December 15, 2013

The Real Singer

Margaret Harshaw (1909-1997)

The real singer is the one who gives you something that you take home with you and it sets up a vibration going in you. It speaks to your heart or your soul when it is troubled or dark. It makes it happy. —Margaret Harshaw 

December 14, 2013

The voice teacher must sing

Pauline Viardot-García (1821-1910)
Or so thought Pauline Viardot-García, Anna Schoen-René and Margaret Harshaw. Of course, I've known quite a few voice teachers who don't (or won't) sing, the pianist/coach being perhaps the best example. 

Does the neurosurgeon teach her students to operate without having ever wielded a scalpel? Does the piano teacher instruct his student to play Chopin without ever touching the keys? Of course not. But there are many voice teachers who teach their students to sing without having sung themselves.

Herman Klein tried to bring standards to singing teachers in the first decade of the 20th century, which I wrote about in the introduction to my book: Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel GarciaOf course, Klein didn't succeed since America has always had a Wild West mentality as far as the instruction of singing is concerned. Singing teachers were left to their own devices—as they are today—not withstanding the efforts of a few organizations which endeavor to keep their members informed regarding industry standards, which, it must be pointed out, are rather minimal.

In a very real sense, the art of singing is market driven. Voice teachers go where the money is. In the 1930's, it was Hollywood, talking pictures and the gramophone. Now it is the world of contemporary commercial music, rock musicals and The Voice. 

Standards have changed too. During Klein's day, classical music (and its training) was considered to be on a higher level than popular music—an attitude which has changed as market forces have shifted. Singing teachers also taught vocal techniques which are now considered passé. Those who dare to talk about "voice placement" at a scientific symposium will find themselves in the minority. "Attack" has changed to "onset," and the teacher who refers to "vocal cords" instead of "vocal folds" will be smiled at—and not in a good way.

Yet—students still say things which defy terminology and current pedagogical thought. Only a few days ago, at the end of a lesson, I asked a student (think Tony Bennett), who had been put through his paces what he had learned. With surprise in his voice, he pointed to his head, and said that he had to keep his voice "hanging from above," which sounded like a Lamperti School concept. Of course, simply asking the student to sing into the head isn't enough. The teacher has to know how to bring this phenomena into being, often without the student's conscious awareness. This takes skill, a voice teacher who can sing—one who knows what it means from experience. What was my student telling me? He was reporting his "audio-vocal control," that is, what his ears/body mind were experiencing when his voice was functioning at a high level. It's a real thing. Again, only a voice teacher who can sing will be able to know what this means, and if it is "on the money." 

December 11, 2013

You are only very little frogs

Luigi Vannuccini (1828-1911)

Ah! You Americans think everything of quantity and nothing of quality of voice; and you try to swell out to oxen, when everyone can see that you are only very little frogs. —Luigi Vannuccini

Quite a statement, isn't it? Of course, one has only to go to the opera and hear Vannuccini's observation being put into practice. Lord knows, I saw enough of it myself onstage, where the temptation to bellow is great. 

You can learn more about Vannuccini's teaching by clicking on the label below. The context for the quote above can be found on page 17 of Talks about Singing: Or, How to Practice by Annie. M. R. Barnette. One of the more curious documents I've come across since beginning this blog, I find myself pulling Barnette's book off the shelf and marveling at how well it conjures a world in which beautiful singing was both encouraged and admired. 

December 5, 2013

Manuel Garcia, Famous Singer and Teacher, Dead

Clippings File, "Manuel García," New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York City. 

December 4, 2013

Giovanni Battista Lamperti at 70

Clippings File, "Giovanni Battista Lamperti," New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, New York City.