January 30, 2012

The lowdown on Larry

Larry likes it low!" I sometimes say. It can make the student laugh, a good thing since learning to sing can be serious business, the kind of which shouldn't be taken so seriously that it becomes impossible. 

Anyone who has studied Manuel García's works and that of his students knows that the larynx lowers slightly while the soft palate rises in making rounded tone. But there is a huge difference in observing this with the eye or finger and while singing. It's the difference between objective and subjective knowledge. The problem comes when confusing the two perceptions. And what is this difference practically speaking? 

Put your finger on your larynx and speak or sing a clear & rich chiaroscuro tone in the lower range and Larry will be felt to have descended slightly. Make it go down mechanically and then try to sing a rich chiaroscuro tone and it will come out bungled. Why? Because there is a difference between cause and effect. 

The Old Italian School taught that The Italian Singer has no throat. Another way to say this is that being aware of your larynx or throat during singing is a sign that something is wrong. 

It is a fact that one can teach the singer to make beautifully rounded tones and not mention the larynx or soft palate at all. Getting the right tonal value into the consciousness via imitation is the key. It has to be heard in the studio. Once the student's ear has wrapped itself around the experience, the self-aware student may spontaneously comment about where they feel Larry to be in comparison to where he was before. (The student may say the throat is 'open.') Then again, they may not be aware of Larry at all unless you ask them. Should you ask them? That's a good question. 

Being aware of mechanics isn't a good thing in my estimation until the student's singing is very stable. This is why I believe the famous voice teacher Anna E. Schoen-René (a student of Manuel García and Pauline Viardot-García) noted the following in her book, America's Musical Inheritance (1941): "Scientific explanations can only be grasped by singers already educated in the principals of their art." 

Being educated in the principals of bel canto is first a matter of the ear, then the eye. Subjective experience, then objective experience/understanding. One leads the other. Putting the eye before the ear is putting the cart before the horse. 

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