December 23, 2017

Open Throat

What is it exactly? The feeling one has in the pharynx? The exterior of the neck itself? The elevation of the soft palate, or the space above the tongue in the front of the mouth? Hello? What exactly is it?

The problem with these questions is that they all refer to anatomy and physiology, and that's not what the old Italian school meant by an open throat. So, what did the old Italian school mean?

They meant that which is not hard to describe on the page, though it can't be heard on the page. And that's my point here: An open throat is heard both by the singer as well as the listener. Sure, it may involve movements within the pharynx, neck, and soft palate, but if you reduce it to the movement of muscles you have missed the whole point entirely. 

This goes back to an earlier post, which offered the perspective that singing is not a mechanical proposition. 

Does the runner strive to move various muscles of his or her leg to run? I think not. But the mechanical view holds sway with many voice professionals now—and I say professionals if only because conductors, coaches, and acting teachers, etc., are all in the act. Everyone is teaching voice, and, I wager, a great majority of them from the modern view—which concerns itself with the movement of muscles. 

But what does this have to do the the training of the student's ear? Very little actually. 

There was a time—not that long ago—when students were taught to hear different qualities of tone—and one might even say the right quality of tone—and learned to find their way by inculcating the old concept referred to in this post; one that is evidenced in fullness and freedom; no hint of the throat or nose; and a vibrant buoyancy that hangs—spins if you will—in the air of a theatre and reaches its farthest corners with great ease and immediacy.  

Openness is open: not closed, muffled or squeezed; tight or emitted through the teeth. Yet it can be a hard quality to attain if only because American vowels have none of it. Italian does. But oh, we are singing in English! Why do we need to parrot those sounds?

Because Italian vowels contain the sounds of singing! Master these sounds—make the vowels pure—and the muscles will follow. 

Does this mean the American has to sing in Italian? No, is does not. But it does mean that the student has to study with a teacher who can demonstrate their meaning and practical application. 

The fact remains that muscles can only obey the ear; and the ear of most singers needs a great deal of training. Train the ear and you have a real thing. Train muscles without the ear, and you have achieved nothing more than a great waste of time. 

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