March 25, 2017

Ciccolini & Wartel

Back in 2011 I wrote a post entitled "Wartel's Hum" in which I referenced a book written by Wartel's student Sophia Marquise A. Ciccolini. Her book, Deep Breathing: As a Means of Promoting the Art of Song, and Curing Weaknesses and Affections of the Throat and Lungs, Especially Consumption (1883) was not available online at the time I wrote my post. However, it's now been scanned by the library gods and can be found on VoiceTalk's download page. 

Why should Ciccolini's book interest you? There is the Wartel connection for starters. He was a student of Adolphe Nouritt, himself a student of Manuel García père. Then there is the teaching of Ciccolini herself which centers on breathing and its appliccation in singing and matters of health—perennial wisdom that needs to be discovered by every generatation. 

Wartel, who was then about 70 years old, and who still often delighted his pupils with his full, rich voice, had a very mysterious and ingenious method which, as he said, was taken from the old Italian masters. He had us sing certain exercises with closed mouth, in order to bring us unconsciously to the end he had in view, viz.: to attack every tone in one and the same place and to employ deep, abdominal breathing. —Sophia Marquise A. Ciccolini. Deep Breathing: As a Means of Promoting the At of Song, and Curing Weakness and Affections of the Thoat and Lungs, Especially Consumption (1883). 

What's fascinating about the passage above is the reference to the old Italian school teaching which instructed the student to "attack every tone in one and the same place."

I can tell you one thing: They weren't talking about the larynx!

March 14, 2017

Porpora's Pure Tone

In the construction of any complicated piece of work, be it a mansion or even a musical instrument, which we wish to have well finished, the first thing naturally sought of it is good materials; the idea may be justly applied to the formation of the Voice.

The material required is a pure tone, by a pure tone is meant that, which is entirely free from any nasal, guttural, or dental sound; the best mode of acquiring this pure tone, is by vocalizing on the vowel A, as pronounced by the Italians, or the Scotch. Ah. It is been found from experience, that by emitting the sound on the vowel detached, it is possible that the tongue may by some trifling motion injure the quality of tone, in passing through the mouth, consequently it is deemed necessary to add the consonant L, making La; it will be observed that by this addition the tongue, in uttering the syllable, will touch the roof of the mouth and gently fall into the cavity in the bottom of it; the top of the tongue, touching the inner part of the lower gums. 

The teeth should be kept sufficiently apart to admit not more than the forefinger, for if they are widely separated, or even admit two fingers, an inclination to a nasal tone is created, and on the other hand, if they are too close a dental tone will arise. In the conservatories in Italy, there are men employed expressly to remind the pupils of the necessity of keeping the mouth sufficiently open, by constantly calling out "Aprite le bocca" open the mouth. 

The lower lip should be inclined to the smile, so that the tip of the under teeth may just be seen; for if the lip is allowed to remain in its natural position during practice, the probability is, that it will weaken and damp the tone. The greatest care should be taken to avoid any distortion of the features, such as the movement of the eyes or eyebrows; as this cannot render the least assistance in the production of a sweeter, a larger, or a better quality of tone, the Voice coming as it does (be it "Voce di petto" the Voice of the chest or "Voce di testa" the Voice of the head), from the back of the mouth, the head should be kept in a horizontal position, the practitioner avoiding the slightest movement of the lower jaw, otherwise he may cause a tightness of the muscular action, (a sensation so frequently felt by those who have not studied the art of singing) while passing from the chest to the head. 

—William Huckel, Practical Instructions for the Cultivation of the Voice; With a Series of Rules for its Adaption to the Chamber, the Concert Room, and the Stage (1820?): page 18-20. 

Huckel was a student of Domenico Corri, himself a student of Nicola Porpora. His text is of great interest, not only for its connection to Porpora—whose reputation as a voice teacher is legendary—but as the title indicates, for its practical instruction. He offers the reader much to ponder, one key point in the passage above being "the lower lip should be inclined to the smile..."

Find Huckel's text on the download page. 

March 12, 2017

Mastering Portamento

The old Italian school said that without portamento there was no singing, but only isolated notes void of all spiritual connection. According to the Bernacchi school, one may illustrate the portamento by imagining two pearls strung on a fine thread. The pearls represent the two notes to be joined, and the thread the connection, the swift gliding of the voice from the one note to the other.

Albert B Bach (1844-1912) 
The most expressive and sympathetic portamento that I have ever heard is that of the darling of gods and men, Adelina Patti. I believe that scarcely any other songstress is equally rich in pearls. I mean those notes gliding like invisible pearls from her lips, and certainly more precious than all the pearls eye can behold. I never heard an artist equally capable of singing so much with so little expenditure of breath. A sparkling writer once called Italy “the Lord’s own conservatoire,” and in this conservatorio, said Hanslick, Adelina Patti has indisputably carried off the first prize.

