April 2, 2018

García & Lamperti in the Studio

What did these legendary voice teachers do in the studio? That's what I've been studying for a long while now. Aside from the differences in their approach (García taught privately, while Lamperti taught small classes of 4 or 5 students), they were after the same thing: beautiful singing. How did they achieve it? Firstly, by making their students do simple things like sing long tones on all  5 Italian vowels.

They would start in the middle of voice, then work their way up and down the scale. Often, they used the chromatic scale—which hardly anyone does anymore. It's unforgiving. Try it. Sing between—say— C and G—going up and down half-step by half-step. See if you can do it while keeping the voice clear, open-throated, steady and full. Not so easy, is it? If accomplished, the exercise teaches the student one very important thing, which is that the tuning of the piano is foreign to that of the voice (btw: earlier voice teachers used the violin as part of their tuition, which—as Tomatis has observed—introduces high frequencies into the awareness of the student—a centering mechanism). Lamperti called this enharmonic tuning. 

What did both García and Lamperti require the student to have? A good ear. What happened if the student didn't have that, and couldn't do the exercise outlined above? If they managed to have an audition, they would have been discouraged from the outset. But we aren't so discriminating, are we? Most schools today take just about everyone who can pay the tuition. And I've heard quite a few doctorate students who can't sing very well, and have witnessed others who began their studies with a good voice, but ended up Humpty-Dumpty fashion—seemingly broken beyond repair. But I am getting off track. 

Simple to complex. That was the trajectory of the old school teachers. The elimination of vocal faults was part of the deal. Students were not allowed to sing in the nose or in the throat. That means, of course, that most of the vocalism heard (and taught) today on the Broadway stage would not have passed muster. 

What else? 

The august teachers mentioned in this post did not allow their students to sing with words before their voices were fully formed, that is, before they could sing all 5 vowels clearly and beautifully within a 2 octave range on a plethora of vocal exercises. The high goal was to obtain an absolute vocal technique. Who approaches vocal study like that today? No one that I know of. Every teacher I know gives students songs to sing from the get-go—or allows students to sing them. Me? I will work on technique in every lesson, allowing songs and arias insofar as to keep the student's interest. It's a devil's bargain since the work to be down remains to be completed. But what student will submit to a year of exercises? The smart ones take what I give them and work for the long haul.

Back to the big boys. 

Those 2 old legends must have been either monsters to deal with or patient—or both. Lamperti had a baton he whacked students hands with and was known to be the most strict with those who were the most talented. García threw books at his students and ruled with an iron hand. If you did not follow his advice, studied with another teacher, and wanted to come back, you were refused outright. It was the survival of the fittest. Now? The voice lesson is student centered, product oriented, and market driven. 

Both men had their tricks of the trade, to be sure. Both taught multiple generations of great singers. Both insisted on beautiful singing. 

What do teachers do now? You tell me. 

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