April 16, 2014

Manuel García and Function

The father of voice science was one smart cookie, at least, that's what anyone who has read his works will discover on this evening of World Voice Day. For one thing, he was the first person to observe and record the functioning of the vocal folds in singing, specifically teaching and promoting a "pinching" of the glottis, which is aided by the use of /i/. By extension, the García School also taught that every vowel should be taken from /i/, which is simple enough if you can hear what it means. Along with the action of the vocal folds in producing vocal tone, García was also the first to delineate the role of the pharynx in modifying tone produced in the glottis, identifying two dominant timbres, clear and sombre, which alter the shape of the pharynx, and involve a shorter or longer "vocal tube," as he called it. 

Fact-based teaching? A term which is heard so much nowadays? García was doing it long before the term existed. He was, I believe, the first person to shine a light on the difference between cause and effect, which I addressed in depth in the introduction to Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia (VoiceTalkPublications, 2013). The particular effect I chose to address? That of "voice placement," which is a term modern vocal pedagogy considers obsolete, which is rather unfortunate, if only because "formant tuning" rather misses the mark as far as the teaching of singing is concerned. Enable a student to sing a very resonant, open throated /i/ vowel, then ask said student "where" and "what" is perceived (feelings are a vestibular function of the ear), and you will very often observe the student talk about, and/or point to their head, the front of the mouth, the "mask," and even two feet in front of their face, far from where formant tuning actually takes place. Effect trumps cause in this case, and therein lies the rub. The teacher may know about the mechanics of formant tuning within the vocal tract, but the student's attention will be, and I warrant, should be, elsewhere, since it is the means by which the student can monitor what is happening in their throat.

It's the old eye on the ball matter. You can know all about how your arm works to hit the ball, but if you take your eye off the ball and miss your shot, what good does it do you? Knowing the difference between cause and effect should help singers and voice teachers be smarter about the cause, not discount said effect. Which begs the question: did you fill your head with facts about voice science today, but forget to practice your vowels, sing scales and work on your trill to render your voice flexible? No, I am not kidding. If you studied with García, you would have done all this and more, which reminds me: one of his first teachings was to have the student sing long tones. Try doing that while keeping your eye on the ball. His was a practical science. 


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"Manuel García and Function" is VoiceTalk's 450th post, which is being read more than 13,000 times every month. No one is more amazed than the man behind the keyboard. Thank you for reading VoiceTalk! 

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