unsettled, though its conservatories have declined in prosperity and discipline, though the enthusiastic reverence of the people for its interpreters has died down, perhaps for the scarcity of really great artists, though the masters who cherish the old traditions are fast passing away, the faith of the Italians in their own musical supremacy, their intolerance of other schools, their belief that vocal music can only live and breath through their language, that Italian composers and singers can alone worthily interpret the divine art, has not abated or declined on iota. Their latests, if not last, great composer, Ponchielli, has lately died here in Milan, and their greatest maestro has overpass man's allotted time. Judging fly his works, Francesco Lamperti, must be pronounced the master of masters. His career as a teacher is brilliant with stars. The list is too long to be given here. It runs from Campanani to Collini, from La Grange to Van Zandt, that poor, storm beaten little singing bird, now said to be dying at Cannes. Mohave had such unparalleled success, Lamperti must have possessed from the first, a sure, soft, consistent, thorough and philosophic method; and even now when they say that method has settled and stiffened into a hobby, I believe that a student who has the brains and will the will to master it, and not be mastered by it, the time and patience, and of course the voice to carry it out, cannot fail of becoming a good artist. But the process is long, and at first discouraging; for Lamperti has a peculiar, persistence idea that the voice must be kept back—subdued, and snubbed; gradually, very gradually, he lets it up and out, having an inexpressible horror of the senseless roaring and screaming of undisciplined singers. For a while, his pupils must walk by faith, almost forgetting the sound of their own voices. I was lately present at one of his lessons, and found it very interesting to watch the great master, white-haired, pallid, trial, seeming only alive, but all alive through music. No slightest error in time, tone, pronunciation or expression escapes his ear. He is a very plain-spoken old gentleman; and, his idea being that the voice can best be kept back and in the subjection by the action of the larynx used in swallowing, he frequently calls out to a young lady inclined to vocal forth-putting: "Bevete, oca!" which does not exactly mean "Drink, pretty creature, drink!" but "Drink, you goose!"

It struck me that this almost preternatural auricular alertness, this severe and often irascible exactitude and exaction must be very trying to nervous and sensitive pupils; but I am told that, with few exceptions, the earnest students take his discipline and drilling and even scolding serenely, bearing much from him because he is an old man, and more because he is "old Lamperti." Still, to go through and finish a good old-fashioned course with his exacting master, a singer must keep a stout heart and a "stiff upper lip," must turn a deaf ear to the dolorous "keeners" who are already holding a wake of Italian opera, must believe that he is at least gaining something which no musical mutations can take from him that splendid mastery and management of the breath, which is the foundation of singing, and which no master of our time has taught like Lamperti. In the relentless course of Nature, this doyen of masters must soon cease from his labors. It would seem that after fifty years of solfeggi, not unwelcome would be the thought of "the eternal silence." Who is to take his place? In Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna, Venice, are teachers of note, while here in Milan, their name is legion. Some are able and all are willing, but not a few, I am sorry to say, have proved themselves—to the American pupils at least—to be the merest charlatans—pretentious, mercenary, false, and grossly dishonest. Of one professor who has but lately taken up teaching, after a long and splendid career as a singer, I have heard from some of my young countrymen very good and honorable reports. This is Signor Giroldoni, still at sixty years of age in full possession of a magnificent baritone voice, which speaks well for his method. By the way, for this singer, Verdi wrote his "Ballo in Maschera." Very quietly, without advertisement of any kind. Signor Giroldoni has, in conjunction with this wife, also a celebrity, open, in his own house, a school of singing and given himself, with all his genius and accomplishments, heartily to his new work.

—Extract from Grace Greenwood's "The Study of Italian Opera: Method and Masters," The Independent, October 14, 1886, page 38.

November 6, 2017

The Requirements of Bel Canto

Bel canto, beautiful singing! That has to do with tone quality: the voice must be trained for beautiful quality in all the details of forte, crescendo, decrescendo and mezzavoce (no fortissimo or pianissimo exists properly in singing, for that would take away from the true principle of execution), which we may classify as matters of technique. The student must first acquire the rudiments of perfect control, in order to be able to sing the plain cultivated style in Italian, German, and French; the plain style being the old Italian music where technical execution must be faultless. It is not easy, and requires complete control of the breath through diaphragmic support, tone production through vocalization, full even tone, and the flawless blending of registers, besides absolute knowledge of technique on the teacher's side—who must guide the pupil in the different stages of style. Then, after an absolute technique is acquired, whether for expression in music of the plain or florid type, sentiment must be expressed, without a trace of sentimentality, which is a passionate low expression of rubato. The pupil is then fitted to express even the true rubato, that is, the declamatory style in music.

