"Which comes first, Music or Text?"

What a trick question.... Voice is first.

Nuts and Bolts

Posted by on Dec 4, 2016 in Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Nuts and Bolts

So I’m back with advice for a young man from “Twilight Zone”. You may remember that I created this fantasy place in my last blog….. I’m sorry. I have to admit to stealing that label from an old television show. In that blog I also named the young man I met in that pleasant region “Ottaviohopful”.  We had only a short time to work together, but I still remember his voice, and the vocal difficulties he faced at that time. Measures ten and eleven of “Dalla sua pace” are probably offering him a challenge common to most tenors just starting out, and sometimes observable with singers of long experience.

Just to be sure you and I are on the same page, I will insert “Ottaviohopeful”’s note as a reminder here:

Dear Maestro Blake,

I’m the younger tenor of “Twilight Zone”. I write to you in order to inform you about my situation and conditions. With my teacher I’m studying Dalla sua pace and I confess I have some problems. At first the teacher told me that I must study the aria “with ‘voce piena’ because today even lyric tenors not only leggero tenors sing Don Ottavio”. So I sing with “voce piena”, but, altough I succeed in singing the first two G, when I’m singing “quel che le incre-E-SCE”, when I should sing F, I find this passage very difficult. The throat closes by itself. I don’t know what I should do. I remember your advices in “TwiliteZone”, I remember you spoke about falsetto and I read on your site that you say about falsetto in relation to Una furtive lagrima. Falsetto is very very important, so I don’t understand why my teacher forbids me to use it. He says “With falsetto singing, orchestra covers you”. I cannot believe it and all people who would like to teach me to sing tell me the same thing. So, according to them, is better that I sing like a slaughtered capon; and according to them, I cannot lower the tone because “in theater never could you make this [singing in falsetto] because the conductor wants the right tone”. I’m desperate. I run away from this people and still do not have a teacher. I would like to come in “MasterClassVille”, but it’s impossible to me. I hope to find a real teacher as soon as possible. According to you, what should I do?



Given the vocal advice “Ottaviohopeful” mentions in his note, I expect he faces the most common vocal ordeal a tenor had to undergo and resolve in previous centuries. There are lots of examples today that testify against this once inevitable hurdle being a barrier one had to surpass on his assent to

the rank of distinguished artist“.

A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing: Part One by Manuel Garcia II page 1

Luciano Pavarotti gives us a really good example of how “Ottaviohopeful” could please his teacher.  The full Monty you can review here:

Now the part we are interested in are these measures:



Luciano sings these notes in Chest Voice and shows us how he could choose to sing in Clear Timbre or Dark Timbre on an F natural.  The evidence that proves he could do this is sitting on You Tube where he sings the first F natural in measure 11 in Clear Timbre and the second F natural in Dark Timbre.  In the century that has past into so like yesterday status one could have heard this binary way to do these two notes described this way:

Luciano sings open until the second F natural which he sings closed or covered.


Luciano sings normally until the second F natural when he goes into passaggio.


Luciano canta normalmente fino la seconda fa naturale dove si gira la voce.

My French, Spanish and German are just not good enough to go on.

Anyway, Luciano was a great technician, and did his thing with wonderful consistency, but was no automaton. Luciano gives us a lesson on his freedom of Dark Timber use when he returns to this phrase in measures 45 and 46.dalla-sua-pace-yasu-measures-45-46-lots-better


Now we have Luciano singing the E natural and both F naturals in Dark Timbre, or “closed/covered”, “in passaggio” or “girato”.  This variation on his first foray through this phrase shows how a tenor can change Dark Timbre use or in standard singer talk “move his passaggio” around.  When he arrives at measures 57 and 58, he does exactly the same “passaggio” thing as in 45 and 46 with a little more support for added volume:


It’s possible that even Luciano could have been complicit in influencing my young correspondent.  Luciano made a statement that is just so tenor I can’t help but smile. He speaks about being “a real tenor”, and demonstrates what he is talking about.  He then falls into his own trap to demonstrate that he himself can deviate from being the “real tenor” he considers himself to be. He sings the F at the top of his E flat major scale “open”, just like he did with his first F natural in measure 11 of Dalla sua pace. I have to say that all the sounds produced by Luciano’s voice were wonderful.  He was a real tenor, not withstanding his own standards. (Click the above blue text links to see and hear what I’m talking about.)

