March 30, 2014

SAVE SAN DIEGO OPERA!



If you've been reading the news, you may have heard that a small number of the board and the general director of San Diego Opera have decided, rather suddenly, to close shop, send everyone home, and stop producing opera just shy of being in business for fifty years. Bam! Just like that! 

What gives? My colleagues in the business are scratching their heads, up in arms (as they should be), and endeavoring to get to the bottom of the whole mess.  Meanwhile, the general director isn't talking after questions have been raised. 

My dear readers: there is a board meeting tomorrow, and a petition to SAVE SAN DIEGO OPERA is just shy of 20,000 signatures, which has the support of Joyce DiDonatto and Frederica von Stade. SAVE SAN DIEGO would like to walk into that meeting with their goal having been met, and they are nearly there. Let's help them, Ok? 

Please add your voice to a growing chorus which demands transparency and accountability by clicking here. Then please send this post to your friends and colleagues. 

America needs more opera, not less! 

Janet Spencer found her way to YouTube


Janet Spencer 


That's the short and sweet of it, which actually means that I've uploaded the Janet Spencer contralto recordings made for The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia (1909) to my channel at YouTube (after having uploaded them at SoundCloud), formatting them with photos that were found after a big of digging. You'd think I'd know a lot about Spencer, but she has proven to be somewhat elusive, as all not-exceedingly-famous singers are. I do know, however, that she was born in Boston in 1873, and died in Hollywood in 1948, where she taught voice, having had resounding success as a concert and oratorio artist, which explains why Herman Klein chose her for the Phono-Vocal Method. She was good. 




Those who have heard those recordings should really hear her in another context, which you can do here and other channels at YouTube, if only because one obtains a fuller picture of her voice and art.  

What does one glean after all this listening? I can think of several things, one being that Spencer really had a major instrument. Her song recordings reveal a voice of great presence, which is not the first thing that comes to mind when listening to the Phono-Vocal Method recordings. Of course, the purpose of Klein's manual was to educate rather than entertain, the vocal production undoubtedly being tempered with concerns of execution. The recording process itself may have something to do with it, since the bulk of her recordings were made in the years after the Phono-Vocal Method recordings, the voice then making a much larger imprint on the ear, technology having improved. 

The many reviews I have read of Spencer's art show her to be every inch the serious artist. She lived during a time when a singer could have a career on the concert platform, which is what it was called then. The stage? That meant opera, the doors of which Spencer did not darken. Theatre? Spencer did that with her voice, observant readers noting that makeup doesn't seem to touch her face in the photographs on this page, which says something in itself.

I hope to learn more about Klein's contralto, and when I do, you'll be the first to know. 

March 28, 2014

The Janet Spencer Contralto Recordings From Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method

Hermann Klein 
Some amazing things have happened in my life, one of them being twenty rare contralto recordings falling into my lap after publishing Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia (2013). 

I still pause and practice a little gratitude when I think about it, having waited two years to hear a handful of soprano recordings at the Yale Library, which, to my knowledge, are still unavailable to the public. That I got to hear them at all seemed a miracle at the time.

All good things come to those who wait? I certainly hope so! I know you have waited to hear Janet Spencer since I first mentioned the recordings many weeks ago, and am now making good on my word. 

So, without further ado, I would like present the historic recordings of Janet Spencer, who was trained in the legendary vocal method of Manuel García by his student Hermann Klein. The twenty surviving recordings from 1909 reveal Spencer's agile, disciplined, full and free voice, each one captured in one take. How many were made to obtain the result you hear? We will never know. We do know, however, that Spencer stood in front of—if not in—the horn, which must have been rather claustrophobic. Oh, the trials that composer and singer must have endured, the recording process being in its infancy. It soon becomes clear that the exercises themselves are not for the faint of heart—another complication. But Spencer doesn't miss a lick, singing in time and tune, making key changes with aplomb. The woman had real skill and technique, her trill alone astonishing in its certainty. Who today sings with this kind of exactitude? That's a good question, which only goes to show that, despite our thirst for scientific knowledge, there is no substitute of the principles of the Old School. 

You can listen to Janet Spencer here at the "Author" page for my studio website. The recordings will also be posted on a separate site for the book, which will appear soon. 

For my Kickstarter supporters who helped make this project possible, I cannot thank you enough. I also want to thank John Wolfson, who's generosity in making the recordings available still takes my breath away. 

March 26, 2014

Fanfare & Facebook



I am happy to announce that Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia has been given a generous review by Lynn René Bayley at Fanfare Magazine, which you can find here. I had been contacted by Fanfare in January, telling me a review was in the works, and then thought nothing more about it (you never know about these things), only to be pleasantly surprised to learn of its publication yesterday. Thank you, Fanfare! 

The other big news at VoiceTalk is that I have set up a Shigo Voice Studio page at Facebook, and would be pleased to see you there. It is a real pleasure to receive your emails, messages and comments. 

March 25, 2014

The García School Lineage: Anna Lankow

Anna Lankow (1850-1908) 
Ah! The things one learns snooping around in old newspapers courtesy of a suggestion from a knowledgable librarian.

"Where might I find information on singing teachers in New York?" I asked Bob Kosovosky, a curator at the New York Public Library. "Have you looked at The Musical Courier?" Nope. I hadn't done that. Two shakes later, I was staring at the magazine's citation in the catalogue, and thirty minutes after that, began a six week odyssey reading microfilm that began in 1880 and ended in the 1940's. What did I learn along the way? A great deal, if the three large file boxes that were created in the process are any indication.

No. You won't find The Musical Courier online. And it is unlikely that it will be digitized any time soon. It's a researcher's gold mine, at least for those with a great deal of patience, and has rewarded me greatly in investigating the García and Lamperti schools of singing. Early on, I came upon a García exponent by the name of Anna Lankow who was a highly successful voice teacher in New York City. Curiously, she was one of the first persons to have her voice recorded in 1896, and even used the medium to present two of her students to managers in Germany.

Lankow studied singing with Adolf Brömme (1826-1905), a student of Manuel García (1805-1906), and was a founding member of The National Association of Teachers of Singing in New York City (1906), which had Hermann Klein as its founding Chairman (readers of VoiceTalk will know him as the subject of Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia, 2013)). One must keep in mind that NATS, as we know it now, was formed in 1944, the original organization having changed its name to The New York Singing Teachers Association in 1917. Confusing? It took me a while to keep things straight too. Basically, what is now known as NYSTA went "local" after endeavoring to institute standards on a national scale, which proved to be impossible, if only because voice teachers are an independent bunch. Think of herding cats and you get the picture.

