March 8, 2014

How did they do it?

Nicola Porpora 
When I first started researching historical vocal pedagogy—a man with a mission you might say, I had a couple thoughts that where a motivating force. 

How did they do it? What did they actually do in the studio, and why? 

This blog is a result of those two questions, which, I have to say, a few people close to me wonder about, since I often have no problem divulging interesting information I've dug up. But you're giving it away, they say! 

And? I reply. What's wrong with that? Just because you tell folks things doesn't mean they can do it. "Hiding" information out in the open for all to see doesn't make it less valuable or practical. It simply makes it available.

Of course, there is another part of me that remembers a Tibetan Buddhist story that I heard one time, the gist of which was: "If you write it down, the thing you are writing down is now further away from you." Of course, the story was actually about enlightenment, but I think you get my point: Explanations about something don't give you the experience you are seeking. You need technique to get where you want to go. That, and a little luck and a lot of practice. 

There is many a time in a voice lesson where words cannot, and should not be used, which, as I understand it, is how voice teachers operated during the age of Porpora. The teacher sang, and the student sang the exercise back. Of course, that means you have to know what you are doing, a method where the tuition of singing is an auditory endeavor. I use it often, especially at the outset, so that the classical student can hear what "ring" sounds like—up close and personal. I mean: how else are you going to get the sound in your ear? Youtube? Not the same thing at all. It's that distance thing the Buddhist's talked about. Hearing it in the room is a very, very different experience that hearing it on a tiny screen. The sound really has to get in their face so that the voice comes out of it, the ear and the mind of the student only opening with oft-repeated stimulus, which is how we learn language: sound after sound after sound is heard, until it comes out of the mouth. What's making it all happen? The ear! 

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