May 29, 2010

Anneleise Rotherberger

I opened the New York Times yesterday morning at breakfast to find that  Anneleise Rotherberger had passed away.  This clip of Rotherberger singing Kostanze shows the listener what she could do. And here she is with Fritz Wunderlich in the same role a few years later.  Rotherberger appears about three and a half minutes in.

What a great singer!

May 24, 2010

Finding Tomatis

I stumbled upon Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis' autobiography The Conscious Ear in the beginning months of 1999 at the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts. I was fascinated by what I read. And in a marvelous bit of harmonic convergence,  Marvin Keenze brought Tomatis' protege Paul Madaule (the director of the Listening Centre in Toronto and the author of When Listening Comes Alive)  to a workshop at Westminster Choir College that summer. His lecture/demonstration opened my eyes, or perhaps I should say - ears. As a result, I went to Toronto to experience Tomatis' method of Listening Training first-hand.

It was an intensely fascinating experience. What happened? Practically speaking, I listened to filtered Mozart for two hours a day for two weeks. Doesn't sound like much, does it? However, after three days I had a curious experience- a sonic birth- as it were. I was sitting in a cafe while Vivaldi's  Four Seasons was playing on the sound system, and all of a sudden, became aware that I was hearing it in 3-D. And not only was I hearing it, I was feeling it too, as though for the first time. I could focus on an instrument like a camera zooming in for a close-up, and then back up- as it were - and hear the same instrument in context with the others. It was such a mind-blowing experience that I started to cry.

I also experienced physiological changes that were remarkable. My spine became more vertical: I felt as though someone was pulling my head back and up- a sensation that an Alexander Technique student will undoubtedly recognize. As well, the muscles of my throat- from tip of my tongue to my collar bone - felt very sore for about three days. This extension and release of tension resulted in a speaking and singing voice that had greater timbre, fullness and focus. When I got home, sat down at the piano and sang scales with astonishing ease, my voice felt very different. The icing on the cake was access to two more notes on either side of my range. All this from listening to filtered Mozart. 

Of course, the Tomatis Listening Training isn't a substitute for vocal training. But it does set up one to make use of the training one has had. And this is what I felt that it did. As Paul Madaule said to me at the time: "It connects the dots."  

When I went back for the second part of the training and spent more time vocalizing with the equipment, I experienced even more changes which lead me to the realization that what we call 'voice' is more than the sum of its parts, a perspective which is often lost in our 'down-the-rabbit-hole' (ie vocal tract & larynx) world of vocal pedagogy. That's not to say that singing is mystical. I don't mean that at all.  However, if singing was simply a matter of controlling the mechanics (what one writer - Edmund Myers - called Local Effort) everyone would be a singing sensation. And that is simply not the case. As such, the mechanistic approach has distinct limitations. Why? It's doesn't address how a person listens. And this is what Tomatis' Listening Training does par excellence.  

What does the training actually do, physiologically speaking? To put the matter simply, it exercises and balances the tension between the two little muscles of the ear. One of them, the stapedius, is connected to the stirrup and is an extensor, while the other is connected to the eardrum and is a flexor. According to Tomatis, extensors are harder to train. It takes a great deal of practice.

May 13, 2010

Alred Tomatis: Christopher Columbus of the Ear

If Manuel Garcia is the Christopher Columbus of the larynx, then Alfred A. Tomatis is the Christopher Columbus of the ear. What did Tomatis do? He discovered that the larynx cannot emit sounds the ear cannot hear. He also found that there is a great difference between hearing and listening. The later is an active process, while the first is passive. Of course, anyone who has studied singing knows that learning to listen is a tricky business! But this is what singers do. Lilli Lehmann - in her book How to Sing - even said that it was the student's first lesson.  

Tomatis' first work was with older singers who were colleagues of his father - a bass at the Paris Opera. He posited that their vocal difficulties were related to their listening ability, and devised a method of Listening Training to restore their voices. I've had first-hand experience with this method and will devote subsequent posts to the subject. In the meantime, I highly recommend Tomatis' book for singers titled The Ear and the Voice. It was translated and adapted from the original French (with permission from Tomatis himself) by my friends and colleagues Roberta Prada and Francis Keeping. No other book gives the reader as much information about the link between the ear and the singing voice.   

