January 7, 2015

Sensation in Singing

Herman Klein (1856-1934)

A recent post by a colleague made me think about the controversial subject of sensation in singing, which, depending on who you read, is either a good or bad thing. The science crowd? To read their writings, you'd think sensation was a personal matter that should be avoided inasmuch as the discussion of sex and politics at the dinner table. No, we must not scare the horses with that kind of talk! It is also thought to be a most unreliable means by which to learn to sing. 

The historical record is not so tame, nor is it so ambiguous. I cite as example my own little book, Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia (VoiceTalkPublications, 2013)which contains historic teachings from the father of voice science that highlight those vocal functions (a word much bandied about nowadays) which lead to distinct auditory and physiological sensations—one of them being "voice placement."

Klein's manual is not alone; crack open William Earl Brown's Vocal Wisdom: The Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti (1931) and you will encounter an entire world of sensation. Admittedly, I only tell students about it when they start exhibiting those vocal behaviors which help them understand it. To a person, they all come back (after weeks or months) and tell me they hear themselves—and other singers—differently

Function relies on audition. That's the bugaboo which is not talked about enough. (Deaf folks don't sing every well, at least, we don't pay them to sing professionally, do we?) Instead, we yammer on about shiny new studies as if they are gods-that-must-be-obeyed; when—all the time—the essentials of singing—which have everything to do with the singer's listening ability—are pretty simple and have been known for a very long time. Does this mean that there is nothing more to learn? Of course not! But if you really want to know something of the art of singing, Klein explains matters in practical terms which are second to none.

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