I have an idea that “Ottaviohopeful” was trying to do what Luciano did with this phrase, and it probably felt like he was trying to push a bolder up a steep hill using his larynx to push it.  If you listen to some of the other tenors, who’s YouTube examples I include in my previous blog, you may be surprised to hear big differences in the ways that these other tenors sang the same notes that Luciano sang. They are all real tenors,,, even I make the grade, but Luciano as well as the teacher mentioned by “Ottaviohopeful” may think that we are redefining the word “real”.

I’ll be back again with my thoughts on the relevant things I hear in the singing of those other “real” tenors.

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Everything happens for a reason.

Posted by on Nov 26, 2016 in Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Everything happens for a reason.

I believe that things happen for a reason.  Although this tenor started trying to answer the question Hal David asks Alfie long before he wrote his lyrics, I haven’t found all the answers.  I expect Alfie and the rest of humanity to come up short in their ability to consider all things and give a perfect summation.  I wish we could all agree that we suffer this limitation, but that is not our lot in life, and I know that there are only a few who share my first statement of faith.  To say: “Things happen for a reason.” is to say that meaning exists.  Heady stuff for a tenor, don’t you think?capture

OK, since a tenor would certainly risk a migraine by trying to understand everything, I’ll save myself that pain in the brain by dialing back my focus to my last couple of days inhabiting the above location: Latitude: 44.718231 and Longitude: -73.403633.


It was only a few days ago that I made my first reference to the above page on the internet and added a few comments to the following page:



The text is a little hard to read in the image above, so here it is again, if you don’t want to visit that page to be able to read it:

On these pages we have an extended analysis of the phenomena Falsetto and Chest Voice as they were understood before Garcia came along to add to this discussion the conclusions he derived from his own research.  There is a really important facet to this “preamble” to Garcia’s method.  Falsetto and Chest Voice were very well recognized as distinct vocal products.  There was no consensus as to their mechanical production, but no one had to be instructed in how to recognize these phenomena.  Sadly, I see confusion everywhere today.

When I completed these chores, I started cleaning up my email and tripped over the following missive.  I keep the identity of my correspondent and his location anonymous with fantasy names.

Dear Maestro Blake,

I’m the younger tenor of “Twilight Zone”. I write to you in order to inform you about my situation and conditions. With my teacher I’m studying Dalla sua pace and I confess I have some problems. At first the teacher told me that I must study the aria “with ‘voce piena’ because today even lyric tenors not only leggero tenors sing Don Ottavio”. So I sing with “voce piena”, but, altough I succeed in singing the first two G, when I’m singing “quel che le incre-E-SCE”, when I should sing F, I find this passage very difficult. The throat closes by itself. I don’t know what I should do. I remember your advices in “TwiliteZone”, I remember you spoke about falsetto and I read on your site that you say about falsetto in relation to Una furtive lagrima. Falsetto is very very important, so I don’t understand why my teacher forbids me to use it. He says “With falsetto singing, orchestra covers you”. I cannot believe it and all people who would like to teach me to sing tell me the same thing. So, according to them, is better that I sing like a slaughtered capon; and according to them, I cannot lower the tone because “in theater never could you make this [singing in falsetto] because the conductor wants the right tone”. I’m desperate. I run away from this people and still do not have a teacher. I would like to come in “MasterClassVille”, but it’s impossible to me. I hope to find a real teacher as soon as possible. According to you, what should I do?