May 12, 2010

The Oracle of Paris: Pauline Viardot-Garcia

Art at present is a fashion. Good health and good lungs are the requirements for singing the present school of music. Vocally it consists of declamatory sounds. Adieu to trills, scales and arpeggios. They require too much time and work. What is required now is the financial result as soon as possible- and technical proficiency requires years of study. Nevertheless, the singer who has mastered the Italian method - so called - will render the modern Wagner and modern school of composition more easily, retaining the beauty and freshness of voice much longer than those lacking this technical training.  

May 10, 2010

Yoga: breathing & singing

One might think that the application of yogic principles to singing is a new phenomena, right? Not so. I came across the following ad dated 1904 in the course of research at the New York Public Library. 

9 West Twenty-eight Street.

Instruction in Physiological Psychology, which is an abstract of
the philosophy of the Vedas, embraces the art of PROPER BREATHING, CONCENTRATION, self control, and generates a highly magnetic personality, and is of SPECIAL BENEFIT TO SINGERS. Instruction in class and individually. Hours, 10 to 6.  Also Tuesday and Friday evenings. Course by correspondence. 

I found myself in a yoga class after injuring my left knee as a result of running across the front of the stage in Carmen as per the director's request. It was the stopping short in the wings that got me. Bam! Bam! Bam! Funny how these things go. There were 12 performances, and I injured myself on the last one.  Oh the pain. I couldn't walk up steps, much less move around very easily. 

A few days after I realized that the pain wasn't going to go away, I went to my doctor who diagnosed a torn cruciate ligament. He said I could have it operated on, but that I could also try doing yoga. After all, I would have scar tissue from the operation that would need to be worked out, and yoga- though it would take longer- would eventually tighten the knee back up.

My late dear colleague and close friend David McCarver happened to be certified in therapeutic yoga and sent me to his teacher. I learned to do all kinds of poses that opened and strengthened the knee and hip joints. At first, I could hardly get into most of them. But I persisted, and after three months, things got easier, and the pain started to subside. After another three months I could walk quickly down the street - even jog. One thing led to another, and I started practicing Ashtanga, a very active form of yoga which utilizes a special breath technique called Ujjayi. And this is where things got really interesting. Ujjayi breathing changed my voice, which became more resonant- which I wasn't exactly expecting. How and why did it change? To put matters simply, the practice of Ujjayi taught me a lot about breathing. The 'highly magnetic personality'? Still working on that.  

'Chi sa respirare sa cantar'

(He who knows how to breathe knows how to sing). 

Anna Maria Celoni Pellegrini (ca. 1878-1835)

May 8, 2010

Herman Klein & The Bel Canto

I attended the master class at The Juilliard School where Joan Sutherland, when asked about her vocal technique, replied that it was described by Herman Klein in an essay titled 'The Bel Canto' in Herman Klein and the Gramophone. Boy, did my ears perk up! I went to the New York Public library the next day to find the book.

What is most interesting about Klein's essay - The Bel Canto: with particular reference to the singing of Mozart -  is that it adds to Manuel Garcia's writings in a significant way. To put it simply, while Garcia concerned himself with 'cause', Klein addressed 'effect'.

(b) Resonance 
The old Italian teachers had no trouble in obtaining a bright ringing tone. 'Resonance,' therefore, may not have entered very largely into their theory, but was far from being ignored in their practice. Thanks chiefly to their 'open' vowels an easy 'forward' tone came naturally to the majority of their students, especially the native ones. If it did not, the masters opened their pupils' throats (temporarily at least) until the sounds-waves had learnt to find their way to every facial cavity or space (besides the mouth) that was capable of 'reflecting' a vocal tone. The idea seems simple enough. The voice, in order to acquire its full vibrant power, must have the aid of a 'reflector', just as surely as the light burning in a lighthouse. The singer can no more dispense with its aid than a performer on the piano or the violin could dispense with that of a sounding-board.

