December 21, 2016

Seat of Sensation

But in the expirations of breath, what is its course? It comes from the great reservoir, through the trachea (the windpipe), then through the larynx to the glottis, the ligaments constituting the vocal chords; it is then guided by the epiglottis (which is in perpendicular position) to the pharynx at the back (when the musical tones are formed in accordance with its dimensions); it next comes to the uvula and soft palate. 

The sound now proceeds either through the mouth or behind the uvula, through the passages of the head. Now it is just at this point, the division between the two, that the tone of a well-placed voice should seem to be—this is the sensation point, forward as possible—reflected, if I may so speak, by the pharynx (which extends from the base of the skull to the little bone at the root of the tongue). 

This will assure us that the head should not on any account be thrown back. Now, for the voce de petto, the open tone, the uvula and velum palati should be raised, that the voice should come freely and with resonance through the mouth—not drawn back, else a throaty tone would ensue. This open tone through the mouth is capable of great delicacy and should be so cultivated. It should not be confined to loud and robust tones. Great care, however, is needed to find out its true natural limits, beyond which it should never be forced. These limits once well assured, cultivation should be kept within them, otherwise it would be at the sacrifice of the voice. How necessary then for a master to have real practical knowledge of how to treat a voice, if he have not scientific knowledge! 

But for the upper register, the voce di testa, or head voice—not falsetto—instead of the sound coming through the mouth it comes through the cavities of the head. When the sound leaves the back of the throat, that is, the bag of the pharynx, it passes over or behind the uvula, and thus through the passages of the head.

I need not trouble you with any scientific statements as to the power of the trachea to elongate itself, or to contract its dimensions, or to the fact that it falls considerably when the di petto voice ceases, and rises again for the bright tones—the voce di testa. I will simply observe that the seat of sensation of these two productions should be as nearly as possible the same. There should be a note equally attainable from both registers, and it should be in the power of the singer to go from one register to the other and back again while on that note. (In an ascending passage, for example, requiring a note usually taken when alone in the head register, the progression would be improved by that last note being in the same register as the preceding one. This would prevent a sort of anti-climax.) The blending of the two registers here is a point I would urge as an evidence of the right placing of the voice.

When they do not blend the production is usually not forward enough. When it is remembered that only the lower jaw moves in opening the mouth, I am at a loss to find out how it is that some persons throw the head back in the endeavour to reach a high note, when the several organs are in front. The result of this action rather impedes the sound from proceding through the channels of the head, besides straining the muscles generally, and almost leading to the conclusion that a person so acting thought the voice passage and the food passage, the larynx and the oesophagus, were one and the same.

The blending of these two registers by some artists is so well done that it is at times difficult to say which is being used, the open or the "bright," as Braham used to call the voce di testa.

The fact that this upper register voice comes through the head will suggest that the head should incline rather forward than otherwise, the back part of the tongue slightly rising to direct the sound behind the uvula and soft palate and through the cavities of the head; but for the tone generally, the tongue should lie flat in the bed of the mouth, so that the sound should not be impeded. 

Acting in this way with respect to the voce di petto and the voce di testa, the singer will be free from the two great defects of nasal and throaty tone, and, which is a great desideratum, free from fatigue after a good amount of singing.

If, as is the case, some of the greatest physiologists speak with becoming hesitation on this difficult subject, owing to the complexity of the structure and the many functions the several organs of the voice have to perform, your present reader, who speaks with extended experience and close observation, may content himself with giving opinion and judgment (with respect to the production and the placing of the voice) on the ground of sensation, supported by such scientific knowledge as he could master.

Permit me to repeat—that voice is best placed whose excellence is dependent upon its sensational proximity to the uvula and soft palate. Whether the sounds go through the mouth, or through the posterior nostrils by means of the ponticello (the little bridge), the sensation to the singer should be as nearly as possible the same.

Penna, Frederic. "Some Thoughts About Singing," Proceedings of the Musical Association, 16th session,  (1889-90): 41-62.


Penna was a student of George Smart, a British conductor and voice teacher who was steeped in the Old Italian School, taught British aristocracy (he was busy into his 8th decade), coached Jenny Lind in Handelian oratorio singing—his own father having observed the great master at work, and conducted Maria Malibran's last performance before her death. Students of singing will note Penna's insistence on placement at the top of the pharynx, which echoes the teaching of Francesco Lamperti. 

December 17, 2016

Crescendo & Diminuendo

The crescendo and diminuendo of a tone should not be attempted until the sotto voce comes easily. The diminishing of a tone is something that is acquired gradually. It should be cultivated thruout all the exercises in the degree that the tone should be allowed to finish easily and naturally. The student will very soon appreciate this artistic idea.

In diminishing a forte tone into the mezza voce by decreasing the intensity so that the farthest listener can just hear clearly the full, round sound, the tone, if still further dimingished, must begin to pass into the sotto voce. The intensity of tone and the fullness of tone are two different things. The life, or amplitude, of a sound wave depends on the intensity with which the sound is created. The fullness of a sound wave depends on the form. The intensity gives the sound wave power to reach the listener. The greater or less fullness of a wave form gives the wave a bigger or finer structure. A very fine spinning tone on the lips may have the same intensity that is given to a full, round sound.

These two, then, have the same intensity but differ in fullness. The fine, thin sound, however, altho it has the same intensity as a mezza voce tone, is not accepted by the ear as a mezza voce tone. For a mezza voce tone is a tone in its full, round form with an intensity just great enough to make it heard clearly by the farthest listener. In the mezza voce we have the least loud sound of the full, round tone—in the diminishing of the sotto voce we are constantly approaching closer and closer to the element of tone.

When the intensity is lessened more and more after the mezza voce tone passes into the sotto voce, it will have power only to travel a less and less distance, so that the listeners farthest away will soon no longer hear the sound. - Therefore, in order to have a diminishing tone heard by the farthest listener, the intensity of the tone must be kept sufficiently strong to create a wave amplitude that will carry the sound vibration of the full, rounded tone of the mezza voce to the most distant part of the resonant space. By bringing the lips closer together, however, the artist can make his tones less full, and, hence, diminish them without diminishing the intensity, or the wave amplitude. The degree of loudness, i. e., intensity, must always be in proportion to the resonant space. By bringing the lips gradually closer together, the tone can be diminished to the very last thread of its fineness. If the lips are kept open as they are for a full, round tone, the sound, after it has passed from the mezza voce into the sotto voce, with the lips still in the same open position, will no longer be audible to the listeners farther away, and finally will be lost even to those nearest the singer. The singer, when he keeps his lips open, diminishes only the intensity and not the fullness of the tone. To diminish the intensity of a forte tone into a mezza voce is well and good as long as the tone in the mezza voce can be heard by the farthest listener—but when the artist passes from the mezza voce into the sotto voce, the intensity may no longer be diminished; for if the intensity, or wave amplitude, is diminished, the tone will die out before it reaches the most distant listener. A spinning tone is a very fine tone and is made with the lips close together. In order to diminish a mezza voce tone gradually into the finest of spinning tones, the lips must be brought dexterously closer and closer—this lessens the fulness of the tone more and more until it finally reaches the last thread of its sound.