We are hopeful today that the Garcías' intelligent production of the voice will continue to attract disciples to the tradition of bel canto, which has been acknowledge universally as the only technique for the singing of dramatic as well as lyric compositions.

—extract from Anna E. Schoen-René's America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences (1941), page 94-95.

One reads the words above and begins to understand why Madam Schoen-René was called the "Prussian General." For her, bel canto vocal technique was not a personal elective, but an absolute matter that required discipline, commitment, intense study, and application. Enter her studio, and you would be kept on scales and exercises for a least a year. The result? She was noted as having more students at the Metropolitan Opera than anyone else, except for Oscar Saenger, who also held his students to matters of technique for a protracted period. What has changed since these two teachers were on the scene? Everything! 

November 5, 2017

Practical vs Scientific Knowledge

The sound now proceeds either through the mouth or behind the uvula, through the passages of the head. Now it is just at this point, the division between the two, that the tone of the well-placed voice should seem to be—this is the sensation point, forward as possible—reflected if I may so speak, by the pharynx (which extends from the base of the skull to the little bone at the root of the tongue).

This will assure us that the head should not on any account be thrown back. Now, for the voce di petto, the open tone, the uvula and velum palate should be raised, that the voice should come freely and with resonance through the mouth—not drawn back, else a throaty tone would ensue. This open tone through the mouth is capable of great delicacy and should be so cultivated. It should not be confined to loud and robust tones. Great care, however, is needed to find out its true natural limits, beyond which it should never be forced. These limits once well assured, cultivation should be kept within them, otherwise ti would be at the sacrifice of the voice. How necessary then for a master to have real practical knowledge of how to treat a voice, if he have not scientific knowledge!

But for the upper register, the voce di testa, or head voice—not falsetto—instead of the sound coming through the mouth it comes through the cavities of the head. When the sound leaves the back of the throat, that is, the bag of the pharynx, it passes over or behind the uvula, and thus through the passages of the head.

I need not trouble you with any scientific statements as to the power of the trachea to elongate itself, or to contract its dimensions, or to the fact that it falls considerably when the di petto di voce ceases, and rises again for the bright tones—the voce di testa. I will simply observe that the seat of sensation of these two productions should be nearly as possible the same. There should be a note attainable from both registers, and it should be in the power of the singer to go from one register to the other and back again while on that note. (In an ascending passage, for example, requiring a note usually taken when alone in the head register, the progression would be improved by that last note being in the same register as the preceding one. This would prevent a sort of anti-climax.) The blending of the two registers here is a point I would urge as an evidence of the right placing of the voice. When they do not blend the production is usually not forward enough. When it is remembered that only the lower jaw moves in opening the mouth, I am at a loss to find out how it is that some persons throw the head back in the endeavor to reach a high note, when the several organs are in front. The result of this action rather impedes the sound from proceeding through the channels of the head, besides straining the muscles generally, and almost leading to the conclusion that a person so acting though the voice passage are the food passage, the larynx and the oesophagus were one and the same.

The bending of these two registers by some artists is so well done that is is at times difficult to say which is being used, the open or the "bright," as Braham used to call the voce di testa.

The fact that this upper register voice comes through the head should will suggest that the head should incline rather forward than otherwise, the back part of the tongue slightly rising to diffract the sound behind the uvula and soft palate and through the activates of the head; but for the tone generally, the tongue should lie flat in the bed of the mouth, so that the sound should not be impeded.

Acting in this way with respect to the voce di petto and the voce di testa, the singer will be free from the two great defects of nasal and throaty tone, and, which is a great desideratum, free from fatigue after a good amount of singing.

If, as is the case, some of the greatest physiologists speak with becoming hesitation on this difficult subject, owing to the complexity of the structure and the many functions the several organs of the voice have to perform, your present reader, who speaks with extended experience and close observation, may content himself with giving opinion and judgement (with respect to the production and the placing of the voice) on the ground of sensation, supported by such scientific knowledge as he could master.

Permit me to repeat—that the voice is best placed whose excellence is dependent upon its sensational proximity to the uvula and soft palate. Whether the sounds go through the mouth, or through the posterior nostrils by means of the ponticello (the little bridge), the sensation to the singer should be as nearly as possible the same.

—Excerpted from Frederic Penna's "Some Thoughts on Singing." Proceedings of the Musical Association, 16th Sess. (1889-1890). Penna was a student of Sir George Smart, a noted British conductor, vocal pedagogue, and exponent of the old Italian school of singing.