As the act of singing is a natural organic function, common to the majority of civilized people, there is no need to discuss here the physiology of tone production. The point is, rather, whereabouts is that tone situated or sounding when it has left the larynx? The answer is that a clear note is, at the moment of its utterance, instantly ringing clear and true in its ultimate position, projected and maintained there by steady diaphramatic breath-pressure, and enhanced in strength and colour by shape and other influences. To the singer the resulting sensation is that the tone is coming not from the throat at all, but existing ready-made in the area to which is is reflected.

Free, unobstructed access to these 'forward' cavities can alone enable the voice to obtain all the advantages of complete resonance. Properly directed and well supported by the breath, it can entirely escape the danger of a nasal quality and attain increased beauty of timbre, diversity of colour, and penetrative power. 

(c) Vowel-Formation and Attack 
The formation of some vowel shape must necessarily precede the attack of a vocal sound- an act which involves the opening of the mouth. If we sing with the mouth shut we hum; but the act of humming is not without its use as a means for indicating where the vibration of the sound-waves may be felt re-echoing in the facial resonators when unable to make their exit by the ordinary route.  

When we open the mouth to sing a note, it must be done by dropping the lower jaw, and without moving the head, which remains erect and still. The tongue flattens as the jaw descends, whilst the pharyngeal space at the back of the throat enlarges into a dome or arch. The shape thus created give us, without further preliminary action, the natural mould for the formation of the universal vowel sound 'ah' - that is, the first vowel of the Italian alphabet.  

The formation of all other vowels, no matter what the language, is simply a variation on this fundamental process, although the sense of their location seems to the singer to be different, with different vowels. In reality vowel sounds should all feel alike, to the extent that they feel so when we speak them. Only, some vowels create a more naturally 'forward' position than others, and those that do not must, by correct treatment, be made to acquire an equal degree of resonance.  

The outcome of this assimilation is that the singer finds both tone and vowel impinging upon the same identical facial area, that is to say, in the 'mask'; and there alone, will their union be made perfect.  In no other fashion and by no other mechanical means can 'speech and song' be resolved into a single function. 

The science-minded vocal pedagogue reminds the reader that the nasal passages do not contribute to the tone that originates in the larynx. Therefore the thinking goes: it is futile to concern one's self with 'forward' placement. There is no there there, to quote Gertrude Stein. Klein confounds this reasoning  when he states later on in the text: "Therewith, not in the throat nor with any perceptible action of he glottis, but in the ultimate 'forward' area to which it has been projected, does the attack of the vocal tone actually begin."

Now isn't that a kicker?  The Garcia School, that of Manuel Garcia - the Christopher Columbus of the larynx - taught voice placement. 

The read the entire essay, click on the book titled Herman Klein and the Gramophone in the first paragraph and search the book for 'The Bel Canto.'

May 6, 2010

Herman Klein in New York

Those who know the name Herman Klein  (he preferred the English pronunciation of his given name) mostly likely think of his extensive contribution to The Gramophone, his many books on singers,  as well as his being the editor of Manuel Garcia's Hints on Singing (see previous post).   However, it is less remembered that Klein was a teacher of voice, which brought him to New York in December of 1901 after having taught at the Guildhall School of Music in London for fifteen years.   Newspapers articles heralded his arrival with letters from the great Maestro, the famous tenor Jean de Reszke, and the illustrious Adelina Patti.

Klein opened a studio at 120 West 71St. Street, and stayed there a year before moving uptown to 154 West 77th St.  His first residence (a mere two blocks from my apartment) lost its stoop at some point, while the second has fared better: many of the original exterior and interior details are still intact. 

120 West 71st St - NYC

Mon Abri, Cricklewood

My Dear Mr. Klein, 
I hear you are going to live in America and to establish yourself there as a teacher of singing.  At a moment when the art of singing is in a condition of decadence, I am glad to be able to express my confidence in your ability to carry on those traditions which I imparted to you during a period of four years.  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.  Wishing you every success, believe me.