Lankow had remarkable success as a voice teacher even though afflicted with polio as a child, which gave her a "lame" leg, and limited her to concert appearances. After settling in America, she had a thriving voice studio, and adopted a young bass by the name of Edward, who later appeared at the Metropolitan Opera and wrote a book on breathing (click on his name in the label section at the bottom of this post). Tragically, Lankow died in Italy after her carriage plunged over a hillside during a storm in 1908. Fortunately for us, Lankow wrote a very curious book which you can find in the download section in the right hand column, one which features original scientific research, perhaps the first of its kind in America. This, together with the article below, will give the reader a clear sense of her teaching, which is unique in its expression. For those acquainted with García's method, it makes for fascinating reading. You can imagine why I smile when I read the line: "but physiology never made a singer."


******

Werner’s Magazine: a magazine of expression.  Vol. XXII, December, 1898, No. 4


Mme. Anna Lankow.

DURING the several singing-lessons given by Mme. Anna Lankow that Werner's Magazine's representative was permitted to witness, each pupil stood leaning slightly forward with the weight of the body on the ball of the foot, the chest lifted during the singing. Most of the pupils beat time to the exercises, whose rhythm was strongly accented. The teacher from time to time interjected directions like: "Fix the larynx," "Exaggerate the a," "Let us have the hard s." Mme. Lankow is very much opposed to what she calls the American s, which, she says, is a soft sibilant, something like a sh, but made with the tongue withdrawn somewhat from the closed front teeth instead of just touching them. It does not carry in singing. Sometimes the teacher called upon pupils who were awaiting their turn to stand and join in the singing of the exercises. At one time she had two basses and a soprano singing the same coloratura phrases. The first part of the lesson was devoted to intervals with leaps from the first to the second, to the third and so on to the tenth, practiced in all the keys and in reverse order. These were sung to different vowels, the bass singing i, the baritone a, and the soprano u, as their individual needs seemed to indicate. Most of these phrases ended with a staccato note.

"It is as important to know how to leave a note properly as it is to know how to attack it," declared Mme. Lankow. " The staccato ending gives freedom of motion to the larynx and enables one to learn how to quit the note easily and gracefully. "

Following, came exercises much the same as far as the intervals were concerned, but introducing the familiar syllables do, re, mi, fa, and so on. A characteristic one is this, which is sol-faed in all the keys: do do', re do', mi do', fa do', sol do, la do', si re' do'. It is done with a rapidity which increases with the ability of the pupil to place the tones accurately. The consonantal sounds are highly exaggerated, and the vowels made as distinct as possible. Another characteristic exercise was on the same tune, so to speak, but on each of the steps of the octave from the lower do to the upper do the syllables do, re, mi, fa, were sung as rapidly as possible.

Breathing-Exercises.

"Do I give breathing-exercises apart from phonation? Yes, I do. At certain times a pupil should give her whole thought to the physical mechanism of the breath. A good time is when she has gone to bed or is about to get up in the morning. She has her corsets off then and the muscles and the ribs have free play. My school of breathing is that of the high, fixed chest. The diaphragm pulls down and creates a partial vacuum in the pulmonary cavity. The air rushes in. Then the ribs, which have been distended, gradually come together, permitting the air in the lungs to escape through the throat in voice or speech. The muscles which move the ribs, when under perfect control, enable one to sing long phrases smoothly by governing the even emission of breath. It is the way one should use the lungs while swimming. I speak of swimming because it is so beneficial an exercise. Breathing-exercises improve the general health. They help the circulation of the blood and increase the appetite. In the beginning I do not fuss with long breaths. It is more important to get the exercises started and to make the proper position of the chest habitual. By and by the capacity of the chest will grow. I don't demand more than the pupil can do, but I expect that systematic practice will increase the strength. My pupils take an absolute rest in the summer, and when the fall comes, the technique is there and the voice, refreshed by its rest after continuous labor, is larger and freer than ever. But the continuous labor has to come first."

When And How To Begin Singing- Lessons.

"When should singing-lessons begin? I have had no experience with the child-voice and can not speak of it. The little girls of some of my pupils have learned my exercises from hearing their mothers practice. They sing with exquisite purity, and I do not see why a child should not take lessons for the placing of the voice if all is done with gentleness. But I can not say more than that. Adolescents should wait until they are mature. When they are too young they do not apply themselves. They haven't enough sense yet. If they don't understand what I tell them to do, how can they do it? It comes hard enough for grown minds to apprehend the subject.

"I usually begin with the medium notes of a pupil's compass and then work down. It is hard to force when you are working from above downward. But I do not begin with a long sustained note a-a-a-a-ah and then build up or down. One never gets flexibility and good tone so. The voice needs to be placed so that when you want to play on it, as a musical instrument, you can do as you will with it, of course within its limitations. When is a pianist capable? When his fingers fly instinctively to the keys that are indicated on the music. This comes only with frequent practicing. He learns by the muscular sense just how far he must swing his hand so that the ring-finger shall strike the high B flat. The violinist works by the hour so that it becomes second nature to him to put his finger on the right spot, to make a certain tone and not a hundredth of an inch above or below. So I give my pupils exercises that contain every possible interval that they will ever be called upon to sing. They practice these daily till they strike the note accurately and as automatically as the pianist moves his fingers. But all this is to be done not with the notion of getting strong in a hurry. Wise people do not exercise with heavy dumb-bells now. They do not wish to be muscle-bound and stiff; but by relaxation they try to get suppleness and freedom to move in all possible ways. This a-a-a-a-ah business makes the voice stiff and unwieldy. The trained singer should be able to sing anything, classic, romantic, — everything within the compass of her voice. My basses can sing coloratura with as much nimbleness as a soprano. Why not ? Suppose they are to sing in "The Messiah" or in some work of Mozart? They can not 'sit on a tone' there, but must perform the runs and ornaments as gracefully as any of the other singers."

Vowel-practice.

"I have a whole series of what I call speech-exercises, which train the muscles that govern the hollow spaces of the vocal apparatus. They must be as adroit and facile as the fibres in the vocal cords. I have a pupil now who, when he came to me, could not sing any vowel. He made them all alike. He could sound them in speech, but when he tried to sing, the speech-muscles seemed to cramp. I made him sing e. You can sing that without any effort. The mouth does not have to be set for e. Now he can sing all the vowels as smoothly as heart could wish. I find the vowel which the pupil sings most euphoniously. I practice her on that exclusively. When her voice is trained on that, the other vowels will be sung correctly, too. I use one vowel all the way through, except that I mark the change to the chest-register by a. Thus, O—ah, e—ah.