I answered this email a long time ago, but here it was again screaming at me to answer it,,, again.  Everything conspired to suggest this blog.  There is a reason things happen and the best answer I can muster to this young man’s email I will put in full view of anyone who wants to know what this argument is all about.  I know, I know, no tenor can know all that there is to know about anything, but this website is about this tenor presenting the content of his mind, and what’s contained between my ears will certainly not tax the internet’s storage capacity.

Composers of the ancient past often had to improvise when they faced unfortunate cast members.  Rossini cut the tenor aria in the first act of SEMIRAMIDE when he got to know John Sinclair, his first Idreno.

Rossini took his self-editing activities as protector of the Venetian public so seriously in 1823 that he chopped Mr. Sinclair’s second aria roughly in half and revised and reduced the number and difficulty of the notes the audience would be forced to hear from this English singer. By the time Rossini finished, what remained of “La Speranza Più Soave” was only slightly more difficult than Mozart’s “Dalla sua pace”.

Pragmatism is a necessary attitude for anyone hoping to make a career in “The Arts” and Rossini seemed well supplied.

Unlike Rossini’s experience with writing and producing SEMIRAMIDE, Mozart knew the voice of his first Don Ottavio before he composed DON GIOVANNI, and he wrote “Il mio Tesoro” for Antonio Baglioni for the Prague premier.

When Mozart got to Vienna for the first revival of his Opera, he found Francesco Morella in the tenor role.  Oops,,, this one needed a new aria.  I happen to like the Mozart way of accommodating a less than consummately capable tenor, because, as a result, we tenors of the future, like me, receive more music with which to work. The following is my rendition without the distortion I found in the previous embed I used:

If you have the liberty to be a complete artist, singing “Dalla sua pace” is only slightly more difficult than falling off a log.  It becomes a complex conundrum when your professor instructs you to sing it without recourse to Falsetto.

Here is an Italian using more Falsetto than Chest Voice:

Here we have an Italian using more Chest Voice than Falsetto:

Here is an Englishman intermixing Lots of Falsetto with occasional Chest Voice insertions.

Here is a Canadian playing the same game as our Britisher with a lot better control:

A tenor from Peru does a good job of it too:

All in all, Falsetto is not missing from these performances and should be used to build an interpretation.  It should not be a refuge from vocal challenges.  In only one of the above examples does a singer seem to use Falsetto as a way to overcome apparent vocal difficulty. You figure that one out.

I’ll be back next week with the nuts and bolts advice for my email correspondent.

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Garcia is Now Open

Posted by on Nov 20, 2016 in Blog, Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Garcia is Now Open

Silence is a wonderful thing.  Now I enjoy my mornings back in my easy chair luxuriating in our North Country predawn quiet. The noise of fellow hotel guests moving about, trash cans being upended by intrepid collectors keeping a big city livable and LA traffic now only serve as memories to help me appreciate my present environment.

Going West to LA was noisy, but was more vacation than work.  I had a wonderful time reconnecting with my friends who were gathered together by Palm Springs Opera Guild of the Dessert.  They let me add my ears to a two day parade of auditions dedicated to the youthful.  It was just as educational as last year’s outing and twice as satisfying, notwithstanding the melancholy caused by a missing essential element.  Michael Cressey departed the Earth shortly after last year’s auditions where we often huddled together trading opinions on the singers we were hearing.  Friendships take time and shared experience.  I think it’s called bonding these days.  I missed the enthusiasm and dedication with which Michael inspired me to look forward to developing his friendship.  It is always hard to wave a final salute to those whom one knows well, but one usually has lots of memories to serve as reminder and comfort during the ensuing separation.  It is really hard to say goodbye while holding onto only a few remembered shared shards of time spent in service to a composer we both love, but it is what I have and what I will hold.

