xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns# VoiceTalk

August 21, 2016

Let's get five notes right


Is it really necessary to point out that vocal exercises are useless unless you know how to sing them?

Apparently so. 

This past week, a young voice teacher wrapped in post-graduate degrees got in touch with me, having heard the Janet Spencer vocal exercises that appear in Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García. (They can be found at Soundcloud and Youtube.) The conversation went something like this: 

Could you send me a copy of the recordings? 

Sorry, I am not able to do so. But thank you for your interest in the book. 

Yes. I know about the book. It's on my list. But I have so many other things to read first. 

Let me get this straight: You want me to drop everything and send you an audio copy of the exercises, but know nothing of their context, and aren't in a hurry to find out? Don't you know that vocal exercises are useless if you don't know how to sing them, which is what the book provides? 

But you misunderstand me. 

(face-palm)

Offline, I thought to myself: No, I don't think I misunderstand you all all. Like Maya Angelou noted: When someone tells you who they are—believe them

I believe you haven't a clue, but hope you can find your way onto the learning curve that is staring you in the face.

He reminded me of another fellow who called me up having read my post on Lilli Lehmann's exercises, begging me to teach them to his daughter. They would make her famous! 

If only it were that simple, I replied. 

Subsequent discussion revealed that he was hell-bent on the matter and would hear of nothing else.

No. That didn't go well either. 

Exercise collectors exist. They may be fine, good people. But don't expect them to know how to make use of what they hoard. 

Exercises aren't magic. And more is not better. 

As Margaret Harshaw would often say: "Let's get five notes right!"

August 6, 2016

Manuel García I at Pere Lachaise


He wasn't hard to find since I had been to Pere Lachaise two years ago. That time, however, I didn't have a camera with me.

Paying homage to the great singer and teacher who died in 1832, I found Manuel García's resting place fronted by a motorcycle which belonged to a gentleman working on a tomb across the path. "Would you like me to move it?" He asked in perfect English. "No." I said. "That won't be necessary." He went back to painting, and I went about picture-taking, a metaphor forming in my mind of the old and new sciences of voice co-existing rather than cancelling each other out.

But here's something to consider: Manuel García has been tomb-raided. At least, that's what the upside down lid—which is slightly ajar—suggests. I came to this conclusion having noticed that the lettering on the rear end of the tomb is upside down, the words in question being Consession a Perpetuite—burial plot held in perpetuity.

And this thought came to mind: It's one thing to raid the teachings of a great lineage (Manuel García the Younger set about recording his father's teaching) for one's devices, but another thing entirely to encounter them on their own terms.

Having been traveling in Europe for a month, I am now back in Manhattan teaching García's principles.

June 23, 2016

Feeling is Listening

This is a statement of fact. It's how the body is constructed, the feeling of listening being a matter of vestibular function, which explains how a deaf singer like Mandy Harvey can sing. Yeah. Really. She can sing, and does so quite well, thank you very much. 

Muscle memory? It is more than that. It's the ear and brain that does the singing. While Harvey's cochlea is fried, her vestibular function—the feeling of the voice—is intact and the principle means through which her voice is guided—vestibular function itself involving a great deal more than balancing the body in space. 

How did Harvey get her voice working again after completely losing her hearing at the age of eighteen? She used a smartphone app to see what pitch she was singing, then felt her way forward. Simple really. So simple as to be disregarded by smartypants people everywhere. You know, of course, that the cranial nerves that regulate sight and hearing run along the same pathway, right? Those who know what they are doing can even look in a mirror and see what the ear is doing in relation to the voice. But what do most people do when they look in a mirror while they are singing? Become self-conscious rather than self-aware. 

Great singing feels incredible. It's a rush, a wave, a cascade of endorphins that fills every nook and cranny of your cranium & body. This is why G. B Lamperti said that you could sing when you felt it in your fingers and toes. That's listening people. Inhale quietly for 18 seconds and you may begin to understand what this means.

Sounds still exist. You can feel music everywhere. — Mandy Harvey

June 22, 2016

The Power of Beauty


"Ninety-five percent of the power of the voice is in its beauty." —Manuel García the Elder 

June 15, 2016

Manuel García's Loss of Voice

History is such a curious thing, at once malleable and subject to interpretation. Let us take García's loss of voice for instance. He himself wrote that being made to sing during puberty damaged it. Yet I know of at least one reputable account of his going to Italy for his debut and trying to sound like Luigi Lablache in order to obtain bad reviews which he would send to his father—the same father who beat him senseless onboard a ship bound to New York from Europe. Young men do strange things to become themselves, do they not? (García also tried to sign up to fight in Algeria, but was dissuaded by his mother and sisters.) But this story—if true—certainly doesn't fit the narrative of a vocal maestro who rocks the world.

I've also read quite a few newspaper accounts of a middle-aged García singing solos & duets in public with students in London. Would that be the practice of a singer who had lost his voice? This begs the question: Did García really lose his voice at all? Or did he construct a narrative which suited his purposes? Smart people use what they have, and I believe it is highly possible that García—whose aspirations were at variance with those of his father—was a genius at self-promotion. He used what he had been given: He wrote a ground-breaking book, discovered the inner workings of the larynx, and in so doing became world famous.

Not bad for a kid who did not want to be a singer.

June 14, 2016

Marchesi's Requirements for a Voice Teacher

My colleague Justin Petersen wrote a blog post on "What It Takes to Be A Voice Teacher," which reminded me of Salvatore Marchesi's words on the matter, Marchesi being a student of Francesco Lamperti and Manuel García, and husband to Mathilde Marchesi, who was a highly successful teacher in her own right. 

The human voice, being a physical instrument, is not only liable to millions of exceptional modifications resulting from the different peculiarities of every single organism, but to the climactic influence, to bad habits, and to physical disorders, which can alter its natural characteristics. Therefore, whatever may be the degree of the teacher's theoretical knowledge, he will never compass an important and continuously satisfactory result, if he lack the three indispensable qualities that act as guides for the human intellect; namely, instinctive intuition, penetrating reflection, and long experience.  The teacher may utilize all the precious discoveries made by modern science, but on the condition that he understands them, and provided he knows where, when, and how they are to be employed. 
Salvatore Marchesi, A Vademcum for Singing-Teachers and Pupils (1902): 7.  

June 1, 2016

The Mother's Voice: Science Catches up to Tomatis

No, I'm not mad. I really did experience what I wrote about in my "seventh heaven" post in 2012, where I recounted a mystical experience listening to a woman's voice—the voice in question mirroring what is heard in the womb. Now it seems there is scientific evidence that proves what Tomatis posited, which is that the mother's voice in the womb has a profound influence on the child and its later development. 

In a study titled "Neural circuits underlying mother's voice perception predict social communication abilities in children," a functional MRI was used to determine what effect the mother's voice had on subjects, the result being that it was found that brain circuits are "selectively engaged in children by their mother's voice and show that this brain activity predicts social communication abilities." 

It must be remembered that there was a time when science scoffed at Tomatis' earlier assertion that the child could hear its mother's voice in the womb, which was subsequently proven to be true. This new research goes further in revealing that the mother's voice has a deep and lasting influence which affects communication.

What does this study have to do with singing? Singing is all about communication, with great singing being all about highly nuanced communication. If there are problems with the development of the child, then problems may result. How might this arise? One such example is the premature baby whose skull is deprived of contact with its mother's pelvis during last few weeks of pregnancy. Tomatis believed this contact, which takes place when the fetus turns over in preparation for birth, has everything to do with the final encoding of the child's brain for later communication; both as self-listening/realization and the child's relationship to the outer world.

See The Ear and the Voice for more information.