How many voice teachers work on vowels these days? Can I see a show of hands please? Yes, that's what I thought. Most of you had to think about it for a minute since you spend a great deal of time—especially if you are in academia—teaching repertoire for juries. Isn't that right? Yes, I see you nodding your heads.
Guess what? I have news for you, especially those of you who complain that everyone sounds alike. This rush for repertoire is not how the Old Italian School did things. Oh sure, teachers like Pauline Viardot-García and her bother Manuel gave their students a repertoire. But first, they held their students to scales and exercises for as long as it took to get their voices "placed." (Yes, I know you don't like that word, but that's how they thought of it.) Of course, do you have the luxury of using this same approach? No, that's what I thought. Most of you are blinking your eyes or looking at the floor. Yes, I know. You can't adopt their approach, can you? There's no time for it. Too many requirements. Too much to know.
What did the Old Italian School voice teachers focus on? Vowels. Getting each one working in tandem with the next, mining their gold. They all had to be right, every single one of them, and spent most of the lesson on them. They worked on them because, well, their perfect "placement" allowed "legato" to happen, which was a by-product rather than an affectation.
Have you looked at some of the old manuals on the download page on this blog? Go take a good look. You will find that the exercises in those manuals feature practice on vowels. Vowels, vowels and more vowels.
The García School used them without a consonant, while the Lamperti School used "L" and "M," which made the start of the tone a great deal easier. Either way, the Old Italian School teachers did one thing at a time for as long as it took to get things right—and one of those things was vowels. There was none of this letting the student pass on to a new skill before completing the one that was given.
"Can't I sing down the scale once?" The younger García implored his father after being given a diet of ascending scales. The answer was no.