The crescendo and diminuendo should be practiced on the tones which can be created most easily on the lips. Not until the crescendo and diminuendo can be accomplished on these notes should the student try to do the same on the higher and lower ones, else he will be apt to misplace them. A crescendo or diminuendo, or both, should be used to a greater or less degree on the same tone and surely in successive tones in the same rhythmic beat. Especially in dramatic work should this crescendo and diminuendo be felt very strongly. This must be left to the development of the artistic comprehension of the student. Crescendo and diminuendo must not be confused with vibrato. Even tho tones are expressed very dramatically with close vibrato it does not say that there may be no crescendo and diminuendo. The vibrato belongs to the body and form of the wave. The vibrato is the constant increase and decrease of amplitude or intensity in one wave — the crescendo and diminuendo is an increase and decrease in amplitude or intensity of successive waves. The crescendo and diminuendo in its greatest form passes from the finest tone to the roundest, fullest sound and back again into the fine, thread-like tone.

In the stolid work, where the notes are held a long time and are given with great intensity, the beginner will find that he can vocalize every particle of breath and increase he duration of his tone by bringing the lips closer together as his breath gives out. Finally, of course, there is never any want of breath, for a little breath, if vocalized, makes a tone of very long duration. It is not in reality a question of breath capacity, but it is a question of vocalizing breath. There is really no control of breath, for if the syllables are produced on the lips, the breath cannot help but be vocalized. The composer must leave to the imagination of the artist the use of the crescendo and diminuendo in the interpretation of the vocal setting. In order to properly express the emotions the singer must increase and diminish his tones, for in this he will find one of the greatest aids to interpretation and dramatic effect.

Preetorious, Carl. The Tone Placed and Developed (1907): 77-81. Student of Mrs. P. J. Brown, herself a student of Vincenzo Cirillo.

December 4, 2016

The Art of Donald Gramm

If you don't know the art of Donald Gramm—you really are missing something. He was on my radar as a young man of 17, when I started taking lessons in the late 70's, but slipped away before I could hear him live, dropping dead of a heart attack in his dermatologist's office at the age of 56. There is some strange consolation, however, in that we both sang with the New York City Opera. Suffice it to say: I really wish I could have known him. 

Gramm was a great singer. He sang on his "timbre" with impeccable diction, never yelling, never trying to be someone or something he wasn't. Whether soft or loud, his voice remained gleaming and vibrant, carrying to the back of the hall with an equal measure of metal and plushness. Dare I say it? You heard his placement. 

He also was a technical singer, and planned on giving master classes that focused on technique as much as interpretation—a prescription that is boring for an audience but necessary for the artist. 

Here he is on TV in the early 1960's, singing the songs of Charles Ives, with narration provided by Aaron Copland.





And here is Gramm singing Ned Rorem's glorious "Early in the Morning" with the composer at the piano.





Find more of his singing at Youtube. 

December 1, 2016

Margaret Harshaw as Donna Anna

How often do you hear a soprano sing with such intensity, gleam of voice, security, and  consummate authority today? Such was the voice and training of Margaret Harshaw, who studied with Anna E. Schoen-René—the musical daughter of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel Garcia, and began her career as a mezzo-soprano at the Metropolitan Opera, before ascending to dramatic soprano roles. Say what you will: few have done what she did with the skill with which she did it! 


November 29, 2016

Devine on Lamperti's Method

Freedom about the neck, absence of visible effort, a gently induced attack, were insisted upon from start to finish with a vehement persistency. Proper production of tone, free from contraction of external muscles and free from forced attack, are demanded, even though the result be at first a weak and unmusical sound. As regards the registers of the voice, the old masters never admitted the existence of more than one in a properly trained voice.

Making a great singer is an art as great as being a great singer.

Lena Dora Devine, Musical Courier, September 30, 1896: 18. See Devine's label below for more information. 

November 19, 2016

Garcia's Higher Symmetry

EDMUND RUSSELL, after several years' absence in Europe, lecturing on and teaching the principles of art-criticism and expression as formulated by Delsarte, has returned to America for a short preliminary visit prior to the opening of a regular season in October. Mr. Russell is well known by his lectures on art, dress, decoration and kindred subjects, as well as through his paintings, and while a talk with him is always interesting and instructive, it promised to be excepionally bright after his travels and his meeting with world-famous people. Of course, Delsartism was spoken of first, being the subject that lies nearest his heart as well as one in which I am deeply interested, and I asked:

“What is the condition and progress of Delsartism in England compared with America?”

“When we went to London three years ago the name of Delsarte was almost unknown there. I found but three persons in England who had ever heard of him and his work, and, strangely, all of them had been personal friends of his. They were the elder Garcia, brother of Malibran, Sir Frederick Leighton, President of the Royal Academy, and Lord Lytton (Owen Meredith). They all spoke of him in the highest terms both as a man and as an artist. Prior to my visit to London, Felix Moscheles, the famous painter, son of the composer, had spent two years here, and had heard me lecture on Delsarte. When he returned to England, he excited much interest in the subject by his frequent question at all gatherings. Of artists, ‘Have you ever heard of Delsarte?’ and always met with the same negative reply. One day, at a garden party, putting his question to a little old man whose piercing eye flashed the fire of genius, he was answered, ‘Heard of him! yes; he was a friend of mine.’ It was the elder Garcia that spoke.

“It was my privilege,” continued Mr. Russell, “to talk much with Garcia about his famous friend. ‘He was the greatest singer I ever heard,’ said Garcia one day ; ‘with no voice at all, such was his expression that one would rather listen to him than to the finest voice in the world.’ His voice was what would be called ‘veiled,’ but his wonderful expression made his song seem alive. If Garcia had told me," added Mr. Russell, “that Delsarte was the greatest actor he had ever seen, I should not have been surprised, but when he so praised Delsarte's singing, the art of which Garcia is so superior a judge, then we must believe that it was more than wonderful. Indeed, every one that knew of Delsarte at all, in Italy and France, spoke of his singing. The Baron de Moyacque, an old Frenchman, told me that he had heard Delsarte when he was young, and again 20 years afterward, and he seemed physically unchanged. He seemed to have discovered the secret of perpetual youth. I must not forget to add that Garcia was present at the court of Louis Philippe when Delsarte was so royally received there, as described in your ‘Delsarte System Of Oratory,’ and confirmed the distinguished consideration and esteem with which the monarch received Delsarte. I asked if he was well known in Paris. ‘Certainly,’ said Garcia; ‘he was considered the greatest artist and teacher of his time. Nearly all the present teachers at the Conservatoire studied with him. Now, no one knows him in London, but if Patti sneezes, it is cabled round the globe. The great teacher is often forgotten in the achievements of his pupils, who prefer to stand before the world as God-made geniuses rather than acknowledge that any earthly hand helped fashion them to a higher symmetry,’ he added a little bitterly.”

“Why is it, Mr. Russell, that the Delsarte system is nowadays applied almost exclusively to dramatic art or to aesthetic calisthenics, if Delsarte himself was a master in all the arts?"

“Because the system has been taken up by and presented through actors or those who were more interested in its application to bodily culture, and at first thought the art of expression seemed most needed on the stage. The Delsarte system contains the fundamental principles of all art and it is universal in its application. It is not an invention, it is not something new; it is simply a concise, scientific forum."

What other famous people did you meet while you were abroad?