"What vocalises do I use ? I use exercises of Garcia's, Bromme's and my own. I give little etudes by Luttgen, flowing melodies interesting to the pupil, that teach phrasing and a smooth legato style. They find out the solfeggio of these notes and sing the Italian syllables to them.

Habitual Flatting Or Sharping.

"That is a result of the clumsiness of the muscles of the larynx. The voice is not placed. The pianist strikes false notes. Practice would remove that. They who say that it is due to an imperfect control over the muscles of breathing are wrong. What has the pressure of the breath to do with the pitch of the tone produced in the larynx? The voice isn't a whistle that sharps or flats as the wind-pressure rises or falls. I sing a crescendo and a diminuendo: a—A—A—A—a. Did the note rise in pitch ? No. But it increased in intensity. That is all the breath has to do with song, to make it loud or soft."

The Registers.

"I use the term 'register' as a mechanical word to distinguish the several klang-tints or timbres of the voice. Here are three chairs, but I wish to identify them; so one is a rocking-chair, another is a bent-wood chair and this is the piano-chair. Some teachers say: 'Why bother the pupil with all this talk about "chest- register," "medium register," "head register," and your "fourth register?"' Because to handle the voice intelligently one must know what he is about, and use the nomenclature of the voice. You learn a new language. You should at least learn what it is that you are speaking. I endeavor by my exercises to give my pupils command over the registers so that they can give the same note different colors, if need be. Do you suppose that a violinist plays a piece without having determined in his mind on what string he shall play every phrase, though he could perform it in two or three ways? He has the G, D, A and E string to choose from and, curiously enough, my fourth register is the analogue of the E string.

''The registers exist, and why should they not have names? The chest-register is called so, because a note sung in it causes the chest to vibrate. When the same note is sung in the medium register, the chest no longer vibrates. The head-register resounds in the head. The names have nothing to do with where the notes are made. All come from the vocal cords. The medium register everybody has, but not everybody has those of the chest and head. The fourth register is developed by my exercises in the other three. It is in altissimo and can be acquired by any soprano. Five of my pupils have gained it, one dramatic soprano and four coloratura sopranos. It came to Mrs. Alma Powell without my knowledge. They can sing from high C to the G above that without any effort at all."

Various Questions Answered.

"Teaching singing by mail is ridiculous. It is worse than that. Intelligent teaching must be done by ear. How can I tell what a pupil's faults are unless I hear her? How can she describe her faults even if she knew them, and how can I tell her what to do?

"Is it necessary to go to Europe to study? No. There are as good teachers here as in Europe, but the musical atmosphere is lacking. It is good what there is of it, but there is so little of it. The Metropolitan Opera has the best singers in the world, and it is well for one to attend for one season, but one can not go on hearing "Faust" 45 times a year, and "Carmen"25 times, and "Romeo and Juliet" 20 times, and grow. To get a repertoire one must go abroad.

"As to throat-specialists, they are of no value to the singer when they try to use their anatomical knowledge to teach singing. My method cures throat-trouble without sprays and other local treatment. A pupil of mine has a very large tonsil which is being massaged away, so to speak, by the exercises I give to the muscles of the throat and the hollow spaces.

"In regard to a knowledge of vocal anatomy and physiology, no competent teacher is ignorant of the general anatomy and physiology of the larynx and the hollow spaces of the vocal apparatus, but that she should be called upon to describe and to locate the cricoid cartilage or the posterior nares is not necessary. The interest an earnest pupil feels in the subject should lead her to find out in a general way how the voice is made, but physiology never made a singer.

"There is too much nonsense talked about the hygiene of the voice. Keep yourself in good health. But every sensible person tries to do that anyhow. Take a cold bath every morning. Be much in the open air. Sleep much; it is very important. Exercise as much as possible without exhausting yourself. I march a mile every day, rain or shine. This with my lameness is as much as two or three miles are to anybody else. Don't breathe through your mouth. Eat whatever agrees with you. I eat nuts and sing beautifully afterward. There is too much nonsense about dieting.

"What instrument do I prefer in training the voice? A piano, when it is in perfect tune.

"As to frequency of lessons, once a week is sufficient. Twice a week is better still. To need a lesson oftener than that one must have some terrible defect in the voice. I have never met such cases. They have not come to me.

"Pupils should practice by themselves from the very first. The exercises they have are to limber up the muscles that control the larynx and the hollow spaces of the voice, and they must lose no time in acquiring facility. At first they practice an hour a day, and later two hours, but not consecutively. The practice must be interrupted by periods of rest. Work for fifteen minutes and rest five. Then work another fifteen minutes and rest five. But these moments of rest need not be wasted. Think the tones. Concentration of effort is what brings success.

"Answering the question whether a girl should study singing with a man, or a man with a woman, I should say that a man never can show a woman how to use her voice. He can tell her what to do, but he can not show her. My teacher had told me about the head tone, but I did not know what he meant until another girl—Pauline L'Allemand it was—showed me. A man can never illustrate to a woman the action of the voice, nor in most cases can a woman show a man how to use his voice. But I am a contralto and I can teach basses. I teach tenors, too."

"Tremolo is caused by weakness resulting from fatigue, fright or lack of control of the breath. To this day, if I sing in concert, I am frightened and at the first my voice vibrates, but in a bar or two I get control of it and it is as organ-like as you could wish. Of course, if the emotion of the song affects me, my voice vibrates with it.

"When do I begin with the trill? The pupil starts with exercises that prepare for the trill, but I take wider intervals than most teachers to supple the voice for it. I use thirds and fourths. Mrs. Powell can make a real trill out of the third as a result of these drills. I had a parrot that learned it from hearing her. I could not get it myself and I was so vexed that the bird could trill in thirds and I could not, that I set to work and learned how.

''At what period of study should a pupil begin to consider expression? As soon as she is able. The acquisition of technique is only a means to an end. If the vocal mechanism is not obedient, expression is lessened just so much. When the pupil's voice is sufficiently limbered up with 'speech-exercises' and 'range-exercises,' I begin with expression. I phrase a song, I register it, I try to get at the thought and feeling of it. I make my selection one within the pupil's ability. But one never gets so far along that the ' speech-exercises' are not beneficial. They oil the voice.

"Do I move the larynx for the different vowels? No, it moves itself, and should do so. It is low down in the throat for oo and high for e. That is why I so often give oo for the vowel in the beginning. It requires such a long tube that the resonance of the voice is increased.