I was twice as satisfied this time by two singers who sang last year and came back displaying improvements related to advice I had given them at those first auditions in 2015.  It used to be jump up and down fun to have an audience applaud my work, but now, young singers showing me that they can put Garcia’s tools to good use is what puts the spring in my quads…  Well,,,, whatever spring my old quads can contain.

Now the work begins today.  You can click → Garcia to find the page I am dedicating to him and his writings.  I have a small pile of newly edited and printed books in my office that I hope will find new homes in the hands of the singing obsessed.  Now that the shipping department, that would be me, is back from his recent West Coast vacation, we (tenors are complicated) can offer these books for sale.

I had a note from a new subscriber which I would like to answer with the rest of this blog.  A certain far away tenor asked me:

I’m from Taiwan. I’m supposed to be a Rossini tenor myself but can’t seem to sing past my high B and Cs, which is essential in singing Rossini arias. I’m intrigued by what you say about the voice having no passaggio or break at all. Maybe that’s the problem we all have- when we think it’s there, it really is, or we will “produce” one. Can you share the secret of getting rid of the break in the high register? I’m just dying to get to those high Bs and Cs- I either crack or flip to falsetto on those notes no matter what I do.

His question is not “far out” it is really “right on”.  The problem he and everyone, including me, faces has to do with a grand misunderstanding of vocal technique.  He describes, as a break, an inability to maintain Chest Voice, or CGC into the highest notes required by Bel Canto composers.  His difficulty is assuredly related to an effort to maintain the conformation of the vocal instrument all the way to the top notes written by the composer.  It is the wrong idea.  Such an effort is related to vocal traditions built up since the advent of Verdi.  It could be wrongfully labeled “Verdi technique”, or more wrongfully declared to be “Vocal Technique”.  I tend to denigrate this “hold everything where it is” way of singing by calling it part of “Modern Vocal Technique”.  If we are going to find those elusive high notes while maintaining chest voice, guys, we have to give up on stasis.  In order to attain those high notes in Chest Voice we have to allow the larynx to rise and the pharynx to diminish in caliber enough that the vocal instrument formed above the vocal chords becomes amicable to those high pitches and not present a cavity so large as to over tax the chords’ musculature.  When the vocal cavity is over-sized for the strength of the larynx, you can only expect Falsetto or IGC to result…  Oh,,, sorry, one can find the more drastic vocal result of total disorganization.  That would be the crack or my preferred Italian moniker “la stecca”.

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Going West!

Posted by on Nov 9, 2016 in Featured

Going West!

The dust of election day is settling and I’m getting back to Garcia.  Oh,,,, I can’t forget Rossini.  So, tomorrow I will be on my way to participate in a talent search in the name of Rossini.  I’m lending my ears to The Palm Springs Opera Guild Of The Desert to hear a few hopeful youth sing some music of Pesaro’s Swan as we look for another winner for Peggy Cravens Rossini Award.

By the time I get back from visiting California, I will have added a bunch of stuff to the single page now standing guard over my virtual Garcia garden.  I want it to be a worthy a companion to the grand master’s writings and since a few copies of A COMPLETE TREATISE on THE ART OF SINGING: Part One are stacked in my office ready for distribution, I should serve Garcia as well as Rossini while I’m on the road.

Now that I have “Book (self) Publishing” sufficiently understood to get started, the Garcia sales channel will open as soon as my shipping department manager,

you know who,

gets back from warmer, dryer weather out west.

I really do hate to leave my furry friends and the love of my life, Debbie, who took our picture, behind but retirement does not mean domestic bliss and total inaction.  We should all have so much to do that a lifetime seems too short to get it done.  I have to admit to this attitude as I consider any time scale.  An hour is never enough for a lesson, a day will allow me only enough time to weed 10% of the real garden surrounding our house and my life seems so small in the face of my mission to clear the air about singing.  Going to LA is just a small 2800 mile, 1 week step toward promoting good, even great singing.

I’ll be back.