Yours very sincerely,

M. Garcia

154 West 77th St- NYC

Victoria Lodge, Deanville, August 12, 1901
My Dear Friend, 
I learn with great pleasure that it is your intention to teach singing in New York.  No one possesses more thoroughly than yourself the true and pure traditions of the "bel canto," or those of the Wagnerian drama, and it is be the fusion of these two schools that you will be able to render important service to American students.  As regards the method of placing the voice, the art of breathing &, we are absolutely in accord.  There remains only for me to wish you the success that you merit, and which has so often obtained notice in England.  Accept my dear friend, as always, the assurance of my devoted sentiments.  

Jean de Reszke

CRAIG-Y-NOS CASTLE, November 12, 1901

Dear Mr. Klein:

I have received your letter of November 8, announcing your approaching departure for New York, and your intention to settling in that city as a teacher of singing. I think the Americans are to be most heartily congratulated, and I feel sure they will appreciate your excellent method and your great musical ability. I remember quite well studying two of Wagner's songs with you some years ago. Wishing you every success, and hoping to see you in London before you sail, with kind remembrances from myself and my husband, believe me, Yours very sincerely,

Adelina Patti Chederstöm

Klein taught in New York for eight years before returning to London, sailing on the Minnewaska- a new steamer for the Atlantic Transport Line- in June 1909, with six of his New York students in tow.   He wrote about his experience in Unmusical New York: a brief criticism of triumphs, failures and abuses (1910).  The title alone suggests a certain bitterness.  This may be a result of his failed attempt as first chairman of the National Association of Singing Teachers (later renamed as The New York Singing Teachers Association) to introduce examinations and certification into the profession.

New Yorkers would have none of it.  

May 4, 2010

Herman Klein & Manuel Garcia's Hints on Singing

When I first starting researching historic vocal pedagogy about twelve years ago, I found a copy of Manuel Garcia's historic treatise Hints on Singing on microfilm at the New York Public Library. Then I found a copy at Patelson's - the music store right behind Carnegie hall- which had been publishing it since 1982. Unfortunately, they went bust this past year. Since then, I've seen a few originals for sale (when they are available) in the $800 dollar range. But you don't have to worry about any of this. You can read and download the book in two places: here and here

Hints on Singing warrants close attention. It was published in 1894 as a distillation of Garcia's groundbreaking tome A complete treatise on the art of singing (1847, 1872). In it, Garcia took plains to clarify his teaching on the coup de la glotte, which caused no end of controversy during and after his lifetime. Herman Klein, a student of Garcia who also served as editor of the text, added a footnote at the bottom of page thirteen to further clarify Garcia's clarification. 

Klein addressed his participation as editor in his book Thirty years of musical life in London c. 1903, three years before Garcia's death at the age of 101.  

Apropos of birthday honors, I may also mention that on March 17, 1894, Manuel Garcia entered upon his ninetieth year; and his brother professors at the Royal Academy of Music seized the opportunity to present him with a silver tea- and coffee-service, accompanied by an illuminated address. Later in the same year, the venerable maestro brought out his second and last text-book upon the art wherein he had labored with such distinguished success for nearly three quarters of a century. In the compilation of "Hints on Singing," as this instructive catechism is called, I was fortunately able to render Signor Garcia material assistance; and the help thus gladly tendered finds gracious acknowledgment in the preface. The "Hints" are published in the United States as well as in England, but have not yet attained the wide recognition that they deserve.  (p. 399)

Earlier in the book, Klein wrote of his life-long association with the great maestro. 

In the spring of 1874 there occurred an event which was destined to exercise an important influence upon my career. Manuel Garcia, the great teacher of singing, came to live under my parents' roof. We occupied a large house at the corner of Bentinck Street and Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square,—then, as now, the recognized fashionable quarter for London professional people,—and Signor Garcia1 took the entire ground floor for his '' studio'' and dwelling apartments.