"What test is there of pure tone? I know that, as you say, we are all striving for 'pure tone,' and that one of us says, 'This is a pure tone,' and the other declares it is 'nasal' or 'throaty.' If you mean purity of intonation, then the test is that it should be always in strict tune. If you mean by 'pure tone' a beautiful klang-tint, then that is obtained by the free and full coordination of the vocal cords and the muscles that govern the hollow spaces of the voice. I can sing as badly as any pupil, if I try. But I can do better if I like. If I make a beautiful tone it is because the vocal apparatus is able to realize the ideal that I have in my mind. Just what happens when the vocal cords and the hollow spaces of the voice coordinate to produce a certain quality of the voice with such-and-such a set of overtones, is as yet unknown to science."

Her Method, Career, And Pupils.

The keynote to Mme. Lankow's method, according to her exposition, is the coordination of the muscles governing the hollow spaces of the voice with the muscles governing the larynx. She maintains that her method is German, because she is German and studied under Prof. Aldolf Brömme, a pupil of the elder Garcia,* at the Dresden Conservatory. When she was a little girl she studied the German arithmetic, but twice two is four in German, in Italian, in French, or in English. Likewise pure tone is pure tone and is produced in the same way, be the method German, Italian, or what not.

When Mme. Lankow speaks of the "hollow spaces of the voice," she means all the cavities of the breathing-apparatus above the vocal cords, including the larynx itself, the space between the true and false vocal cords, the pharynx, the mouth, and the chambers of the nose back and front. These, she holds, not only act as sounding-boards, but impart quality to the voice. It is control over the muscles at the back of the throat that gives these extremely high notes of the "fourth" register.

Mme. Lankow made her de'but at the Grand Ducal Opera-House at Weimar. Von Bulow, Liszt, and Lassen took quite an interest in her and introduced her to the concert- stage. The affection in her legs, which now prevents her from appearing in public because she cannot stand up long enough to sing a solo, interfered with her career in opera. She, however, made a success at concertizing and was the first to give the arias of "Samson and Delilah" to concert-goers. She taught in the Scharwenka Conservatory at Berlin, where she met Mr. Stanton, then director of the German opera in New York. At his solicitation she came to America and made her debut with the New York Symphony Society under Walter Damrosch. Owing to the sudden death of her husband, Paul Pietsch, a brilliant young sculptor, son of Ludwig Pietsch, the well-known art-critic of the Berlin Vossische Zcitung, she determined not to return to Germany or to public life, and began teaching in New York. That was ten years ago. During this last summer she finished writing her method and it will be published in German and in English. Its title is, "New School of Singing, by Anna Lankow, with Practical Exercises by Anna Lankow, Adolf Brömme, and Manuel Garcia."

Some of Mme. Lankow's pupils are: Miss Marie van Gelder, formerly soprano of St. Ignatius's Church, New York, but now singing at the Amsterdam Opera-House; Miss Herta, now of the Diisseldorf Opera; Miss Clara Lipman, who sang in "That Girl from Paris;" Mrs. Alma Powell, concert-singer; Miss Mary N. Berry, teacher at the Strassberger Conservatory, Forest Park University, and Shurtleff College; Miss Mary Ross, assistant to Miss Berry; Mrs. Beatrice Bowman- Flint, who has an extraordinary compass in altissimo; and Anton Schneider, of the Castle Square Opera Co.


*Dates of the personages involves suggest that Brömme studied with Manuel García the Younger, since Brömme was only 5 years old when the Elder García died in 1832.

March 24, 2014

Matt Alber: the real deal

Matt Alber

Here, ladies and gentleman, is a true artist. I first heard Matt Alber in 2012 in the video below (The End of the World), which has since gone viral, gob-smacking gay and straight listeners with his soul-wrenching lyrics, gorgeous music, and grainily beautiful baritone. That Mr. Alber is classically trained, and sang with Chanticleer as a countertenor (search for him at Youtube and you'll find him singing Messiah with the best of them) before finding his own voice, speaks for itself. 

This past week, Mr. Alber was at Lincoln Center, and sang in a concert which was streamed live, which I heard a few blocks away in the comfort of my living room. The review in the Times says it well: "Mr. Alber sang a program of striking, mostly original ballads with a controlled fervor, occasionally stretching his baritone into a pure, relaxed countertenor. This was exquisite pop-rock singing anchored in classical discipline." And so it was, which refutes the notion that popular singing has little to do with classical training. To those with ears to hear, Mr. Alber's vocal production has a lot in common with that of Lanny Ross in my former post, both singing with what the Old School would call "forward production," or "voice placement." That Mr. Alber sings with more nasality than Mr. Ross?  Well, that's how Americans sound when singing in English in a popular idiom. It's right for the style. That he opens up and sings a big beautiful /a/ in his upper range reveals a great ear. 

I admire Mr. Alber's singing and art a great deal, and not just because we belong to the same tribe. He does what too few artists do today, which is sing from the heart.





Find a studio version of The End of the World at Matt Abler's website here

Lanny Ross: The García Lineage



I wrote about Lanny Ross in 2011 (which you can find here), that post featuring him singing "We Mustn't Say Goodbye" from Stage Door Canteen, a WWII movie—the only thing I could find at the time. Since then, of course, more recordings and films have found their way to Youtube, so I thought it time to take another look at him. 

Ross had it all: looks, charm and voice, his lyric tenor a perfect fit for the popular style of the 20's and 30's. That he was trained by none other than Anna E. Schoen-Rene, a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García, and had a long career, speaks volumes. Back then, there wasn't the divide between popular and classical music that there is now, the vocal production being identical, which the listener can plainly hear in Ross' diction with it's rolled "R's," careful enunciation, and rounded tones. You also hear a very particular kind of "voice placement." Where could you do that now? On the operatic stage, in Phantom of the Opera, and when singing church music. That's about it. Everywhere else? They would think you were nuts. 

There is much to admire about Ross' singing, with its ease of production, and lightness of touch. He makes his mark by seducing you with the sound of his voice, rather than by trying to impress you with how loud and high he can sing—a very different approach than the one heard today. 

Interested listeners can find more Lanny Ross recordings at the Community Audio Archive. The last one listed, "Red Sails at Sunset B," captures his voice and vocal technique quite clearly. 
















March 23, 2014

Left vs Right: affect and openness



Two paintings by Albrecht Dürer which reveal two ways of listening. The gentleman above has a closed face, clutches a sheaf of papers in his left hand and covers his right ear with his hat, while the gentleman below has an open face, and covers his left ear with his hat.