See you soon,

Rockwell Blake

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Torino Next Year

Posted by on Oct 18, 2016 in Featured, Opera, Singing

Torino Next Year

Dear Friends,

Just a note to inform anyone who may have been planning to meet me in Torino on the dates:

31 October through 5 November

I will be in Plattsburgh, New York, USA not doing a Master Class.

I’m going to miss the trip, the pleasure of working with those who signed up and seeing all my Torino friends.  I would have traveled to teach the few singer types who enrolled to participate, but no one can afford to pay the costs of the Master Class with so few participants.

It seems to me that we are all feeling the financial pinch these days.  I hope conditions will improve for everyone, and that the Master Class in April will be affordable and more attractive to anyone interested in the Operatic Arts.

If you were planning to come to Torino at the end of the month so I might help you, I’m sorry that there are not enough of you to make the Master Class viable.   Please consider coming in April.  I will be even more enthusiastic about the work we need to do together.

May your success be tenfold greater than you expect,

Rockwell Blake


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Come to Torino

Posted by on Oct 10, 2016 in Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Come to Torino

I’m still alive, well and if you missed my blogs, I’m back.
I have more to do than time to do them all. This little blog is one of those time consuming commitments that I dropped last Spring in favor of many other projects. I’m back to the blog, and just in time to invite you to come, at the end of the month, to Torino.
I have no time to waste for getting the word out about Torino.  The Master Class will start on Monday the 31 October and finish on 5 November. I hear there is room for more participants. The more of you who come the harder I will be able to work, and I do like to work hard at making singing more exciting.  If you come, I will do my best to give you what you need to make what you do more exciting.  Please come and ask me to teach you whatever you want to learn.  I know that I will be able to give you more than you can think to ask.  It is Art that we make, and the only limit on Art is our own imaginations. Come play with me and we will make Art.
One of my favorite time hungry projects is down to just a last bit of work on “A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing: Part One”.front-cover  I will carry a few copies to Torino with me.  It is with this book that I start a whole new venture to celebrate Garcia.
There is a lot of work to do, and the most important part is getting results. When we study and our singing improves, the Art of singing gets stronger. When we study and our singing does not improve, we are wasting our time. Come to Torino. You will not waste your time. It’s a promise.
Rockwell Blake

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Death of a Renaissance Man

Posted by on Apr 13, 2016 in Featured, Living, Opera

Death of a Renaissance Man

Daniel Sumegi announced 10 April on Facebook, the passing of Randy Mickelson. I join Daniel in mourning the departure of Randy and count myself one of many who would rather have the world continue to include him among the living. I feared that what I might say about Randy from my point of view as an Opera insider and close appreciator of his innumerable interests and many talents would be insignificant in the face of his expansive existence upon the face of this Earth. So I asked an outsider to write a remembrance of Randy for me to help me do a better job. If you keep reading you will run into it.

I remember him as an overflowing vessel containing interests, knowledge, passions and endeavors that a phrase in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” catches perfectly. It is said in Operatic context with great insincerity, but applied to Randy it fully forms in truth my estimation of the prince of a man that Randy Mickelson was:

“Prence! L’Altezza Vostrae e un pozzo di bontà. Più se ne cava, più ne resta a cavar.”

My terrible translation:

“My Prince! Your Highness is a wellspring of goodness. The more one lifts out the more there is left to extract.”

Randy Mickelson at the keyboard

Randy Mickelson at the keyboard

My outsider friend’s impressions in her native language:

