June 19, 2014

How Francesco Lamperti Taught Blending of Registers

While the García School thought in mechanical fashion, at least in terms of the action of the soft-palate in accessing the high range and blending of registers (sing a clear /i/ and then a clear /ü/ on the same note and you may feel what this means), the Lamperti School had a somewhat different approach. 

In this regard, an article in the Journal of Singing from the 1950's is quite informative. A gentleman by the name of Charles Hedley writes about his studies with Frances Stuart, who was a student of the Milanese maestro. Hedley tells the reader how Lamperti used a most ingenious analogy to teach students to sing in the upper range,

The core of Lamperti’s vocal philosophy was his concept of the five basic vowels. He considered them all to be diphthongs- even EE and especially AH. Each vowel finished in a greater or lesser change of sound. Each could be pictured phonetically as a hairpin. The exact place in the hairpin where the speech –vowel sounded was at a point well within the head of the hairpin- at a point one could call x. In speech, there was no delay at the open beginning of a vowel; pronunciation rolled at once to the point x. 

The true quality of OH, for instance- it’s pure “oh-ness” as Robert Middleton once put it- was at the point x, just where the sound was about to become oo. Similarly, the true quality of AY was at the point x, just where the sound was about to become ee. This delicate point of pronunciation must be heard first in quick speech; then, in sustained speech- sustained at point x. As speech was sustained, approximate pitch appeared; when sustaining continued long enough, exact pitch appeared and speech merged into singing. During the sustention, the pronunciation at point x must remain unchanged, the slight diphthong remaining beyond x occurring only with completing of the note. 

The problem of retaining an unchanging vowel sound throughout the range was next attacked. The greatest difficulty was related to a tune of rising pitches. During the rise, the tendency of the vowel was spread, away from the point x to the open end of the hairpin, with disaster to beauty of tone and intelligibility. The correction was, as in the case of breath, to think a countering tendency. As the pitches rose the pronunciation at point x was maintained by thinking forward beyond x into the head of the hairpin. To preserve a true OH, for instance, it was necessary to think further and further towards the oo; in the case of AY, further towards the ee. To say it another way, the higher the pitch, the further was the thought towards the final sound of the diphthong—or in customary terminology the higher the pitch the more "cover." —Charles Hedley

The source material for this post can be found in Lamperti and the Singing Word, NATS Journal, December 1958. You can access this article at the NATS website if you are a member, or via the JSTOR database at a university library.

Note: Students are encouraged to compare Lamperti's method with that of García—which can be found here.

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