“I had the pleasure of becoming well acquainted with the elder Lamperti and his beautiful wife. We spent summer before last with them at Cernobbio. Our cousin, Ada Beckett-Coster, who, I think, is known to the readers of your magazine, is studying with Lamperti for the operatic stage; he gives her great encouragement. He is still teaching, and his time is nearly filled, although if you should ask about him in Milan you would doubtless be told that there was an old mummy somewhere by that name who gave a few lessons, but that he was nearly blind and deaf, had almost no vital power, gave his lessons in bed, and such nonsense. This is not true. I saw him give many lessons, and never saw lessons of such brilliancy and power. The severity of criticism, always kindly, however, the subtlety of analysis, the patience and energy, and above all the depth and knowledge, I have never seen equalled. It is difficult to understand him, as he cannot speak English and prefers to speak his Milanese dialect; but his wife acts as his interpreter and, to a large extent, as his accompanist. She is very much younger than he, but she adores him. When a pupil enters for a lesson Lamperti seems at first listless, but when the exercises begin the master becomes interested, and his fervor increases until he is wrapt in the lesson. His prices are from 25 to 50 francs a lesson for private instruction; and 15 francs a lesson for daily instruction to regular pupils, who have the privilege of hearing the criticisms of others. He prefers to teach two at a time, giving first one ten minutes and then the other the same time. This allows the voice to rest, yet the pupil still is instructed in listening to his companion. He does not coach, except where the person has been a pupil of his and is already thoroughly trained; then he will help him in a new role."

"Lamperti does not work for compass or execution," continued Mr. Russell, “like so many teachers. Quality, quality, quality, is his aim, and to enrich tone is his chief care. He insists upon exercising the voice very softly at first, for he says that if a good resonance cannot be produced on a soft tone it certainly cannot be made on a loud tone. He practices for months just on tones. He also begins in the middle or medium range of the voice, saying that if you work on a voice at the centre it will spread out at the ends, but if you work at the ends, it will always thin at the centre. A Russian countess, who was a pupil of his twenty years ago, and who has lately seen him, says that his power of teaching seems to improve rather than grow less, and that he is greater to-day than ever, although he is over 80 years old."

"Lamperti can never have a real successor,” added Mr. Russell, “but the one that comes nearest to it in my estimation is Mme. Delle-Valle, of London, whose vocal instruction is exceptionally fine. He bemoans the decline of Italian opera and singing. Verdi‘s last opera, ‘Otello,’ was a great disappointment to Lamperti. ‘Verdi is no longer Italian, he is no longer Verdi,’ he said sadly. He considers ‘Rigoletto’ to be Verdi’s finest opera, but prefers Bellini to all other composers for the expression of real heart-feeling. Of course he is opposed to German opera.”

Werner's Voice Magazine, May 1889: 90-92. 

October 15, 2016

Imposto di Voce

Here, I return again to some of the questions by my pupils. Some ask whether they must practice with the mouth shut or the mouth open; whether to give the lips a smiling position, as in singing eh, or a round position, as in singing oh,—whether I admit the existence of the three registers in the human voice; whether I teach the falsetto voice or the chest voice, and other questions of the same kind, all requiring a patient answer, with examples sufficient to convince them and make them stop talking. It is my conviction that all these ideas came from their former teachers, who had used them as cornerstones on which they intended to build the voices of their pupils. 

The only builder of the human voice that I believe in is the Supreme Maker of all things in this world. Those who usurp the functions of nature, and pretend the they can build voices, claim power not given to man. These self-styled voice-builders had better leave their hobby, and carefully study the school which has not been the result of any one man's experiments, but which represents the accumulated experience of our ancestors. This school has given much to art and to artists, as we can learn by reading the annals of all the great theatres of the Old World. 

This art of educating the human voice consists first in sustaining separately each note of the diatonic scale, keeping well within the vocal range of the pupil, starting the sound very gently, and gradually giving the crescendo and diminuendo, being careful not to force or prolong the tone beyond the natural strength of the lungs. This, in Italian, is called the "study of the messa di voce," the placing of the voice. Lablache asserted that the main cause of the wonderful power and flexibility of his voice was the constant and daily practice of the sustained scale, with the crescendo and diminuendo

Next to this comes the study of the intervals, then that of the major, minor, and chromatic scales, then arpeggios, turns, syncopated notes, and finally the trill. This is the brilliant solitaire which adorns the scarf of a young dandy, and puts the finishing touch to his toilet. 

After the above, it is necessary to study vocalizations, selecting written melodies by the masters of the art, such as Crescentini, Righini, Busti, Concone, Panofka, Lamperti, and others. Of these exercises, the pupil should select those best adapted to his or her voice. This practice should never be stopped, no matter how far advanced the pupil may be, the old saying of the Neapolitan school being that whoever vocalizes sing ("Chi vocalizza canta."). This practice will instruct the pupil in the knowledge of musical phrases or periods, enabling him to sing them with correctness of breathing, of accent, of expression. Next to this comes singing with words. My teacher, Busti, used to say that, when the words are well pronounced, with pure accent, the piece of music is half-learned. I find the recitative the most fitting means for the beginner to acquire a good pronunciation. After this, he may take up songs. 


In vocalizing, we must use a compound vowel-sound made up of all the vowel-sounds of the Italian idiom. This is the mystery of the voice in which many ministers of the art are confounded to such an extent that they sometimes ruin voices by compelling them to adopt an unnatural vowel for the production of tone. This vowel-tone can only be communicated to the pupil by the expert teacher through the medium of his living voice; and when the pupil has imitated the teacher to perfection in this, then he first begins to sing. 

This compound tone should be 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 toward the frontal bones and the various cavities of the skull, all of which assist in giving quality to the tone. The cavity of the chest, and in fact those of the entire trunk, are of great assistance in giving fulness and roundness to the tone. 

By following this system of developing the voice there disappears any necessity of discussion concerning head medium and chest registers, which many teachers cultivate and impose upon the voice; and in this way the voice will acquire a homogeneous tone and character, enabling the pupil to express the inner sentiments of the soul, which will thus be spontaneously displayed by the singer, and not produced by any artificial means, which are often more disagreeable than pleasant to the ear. 

Speaking of registers, I may say that all voices have naturally three different registers, or timbres, or qualities. These are more perceptible in the soprano, and gradually less prominent in the mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass. There are two additional registers sometimes to be met with: the first occurs in exceptionally high soprano voices, and is called sopracuto;  the other, in deep bass voices, and is called doppiobasso. It is the duty of the skillful teacher, from the very beginning, to unite and mingle these registers by the study and constant use of the compact* sound formed by the five vowels of the Italian language. 

When the pupil, by following the foregoing system, has rendered his voice flexible and fitting to give with ease either the pianissimo or the fortissimo, I can warrant him that his voice can make itself distinctly heard among a hundred uncultivated singers, like a cornet among a hundred stringed instruments. This was shown at the time of the Boston Jubilee, when the voices of the leading artists were heard above the volume of the immense chorus. This system will secure to the pupil a correct emission of the tone, which the Italians call imposto di voce, assisting him to sing in tune and preventing his voice from cracking or breaking. The placing of the voice must always be accompanied in singing both forte and piano by a full supply of breath, which should be easily and flexibly taken and economically used. 

—Cirillo, Vincenzo. A Lecture on the Art of Singing (1882): 11-17.  Student of Alessandro Busti.

*The previous text indicates that the word "compound" may have been the intended word in this sentence.