I should like to describe the brother of Malibran and Pauline Viardot as he was at that time. He had just entered upon his seventieth year, but in appearance and bearing he did not seem much past fifty. He had a light, buoyant step, always walked quickly, and had a keen, observant eye, which, when he spoke, would light up with all the fire and animation of youth. His dark complexion and his habit of rapid gesticulation bespoke his Southern origin; and although equally at home in Spanish, Italian, French, and English, he always betrayed a decided preference for conversing in the French language. His modesty was remarkable. He could rarely be induced to talk about himself; but in his opinions he was firm almost to obstinacy, and a prejudice once formed was as difficult to remove as a liking. In argument he was a close reasoner, and would be either a doughty opponent or a warm advocate. The middle line never attracted him. But at all times he was a true, stanch, and loyal friend.
Fortunately, Signor Garcia took a considerable fancy to me. He was fond of discussing politics, but, having little time to read the papers, would generally ask me for the latest news. He openly expressed his disgust with the policy of the Liberal Government of that day, and found in myself a sympathetic supporter of his views. About music I was afraid for a long while to talk with him. One day, however, he heard me singing in a distant part of the house, and told my mother that I had a very agreeable light tenor voice. She at once asked him if he would be good enough to give me some instruction. He readily consented, and, within an hour, to my intense delight, I found myself taking my first lesson from Manuel Garcia.
The master was then in his prime. For forty years his pupils, from Jenny Lind down, had included some of the best singers that Paris and London provided, while among the many aspirants for vocal fame who came to study with him at our house in Bentinck Street were several whose names yet enjoy a universal reputation. During the eight or ten years that he lived with us, I studied with him for nearly four, and heard him give many scores of lessons beside those which I received. To see and hear Garcia teach was ever a source of unqualified pleasure. Even when annoyed by a pupil's lack of ordinary intelligence, he seldom became abrupt or impatient; and he never worried or confused the student with technicalities not actually essential to the accurate understanding of his method. His voice had virtually gone, but he would liberally employ its beaux restes to impart the idea for the proper emission of a note or the phrasing of a passage. As often as not, the sounds that he produced would be positively ugly; but they never failed to convey the desired suggestion, and, though his own voice might tremble with sheer weight of years, he never, to my knowledge, brought out a pupil whose tones were marred by the slightest shade of vibrato. 
Nor was he at any time guilty of the sin of "forcing" a voice. I say so with all possible emphasis, because that untrue assertion has been made on various occasions, and it should be contradicted as a libel upon a teacher whose first rule was ever to repress the breathing power and bring it into proper proportion with the resisting force of the throat and larynx. The contrary proceeding would have been altogether inconsistent with the system of the old Italian school, whereof Garcia is the last really great teacher.  
No less stupid, but rather more cruel, has been the recent onslaught—emanating principally from Paris—upon the act of vocal mechanism known as the coup de la glotte, a term created by Garcia as the result of his observations on the interior of the larynx with the aid of the laryngoscope, of which instrument he was the inventor. This term, first employed in his wonderful "Traite complet de 'Art du Chant,'" was merely meant to describe the movement or "stroke" of the glottis in the act of attacking a vocal sound—a movement as natural as it is indispensable to the clean, definite striking of a note by the human voice. Possibly the practice of the act in question has been worked to excess by would-be imitators of Garcia's method; but certainly it was never so taught by him, and I have never come across one of his pupils who had suffered through its normal employment. Later on, however, I shall have to refer to this subject again, in order to quote in their proper place some words used by the master to refute a particularly flagrant attack upon the coup de la glotte.
I was barely twenty-two when I ceased taking lessons from Signor Garcia. Our relations by that time were those of very close friends(p 34-37)

What were those words used to refute an attack? A response Garcia wrote to Victor Maurel after hearing the latter address the subject of the coup de la glotte in a lecture in London. The full story is recounted by Klein on page 371. 

Klein brought the Garcia Method to New York in 1901 and was a founder and the first Chairman of The National Association of Teachers of Singing, later renamed The New York Singing Teachers Association.    

Klein's adventure in New York will be the subject of a subsequent post.