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.