April 5, 2011

I Have Dreamed

Nancy LaMott was one of those singers who had to sing no matter what. And it's this very quality, this 'I-must-do-this' aspect that is the dividing line, I believe, between those who ultimately become singers and those who make a half-hearted stab at it here and there, and then wonder why the universe hasn't delivered on their dream.

Speaking of which, there is a very interesting book that is as sobering as it is inspiring regarding the attaining of one's dream of being a singer. Titled Talent is Overrated, it reveals that it takes, on average, a decade of unremitting practice to acquire self-mastery in any chosen field. This brings to mind the 18th & 19th century vocal pedagogue who maintained that it took about a decade to master one's art (succeeding generations have been in a hurry to shorten the time frame). Nancy LaMott? She paid her dues and then some. At a time when popular singing seems to be about vocal and emotional pyrotechnics, her long-nurtured art reminds us that real beauty lies in simplicity.

Listen to her dream here.


  1. It's very interesting...I am a regular long time visitor of your site, and find it fascinating. But one thing I never understood were the mentions of Nancy La Mott herself. But I think I understand what you're comming from. I don't hear the essence of bel canto you're talking about in all your other articles in her singing. It is technically pretty flawed singing. And though that is not a condition for the "soul", the communication aspect of singing itself, many other (of course in my opinion only) better examples, come to mind. Early uninfluenced jazz recordings of Mariah Carey (yes, as funny as it might sound to one, but it's true, I find her exceptionally musical, especially in this early pre-fame phase) or Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington are first on the list. I find the recognition of this aspect really individual. But I do believe that Nancy's way of communicating is something what touches many people to who she was singing what she did. And that the element of communication, the essence you hear from her is what makes her so different for yo from the others.

    I think one essential thing which separates the old bel canto school and the post Garcia school is the very view on singing and singing training. Before, the expression was a major part of everything. Only later, somehow, singing training got separated from that and teachers started to consider that training would bring them tools which would allow them to think of expresion. (consider Marchesi writtings for example) But the old school people considered singing ALWAYS from the aspect of communication, even in practise. They never even tried to separate communication from singing. I think Mancini writtes in his book about how a singing teacher should compose (!!! where will you find this today? nowhere) vocalises for his student, so that one is not bored to death while practising, and so one doesn't loose the touch of communicating trough art of song even trough vocalising. It might seem funny, but those bel canto singers couldn't help but not to communicate to people when they started singing. Because it was the essence of whatever they were doing. Listen to Oscar saenger's vocalise lesson which has leftovers of this old school. It's amazing how good it actually sounds. Nobody sings like that today.

    I think the biggest separation appeared when in the 20th century people (read Vennard and the likes) completely separated singing as the art of communication from singing as a mechanism. I strongly believe this to be the "destruction" of bel canto, and I somehow have the impresion it's where Lucie Manen was comming from when she wrote what she did.

    Todays opera singers don't know how to communicate. They simply don't know how, and I don't blame them. They weren't taught like that. Being in concern with technique will rob you of this aspect. If your mind isn't connected to your voice, and you can't sing "unaaa furtiiiiivan lagrima" without really saying that, then you have a problem. As if it's just a series of tones, it's nothing. There's a clip on youtube of I think Tito Schippa teaches Alberto Rabagliati how to sing. Isn't it interesting, how each word of Schippa has an idea of communication behind? And Alberto on the other hand sounds somehow like each opera singer today would sing it. It puzzed me for quite a while what is this that Schippa demonstrates which makes his singing compared to Alberto's so much better. And it was not the finer elements of technique like the piani etc. it was the fact that Schippa really said (sang) "ti voglio tanto..." what Alberto didn't do in neither one second. He just immitated and "learned interpretation" (sounds farmiliar? how many coaches teach singers interpretation nowadays? do you learn how you will fight or argue with someone, or how to be surprised when someone surprises you? or do you just do it?).

  2. It's why it was in the old books advised to practise solfeggi. Because even if you say la la la laaaaa. Li li li leeee, or simply use Julie Andrews' Do re mi (and don't laugh, but I think this is a great tool and it really came trough in her singing) it has more meaning and more connection to speech (in terms of communication - because we use speech exclusively to communicate) than a one octave "aaaa" arpeggio would have. It's why we find singers in music school, who can sing perfect 3 octave arpeggi, trough whole range on "a", but they can't sing even to save their life and I wouldn't allow them even to sing in shower, how self-centered that singing is and how bad it sounds on stage, and nobody knows why, everyone is puzzled how this perfect singer sounds simply so dull and boring.

    It's where the examples of for you La Mott, or for me Dinah Washington come trough. They had no technique (in terms of virtuosic bel canto singing), but they came out of communicating. Ella Fitzgerald had both in the style she was singing. But it's the people who kept this communication aspect that turned out to bring us more energy and emotion than a perfectly placed, yet so lifeless high C. I get goosebumps every time I hear Ella say Cry me a River. Yet I'm completely dead when I hear a modern soprano sing "ove marea" (instead of ave maria). Imagine how it would be to hear singers who had both? I can't, because I think we don't have any nowadays...

    Nowadays, even that is being lost. We don't have communication either. We lost the communication and technique so now we have loads of marketing to replace that and which is sticking all the young people to the "artists" they are being stuck to anyway. (and it's actually creeping into opera world as well!) But artist who would without all the marketing (most of them) be completely empty and would have nothing to offer.

    On stage, I can't think of neither one, let's say, tenor, today, who will communicate on stage, and communicate with natural tools of expression. (perfect technique, but which resulted from the desire to communicate) I jusst can't, I think they died out with Björling.

    Babies cry because they want to send a message to someone. When someone tells me to sing a high C I first need to think, and it's a question if I would do it properly or be able to do it. Yet if I read a joke, or see a funny clip on youtube, I can with no problem laugh out loud and jump to ringing full voiced high E's without even thinking, waking all my neighbours in the middle of the night...Isn't it interesting? If you tell me to do it now, I wouldn't be able to do it ever. But in the monumentum when my body wants to communicate hapiness (or some other emotions), it's amazing what it can do.

    The problem of teachers today, is I believe that they can't merge what science discovered is healthy singing and the fact that singing is unseparable from communicating. They just either teach one or the other. And it happens that if someone accidentally has both to a certain extent comes out good. I LOVE opera...But sometimes, after I've been trough the latest Netrebko recordings, I simply need an hour of Ella Fitzgerald's CD's to get back on track...

  3. Dear Dinko- Your comments make me smile and bring to mind Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady where he intones" By Jove, I think she's got it!"

    You certainly express in much greater detail what I have been alluding to in my posts on Nancy LaMott's singing. Yes. You are exactly right: there was a time when singers were trained to be composers. Garcia I was known to have his students makes up cadenzas at the drop of a hat. And technique and spontaneity were wedded together. I, like you, believe that the highest expression of bel canto is not just beauty of tone, but tone that communicates depth of feeling, be it joy, elation, sorrow or anger. And yes- depth of expression now-a-days seems to come from those not on the operatic stage. My own thesis? The medium has become overly visual and to 'stand and sing' is considered too risky a proposition. Then again, how many can stand still and move an audience? There's the rub.

    You are right: it's as simple as learning how to sing a 5 tone scale with real meaning. If you can't do it there, you can't do it in an aria.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate it very much.


I welcome your comments.