September 29, 2016

The Ear is the Spine 5

I am on the rowing machine at the gym, halfway through my 20 minute workout, when an elderly lady comes into the room with a balance trainer (a half-ball with a flat surface), and spends the next 10 minutes on it—standing on one leg, then the other. The extraordinary thing is that she looks decades younger while on it: spine elongated, face lifted with ribcage open—a really beautiful figure and stunning transformation. 

Then the most curious thing happens. She steps off the trainer and turns back into an old lady—the posture slumps, and the ribcage closes along with the face. Bam. Just like that. It's like someone waved a magic wand. First a young woman of 40 is before my eyes. Then an old lady of 80. 

My god, I think, as I get up from the rower. Why doesn't she keep the posture? Why does she let it go? What would it take to make it a part of her life? Does she have any idea what she has attained during the last 10 minutes? 

Of course, only she can answer these questions. Or maybe not. Maybe she is totally oblivious to the feeling of her body in space—much like the young voice student.

(Lift? What do you mean lift?

Mind you, the Old Italian School voice teachers insisted on an elongated/straight spine. Instead of saying—like Tomatis did—that the ear is the spine, and the spine is the ear, they understood that the spine was the voice, and the voice the spine. 

All this to say: The youth of the voice is expressed in the attitude of the spine, which originates in the ear.

September 27, 2016

The Art of Correctly Classifying the Various Voices

The art of correctly classifying the various voices demands deep knowledge and wide experience. Quality alone and compass alone will not solve the problem. It is possible to give only a few general rules, mainly those adopted by such masters as Manuel García and Lamperti. The basso-profundo and the deep contralto are the rarest types, and are recognized by the ease and increase of power and resonance in the lower notes and a corresponding difficulty in emitting the acute high notes. For the light bass, bass-baritone, and high baritone, questions of compass as well as quality have to be considered. The light bass exhibits a natural tendency to grave or heavy tone quality, and the frontale voice becomes blatant at upper C or C sharp, while the centrale voice is seldom reliable above upper E flat or E. One of the most popular light basses now before the public has earned an unenviable notoriety by the frequency of his "cracking" on the upper E flat. Though still partaking of the grave quality, the bass-baritone can use the frontale voice agreeably and with ease up to C sharp, and occasionally D, and the centrale voice will extend to upper F. Both the light baritone and high baritone can extend the frontale voice to E flat, the centrale voice of the former being serviceable up to F sharp, while the latter type is capable of using the centrale voice up as high as A flat, and occasionally B flat. 

An exceptional range of high notes in the baritone voice sometimes leads ill-informed masters to train it as a tenor, but, to alter slightly the words of the poet:—

"You may stretch, you may shatter the voice if you will, But the baritone timbre will hang round it still." 

In accounting for the scarcity of tenor voices the editor of a musical journal recently said that many men were singing bass and baritone who ought to sing tenor. The contrary, however, is the truth, especially amongst church tenors, most of whom are simply basses with the falsetto range of notes trained downwards. The saying that there are three sexes—men, women, and tenors—contains more truth than is dreamt of in the philosophy of most writers on the voice. 

The crucial test for the tenor is the ability to sing the top F in the frontale voice without strain to himself and pain to the hearer. The lighter tenor quality is at first not always in evidence and only a competent master can correct this defect. With tenors the centrale voice is amenable to great extension of compass; I have trained tenors up to E flat in alt. without any trace of falsetto—an abomination which is taboo in the Italian school of voice training. Another test of the tenor is the ability to enunciate clearly and easily on the upper notes. This was one of the methods of Lamperti, who also used a system of "master notes" for mezzo-sopranos and sopranos, the upper F and the upper G being the characteristic note for each type of voice. In addition to the foregoing tests the mezzo-soprano and dramatic soprano partake of the heavy quality of the contralto and mezzo-contralto in the range of notes below lower D. With these aids to guide him, in addition to wide experience, even a skillful teacher will sometimes be in doubt as to the type of voice at a first hearing. But the plan adopted by all successful trainers is to find the easy range of tones in the middle voice, and the type will reveal itself in the process of development.

—Cooke, Clifton. Practical Singing (1916): 19-22. Cooke was a student of Manuel García whose use of the terms frontale and centrale warrant further attention. 

September 26, 2016

Voice and Ear

The two primary necessities are, of course, voice and ear. Without voice a singer would be like a painter without paints. Without ear he would be in a parlous a state as a painter without eyes. 

The voice must be there, for, no matter what may be said to the contrary, no teacher can bring a voice into existence. He can show a pupil how to use the voice properly, and he can improve it by means of various exercises, he can instruct how it may be shown off to the best advantage, but he cannot create a voice. He is like a diamond-cutter, who given a rough diamond, can polish and cut it till it shines with all the brilliancy that lay hidden under its rough surface, but cannot take a piece of clay and polish and cut that till it shines with the dazzling lustre of the diamond. 

The ear is doubly necessary, first for regulating pitch and this enabling any one to sing in tune; secondly, for hearing and reproducing the various timbres of the voice. The habit of listening critically to one's own voice and to the voices of others is of the utmost importance. 

—MacKinlay, Sterling Malcom. The Singing Voice and Its Training (1910): 9-10.  MacKinlay was one of the last four-year students of Manuel García, his mother, Antoinette Sterling, having studied with the great master.

September 24, 2016

Do It Otherwise

The famous vocal teacher, Trivulzi of Milan, said: "To be a good vocal teacher depends on one's refined ear." 

It was he who brought forth into the musical world so many celebrities, including the tenor Rubini, the soprano Frezzolini, and others. Frezzolini was not far from seventy when I heard her sing divinely and with a fresh young voice, the aria from "La Somnambula," vocalizing with greatest ease the runs and trills in the cadenzas. At this age, was that not proof that she had the correct tone-production and that it is possible to preserve the voice through a life-time? 

Lamperti, as a youth, was the accompanist of the famous vocal teacher, Trivulzi, and in listening to the well-produced, perfect tones of Trivulzi's pupils, his ear being naturally refined, he became Trivulzi's successor, at the latter's death, and in his turn, made celebrities from common singers, thereby gaining renown as a vocal teacher. Lamperti did not say to pupils: "For this or that tone, use the crico, or thyroid, or arytenoid cartilage," but to correct a bad tone, he said simply, "Do it otherwise," and was not content until the pupil had found the right way of tone-production in a perfectly free elastic vowel, not stiffened in the throat. 

Could Trivulzi and Lamperti hear of these modern anatomical teachings, they would have a good laugh in their graves.

—Cappiani, Luisa. Practical Helps and Hints for Perfection in Singing (1908). Student of Francesco Lamperti, and founding member of The National Association of Teachers of Singing, later known as The New York Singing Teachers Association. 

September 20, 2016

Life is Expansion

The first expression of life is expansion. Almost every student in beginning the development of the voice is tempted to make too much effort. In nearly all cases this will be misplaced. He will especially tend to accentuate contraction, with little or no sympathetic expansion. Resolution and earnestness will normally cause expansion, for at first the contraction is simply an added expression of control. To begin with contraction violates nature's primary law. 

The first effort accordingly must be to stimulate activity in the extensor muscles. The student must realize that any awakening of his imagination and feeling, and genuine quickening of his interest, must first cause sympathetic expansion, especially of his torso. It must also kindle his face and increase his pulsation of life through his whole body. Imagination and emotion, when natural, first affect the muscles concerned in the sympathetic and harmonious actively or expansion of the body. 

