June 9, 2014

A Dictionary for the Modern Singer by Matthew Hoch

Three years in the making, Matthew Hoch's aptly-titled tome is now in print—and what a handsome book it is! From its elegant cover which features a singer sporting an asymmetrical dress, platinum ring and bob cut, to the well-written entries, articles and appendixes which deftly bridge the worlds of classical and contemporary vocal pedagogy, A Dictionary for the Modern Singer succeeds in giving singers and voice teachers a great deal of information, much of which will be new to those unaccustomed to the terminology of voice science (full disclosure: I was invited to write a number of entries).

Audra MeDonald (who just won a 6th Tony), Bobby McFerrin, Richard Miller, Marni Nixon, placement, Plançon, Peking opera, prestissimo, and Leontyne Price are just a few of Hoch's multifarious terms. Rather than read with an eye for what was missing, I found myself marveling at what he was able to include.

For someone who's had a finger in quite a few dictionaries (including Cornelius L. Reid's A Dictionary of Vocal Terminology: An Analysis and Kutsch/Riemens A Concise Biographical Dictionary of Singers), it is rather curious and exciting to see "formant," "mucosal wave" and "spectral envelope" presented alongside "Joan Sutherland," "Vocal Wisdom" and "Nicola Porpora." That these terms cohabitate rather than compete is good news to those with an interest in historical vocal pedagogy, since the word "modern" can be taken to mean a rejection of the past. Hoch steers clear of this, I am happy to report, by adroitly focusing on the needs of all singers, one clear example being an appendix which contains a comprehensive list of "Medications and Their Effect on the Voice." I have no doubt that this essential information of prescribed pharmaceuticals—all too often by doctors with scant knowledge of their effect on the vocal folds—will be much referenced. Other highly useful appendixes include a "Fach" chart, lists of essential operas and song cycles, a cross-referenced bibliography, timeline of the history of singing (the ubiquitous audio MP3 was invented in 1993), James Stark's definition of Bel Canto, anatomy diagrams (the excellent graphics from Gray's Anatomy are in the public domain—a smart move which reveals the relevance of history), and an IPA vowel chart. These targeted and detailed offerings—along with essays by leading figures within the contemporary commercial music scene—make A Dictionary for the Modern Singer an important resource for both the novice and professional singer. That is fits nicely in the hand, is well made and is a pleasure to read, speaks volumes.

If knowledge is power, A Dictionary for the Modern Singer provides it.

Highly recommended! 

2 comments:

  1. Thanks..just ordered it.
    Lookin fwd to reading and learning!!

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    Replies
    1. Good for you, Bassocantante! Thanks for your comment.

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