February 6, 2013

Smile

Charlie Chaplin
Smile was written by Charlie Chaplin for the 1936 movie Modern Times. In 1954, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons gave Chaplin's tune its title and lyrics. Everyone has sung it, which is why it's considered a Standard. As the name implies, a Standard is a song that enters popular consciousness, touching the heart and mind of many listeners.

To use the word in a different way, one might say that the 'smile' was the Standard during the 18th and 19th centuries- at least in pedagogical terms. It's mentioned in all the important singing manuals, the 'biggie', of course, being Manuel García's A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing (1847), who noted that the opening of the mouth should be "towards a smile." 

From a Tomatis point of view, if the eyes aren't smiling, you aren't smiling at all. For that to happen, your face has to light up like you have just seen a long lost love, found the dog that ran off, or learned you won the lottery. Is that so hard to do? Yes. For many people it is, especially in the voice studio when someone is suggesting you do just that. Singers can be so self-conscious, yet they also want to be seen and heard. To hear yourself? That involves turning your ear on and listening to yourself. It means smiling to yourself. That plastered grin that you see on people's faces with the eyes looking concerned, worried, dead? Not a smile. 

Why is smiling so important? True smiling indicates that the ear is listening to the whole gamut of frequencies, from high to low. How? The facial nerve inserts into the inner ear via a tiny muscle called the Stapedius, which is connected to the Stirrup - a tiny bone in the inner ear. Tomatis' theory, which is based on  observation, has real consequences for the voice studio. The environment has to be such that the student is enabled to 'open' the ear. This means it can be hard slogging when the teacher or student is critical and unforgiving. It's damn hard to smile to yourself when someone is yelling at you, either internally or externally. This is important because, as Tomatis noted: "The ear is the voice." If the ear isn't open, the voice won't be either. 


Sherry Zannoth
Smile
Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
You'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile, and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through 
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear maybe every so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile what's the use of crying
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you'll just
Smile 

Listen to Tony Bennett's version here and Judy Garland's here



How does one smile and stay - auditorially-speaking -  open in the face of life's vicissitudes, when everything is going wrong, whether it is in the studio or in life? That's a good question, one I will answer by remembering a colleague of mine who recently died of cancer. A glorious dramatic soprano, Sherry Zannoth had a very successful career in Germany, that is, until the Berlin wall came down, and opera houses began changing the way they did business. Sherry found herself on a plane back to New York and began picking up the pieces of her life. She sang everywhere and anywhere (we met singing Turandot in Connecticut), was beloved by her synagogue and church choir, and became a really good voice teacher. 

The last time I saw Sherry was at the deli counter at Whole Foods at Columbus Circle, dressed to the nines, as she always was, sporting a flame-colored wig that matched her scarf and pants. We stood and talked for a good twenty minutes, Sherry bringing me up to speed regarding her treatments and latest happenings. She was thinner, but her face was expressive and open. She told me that despite everything she had been through, her voice had never left her.  I could see why. 

Sherry sang every day while in the hospital, even after learning her condition was terminal when a nurse chided her for singing, saying: "You are too weak for that! You aren't going to get better!" What a way to find out, huh? Sherry reacted as she did to everything, that is, by applying a liberal dose of humor to the situation, telling a visiting friend: "Well...If I can't get out of bed, at least I can be a hooker!"  

I heard Sherry sing Verdi's Requiem at her own funeral, and her voice gave me chills. Every inch the first class artist, with radiant top notes, beauty of tone and line, her performance was recorded only six months before her death. Though her legs had weakened and she had to sing from a chair, her ear had not. To know Sherry was to know why.

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