July 16, 2014

Inner Voice

If you went online and downloaded Pressfield's book Turning Pro, and gulped it down in one sitting like I did, you will have found your way to page 70 and read this:  
"What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that still small voice inside our heads. At least we find the courage to identify the secret dream or love or bliss that we have known all along was our passion, our calling, our destiny. Ballet. Motorcycle maintenance. Founding a clinic in the slums of San Paulo. This we acknowledge at last, is what we are most afraid of. This we know in our hearts we have to do." 

The audition of the still small voice is what occupies my attention in this post. 

For Alred A. Tomatis, the Christopher Columbus of the ear, the inner voice of the singer had everything to do with the audition of bone conduction, which—I believe—can be observed in the Lamperti School's insistence on the focus of tone above the soft palate in the center of the skull (see Vocal Wisdom: Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti by William Earl Brown). I mean, can you think of a better explanation for this Old Italian School teaching? Vincenzo Cirillo, who swam in the same pedagogical stream as the Lamperti people, described this same phenomena as a "compound" vowel in A lecture on the art of singing (1882), which was formed.

"...within the back cavity of the mouth, which is located behind the uvula, and connects with the pharynx; and thence the vibrations should spread into the front cavity of the mouth, striking against the hard palate, with an inclination towards the frontal bones and the various cavities of the skull, all of which assist in giving quality to the tone." 

Ok. You are asking yourself. I get that the Old Italian School was referring to something that you describe as the auditory awareness of bone conduction, but what does this have to do with the singer's "inner voice"? You're losing me buddy!

Well, let me see if I can explain things simply.

Tomatis' first work was the rehabilitation of opera singers. He developed a machine which stimulated the muscles of the ear via bone and air conduction, and in doing so, observed that when opera singers were stimulated with high frequencies, the spine lengthened and the ribcage opened, while the facial muscles became innervated. This was expressed in a widening of the upper lip, greater expression in the muscles around the eyes, as well as greater tonus of the muscles of the face. Of course, the singer was generally unconscious of this activity until it was observed in the mirror, so it was not a matter of consciously making a face. Since the nerve of face inserts into the inner ear via the Stapedius muscle and the stirrup, Tomatis posited that what he observed was an expression of an open ear, that is, an ear capable of analyzing all the frequencies from high to low.

It is not lost on this blogger that what Tomatis observed resonates with Manuel García's instruction to open the mouth with an "approach to a smile," which many other Old Italian School vocal pedagogues described in like manner.

But I still haven't addressed this matter of "inner voice" have I?

If the reader has a clear comprehension on what has been written above, experiences fully the singer's sensation of breath which results in a "lifting" of the muscles of the body, and practices the Italian vowel /e/ in a lower middle range (it is often more useful than /i/ which is frequently sung and spoken through a closed throat), with what Herman Klein calls "Singing Position" (see Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia), he will, in time, discover the inner voice referred to by both Lamperti and Cirillo. He will also be in a position to practice García's vaunted coup de glotte. Of course, an ounce of demonstration makes instructions such as these unnecessary.

Having taught this, I have observed that once inculcated, the student often expresses reservation at what is heard. The mezzo-soprano, who discovers this phenomena after months of work, says that she hears a "cat-like" sound in her head, while a tenor describes the phenomena as his "gay" voice, the one he spent a great majority of his life avoiding. That both express feelings of vulnerability, openness and uplift, and are heard to sing with clear, beautiful and resonant tone—one classical, the other musical theatre—suggests that the audition of the inner voice has a psychological, nay, even a spiritual component. Suffice it to say: the singer who discovers it has found their voice—both literally and metaphorically.

Heightened bone conduction is small, buzzy and unnerving to the neophyte, and takes some getting used too since the sounds perceived have no correlation to those within the English language, which is both guttural and nasal in timbre. That it also involves the phenomena of voice placement is certain as well as disconcerting to the fact-based vocal pedagogue who has no explanation for it.

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