From the perspective Alred A. Tomatis, these two paintings illustrate the difference between left and right ear laterality. Some may believe this depiction to be arbitrary, but experience in the studio has shown me that it is not. The young student who's had a really, really bad day, and arrives only to say that they can't quite get their voice together? Which face do you think I see before my eyes? The one above, or the one below?




The truth of how the ear processes sound is always before the observer, but most of us look and do not see, and hear but do not listen. This knowledge does not mean that the teacher can tell the singer to get happy and switch ears. No, it doesn't work like that. However, the teacher can help the student vocalize in such a way as to enable the ear to open again, which—as you may have guessed—has everything to with a canny use of vowels. (That, and a lot of love and unconditional acceptance can go a long way.)

/i/ has the potential to wake up the right ear with ringing vibration, while it will be noticed that the uneducated /u/ will tend to go towards the left—the mouth literally pointing in that direction. Interestingly, I've known a singer or two to be positively bi-polar in this regard, the mouth pointing back and forth between these two vowels, the vocal line jerking this way and that. Interestingly, it will be noted that the vowel between /i/ and /u/ is /a/, which Francesco Lamperti considered the father of all vowels. It is a difficult vowel for many, and reveals everything.

Not forgotten is my own experience at the Listening Centre in Toronto in this regard. As my mixed-dominance was addressed by being stimulated with high frequencies via bone and air conducted sound, I saw my face open at the level of my upper lip, which became broad and wide, while my lower jaw released back and down. I realized immediately this expression, or affect, if you will, as the /a/ I had  been taught by my teacher, who had been taught it herself by a musical daughter of the Garcías. I saw it in others too, especially in the face of a troubled red-headed kid, who greeted me as I came up the stairs into the Centre one day, his worried down-cast face utterly transformed: open, radiant, and alive. I thought to myself: "Wow…you have a future."

To put matters simply, the open face reveals the audition of high frequencies, the facial nerve inserting into the middle ear via the stapedius muscle, which is connected to the stirrup. According to Tomatis, the right ear processes—actively speaking—higher frequencies faster than the left, which begs the question: can you grin like a maniac, or actively try to widen your upper lip through mechanical means, and open your ear? No. But you can remember something wonderful and smile—a very different thing.

The Old School insisted that the singer had to master the /a/ vowel for the voice to come forth. My own teacher would say: "We sing in the position of /a/." She would also say that you have to "start where you are going," which, in terms of this discussion, simply indicates that the professional singer does not have time to dilly-dally (truth to tell, she was also talking about placement). You have to know what to do, and how to do it quickly. That's the thing really. As I see it now, the young singer who takes forever to find their voice simply has trouble awakening their ear, which often explains why the student can do things in the presence of the teacher, especially one who can demonstrate correct tone production, but can't do it in their own practice. Once the stimulus is gone, the vocal behavior disappears as well.

Lilli Lehmann wrote in her book How to Sing that it look students 6 months to learn how to listen. More and more I believe she was right.  

March 22, 2014

Amplification & Acoustical Singing

Remember when New York City Opera was at Lincoln Center and had a "sound enhancement" system because Paul Kellogg, then general director, deemed the acoustics of the house to be in need of improvement? Yep. It actually happened. A system was brought over from the Netherlands, and critics had a field day, along with the artists onstage—and not in a good way. While the former questioned what they were hearing, the latter were upset that someone thought they couldn't be heard. Towards the very end of that era, I witnessed Beverly Sills speak during a gala, after having been introduced by Kellogg, where she raked him over the coals for his use of said sound system, he standing not 10 feet away, looking at the floor. The audience went nuts. Of course, we all know what happened to the company after that. 

I thought of this matter of amplification after reading a recent article by a colleague, who wrote about the imminent demise of San Diego Opera, the seemingly shrinking world of opera audiences, and his fear that amplification would become commonplace over time, if only because business interests which dictate popular culture would hold the trump card. 

Could it happen? Could three hundred years of cultural and performance practice fade and become a shadow of its former self? Is it possible that knowledge of acoustical singing will be dumbed down? Will sopranos be singing Tosca with a body mic? Will it come to that? 

Surely not, some say, while others look around at the thinning of cultural values, and say it's only a matter of time. 

Knowledge is passed from generation to generation by example and practice, often in the most unlikely places. In the case of acoustical singing, I twice heard popular artists of the highest caliber lay down their mics, step to the front of the stage, and sing their encore a-cappella, if only to say to the audience: "See… I can do it for real!" 

The two artists? Tony Bennett and Barbara Cook, both in the 80's, their voices clear and true, ringing out into the auditorium. Now, that's Old School! What will happen when they are gone? Your guess is as good as mine.

March 21, 2014

Phoebe Dinsmore teaches rounded tones...

Phoebe Dinsmore & Lina Lamont

You've seen it, haven't you, the scene in Singing in the Rain where Kathleen Freeman as voice teacher Phoebe Dinsmore, gives a voice lesson to Jean Hagen's character Lina Lamont to hilarious effect?

I love this scene, not only because it's so damn funny, but also, because its quite instructive in understanding the how classical vocal production is produced. They key word that Freeman's character utters? The word rounded. And what word does Manuel García use in his text to describe the correct formation of the pharynx in the study of tones in A complete treatise on the art of singing? You guessed it!

Herman Klein reiterates this teaching on page 17 of Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia (2013): 

Now, while there are many shades, they divide themselves, broadly speaking, into two distinct kinds of timbres, viz., the dark and the light. The dark color is produced by the act of narrowing and elongating the pharynx and generally "rounding" the vocal tube (as Garcia called combined mouth and throat): and this is also known as "covered" tone. The light color is formed by a wider shape, a more relaxed muscular control, with a more exclusive use of the "forward" resonating cavities. 

Reading this passage, the modern reader needs to keep in mind that classical production was considered the norm when Klein was writing his manual in 1909. By the time Singing in the Rain was made in 1952, there had already been a sea change in public awareness, one which has changed even further, with popular music and vernacular speech winning the day. 

To be sure, a student of vocal history will observe that a classical approach to vocal production held sway until after the second World War, when cultural forces brought about a rainbow of expression. All this to say: Phoebe Dinsmore's rounded tones hardly sound sombre to educated ears today, yet to those not inculcated in classical tonal values, they go too far, which bespeaks of how far our culture has shifted away from a personal expression of culture and refinement.