The whole torso must be expanded. This gives room for free action of the lungs and diaphragm. It also establishes the primary condition for normal sympathetic vibration. Thought, imagination, and emotion attune the whole body as the sounding board of the voice, and this work is initiated by a harmonious expansion and a certain unity of all parts of the body. 

—Curry, Samuel S. Mind and Voice: Principles and Methods of Voice Training (1910): 28. Student of Francesco Lamperti. 

August 28, 2016

Dear Madam Secretary

I heard your speech this past week, the one where you very adroitly framed your opponent using his own words. But what concerns me here is how you used your voice. All went really well until the last few minutes when you tried to make a big impression, and unfortunately ended with something of a yell. Not a good finish!

Listen. I want see you win, vocally speaking. That's why I am writing this. So, I am taking the liberty of giving you a few pointers.

I've read you practice yoga in the morning. Great stuff! I do too. This tells me that you probably know something about breathing. What you probably don't know is how singers and speakers were taught to use the breath, that is, by wildly successful voice teachers like Manuel García and Francesco Lamperti.

What did they teach their students to do?

They taught their students to practice inhaling with the mouth shut for up to 18 seconds. Yes, you heard that right: 18 seconds. Seems like a long time, and it is if you are in a hurry. But stay with me here.

All you have to do is be gentle with yourself. Don't be in a hurry. Inhale gently for about 10 seconds, and then work your way up to 18.

Why is this done?

To obtain full vocal control for your voice, you need to keep the sensation you have while inhaling with your mouth shut when it is open. To put it another way: Once you learn how to breath with your mouth shut, keep the same feeling when it is open. The 18 second margin will teach you what you need to know.

What will you feel when inhaling with your mouth shut?

You will feel your ribs expand and open, your spine elongate, and the muscles of your body—including your abdomen, back, upper chest, neck, head and face—come alive. With practice, these sensations are felt regardless of the amount of air in your lungs. In fact, true vocal readiness means having these feelings before you inhale. This is not hard to acquire. You can do it every time you get in your transport and have a few minutes to yourself, or while you are practicing yoga in the morning.

Ok. What's next?

Once you have a handle on how to use the breath, you need to be aware of a few things:


  1. If you want to have a more powerful oratorical style, you need to let the feeling of the breath intensify when you use more volume or speak in the upper range. I'm not talking about pushing air. I am talking about anticipating the feeling of the breath that you've acquired from the instruction above. It's a whole body feeling. The body—all of it—swells when scaling the heights.
  2. The higher you go, you must hear your voice as coming through your face: Rooted in your chest, clear as a bell at the front of your mouth, and coming through your face. Without this, you are yelling from the throat. And this you do not want.


Guard the feelings you've acquired while breathing. They will bring you great control with practice.

August 24, 2016

Your Purpose for Practicing

Being able to understand and perform professional-level singing gives a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, even if a career in music is not being pursued. When listening to music or observing a virtuoso performance that fills one with awe and exhilaration, we are the effect of the music. Imagine what it would be like to be the cause of that awe and exhilaration—to reach the ability level of the musicians who have inspired us, and then cause the feeling in other and ourselves. 

Before you being studying singing, follow these steps: 


  1. Decide to be a singer, regardless of your current ability level. This is the foundation of your involvement with music. Stay true to your intention—it is the fuel that will keep you going.
  2. Ensure the intention to be a singer is yours and yours alone. It must come from within, not from others pushing you to be something that you do not want to be. 
  3. Keep your focus. Do not let the problems of life overshadow your musical goals. 
  4. Be wary of people who discourage your singing goals in the guise of being concerned for your well-being, perhaps suggesting you should do something that "isn't so risky" or "will earn you a better living." Your goals belong to you. 

Adapted from "Piano Practice and Performance" by Barry & Linda Wehrli.



When I was just beginning my life as a singer, I had a teacher who thought I would make a better conductor. She wasn't exactly wrong seeing that I had conducted, and was even quite good at it. But I hungered for something else, so didn't listen to her. Instead, I followed an inner voice which led me to a teacher who changed my life, and resulted in a multi-decade career at New York City Opera. 

No one can listen to your inner voice but you. 

August 21, 2016

Let's get five notes right


Is it really necessary to point out that vocal exercises are useless unless you know how to sing them?

Apparently so. 

This past week, a young voice teacher wrapped in post-graduate degrees got in touch with me, having heard the Janet Spencer vocal exercises that appear in Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García. (They can be found at Soundcloud and Youtube.) The conversation went something like this: 

Could you send me a copy of the recordings? 

Sorry, I am not able to do so. But thank you for your interest in the book. 

Yes. I know about the book. It's on my list. But I have so many other things to read first. 

Let me get this straight: You want me to drop everything and send you an audio copy of the exercises, but know nothing of their context, and aren't in a hurry to find out? Don't you know that vocal exercises are useless if you don't know how to sing them, which is what the book provides? 

But you misunderstand me. 

(face-palm)

Offline, I thought to myself: No, I don't think I misunderstand you all all. Like Maya Angelou noted: When someone tells you who they are—believe them

I believe you haven't a clue, but hope you can find your way onto the learning curve that is staring you in the face.

He reminded me of another fellow who called me up having read my post on Lilli Lehmann's exercises, begging me to teach them to his daughter. They would make her famous! 

If only it were that simple, I replied. 

Subsequent discussion revealed that he was hell-bent on the matter and would hear of nothing else.

No. That didn't go well either. 

Exercise collectors exist. They may be fine, good people. But don't expect them to know how to make use of what they hoard. 

Exercises aren't magic. And more is not better. 

As Margaret Harshaw would often say: "Let's get five notes right!"

August 6, 2016

Manuel García I at Pere Lachaise


He wasn't hard to find since I had been to Pere Lachaise two years ago. That time, however, I didn't have a camera with me.

Paying homage to the great singer and teacher who died in 1832, I found Manuel García's resting place fronted by a motorcycle which belonged to a gentleman working on a tomb across the path. "Would you like me to move it?" He asked in perfect English. "No." I said. "That won't be necessary." He went back to painting, and I went about picture-taking, a metaphor forming in my mind of the old and new sciences of voice co-existing rather than cancelling each other out.

But here's something to consider: Manuel García has been tomb-raided. At least, that's what the upside down lid—which is slightly ajar—suggests. I came to this conclusion having noticed that the lettering on the rear end of the tomb is upside down, the words in question being Consession a Perpetuite—burial plot held in perpetuity.

And this thought came to mind: It's one thing to raid the teachings of a great lineage (Manuel García the Younger set about recording his father's teaching) for one's devices, but another thing entirely to encounter them on their own terms.

Having been traveling in Europe for a month, I am now back in Manhattan teaching García's principles.

June 23, 2016

Feeling is Listening

This is a statement of fact. It's how the body is constructed, the feeling of listening being a matter of vestibular function, which explains how a deaf singer like Mandy Harvey can sing. Yeah. Really. She can sing, and does so quite well, thank you very much. 

Muscle memory? It is more than that. It's the ear and brain that does the singing. While Harvey's cochlea is fried, her vestibular function—the feeling of the voice—is intact and the principle means through which her voice is guided—vestibular function itself involving a great deal more than balancing the body in space. 