According to the Bernacchi school, the portamento of the Italians consists in joining on two different syllables two notes which form a smaller or larger interval in such a way that by a gentle legato, commencing at the close of the first note, the voice glides rapidly over to the second note by means of anticipating it. Bernacchi adds: “It is the teacher's business to sing, and to continue singing, to the pupil the portamento, and to make him imitate it until it is entirely mastered." I think it is desirable, too, that the teacher should copy the pupil’s faults, in order to challenge his judgment, and to make his sense of tone more acute; for it is in human nature to judge our neighbours more accurately than ourselves. The fable has it: “Man carries his neighbour's faults at his breast before him; but his own faults he carries on his back, where he does not see them.”

It is the teacher's business to sing, and to continue singing, to the pupil the portamento, and to make him imitate it until it is entirely mastered.

Some Italians call the musical sign marking the portamento—the transition from one note to another—“Il ponticello, the little bridge.” I should call it a magic bridge, the architect of which requires to be a noble artist, on whose skill both the safety and the beauty of the structure depend. The less material he employs in building it, the safer is the bridge, and therefore I may indeed call it a magic bridge, and warn pack-horses and heavy waggons not to tread it. Feelings only may traverse it and pass from soul to soul. To them alone it is open, and only at their command. Many nature-taught singers, indeed, think it melting melody and sympathetic expression when they very innocently mew their notes up and down with a rush of superfluous breath, often enough escorted by some nasal and palatal accessories. This is a style of execution which may meet with acceptance, but is by no means to be commended for imitation to the growing artist. Like religion, art ought to seek truth; and since all truth is harmonious, and all harmony beautiful, art must also seek beauty.

Portamento has its place chiefly in pieces in which tender sentiment is to be expressed; yet in the representation of violent passions, and in the delineation of gloom, not less than of the serene, and even in the recitativo, it may not always be dispensed with. The artist’s taste has in most cases to decide where portamento may be employed. Expressiveness is both the object and the effect of portamento, no matter whether love, grief, or joy be the emotions to be characterised. Still, as observed above, tender sentiment can least do without it.

—Albert B. Bach, On Musical Culture and Vocal Culture (1884), page 137-8.

Bach was a student of Francesco Lamperti. Find out more about him by clicking on his label below. His works can be found on the download page in the right-hand column.

Students of bel canto will be greatly aided by the Janet Spencer portamento recording (#5) which accompanies Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia and can be accessed here.

A key device of the old Italian school of singing, portamento is a preparatory exercise for singing legato. 

March 11, 2017

Singing Mozart

I went to the Metropolitan Opera last night to hear Mozart's opera Idomeneo with Matthew Polenzani in the title role. He was in top form. Of course, I woke up thinking about how one sings Mr Mozart. We learn something about that from a conversation between Bruce Duffie and Margaret Harshaw—the doyenne of voice teachers—that you can find online here. 

BD: Is there a secret to singing Mozart? 
MH: Yes, there certainly is. It requires the most pure placement of the voice, and for that reason it’s very difficult to sing. 
BD: And yet that’s what is imposed on a lot of youngsters. 
MH: Yes, and I will say I don’t think that’s always the wisest thing, because they will sing it by manufacturing, or singing it in a small voice. You have to sing it with a real voice that is well controlled, which is different, and in a very high placement, but not high larynx — there’s the difference.

BD: Getting back to roles a little bit, is it right to impose both Mozart and Wagner on the same voice? 
MH: The reason I sang Mozart was to keep my voice from falling lower and lower, getting thick and heavy, and not being able to get to the top notes — which is what the older singer fights. If you sing Mozart, it keeps you in that high position. It isn’t easy, but there it is again; if you want something, you will work for it, and that is the reason I sang it.

Pure placement. High placement. High position. These are descriptive terms you won't hear outside the voice studio, and even within the studio, the student can only understand their meaning through demonstration/feedback from a great listener as well as auditory sensation. These terms have their root in the García School of Singing, which has also been described in brief by Margaret Harshaw—who studied with Anna E. Schoen-René, herself a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García—as involving low support and high placement.

For practical information on voice placement, see my book Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García in the right-hand column. 

March 8, 2017

Top Ten on VoiceTalk

I never know what is going to interest the reader, and don't write to get clicks. Instead, I just write about what interests me at any given time. That said, it's interesting to see what readers gravitate towards. With that in mind, here are the ten most popular posts on VoiceTalk, ranked in descending order. 