No. We don't have divas anymore who speak with rounded mid-atlantic diction, even though they were born in Brooklyn. That mold has been broken. Rather, we want to see behind the curtain, but all too often find everyone to be Lina Lamont. 

To round your tones isn't to be stuck up, better than your classmates, or elitist. No. Its just bel canto.  


Tomatis Dream Diary

Sunday, May 20th, 2001, Listening Centre, Toronto 

Dreamt last night that I sang in an opera. I was on a balcony of some sort when I saw a woman—smack in the middle of the show—hold up a sign to tell me that I should sing a line of farewell to the older gentleman sitting on my left.

And I did just that in the dream. Mind you, when I went to the Listening Centre in Toronto for my second visit in May of 2001, I'd already had some curious dreams during my first visit in November of the previous year, one of them where I dreamt of gum coming out of my left nostril. Of course, it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out what I was working through in both dreams if you know something of the perspective of Tomatis, which was that my right ear was turning on, and I was letting go of using my left ear as the dominant ear. For a guy who went to the Listening Centre, only to find that he was mixed-dominant, it makes perfect sense. 

The older gentleman on the left? He's the editor and critic who holds a dissertation on the meaning of "no" in his hand, and never stops yammering words of warning like a bad director who can only tell you what not to do. Give him the run of the house, and he'll stop you from leaving the house, taking risks, or writing blogs or books. Oh, he has his place all right, which is something akin to a curator, but he can never take the place of the guy (or gal) on the right, who lives in the present rather than the past, says yes to life, creates stuff, connects the dots in your head, and sings like nobody's business with full-open-throated, ringing tone.

new studio websites

Shigo Voice Studio 


For the last few weeks, I have been working on revamping my original voice studio website, which is now completed. If you feel so inclined, please let me know what you think. Your comments and thoughts are very much appreciated! 


March 20, 2014

time vs skill

Frederic W. Root 
Readers of VoiceTalk will be acquainted with Frederic W. Root, the American vocal pedagogue who had the distinction of interviewing Manuel García, and who also studied with Luigi Vannuccini, the famous Florentine maestro. As is my wont, I offer readers a record of a talk that Root gave to a meeting of voice teachers in Chicago in 1900, and which was published in Music, a Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Art, Science, Technic and Literature of Music (vol 18, page 269-271). In it, Root mentions something I have turned over in my mind for a long while, which has everything to do with registration and the teaching of voice. 

Root's voice teacher in America was none other than Carlo Bassini, a violinist who came to New York to make his mark, but did not seem to have resounding success in that area. After a period of time however, he seems to have reinvented himself as a teacher of singing, and published a manual which contained exercises taken from García's treatise (you can obtain a hard copy here). It was a great success. Was he really a pupil of Crescentini and Zingarelli as he claimed? I cannot say, but it would be a very curious thing if proven to be true. Be that as it may, the thing that leapt out at me when I read the article is this: Root reports that Bassini and his followers were known to separate the registers "and then trust to time to heal the breaks." It seems Root may have thought this a questionable practice, if only because—in the next sentence—he is reported to have referred to Bassini's "peculiar" teaching on breathing, which, unfortunately, is not included. Perhaps I am making much of nothing, but the whole thing makes want me to know more about Bassini, his pedagogical roots, and why he would create a situation where the equalization of registers was left to time, rather than skill.


******

TEACHING OF VOICE — The round table discussion for teachers of voice in the Y. M. C. A. parlor was the most successful of all the eight thus far held, from the point of attendance and interest manifested. Karlton Hackett of Chicago presided and introduced Mr. Hall of Cedar Rapids, who spoke on "Enunciation of Vowels in Song."

Following Mr. Hall, Mr. Frederick W. Root of Chicago addressed the assembly.

Mr. Root spoke extemporaneously, treating of several important voice teachers with whom he had come in contact as pupil or otherwise, and who represented the various currents of musical thought and the different influences which are brought to bear on students of singing in all countries where a serious study of singing is made.

These names include teachers in America. England, Germany, France and Italy. The first one referred to was his honored father, George F. Root, who gave his son his first instructions in matters pertaining to voice. Dr. Root in his youth had nearly ruined his voice by misuse in the direction of forcing and using too somber a quality of tone. He recovered the use of his voice and placed it upon so solid a foundation that it retained its power and fine quality up to the day of his death by changing his method entirely to the thinner sounds of the clear timber, and was very radical in his teaching upon this point. The teacher who made this change for Dr. Root was Bassini, who fifty years ago was perhaps the most widely known teacher of singing in this country. To Bassini young Root was sent for instruction when his father had finished with him. Bassini paid special and almost exclusive attention to the registers of the voice, to an extent indeed which made his pupils, who in turn became teachers, feel that the correct way to treat voices was to break them into diverse registers, and then trust to time to heal the breaks. Bassini also had some peculiar notions regarding breathing, which Mr. Root described somewhat at length. Some years later he was sent to Italy to receive instructions and there was under the charge of Luigi Vannuccini, who was recommended to him by Mr. Myron W. Whitney, another of his pupils. Vannuccini's method was very simple and consisted mainly in keeping the pupil's attention directed to the region of the eyes and nose in forming tones.

Two teachers of whom he saw a little and who exerted some influence on his mind at that epoch were respectively a member of the Pope's choir in Rome and a teacher in the Leipsic conservatory, the latter of whom gave his opinion that a voice made resonant upon the lower notes should be forced upward in that same condition. Advice fraught with direful consequences if one should follow it, although Mr. Root mentioned a case where this had been done to conspicuous advantage.

Next upon his list was Mr. John Howard, widely known in this country as a teacher of singing by mail. Howard was eccentric and peculiar in every way, but he was a very intellectual man and tireless investigator of the facts of vocalization. His defect as a teacher seemed to be that he could not put these facts together acceptably.

Following them Mr. Root mentioned a lady teacher of great eminence with whom he had associated in work connected with the M. T. N. A.

Five years ago Mr. Root spent a year in Europe investigating voice culture in the conservatories and studios of the four principal countries there.

He referred with much commendation to the work of a German teacher who was a specialist in tone placing, conducting the work upon lines entirely different from those usually followed. His pupils never became very good musicians under his training, but they could always make very clear tones and could reach their high notes effectively.

He had an excellent opportunity to observe the voice work in the Milan conservatory where the professors pride themselves on keeping unbroken the traditions of the art for more than one hundred years past. He did not, however, find their work specially scientific. In matters of style and repertoire these instructors were excellent, but some of them forced voices unmercifully.

