I've been back from vacation with Umbrian Serenades for a few weeks now, and hit the ground running the day after my plane touched down, having learned that I do better by teaching rather than sitting around waiting for jet-lag to abate.
Before I left, I happened to read a paper released by the American Academy of Voice Teachers, which I mulled over, at first thinking that I wouldn't write about it, but then—finding myself thinking about two paragraphs that kept coming to mind—decided to go where angels fear to tread.
The document in question? In Support of Fact-Based Voice Pedagogy and Terminology, which you can read here. The passage that set my mind awhirl?
A common misunderstanding is the belief that primary resonators exist in other physical locations such as the skull, the sinuses, the trachea, and the area of the face referred to as the "mask." As previously noted, vibrations felt in these and other places such as the chest and head are the result of forced resonance. These vibrations may help to provide kinesthetic feedback for singers (a "feel" for singing), but they do not contribute to the sound that is heard by the audience.
Instructions to direct or "place" a vocalized sound in a specific location (e.g. "bounce the tone off the hard palate," "send the sound out through the eyes," "place the vibrations at the end of the nose," "focus the air down the spine") are often based on sensation and kinesthetic feedback experienced by the instructor. Because we are individual human beings with unique personal morphology (body structure), there is no reason to assume that all singers will feel vibrations in the same anatomic locations. Pedagogic preoccupation with creation vibrations in specific places may undermine the singers efforts to develop an efficient vocal technique. In fact-based, functional voice technique, vibrations are recognized as only serving personal sensory feedback that is unique to each individual singer.
Let's see. Where does one start with such a passage? First off: you won't find me telling a student to "place" their voice anywhere. Nor will you hear me talking about vibration in the sinus cavities or anywhere else. No, I don't go there for the simple reason that the facts don't support such language. That said, I have observed that once students with open ears (now that is saying a lot) have learned how to breath, keep their "singing position," and have explored the nature of vowels, "placement" has a way of rearing its head—like it or not. That's one curious fact, which I addressed in my introduction to Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method, where both Klein and his teacher García observed the phenomenon. As such, I believe the matter to concern the morphology of the ear and the brain's perception of sound, which falls under the heading of psychoacoustics. Have the writers thought about that matter in this way? I think not. Not that I blame them. Most voice teachers know precious little about the ear and its perception of sound, much less the body's response to it.
So what have the writers given the reader? Facts about the vocal tract. That's it. Really. It's too bad when you think about it. How do I read this document? I hear these writers as telling their readers that listening isn't necessary. Instead, one reads about "vibration" and "forced resonance."
The American Academy of Voice Teachers may have gotten their facts right, but in doing so, will have reached the wrong conclusion.
Photo Credit: Cathedral in Spoleto, Italy, with Umbrian Serenades.