January 18, 2011

The Language of Singing

I'll make no bones about it: I rather like David Clark Taylor's books. Why? He was intent on a reexamination of Old Italian School precepts at a time when gains in voice science threatened to overshadow rather than add to Old School teachings. While we aren't experiencing the same thing in our time (if anything, our understanding of the Old Italian School is growing), the linguistic currency of older pedagogues, breath support, open throat, forward tone, were, in Taylor's eyes, falling prey to the dangers of 'local effort', the idea being that the vocal mechanism can and should be controlled mechanically. Taylor faults Manuel Garcia for this, or rather, those who took what Garcia discovered and subsequently believed that the study of voice entailed an understanding of anatomy and physiology on the part of the student (that García refrained from using anatomical terms in his studio should tell the reader something).  

The problem (as I have alluded to in an earlier post) is that learning to sing isn't a matter of learning stacks of facts about the functioning of the larynx any more than learning to speak involves an intimate understanding of grammar. Of course, after the child can speak and the singer can sing, well, that is a different matter.  My point here is that all too often the cart is put before the horse. This was what David Clark Taylor decries in his works.





Though Taylor doesn't exactly express it in this way, his writings suggest that singing is a language. It should not be forgotten that, pedagogically speaking, bel canto singing is based on Italian tonal ideals, that is, the sounds contained within the Italian language. If there is a danger in a student's ability in learning to sing, it is the mistaken belief that the mechanics of singing are somehow divorced from any language. This ignores the obvious: the Italians developed the Old Italian School, not the Germans, French, English or Americans!

When an accomplished student like Antoinette Sterling went to Pauline Viardot-Garcia after studying with Mathilde Marchesi, and wanted to sing German art song, she was kept on Italian songs and arias. Why? It is the language of Bel Canto. When you can 'speak' Bel Canto, that is, have inculcated the sounds that comprise it, you can sing in any language, which is exactly what Viardot-Garcia told her young charge when she bid her adieu.


Click on the links below to read Taylor's works.  


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