One of the private teachers in Milan, whose work he had good opportunity to observe, made a specialty of developing high notes, and one of the pupils was made to sing repeated notes on high F (fourth space above the staff.)

He was also admitted as a visitor to all of the classes of the Paris conservatory, and spoke at some length of the methods in use there; especially was he interested in the work of Mons. Giraudet, who is the only pupil of Del Sarte who was finished by that master as a singer and is now before the public. While with Del Sarte, Mons. Giraudet took copious note of the Del Sarte theory of vocalization, which notes Mr. Root had the privilege of reading. Del Sarte founded his philosophy of expression and tone production, and, indeed, everything he taught upon the Trinity, and his treatment of the subject of registers is entirely different from anything which has ever been taught in the musical world and points the way to advance in voice placing which is likely to be made in the course of time.

Among the private teachers of Paris that interested Mr. Root was the famous Delle Sedie, whose theory of the vocal scale is peculiar and original.

In London Mr. Root saw much of the work of several of the prominent voice teachers. The teachings of Mr. Shakespeare are familiar in this country through his recently published book and his lecture tour just finished. The nestor of music teachers, the greatest of them all, is Manuel Garcia, now living in London and having reached his ninety-fifth birthday. Garcia lives in a quiet home in the suburbs of London, a home which he calls Mon Abri or my retreat, and here he has in late years quietly dispensed the concentrated wisdom of his long career to many an investigator who has sought him.

Mr. Root closed by calling attention to the fact that the teachers ranged themselves under three headings and are either specialists, who depend on some one formula for the advancement of their pupils, or individualists, who have no method, but depend on their own personal magnetism and example to secure progress from the pupil, or educators who take into account all the various needs of the pupils and try to educate them symetrically by a definite system.

open throat

It's an Old Italian School of Singing term, one that was used by Anna E. Schoen-René, for which she was derided by none other than Corneilus L. Reid on pages 164-166 of his book Bel Canto: Principles and Practices (1950), only a few years after her death in 1942.

For those who are new to this blog, Anna E. Schoen-René was a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García, with whom Schoen-René studied for a special course in training the male voice. No small potatoes that. In fact, Schoen-René was very successful in teaching men, the famous tenor Florencio Constantino being one of them. 

Reid's book delineates the way in which he believes the training of the voice should proceed, one of his ideas being that the registers should be separated before being joined back together. Never mind that Schoen-René went on record as saying that this was not what García taught: Reid had his own ideas about the matter, which I saw up close at a vocal pedagogy event for the New York Singing Teachers Association some years ago. Very curious indeed, the esteemed gentleman had invented his own terminology, which is what all pioneers endeavor to do when they chart new territory. However, it occurred to me then, as it does now, that his eschewing of traditional terminology didn't exactly clarify matters. Rather, it only seemed—to these ears anyway—to obfuscate things further. Did Reid think that Schoen-René and other students of great teachers were just making things up as they went along? I mean, it's certainly possible, but it strikes me that Reid's broad swipes against his vocal elders did not educate the ear as much as give us his own theory, which was something else entirely. 

Let me put it another way: there's a reason why there is a picture of an ear on this post. Open throat? To be simple about the matter, the ear can hear whether the throat is open or not. Nasal singing? Not open. Guttural singing? Not open. You get the picture. 

You see, the term has empirical origins. It's meant to signify an aural impression, one where the voice sounds "open throated." Making an open throat? That's a whole other matter, one which is often doomed from the start. Why? Because creating "space" in the throat is better felt as a result, rather than a cause. The Old School teachers were a great deal more simple about such things, whereas we apply our science and tie ourselves in knots of knowing. 

How did those Old School teachers get their students to "open" their throats? By calling on vowels with Italian tonal values, /a/ being considered the preeminent vowel. Nothing more complicated than that. Of course, this has be heard to be understood. And by "heard," I mean given to the student in the voice studio via the voice of the teacher. You don't open your throat mechanically to sing, but rather, call with Italian tonal values and hear and feel the result, which is an open throat—a very different thing. Then there is the Old School saying which places the whole matter in context: The Italian singer has no throat. Isn't that a kicker? All this talk about opening the throat, and tradition maintains that when you are singing really well you should not even feel that you have a throat!

To be clear in terms of Mr. Reid: he's hardly alone in the pet theory department, seeing that I yammer on and on about the ear, while he makes much of registers. Be that as it may, my take is this: You can work on separating the registers all you want, knock yourself out, singing in chest and then in falsetto. However, will this procedure open your ear, and lead you to vocal nirvana? That's an interesting question. My perspective and experience is that when the ear is fully open, distinctions between registers are secondary in importance. Getting the ear open? That's a whole other matter. Did Reid's procedure do this? Of that I have no knowledge. However, Reid asserts on page 166 of his book that García and Lamperti "were obliged to accept as pupils only those who were exceedingly gifted and whose advanced technical status made the problem of registration and register development a matter of secondary importance." There's a fascinating clue in his assertion, one which Reid didn't intend, but which stood out to me. It's this: Schoen-René tells the story of being with García when he heard two would-be students from America. She relates the story in her book, America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences (1941), on page 109. 

Once in García's studio, I was given a most instructive lesson in the diagnosing of voices. He asked me to listen with him to two singers who had come from America. They were under the impression that they had studied with a teacher who was a representative of the García technique, but in the singing that followed there was no trace of it. Manuel García then asked them to sing some exercises and vocalizations, which seemed to them a strange request. It was a most amateurish exemplification of tone production. When asked to project the pure Italian vowels, they could not do so (my emphasis). One—a baritone—had a very throaty voice, and the other—a tenor—sang with a nasal quality. The climax came when the poor fellows asked whether they might take lessons from him, during the few weeks of their stay in London. "No, no," he exclaimed emphatically, "I do not want to commit a sin!"

Pure Italian vowels? Now how do you suppose one acquires them? By manipulating your throat? By separating the registers? Pushing your larynx down? Raising your soft palate? Grimacing for all you are worth? I rather doubt it. Rather, one has to have an ear for them, which is as obvious as the nose on one's face, but is missed because you can't see it unless you look in a mirror. This is why García did not accept these two men as students. They couldn't sing pure vowels, vowels which, I dare say, sound "open throated."

There is more to address with Reid I suppose, especially his quoting García's statement in the Musical Herald in 1894 on page 167, which Frederic W. Root also referenced in an interview in American newspapers, but to be succinct: I addressed this matter in the introduction to my book: Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia (2013). Interested readers can find my thoughts on the matter there. 

