January 19, 2011

The Concentration Vowel

My previous post made much of the Italian language as being part and parcel of the language of singing. What does that mean exactly? Let me answer using the terminology of older pedagogues: pure vowels. Of course, these two words do not mean what they were understood to have meant a hundred years ago. Now, when a student hears these words, he/she may think of a sinusoidal waveshape, the voice of a choirboy, a male alto, or The Tallis Scholars. None of these, examples, oh dear reader, is evidence of pure tone, at least, not in terms of the Old Italian School. For that, one has to appreciate something else entirely. And what would that be? Dark and light together. Chiaroscuro. Tonally speaking, a pure vowel in the Old Italian School has depth, which is not possible in falsetto singing or that of boys and women who aspire to sound like them. It's not the same aesthetic at all. An old pedagogue would say that the latter, as attractive as it may be, has no 'vibrazione', which alludes to a ringing, affecting quality that also has depth. What instrument comes close to this? The violin.

Dance of Death Alphabet- Hans Holbein

And what vowel did the Old School use to concentrate the singer's tone and acquire depth? The Italian /i/. Not the guttural and closed-throated /i/ that is heard from Americans and our British cousins across the pond, but rather, a vibrant sound that, when emitted through an open throat (the Italians used /a/ in this respect), seems to spring from the upper chest, hard palate and face. All other vowels were taken from this. Of course, this vowel has to be 'heard' to be understood, that is, the singer has to be exposed to it many times. Such is the manner in which the language of singing is learned, that is, through repetition. English speakers always want to make a diphthong out of it, which it is not. Lilli Lehmann's teaching was based on it. Margaret Harshaw, the doyenne of voice teachers, would say that "EE is like a T! The top part is across the eyes, and the stem goes down into the sternum." A proprioceptive instruction if there ever was one. 


  1. Hi, nice to read this...is the teachings of Alfredo Kraus, search on Youtube "entrevista a Alfredo Kraus", is in spanish, but you can easy understend. The thing is, on the vibrations of the "I" vowel put A-E-O-U vibrations as weel in the same high of resonance.
    Grettings from Buenos Aires-Argentina!!

  2. As well, sorry, error typing!

  3. Hi Anon- I am familiar with the Kraus Utube video. It's very good. What you suggest is exactly my point. Al best regards from the Big Apple- Daniel

  4. Hi Daniel, here in Argentina don´t play much attention to this, and it is for me, and for what I see for you too, the basis of all vocal instruction.
    I´m deeply conected to Lamperti-García Methods and for all this years of searching, singing and teaching there is NOTHING like those. Only in my case see Vennard´s path one of the finest searchers of the twenty century. In that videos Kraus talk about Lamperti Father in matter of vocal placing.
    Well, let me say that your blog in real great, the info that you can handle is of Prime quality!
    By the way, my name is Joe.
    Again, best wishes!

  5. Hi Joe- I appreciate your kind words and am glad that you are enjoying this blog! It give me great pleasure to present this information. All best regards- Daniel


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