How did Harvey get her voice working again after completely losing her hearing at the age of eighteen? She used a smartphone app to see what pitch she was singing, then felt her way forward. Simple really. So simple as to be disregarded by smartypants people everywhere. You know, of course, that the cranial nerves that regulate sight and hearing run along the same pathway, right? Those who know what they are doing can even look in a mirror and see what the ear is doing in relation to the voice. But what do most people do when they look in a mirror while they are singing? Become self-conscious rather than self-aware. 

Great singing feels incredible. It's a rush, a wave, a cascade of endorphins that fills every nook and cranny of your cranium & body. This is why G. B Lamperti said that you could sing when you felt it in your fingers and toes. That's listening people. Inhale quietly for 18 seconds and you may begin to understand what this means.

Sounds still exist. You can feel music everywhere. — Mandy Harvey

June 22, 2016

The Power of Beauty


"Ninety-five percent of the power of the voice is in its beauty." —Manuel García the Elder 

June 15, 2016

Manuel García's Loss of Voice

History is such a curious thing, at once malleable and subject to interpretation. Let us take García's loss of voice for instance. He himself wrote that being made to sing during puberty damaged it. Yet I know of at least one reputable account of his going to Italy for his debut and trying to sound like Luigi Lablache in order to obtain bad reviews which he would send to his father—the same father who beat him senseless onboard a ship bound to New York from Europe. Young men do strange things to become themselves, do they not? (García also tried to sign up to fight in Algeria, but was dissuaded by his mother and sisters.) But this story—if true—certainly doesn't fit the narrative of a vocal maestro who rocks the world.

I've also read quite a few newspaper accounts of a middle-aged García singing solos & duets in public with students in London. Would that be the practice of a singer who had lost his voice? This begs the question: Did García really lose his voice at all? Or did he construct a narrative which suited his purposes? Smart people use what they have, and I believe it is highly possible that García—whose aspirations were at variance with those of his father—was a genius at self-promotion. He used what he had been given: He wrote a ground-breaking book, discovered the inner workings of the larynx, and in so doing became world famous.

Not bad for a kid who did not want to be a singer.

June 14, 2016

Marchesi's Requirements for a Voice Teacher

My colleague Justin Petersen wrote a blog post on "What It Takes to Be A Voice Teacher," which reminded me of Salvatore Marchesi's words on the matter, Marchesi being a student of Francesco Lamperti and Manuel García, and husband to Mathilde Marchesi, who was a highly successful teacher in her own right. 

The human voice, being a physical instrument, is not only liable to millions of exceptional modifications resulting from the different peculiarities of every single organism, but to the climactic influence, to bad habits, and to physical disorders, which can alter its natural characteristics. Therefore, whatever may be the degree of the teacher's theoretical knowledge, he will never compass an important and continuously satisfactory result, if he lack the three indispensable qualities that act as guides for the human intellect; namely, instinctive intuition, penetrating reflection, and long experience.  The teacher may utilize all the precious discoveries made by modern science, but on the condition that he understands them, and provided he knows where, when, and how they are to be employed. 
Salvatore Marchesi, A Vademcum for Singing-Teachers and Pupils (1902): 7.  

June 1, 2016

The Mother's Voice: Science Catches up to Tomatis

No, I'm not mad. I really did experience what I wrote about in my "seventh heaven" post in 2012, where I recounted a mystical experience listening to a woman's voice—the voice in question mirroring what is heard in the womb. Now it seems there is scientific evidence that proves what Tomatis posited, which is that the mother's voice in the womb has a profound influence on the child and its later development. 

In a study titled "Neural circuits underlying mother's voice perception predict social communication abilities in children," a functional MRI was used to determine what effect the mother's voice had on subjects, the result being that it was found that brain circuits are "selectively engaged in children by their mother's voice and show that this brain activity predicts social communication abilities." 

It must be remembered that there was a time when science scoffed at Tomatis' assertion that the child could hear its mother's voice in the womb, which was subsequently proven to be true. This new research goes further in revealing that the mother's voice has a deep and lasting influence which affects communication.

What does this study have to do with singing? Singing is all about communication, with great singing being all about highly nuanced communication. If there are problems with the development of the child, then problems may result. How might this arise? One such example is the premature baby whose skull is deprived of contact with its mother's pelvis during last few weeks of pregnancy. Tomatis believed this contact, which takes place when the fetus turns over in preparation for birth, has everything to do with the final encoding of the child's brain for later communication; both as self-listening/realization and the child's relationship to the outer world.

See The Ear and the Voice for more information.

May 31, 2016

So You Teach Bel Canto, Huh?

I recently read a post by a fellow blogger (goes with the territory, don't you know), who quoted the esteemed vocal pedagogue Richard Miller, who, half-in-jest, asserted that the master class teacher should avoid claiming to be a bel canto teacher. 

Ok, while I don't make that kind of statement in a masterclass, the late Mr. Miller might take issue with my studio website since I note that my teaching "integrates the principles of the old Italian school," and that I offer "comprehensive vocal training utilizing the principles of bel canto."

And I mean it too: I really do teach vocal techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation. But we're not talking proprietary information. Rather, we're talking about techniques that have been discovered over the course of many years by teachers with open ears and eyes—techniques that can be rediscovered by anyone with equally open ears and eyes.

While there is no magic method called bel canto, there is a body of knowledge that has leapt flamelike from student to teacher (surprising perhaps, but great students do teach the teacher who then teach students), and can be heard in many recordings as well as found in many writer's works—the most interesting to this writer being Hermann Klein (he dropped the second "n" after the first world war), who came to America in the first decade of the 20th century to teach Manuel García's principles of singing.

It is gratifying to me to know that the great American people appreciate the sound theories of the old school and they will assuredly find in you one among its few capable exponents. —Manuel García to Hermann Klein,  July 1901

Klein wrote about García's teachings, and even utilized the gramophone to illustrate his meaning. Klein's effort—which seems to have fallen on deaf ears—can be found in the side-bar on the right. 

Find it there and you'll also find the meaning of bel canto. 

May 26, 2016

The Metal of the Voice

On this question of colour in the voice, the mastery writer and critic Legrouvé says: "Certain particular gifts are necessary if the speech is to possess colour. The first of these is the Metal of the Voice. He who has it not will never shine as a colourist. The metal may be gold, silver or brass; each has its individual characteristic. A golden voice is the most brilliant; a silvery voice has the most charm; a brassy voice the most power. But one of the three characteristics is essential. A voice without a metallic ring is like teeth without enamel; they may be sound and healthy, but they are not brilliant. . . In speech there are several colours—a bright, ringing quality; one soft and veiled. The bright, strident hues of purple and gold in a picture may produce a masterpiece of gorgeous colouring; so, in a different manner, may the harmonious juxtaposition of greys, lilacs, and browns on a canvas of Veronese, Rubens, or Delacroix. 

"Last of all the velvety voice. This is worthless if not allied with one of the three others. In order that a velvety voice may possess value it must be reinforced (doubleé) with "metal." A velvety voice is merely one of cotton. 

"It may be of interest to notice that the quality which in France is designated "timbre," is called by the Italians "metallo di voce," or "metal of the voice." Those who heard Madame Sarah Bernhardt fifteen or twenty years ago will readily understand why her countless friends and admirers always spoke of her matchless organ as "la voix d'or." 

Some singers control but two colours or timbres—the very clear (open) and very sombre (closed), which they exaggerate. In reality, however, the gradations between them can be made infinite by the artist who is in possession of the secret—especially if has the ability to combine Colour with Intensity. 

