January 20, 2014

Old School Terminology

Manuel García
Open throat, voice placement, singing-on-the-breath, pure vowels; these are just a few of the Old School terms readers have encountered on this blog. Not only have they fallen into disfavor, they are actively discouraged by many voice teachers, especially younger ones who have no real connection to the teachings and methods of legendary voice teachers, and who's studies been taken place in the voice lab. 

What a strange time we live in. We have great access to all kinds of information through all kinds of mediums, yet students of the voice don't seem to be very curious about pedagogical history and thought. How do I know this? Via the conversations I've had over the years about the teaching of singing and Old School teachers. 

I find myself asking students and teachers if they have read García's works, and they usually blink and look sheepish. Sure, they know the guy invented the laryngoscope, but they haven't read his works, or know what he actually taught. More people seem to know about the Lamperti School  and to have read Vocal Wisdom, which is representative of the School, but this isn't saying much, since the modern scientific school considers it rather suspect, to put it mildly. Oh, and did I mention that the García School used the terms mentioned above in the studio? They were common parlance during the 19th and early 20th century.  

While García's great contribution was to assign physiological causes to tone—a very muscle-this, cartilage-that kind of approach, it did not stop him from conducting himself like an empiricist as far as terminology was concerned. In fact, he steered clear of all physiological terms because he thought they would confuse the student! Instead of blathering about larynx and pharynx, crio-this and arytenoid-that, he concerned himself with real-time vocal behaviors, which is what the terms above describe. They are based on what is heard, not what is measured on a graph.

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