April 22, 2012

Going, going, gone...

It's been a long day, and not just because I've been fighting off a cold for the last 4 days. All I want to do is sleep, but after reading an article in the NYTimes I may be sleepless tonight. The article in question, Sacking a Palace of Culture by Edmond Morris, hit me in the gut (again). Mr. Morris, who's written about Beethoven, Roosevelt and Reagan, reiterates the point of my earlier post about the plan to transform the main branch of the New York Public library into a cafe-cum-internet-bar by housing more than half of the library's books in New Jersey. Swell plan, right? Sure. If you aren't a researcher. And who does that anymore? I mean, we have the internet for that, right? 


Edmond Morris made a visit to the Lincoln Center library where I've spent a great deal of time and saw what I see when I go there: closed rooms and a staff devastated by cuts. So the director of the library system wants to spend 300 million on the main branch while you can't get a question answered at the research library at Lincoln Center? Sorry. I'm not as eloquent as Mr. Morris. I think said director - Mr. Antony W. Marx and his board of directors - should be ashamed. Is this what it's come to now? The productization of libraries? Because, that's what it looks like. There is nothing free about a library when you can't even use it efficiently. Oh yeah. Did I mention that the Performing Arts Research Library at Lincoln Center isn't being patronized like it used to? That's my impression anyway, every time I go there. It's like visiting a Wild West ghost town. Put up a tombstone and it will blend right in. Gee, I wonder why that is? 


This is the library where I learned how to research. Who taught me that? The librarians. They clued me into all the hidden resources that no one knows about. Case in point: there is a great biographical card catalogue file that was handwritten by librarians that goes back to the early 1890's. Think that is going to be put online? Nope. That one card card file alone has given me gold. Why do you think I am endeavoring to write? This gold wouldn't have come my way without the knowledge and canny abilities of librarians. Where are they now? I don't see them. Not where it counts anyway.


I think I am going to be sick. 

Image of the Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library Main Branch.

April 17, 2012

García's Perfect Stage

What I am giving you in this post was given to me by Margaret Harshaw. She related to me that her teacher Anna E. Schoen-René - a student of Manuel García and Pauline Viardot-García - taught her to think of the opening of the mouth as that of a 'perfect stage.'

What does a perfect stage have?

  1. a proscenium arch, the upper part of which is curved. Ok, the example I am including above has a flat arch, but I like it, it's the Metropolitan Opera for crying out loud, and shows one of my points. But before I get to that, one should consider that...
  2. the lights hang from the top of the curved proscenium, which comprises the upper lip that is drawn to its full length. To put the matter simply: lights light the vowel and must be hung firmly. A perfect stage also has.. 
  3. fly space, so that scenery can be flown in and out from above and behind the proscenium. (In a Baroque theatre, this fly space would house the last of several arches, while in the image above the scene being flown in is of a backdrop for Parsifal.) What else does a perfect stage have? That would be...
  4. sides. Without the sides of the stage - the cloth hangings - the audience would be robbed of the 'suspension of disbelief' and see all the things one is not supposed to see which may be why my teacher also said that technique was like underwear - better to feel it than see it. A vowel without 'sides' is a 'white' vowel, robbed of color. And lastly, a perfect stage has...
  5. a flat floor. Try singing on a raked floor and you will understand why a flat one is perfect. Your back will be killing you in no time. 

Now think about it. What is a perfect stage really? Ah. You guessed it! 

Image of the Metropolitan Opera stage c. 1904 is from the New York Public Library Digital Collection

April 16, 2012

Ah...it's personal

Mastering classical voice means mastering [a], or ah as it is more commonly known: that's what Francesco Lamperti and Manuel García thought anyway. I was reminded of that this morning when I practiced after breakfast, recording my singing on my Imac with Garageband. (Hello! This is what singers do!) 

There are many times when we think we are doing the right thing when, in fact, we aren't doing it at all, which is the circumstance I found myself in this morning. My [a] was rather iffy, not chiaroscuro enough, which is what the recording revealed. Not enough flattened tongue and arched palate in my case. How long did it take me to figure things out and correct matters? About 20 minutes. Time well spent if you ask me. 

Here's the rub. It's easy to lose one's way thinking: "Oh yeah...I learned that and don't have to do that again." I can't tell you how many times I have heard this thought expressed in the studio in one way or another, the student intimating that just because they've accomplished [a] once they have it for life. If only singing technique was a product which could be bought and stored on a shelf! But it doesn't work that way. Mental knowledge and kinesthetic knowing are two different things. What you think you know and what you actually know aren't the same thing. This is why I tell students the mirror and recording don't lie. You can learn an immense amount from both and neither will cost you a dime. The voice needs and wants this constant attention. 

The voice is like a wall: you have to take care of the cracks or they will get bigger and eventually the wall will come down.

Lamperti called [a] the father of vowels, while my own teacher taught that it was the "position for singing." Both were talking about he same thing, I believe.

Here's one thought for mastering [a]: the 'control' panel is under the tongue, right behind the tip. 

April 8, 2012

Voice Lesson with Giacomo Lauri-Volpi

any thanks to Laura Brooks-Rice for clueing me into this excellent video of Giacomo Lauri-Volpi giving a voice lesson back in the day when recordings were a new and miraculous thing. Of particular note to this listener is the unforced quality that Lauri-Volpi exhibits. The great tenor mentions three things as being necessary in singing: voice, ear and soul. How often do you hear this last word in the voice or rehearsal studio? He also mentions that - as a tenor - he does not sing F# uncovered. How to do what he means? That takes one back to his second requirement: ear. 

Those seeking a deeper knowledge of Lauri-Volpe's thoughts on singing will want to find his 1955 treatise titled Voci Parallele (Parallel Voices), while an excellent post on Lauri-Volpe's life and career can be found at Opera Gems

Photo by Herman Mishkin. 

April 3, 2012


Dear Reader - I haven't been posting much lately since I have been working on a book. Please know that I will get back to these pages when I can. Yours Truly - Daniel