  1. How Franceso Lamperti Taught Blending of Registers
  2. Blanche Marchesi: Sounding Boards 
  3. Singing & Hearing Aids
  4. How Manuel García Taught Blending of Registers
  5. Le chemin de l'amour
  6. How to Kill an Opera Company in 5 Easy Steps
  7. NYCO Archives Irreparably Damaged
  8. Lilli Lehmann's Vocal Technique
  9. NYCO Archives in Jeopardy
  10. Staccato 

What is to be gleaned from this list? It would seem that readers of VoiceTalk are interested in historical vocal pedagogy—Lamperti topping the list—with the blending of registers being of prime importance. This doesn't surprise me in the least. Students and teachers are forever trying to work out their registration kinks.

NYCO also rears its head—and I confess to having a fondness for number 6 which was written at breakfast in the space of 5 minutes.  I read it now and tell myself: "Yep. That's the way it went down."

The post on Lilli Lehmann's vocal technique? That led a gentleman to call me up and insist that the exercises would make his daughter a star.

Staccato at number 10? Nice to see students of singing Googling the basics. 

Number 5? I heard this haunting song for the first time as sung by the resplendent Rosemary Landry at Westminster Choir College. I hum it on warm summer nights and dream of Paris. 

March 7, 2017

Klein Defends Garcia

Mr. Hermann Klein, at Beckstein Hall on Monday afternoon, made a praiseworthy attempt to absolve the late Manuel Garcia from responsibility for that much-discussed vocal euphemism the "coup de la glotte," or at least the effect as it is generally understood. It is not to be denied that this method of attacking a note carries with it obvious evidences of futility. It has ruined many a singer's voice, but so have many other methods; only they are not all so acutely unpleasant in practice. In view of Mr. Klein's explanations, principally concerned with the correct translation of the word "coup" (which, of course, is not to be rendered "stroke" or "shock), I do not presume Garcia to have been guilty of all that he has been credited with in this particular point. But certainly if the broad vowel "a," without any consonantal assistance, is taken as the basis of early vocal exercises, the student is already on the way to becoming an expert in the exposition of the "coup de la glotte." The broad "ah," unhelped, is seldom at the command of the budding singer, and any persistent attempt to secure it prematurely can only have the most unsatisfactory results. 

This is all by the way, however. I am primarily interested in Garcia as the inventor of the laryngoscope. This idea should have occurred to a medical man, not a singing teacher. If historical records have any value, the art of brilliant accurate vocalism left off with the arrival of the ingenious instrument which permits of an intimate examination of the larynx and trachea. It is fairly obvious that the extraordinary vocal exercises to be found in the operas of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Mercandante and others (in other directions one might also include Handel, Mozart and Beethoven) were only written because they could be sung with a convincing facility. It fact, many of the famous singers were not entirely satisfied with the ornate material offered of the exercise of their abilities. Elaborate cadenzas received additional embellishment, and difficulties were piled on difficulties by the artist, only to show how easily they could be overcome. The famous singers who revelled in these mellifluous displays knew nothing whatever of the physiological aspects of their art, and their teachers were equally ignorant. A work like Rossini's "Barber" cannot be performed nowadays as it was written with any pretensions to successful vocalism. If the composer had been compelled to accept renderings similar to those attempted during the last twenty years or so, his demands on his singers would have been entirely unjustified and history must have played us false. If not, we are justified in attributing the bad, undecided, ill-conceived methods of vocalisation current all the world over at the present day to the invention of the laryngoscope and the consequent advent of the "voice-producer" and the professor of the "scientific method." 

"Singers and Methods," The Observer, December 10, 1911: page 11. 

Sir,—The remarks penned by your esteemed musical critic last week on the subject of my "Causerie" at Bechstein Hall would seem to impose upon me a double duty, namely, to persevere in my endeavour to "absolve" Manuel Garcia from responsibility of the misuse of the "coup de la glotte," and now also to whitewash his memory for the sin of having invented the laryngoscope. So much for the spirit of scientific research; the effort to penetrate one of the mysteries of nature the desire to tell man something about himself that he did not know before! Unlucky teacher of great singers! I cannot believe he had a notion, when he was giving new discoveries new names and striving hard to arrive at the truth concerning his art, that he was heaping up a pile of trouble and preparing the ground for a harvest of misunderstanding and false ideas. 

Well, suppose a singer had invented the laryngoscope. Is your critic so sure that it would not have fallen into the hands of the physiological singing master? Might not the throat doctors have turned and said, "We know now exactly how the vocal apparatus does its work, and are consequently far better qualified than anyone else to give instruction in the proper matter of using it?" They would have claimed the laryngoscope as a purely medical instrument and persuaded every vocal student to go to them first and to the musical man afterwards. Who would have profited by that? 

