January 27, 2018

Ass Backwards

Yes, you heard me right. The world of singing—the modern world that is—has everything ass backwards. 

Do I have your attention now? 

The modern voice teacher, the one who knows everything about muscles, larynx, pharynx, posture and protein for the athlete, has a tendency to manipulate the muscles of the body. You know what I'm talking about. You see it in nearly everyone who graces the masterclass stage.

Do this with your body. Do that with your tongue. Don't move your jaw this way: move it that way.  Push, pull and prod. On and on and on. It's endless, ubiquitous, and disheartening.

Manipulation rules in the ass backwards world. Tricks do too. You do a thing you hardly understand—which is akin to rubbing a genie bottle—and hope-to-god something comes out the right way.

Whatever happened to hearing the vowel you are going to make before you speak or sing it? Huh? And how about an Italianate vowel? A vowel that comes from the land of singing—where opera was created? 

Oh no. 

Our American vowels are fine! 

If you think this you don't know your history. Nor are you listening. Your ears and pedagogy might as well be dead.

We hear (ha) about the homogeneity of singing and expression these days, don't we? Sure, the level of singing has improved. Everyone sounds better—and bland. 

(If you don't sound like yourself—a unique self—you quickly become a has-been. Sure, I sound like a times-were-better-then-guy, but how many truly great singers do we have now-a-days? Answer me that. Compared to what was heard up through the 70s—everyone is skating on thin ice with little depth of tone.)

The old way goes like this: you become yourself by learning to hear, speak, and sing Italianate vowels. Yeah. You can't do this without first hearing what this means. No. You don't have to sing an Italian art song.

This is what I was taught and have observed with my own two ears.

Sound moves things. 

Muscles for instance. 

We don't move muscles to make sounds. We make sounds—vowels actually—and our muscles move/react—in as much as we decide to go from from side of the room to the other and our legs move. 

(You'd think this was apparent to everyone, but it's not. We have lots of people staring into computer screens today trying to make things look right without first knowing what it means to sound right first.)

It's that simple. 

Intent comes first. 

Intent in singing means learning to hear vowels and consonants. Not tone. VOWELS. They are monitored by the ear/brain after having been conceived via the ear—an ear that is able to zoom in on Italianate tonal values. 

The canny teacher gives these vowels to the student without even telling the student what he/she is doing. 

How? 

Living example. 

This is how it was done in the 18th century. From god's mouth (the teacher) to the student's ear. Back and forth until the seed is planted in the ear/brain—one that must grow. 

One huge hint is contained in Klein's manual (which you can find in the right hand column). He calls it "singing position". Get this right and you have something you can build on. Call it whatever you like as moderns do—a combination of head and chest function—blah, blah, blah—the brain doesn't care.

It's ear training—not muscle training—which is—yes, you guessed it—ass backwards. 

Here's the real honest-to-god truth: The body will respond in just the right way when the ear knows what it's doing. 

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