How far off Penna's insistent words about voice placement can seem, until one picks up the the latest issue of the Journal of Singing (Nov/Dec 2017) and finds, buried in an article about tone color: 

"The Singers formant cluster is tuned by the epilarynx and various micro adjustments along the vocal tract, and is also perceived/felt to be higher, often in the area of the nasopharynx and in the bony structures of the front quarter of the skull (the so called mask area). —Kenneth Bozeman, "The Pedagogic Use of Absolute Spectral Tone Color Theory," JOS, page 180. 

Huh, I think to myself: So glad you could catch up to Penna, Lamperti, Vanuccini, Nava, Sangiovanni, García, Viardot-García, Schoen-René, Harshaw, and many others who knew this before you were born. Mind you, the teachers of the old Italian school—and most emphatically that of Lamperti—would not say "often in the area of the nasopharynx and in the bony structures of the front quarter of the skull." No, they would insist on it. How to bring this phenomena about? That's a whole other matter, one which—for starters—involves a canny use of vowels. 

October 8, 2017

What Isn't Taught Anymore

In two words? Voice Placement. But oh, if you read the multitude of writers as I have from a hundred years ago, you would find the term, concept and idea of voice placement to be ubiquitous.

Why don't you hear about it now? Well, to put matters succinctly, modern voice teachers have been trained to think of the vocal tract as the only resonator. The sinus cavities? They can't resonate. Ergo, you shouldn't think about them buzzing with sound. That's elective. Personal. Like money, sex and religion. Not to be talked about in polite company.

However, this line of thinking operates out of a false premise. It assumes that a cavity must be involved. It also assumes that old Italian school voice teachers were naive and misinformed.

But what if the whole matter isn't about resonating cavities? Has anyone given much thought to the matter? Not that I can tell. Sure, voice science goes on about forced resonance, but this line of thinking proceeds from the same old assumption, which is that everything that happens vocally comes from the actions of the larynx. Ok. I buy that. But that is only half of the equation.

What about the ear? If singing really is simply a matter of pushing air through the glottis, well, why aren't we all great singers?

We aren't all great singers because the role of the ear is even more hidden than that of the larynx, the knowledge of which Manuel García unleashed upon the world with his investigations. And the scientific community has remained there ever since, the role of the ear in singing being accorded second-class status. Sure, everyone pays lip-service to how the ear is involved in singing, but only one man—Alred Tomatis—has given any real thought to the matter.

Tomatis is the guy who first observed that a child in the womb can hear the mother's voice. And people thought he was nuts for saying that. Turns out he was right. He was also the guy who proved that the larynx can only emit a sound that is first perceived by the ear. But who is studying the repercussions of his observation? Very few people. Everyone else is still looking down the rabbit hole. As a result, the teaching of singing has degenerated into manipulation upon manipulation.

Who needs ears when you can push the hell out of your voice? Or croon away like a musical theatre singer on the operatic stage?

Rather than deny what has been taught for centuries, it would be better for voice scientists to open their ears and ask why old Italian school vocal pedagogues taught this principle (read Vocal Wisdom for starters). Hello. Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Of course, many vocal pedagogues who consider themselves adherents to the teachings of the old Italian school of singing don't teach voice placement.

To this we've come.

October 6, 2017

Singing Is Not a Mechanical Proposition

You'd be forgiven if you thought otherwise, especially if you have been immersing yourself in reams of voice science information. What happens? Since most of this information is about "parts," one is fooled into thinking that manipulating the parts is the thing to do. Push on this or that muscle, or—and I love this one—"move" the air—and voila!—one obtains vocal nirvana. 

Your voice does not need you to "move" air, lip-trill, or press on your abdomen, or any such nonsense. That's like shooting a basketball into a hoop with your eyes closed. In auditory terms, we're talking about the ear being closed. 

What is one old-school approach? Calling with the clear desire to communicate. Calling to the friend across the street that you are surprised to see, haven't seen in 10 years, and can't wait to greet. Calling with quality, that is, with the intention to be heard clearly. (Need I mention that this isn't yelling?) Do this, and you will likely find that your ear will coordinate the parts without interference. Do this on a lower pitch and you will discover "singing position." Do this on an Italianate [a] — not easy if you speak in your nose or throat — and the throat will "open." 

To be sure, old-school voice teachers have their tricks of the trade which one might be seduced into thinking are mechanical aids, but they aren't that at all—which one learns with long experience. What does one observe instead? That these same methods can be understood as involving a global response of the auditory system—a system which organizes the parts unconsciously.