But Manuel Garcia gave no heed to these things. His great object was to find out by what mechanism the voice was formed. If he incidentally discovered a little instrument that proved to be a boon and a blessing to humanity in the hands of the throat surgeon, be sure he was grateful, and that he had not the least desire to convert the singing teacher into a professor of laryngeal anatomy. It was not his fault if people read into his words more than he intended to convey. He was not to blame if a new race of teachers employed mechanical aids which he himself never employed with or on his pupils. He could not be held responsible of the modern miracle-man of the vocal art proffered "royal roads" to success (and failure), whilst he continued to tread the slow, steady old path which alone, as the often declared, could lead to the goal achieved by the incomparably brilliant vocalists of his own time. Believe me, it is the impatience and unreasonableness of the latter-day student, far more than the advent of the laryngoscope, that marks the new era of singers to whom the roulades and fiorituri of the old Italian school present insurmountable difficulties.

On the other hands, I admit, it is not hard to trace some of this deterioration to the "voice-producer" and the "professor of the scientific method" referred to by your critic. Only it is about as fair to blame Manuel Garcia's invention for the existence of these people as it would be to hold the discoverer of chloroform responsible because burglars occasionally make use of that drug for their nefarious purposes. Blame rather the medical men who first make pathological studies with the aid of the laryngoscope; then, after publishing their observations in a form that the layman could understand, gradually took the singer and the "scientific teacher" into their confidence, and so emphasised the physiological aspect of the voice that the writings of Garcia assumed by degrees a fresh import and became less the means to an end than the end itself.

The doctors I refer to were the late Sir Morell Mackenzie and Mr. Lennox Brown; their books, respectively, "The Hygiene of the Vocal Organs" and "Voice, Song and Speech." The latter paved the way of my old friend Emil Behnke, with his ingenious but mistaken idea of the guttural attack and the "Koo-Koo" method. Surely all this has led may voices to disaster and ruin. Yes, says your critic, "If the broad vowel 'a' without any consonantal assistance, is taken as the basis of early vocal exercises, the student is already on the way to becoming expert in the exposition of the "coup de la glotte.'" What sort of "coup'? Give me the opportunity, and I will gladly at any time demonstrate to "C," with the throat and voice of an untrained singer, in less than half an hour, how the perfect attack can be obtained on the pure vowel "a" by the simple process that Manuel Garcia himself taught—a process that is the reverse of that which is commonly supposed to constitute the so-called "coup de la glotte"!

Yours obediently, Hermann Klein 

"Singers and Methods," The Observer, December 17, 1911: page 15. 

March 5, 2017

Judy's N's

This is what happens to me: I am looking for a particular something, then find myself somewhere else and voila—a post creates itself. That's what happened here. I was at Youtube intent on listening to something completely different when Garland leapt out at me from the right-hand column. And what did I hear when I clicked on "Old Man River"? 

Judy's N's. 

All over the place. Everywhere. The piece was stuffed with them.

This lead me to listen to how Garland sang on her consonants, taking great care to give them time and emphasis. Do you hear singers do this today? I don't think so. This kind of emphasis is considered too fussy, too mannered, and old fashioned.

We laud this lady for singing in such a way as to blow us away; yet, do we hear the detail with which she does it? The technical stuff? I think not. Our brains soak in the big emotional arc Garland takes us on. It's quite the ride, starting quietly and then ending in a huge blaze of sound and feeling. Yet, if you listen carefully, Garland holds herself together with small things like N which are given real care.

We hear the same emphasis and care on her N's in the second cut. The third? We hear Garland do something very different: Instead of emphasising her vocal line, diction and presence, she lets Streisand take the lead. Her diction becomes soft, muted and subordinate. A big star being generous. Then comes the love-fest. 

Small things can be very powerful. Small things like N. 

March 4, 2017

Sing in Spain

I have been vacationing with Umbrian Serenades for the last six years (the program was founded eleven years ago) and will be singing with the program in Soria, Spain, this coming summer. Very excited to be doing so, the program will have a personal component for me because I lived in Spain as a child from the age of 10 to 13—residing in both Bilbao and Valencia. Not having returned to Spain since then, I look forward to revisiting the cities and places that captured my imagination. (There is an amazing Moorish fortress just outside Valencia—in particular—that I am eager to see again.) 

Designed by Paulo Faustini with the greatest care, the program's core is one of gorgeous choral music with the added addition of a recital series. Contained within the context of delectable cultural tastings (we're talking amazing culinary delights) and locals and experiences, the program has a transformative effect on participants—one to which I can attest since I wrote my first book after my first trip (yes, working on a second). I came home after that wonderful trip and knew what I had to do and how I was going to do it. Seeing that I had been sitting on the project for a number of years, the program provided the necessary catalyst for me to—ahem—get off my ass and get it done. 

Singing does that. Did you know that? Singing changes things by rewiring the connections in our brains, helping us see ourselves and others anew. I believe this is why we go to the opera, the art song recital—which is a very intimate endeavor both for the singer and the listener—the synagogue, church, and mosque. Singing is transformative. 

Come be part of it in Spain. See the video for more information, then visit Paulo's site here. He is still accepting applications.