May 25, 2016

Seeing Your Sound

Dr. Tomatis did not look at the functioning of the ear in the same manner as his contemporaries. Typically the ear is considered to have three parts: the outer, middle and inner ear. Dr. Tomatis, instead, expressed the need to look at the ear as an external and internal ear. The separation is between the second and third bone of the ear in the middle ear cavity. He theorized that the function of the three bones is one of protection because they dampen (or muffle) the excessive vibrational energy coming from the ear canal. He also stated that the stapedius muscle is the most active muscle in the body. It is always working. 

Additionally, Dr. Tomatis theorized that hearing occurs because sound is transmitted through the bones of the skull and not through the three bones of the middle ears. Specifically, he felt that the temporal bone receives sound from the eardrum. The bone then vibrates, sending sound to the basilar membrane in the cochlea where the Organ of Corti is. From there sound is transmitted to the brain. 

He felt that the purpose of the three bones in the middle ear was for the pneumatic regulation of sound. They control the variations of air pressure between the outer and inner ear. The system is regulated but not through frequency. The stapedius muscle must keep vigilant to regulate the pressure in the inner ear. The tensor tympani must keep vigilant and remain tonic to outer messages. In order for the middle ear to work well, it must be able to withstand the higher intensities for longer periods of time. The stapedius muscle must remain vigilant and be maximally effective to do this. Because sound is transmitted through bone conduction, internal localization of sound can occur. This localization then makes the entire cochlea vibrate sending the necessary sound to the brain. Dr. Tomatis felt that the brain receives more stimuli from the ears than from any other organ. High frequency sound can bring about maximal cortical recharging. 

Dr. Tomatis also stressed the connection with the face. The facial nerve innervates the muscles of the face, including the lips. These muscles are important for intelligibility of speech, and the clarity of one's voice. The same nerve also innervates the stapedius muscle in the middle ear, and also the muscle that opens the mouth, the digastric muscle. The trigeminal nerve connects to the tensor tympani muscle in the middle ear as well as the master and temporal muscles that allow us to chew and close our mouths. Is it any wonder that Dr. Tomatis surmised an ear-face connection? 

Excerpt from Chapter 5, "Sounds Bodies through Sound Therapy," by Corinne S. Davis, director of the Davis Center.


A really good voice teacher can take one look and see what is going to come out of your mouth when you take a breath—even before you take a breath. Why? The face is inextricably connected with the ear, and the ear with the voice.

May 22, 2016

Antonio Sangiovanni

The name of Sangiovanni is esteemed not only in Italy, but in all countries where the divine art of song is appreciated. From England, Russia, France, Germany, Australia and America, people go to him to receive the instruction that he knows so well how to impart with judgment and skill.

Antonio Sangiovanni was born at Bergamo in 1832, but appears much older. His constant study in early life, his assiduous application to teaching later, his sedentary habits, together with his sensitive organism, made early inroads upon a delicate constitution. He received his rudimental instruction from his father, who was a distinguished singer in the church at Bergamo. Sangiovanni then went to the Conservatory at Milan, where he soon gave proof of great talent. Besides being a master musician, he was gifted with a beautiful tenor voice, which was brought to perfection in the art of song under the tuition of the celebrated Rubini, his uncle. It was Rubini himself who procured for the young man an engagement at the Italian Opera in Paris, where he made a successful debut, singing with such artists as Alboni, Ronconi, Lablache.

Sangiovanni’s career as a singer was a short one, on account of delicate health. But while he appeared it was a series of uninterrupted triumphs. From Paris he went to London, Belgium, Spain, and America, and everywhere met with most flattering demonstrations. He travelled for five years with Alboni as leading tenor and director, or more in the capacity of a maestro, or critic, for it was with him that this famous contralto studied scores. In 1860 he was appointed teacher at the Royal Conservatory, Milan. He gave such proof of skill in instructing as to attract the attention of the most celebrated foreign singers, who came from all parts of the world to study their operas with him, and gain that exquisite finish in expression and phrasing which perhaps no other master ever excelled. Sangiovanni has finished and brought upon the lyric stage more artists, perhaps, than any other master in any age. He is a finisher of the voice. Lamperti, who was also a teacher in the Conservatory, and who at one time was considered a rival, was a voice-builder, but Sangiovanni is a finisher. Although their methods were entirely different, they did not conflict. Each gave such a wealth of information that it was hard to give up either. I found it so, and did not give up either until I was obliged. Lamperti and his wife invited me to accompany them to their country villa on the bank of the beautiful lake Como. Then I parted with the "dear old master," Sangiovanni—the favorite expression of all his pupils, in their deep regard for him. He is as tender and kind as a father, and as gentle and sensitive as a mother. His wife, who is much younger and as fresh and blooming as a rose, is also a musician. She was his pupil when a girl. He has a daughter a musician, and a son, who spent a year in America for the purpose of learning the English language. One musically precocious son contracted consumption from an attack of pneumonia and passed away at the early age of 11 years. The death of this child nearly broke the heart of the devoted Sangiovanni.

M. Augusta Brown, “Antonio Sangiovanni,” Werner’s Magazine, June 1984, Page 225.

Note: Antonio Sangiovanni was the teacher of the great American dramatic soprano Lillian Nordica, and one of a handful of eminent old Italian school singing masters, including Manuel García, Francesco Lamperti, Gaetano Nava, Domenico Scafati, and Luigi Vannuccini. 

May 18, 2016

Avoid Quick Training

ALBERTO RANDEGGER, who died in London a few days ago, is the type of musician who will be sincerely mourned. As a teacher of singing, Randeger was as successful as Francesco Lamperti and Manuel García, and his method of instruction, like that of the Italian and Spanish maestri, was based upon principles of voice development that should be studied daily by all vocal teachers. Above all, the modern teachers ought to remember that Randegger, Lamperti and García never practiced any of the quick training methods prevailing to a large extent in this country and Europe today. With few exceptions, the greatest singers of our times did not impress any one at the beginning of their student days by their phenomenal voices, but they reached the goal by a system of patient hard work year after year. 

Musical Courier, "Avoid Quick Training," The Etude, April 1, 1912: 282


Note: Find my previous post on Alberto Randegger here, and his book, "Singing" on VoiceTalk's download page. Regarding the method of Randegger, García and Lamperti: It was quite common for students to sing scales and exercises for the better part of a year before essaying repertoire. 

May 17, 2016

The Great Paradox

Modern technology has proven to be incredibly useful in connecting people over vast distances, as well as providing them with information. Take the download page here at VoiceTalk. There was a time when only a fraction of the texts could be found on the web. To read them, you would have had to go to a major music library, put in a 'call slip,' and then wait for 20-30 minutes before one was put into your hand. Then you had to put it into your head. It all took time. Now this information can be beamed into your brain via Google Glass.  

How does reading a real book compare with reading the same text on the computer screen? I would say there is a subtle, but very real difference, if only because the eye and mind behind the eye prefers the real thing, and interacts with it differently. That's the great paradox as I understand it: We may have access to a great deal of information via the our iPhones, computer screens and iPads, but this very means has distinct limitations in regard to communication and creative expression. Consider the following. 

  • Phonecall's are a heck of a lot better than texting.
  • A voice lesson on Skype does not have the same impact as one in the studio.
  • The writer finds greater connection to himself and his material when he writes long-hand.
  • The TV or the movie screen can't deliver the visceral experience of live theatre. 