March 13, 2014

Madam Schoen-René's Book

America's Musical Inheritance: memories and reminiscences (1941) 


I have it, of course, having found my copy via Abebooks a number of years ago. The interesting thing is that mine is a presentation copy, being dedicated by Madam Schoen-René to a student with the name of Hall Clovis.




Hall Clovis (b. 1990) was a tenor who toured with his wife Eleanor Steele, singing duets, many of them commissioned by well-known composers/arrangers of the period, including Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Darius Milhaud, and H.T Burleigh. The Steele-Hall duo were popular in the 1930's, and toured in Germany and America until the War changed everything.





Steele and Hall eventually divorced, and Hall settled down to life in Santa Barbara with Charles Lee, with whom he lived the rest of his life in the Summerland home of Leopold Stokowski. Steele, having been born into a family of some wealth (Steele underwrote Risë Stevens studies with Schoen-René), remarried a cattle baron, and become something of a philanthropist, leaving behind a foundation that is still in existence. Meanwhile, the University of Santa Barbara currently houses Hall's collection of manuscripts and recordings, which I have heard, the latter conveying a very refined musical world. All this to say: You never know what you may learn from a book after it arrives in the post. 

March 11, 2014

the secret science of breathing

Last August I wrote a post titled Breathing 101. That post gave the reader the Lamperti School method of breathing, while this one features the teaching of the García School which I have quoted below from Pauline Viardot-García's An Hour of Study (1880). If you compare them, you will see the similarity at once, which consists of breathing through the nose for a very long time. The difference? The Lamperti School put a number on the practice, which entailed inhaling and exhaling for 18 seconds.

4. The pupil must breath very slowly and very deeply, through the nose, with the mouth closed; and the breath must be held a moment before commencing each exercise. Too much pains cannot be bestowed to the habit of taking a long inspiration through the nose.  -Pauline Viardot-García, An Hour of Study, (1880) 

How to apply this practice while singing repertoire? That's the trick really, if you can call it one, which it isn't at all. It's actually quite simple, the point being to maintain the feeling of breathing through the nose even when the mouth is open. How is that possible you ask? Doesn't the singer want the soft palate to be up and sealing off the nasal passages when the mouth is open? Yes, that's undoubtedly true, but it won't prevent the singer from feeling as though he/she is still breathing through the nose. If you breath long enough in the proscribed manner, you will feel the muscles of your body, including those of your head neck and face stand up, that is—extend.  If you've been reading my recent posts about the ear and the voice, you will have some idea of what this means. There are many things that happen when we breath, and if we know what we are doing, one of those things is to help the ear do its job, which is to awaken when we sing.

My take from all of this? The Old School was a lot smarter than some of us believe it to have been with its supposed reliance on imagery. On the contrary, they seemed to have made a science of essential practice. 

March 10, 2014

wanting and resisting change

For every sound that comes out of our mouths, there is an underlying psychology of thought that goes with it, the majority of which is unconscious. This is one thing I've learned having taken Tomatis' listening training and working with singers. 

Change really does come through extension in all senses of the word. You have to reach out, reach up, reach, reach, reach to go where you want to go. This takes a lot of energy, which is what you receive if you undergo a course of listening training—the audition of high frequencies providing the catalyst. 

In my own case, this resulted in intense—and I mean intense—dreaming, the kind of which you write in down in a journal and are thankful you did.  

I related one of mine earlier on these pages, but it is worth repeating to make the point: we often find ourselves wanting and resisting change at the same time. 

After hearing filtered music for awhile, I dreamt that I was standing at the edge of a cliff at night, high above a crashing sea, while the wind howled. I held a knife in my right hand which glowed in the moonlight, and was ready to throw it into the depths below me, when a voice behind me warned me that I should not do that. However, mildly lucid that I was, I knew that what I proposed to do—what I was doing in the waking world—wasn't be a bad thing at all. Then I awoke. Light up the darkness? I was excited about that. And I was not disappointed: my voice changed after that, as did the furniture in my head which moved.

Pedagogically speaking, active awareness of high frequencies changes the voice of the singer. But not everyone takes to this awareness like a duck to water, especially those who are mixed-dominant. Why? They have a propensity for engaging the world (and themselves) with the left ear, which, according to Tomatis, cannot actively process high frequencies the way the right ear can. After experiencing my own course of listening training, and observing students in the studio, I must agree with him. To fully open the right ear in such a student takes time—sometimes a lot of it (and here's an interesting sidebar: the trained observer will notice that the singing teacher profession is positively stuffed with mixed-dominant teachers, which is not a bad thing as long as the teacher knows how to open his/her own ear as well as those of his/her students). 

There are a couple of things to keep in mind in doing this work. You can't simply tell a student to use their right ear, even if I have witnessed cases where making the student aware of their right ear was a revelation. However, the student who can feel what this means already has a fully opened ear—so this approach will hardly work with your mix-dominant student who's right ear is not leading very well. There is also something else. This kind of approach works with a student who doesn't know too much, that is, doesn't logic out what you are saying. Kids? If you tell them to imagine they have tall rabbit ears, and the right one is pulling the left one higher when they sing, they'll simply nod and do it. 

The ears really can extend, as can the spine, even if most singers and voice teachers are not aware of it. Most feel the result, that is, they report feeling lifted up, fully alive, like they can do anything. One student reported feeling like a high speed train which hovers above the tracks, which is nothing less than the oldest of Old School terms: singing on the breath. 

You can't make the ear open, you know that right? That is, it's not something you can think about mentally and have happen. Rather, it involves feeling—which is a vestibular function within the ear; a coordinated use of the breath; and a canny use of vowels. That's the Old School approach. That it took place over the span of a year, the time spent singing scales and exercises which were then applied to repertoire, is not something we want to hear today. But I swear, the Old School approach was genius. Why? The work was systematic and enabled the student's ear to open with little resistance. 

In some people, it takes an intervention, that is, a formal course of listening training with a qualified provider. But don't expect it to give you a vocal technique. For that you need an experienced driver who can show you how to take your shiny new car for a spin on the right side of the road. 

I can say this much after long practice and observation in the studio (a trained observer can see how the student is listening): singing is easy when the ear is open and the right ear leads. If not, the student will feel like they are climbing a mountain with weights. That pained expression? It's not art, but rather what it looks like when you are driving with the breaks on, which reveals a lack of coordination of the inner muscles of the ear. 

See? Those Old School teachers were smart as blazes. Tension around the eyes? It was sure sign that something was wrong. 

Where do you think the facial nerve goes? The inner ear.