April 24, 2010

Singing on the Breath

In May, 1899, No. of Werner's Magazine Mme. Devine says: "The greatest truth of the Italian school of singing is that of ' singing on the breath.'" I should like Mme. Devine, who stands high as a Lamperti exponent, to explain just what she meant.  L. O. M.

I am aware that the expression '' singing on the breath" does not convey much meaning to the uninitiated, because it is one of those terms representing merely a subjective sensation, and not an actual phenomenon. When a tone is attacked without breath escaping before it, and the vibrating column of air is firmly supported by the diaphragm and held back instead of directed outward, the singer feels or can easily imagine the tone balanced above the breath—leaning against it, as it were. "Singing on the breath" is only possible when one has acquired (1) accurate attack, (2) diaphragmatic breath-control, (3) looseness of throat, allowing automatic adjustment of the resonators, and perfect freedom of the articulating organs. With Lamperti a singer's voice was placed when he could sing on the breath. Nowadays voice-placing seems to mean directing one tone here and another one there. In placing the voice "on the breath" there is no directing beyond an effort to concentrate the breath. The modern school of voice-culture insists on so-called forward-placing. This, I believe, to be a fatal mistake. The tone, imprisoned in a forward directed column of air, passes beyond the control of the singer for any other purpose than that of dramatic emphasis. The power of tone-painting, of tone musical expression, resides in voice poised freely above the breath in the back of the throat. Here the singer has under perfect command all the requisite resources of artistic phrasing. 
New York. Lena Doria Devine.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I was confused by the term "on the breath" and you have helped clear that up for me. Now to practice it!

    1. You are welcome. In reading other Lamperti School exponents, "voice freely poised above the breath in the back of the throat" could be taken to mean the start of the tone from the center of the head. "Vocal Wisdom" addresses the matter quite extensively.


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