What is the difference, qualitatively-speaking? Greater involvement of the ear—in particular, long-hand involving the silent audition of sound at a speed which promotes creativity rather than mere word processing.

Speaking of limitations: Legion are the voice teachers who intone that you can't learn to sing from a book. They are right, of course, since autodidacts are few and far between, and the majority of students must be led by the hand—not because anyone is stupid, but because learning to sing is a procedural rather than a declarative process (click on the label below for more info). The student who can design and deliver this process to him/herself is the rare bird indeed. 

Seeing is not believing, not for this boy anyway. The eye can—and does—trick, which the voice professional understands all too well after a fair amount of experience, the observation being that singing with a score under your nose is not the same as having that same score in your head—or as they say—by heart. It's just not—which is why many voice teachers insist that the music you sing in your lessons be memorized—that is, be taken in through the eye and put into the brain using your ear. 

If the page, computer, and movie screen provide access, it is the mechanism of the ear which creates greater connection—not only to another person, but to one's Self.

See Brainpicking's recent post for an eloquent reflection on the matter. 

May 15, 2016

Madam Pauline Viardot

It was in London, at (the late) Her Majesty's Theatre, that in the summer of 1839, and at the age of eighteen, she made her début on the lyric stage, in the character of Desdemona in Rossini's Otello. The timid, shrinking novice was literally pushed on to the stage by the Otello of the evening, the warm-hearted, fatherly Lablache, always as good as he was great, who accompanied the act by another, that or making the sign of the cross on her forehead. 

"Il m'a porté bonheur" (It brought me luck), says our heroine, of whom Chorley graphically relates the complete success of her arduous undertaking. "This new García," records this experienced connoisseur and critic, "with a figure hardly formed—with a voice in no respect excellent or equal, though of extensive compass—with an amount of sensitiveness which robbed her of half her power, came out in the grand singers' days of Italian opera on London, and in a part most arduous on every ground of memory, comparison, and intrinsic difficulty—Desdemona, in Otello.  She looked older than her years; her frame (then a mere reed) quivered this way and that; her character-dress seems to puzzle her, and the motion of her hands as much. Her voice was hardly settled, and yet—paradoxically as it may seem—she was at ease on the stage, because she brought thither instinct for acting, experience of music, knowledge how to sing, and—consulate intelligence. There could be no doubt what any one who say that Desdemona on that night, that another great career was begun."

Her opening scene was one introduced and written for her in lieu of the original, by Signor, now Sir Michael, Costa, and at once placed her extraordinary musical skill and powers of execution beyond dispute. The reputation won in Desdemona she sustained in her second rôle La Cenerentola of Rossini. The impression she produced was even greater in the concert-room, though here she had to contend with the great popularity of Madama Persiani, then at her height. They sang duets together from Tancredo and Semiramide, the introduced cadences to which were marvels of art and execution, and which would have excited still greater surprise had it been generally known the they were composed and combined by the younger singer, a mere girl in years.

In the winter seasons of the same year Madlle. Pauline García performed at the Théatre aux Italians, Paris, with equal success, the parts of Desdemona and Cenerentola, in which she had been so favorably received in London, appearing also as Rosina in Il Barber  and Tancredo,  a part in which her late sister, the gifted Malibran, had won such renown.

The applause and favour that welcomed her efforts was more remarkable and gratifying from the circumstance that the Grand Opéra of Paris possessed at that particular period a galaxy of talent such as it would be difficult to collect throughout the world at the present day, numbering among its members Mario, who had just made his début, Grisi, Persiani, Lablache, and Tamburini, and also because of the memory of Malibran was so fresh in the memory of the Parisians as well as the London public.


"Madame Pauline Viardot," writes Chorley, "is one of the greatest first-class singers of any time—a woman of genius particular, inasmuch as it is universal." And it is in this respect that she deserves to be cited as a unique example in the history of singers—namely, her capacity of adapting herself to all styles, the result partly of natural gifts, and partly of incessant labour and study.

Of Italian and Spanish parentage, and born in Paris, she yet spoke and sang, when in Germany the language of Schiller and Goethe with a purity of accent which astonished the Berlinese themselves, and this universality of genius it was that enabled her to interpret with equal force and expression the compositions of Palestrina, Mozart, Gluck, or Rossini; to breath the tender melancholy strains of Desdemona, or the bible and pathetic accents of Orpheus; to impart equal effect to a cavatina of the Barbiere or Tancredi, or to those Russian or Spanish airs which she sings with such characteristic vivacity and expression.

Madame Viardot reappeared in the February of this year at St. James Hall, at the second of Mr, Henry Leslie's concerts, on which occasion she sang selections from the historical and classic compositions of Carissimi, Scarlatti, and Gluck in her own chaste and incomparable style, causing a deep feeling of regret that so perfect and skilled a musician and singer should now so seldom be heard. Great in all she undertakes, it is in interpreting the works of the classicists that Madame Viardot specially excels. 

In private life she affords a striking illustration of the fact that, in spite of all that cynics say, a woman may be at one at the same time the greatest of artistes and the most exemplary of wives and mothers—that she may, in fact, unite all the graces and amiable qualities of her own sex with the high aspirations and independence of character possessed by the other. 

From "Madame Pauline Viardot," The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, London, Sunday, October 1, 1871: 208.


Note: VoiceTalks' patron saint and muse was of Spanish parentage and died in Paris in 1910. See here for my visit to her resting place. 

May 14, 2016

Auditory Perception & Singing

Tool around the web looking for information regarding auditory perception and bone conduction and you find some interesting things. Take the paper on "Human Auditory Perception of Pulsed Radiofrequency Energy." It seems that auditory perception of radio waves is "a well established phenomena." Seriously. Where are these sounds usually heard? Behind the head. Of course, the person hearing these sounds has to have very good hearing in the high-frequency kHz range. Of course, you are asking yourself: What does this have to do with historical vocal pedagogy? Quite a bit actually, the heart and soul of Francesco Lamperti's teaching involving the singer's auditory perception of  the middle of the head. Ok, so we're not talking about radio frequencies being beamed into the head from an antenna or space aliens as far as singing is concerned. But the faculty by which radio waves are perceived is the same by which voice placement in the head is ascertained.

Tomatis—who has appeared quite often on these pages—thought much of bone conduction, believing it to be the guiding force in singing since, perceptually-speaking, it is faster than air conduction, and even built his theory of human development upon the concept. Voice science, however, as far as I can tell, hasn't quite caught up to either Lamperti or Tomatis, the phenomena under discussion being understood as a matter of forced resonance, which focuses on the physical vibration of the larynx rather than its auditory perception. Unfortunately, this perspective can—metaphorically-speaking—result in looking at the sky from the bottom of a well.

See here for more information on Lamperti's teaching. And as always, I appreciate your observations and comments.

May 12, 2016

Happy Birthday Margaret Harshaw

Margaret Harshaw

Considred the doyenne of voice teachers during her lifetime, the indomitable Margaret Harshaw was born on this date in 1909, taught many singers who went on to have significant careers, and changed a great many lives—including the life of this blogger. A force to be reckoned with, her teaching—which she understood to be that of the great Garcías through her teacher Anna E. Schoen-René—is still causing waves throughout the space-time continuum of vocal pedagogy. 

Happy Birthday Miss Harshaw! 


Note: Photo Credit—detail of a recently acquired headshot c. 1957.