Ciao, Rocky mi ha invitato a scrivere un mio ricordo di Randy. Sono onorata per questo e lo faccio con immenso piacere. Ho incontrato Randy molte volte e ogni volta è stato estremamente divertente e interessante. Amavo i suoi racconti su Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Federica fon Stade, quegli episodi quotidiani che rendevano “umani” questi esseri che per me vivevano sull’Olimpo. La Sutherland che adorava fare i lavori di casa e che parlava di Rossini e di Donizetti con i guanti per lavare i piatti o controllando il forno con l’arrosto. La prima volta me lo avete fatto conoscere a Pesaro e ricordo che per due notti di fila siamo stati a parlare sulla terrazza del Clipper fino alle 6 della mattina, non aveva mai sonno e quando l’ho salutato per andare a letto ho avuto la sensazione che provasse un lieve fastidio. Non ho un ricordo di Randy diurno. Per me Rendy è sempre stato l’uomo della notte. lo potevo sentire parlare per ore e non mi stancavo mai di ascoltarlo raccontare quei dubbi musicali, quelle scoperte brillanti, quelle fantastiche intuizioni. Una volta mi raccontò tutto sul Crociato in Egitto, la riscoperta, gli incontri con la Queler, la parte di Adriano scritta praticamente per Rocky, per me era toccare il cielo con un dito.

Mi piaceva tanto quando raccontava la triste vicenda della sua villa palladiana, di cui non ricordo il nome, con il soffitto affrescato dai temi astrologici che soffriva infiltrazioni di acqua quando pioveva e che aveva bisogno di essere restaurata, ma la burocrazia italiana impediva ogni iniziativa. Parlava sempre con passione distaccata . L’ultima volta che l’ho visto è stato a Venezia, quella sera a cena dove ci siamo scolati 10 bottiglie di vino in 6 e che, forse a causa dei fumi dell’alcol, mi disse che aveva conosciuto poche persone non musicologhe o musiciste che ne sapessero quanto me e che per lui era un vero piacere conversare con me. Sono passati un mucchio di anni, ma ancora adesso, se ci penso sono orgogliosissima di quelle parole.

Silvia Mannucci

Again my terrible translation slightly improved by my wife Debbie:

Hi, Rocky you asked me to write a personal memory of Randy. I am honored by this and do it with grand pleasure. I ran into Randy many times and every time was extremely entertaining and interesting. I loved his remembrances of Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Federica Von Stade, in normal life situations that gave humanity to these creatures that I imagined as living on Olympus. Sutherland who loved doing house work and spoke of Rossini and Donizetti wearing rubber gloves for washing the dishes while caring for the roast in the oven.

You first introduced me to him in Pesaro and I remember that for two consecutive nights we spoke through the night until six in the morning on the terrace of the Hotel Clipper. I didn’t feel sleepy for a moment and when I took my leave of him to go to bed I had the impression that I had mistreated myself by only the slightest of deprivations. I have no diurnal memory of Randy. For me Randy was always a man of the night.

I could listen to him speak for hours and never weary of listening as he told of musical doubts, many brilliant discoveries and fantastic intuition. One time he told me all about “Crociato in Egitto”, the rediscovery of it, his encounters with Eve Queller, the role of Adriano written particularly well for a voice like Rocky’s… for me it was like touching the sky with a finger.

It pleased me to hear his sad story of his Palladio Villa, the name of which I cannot remember, with the astrologically thematic frescoed ceilings that suffered water infiltration when it rained, because the place needed restauration. But the Italian bureaucracy impeded every one of his initiatives. He spoke of this with grand passionate detachment.

The last time I saw him was in Venice, that evening at dinner when six of us drained ten bottles of wine, and maybe because of the alcohol fumes, he said to me that he had encountered only a few non-musicologists or non-musicians who had as much knowledge as I did, and that for him it was a real pleasure to converse with me. A pile of years have passed, but still today if I think of them, those words make me prouder than proud.

Silvia Mannucci

Nothing I could say from inside the artistic world could match the picture painted by Silvia, and I am so grateful to her for helping me honor Randy.

Rockwell Blake

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It is the Best of Times.

Posted by on Feb 15, 2016 in Blog, Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

It is the Best of Times.

There are five weeks between me and Torino. That span of time is short, but ripe for work. As our calendars click off significant slices of time, every click hands us a question: What’s next? I keep struggling with that interrogative, and, to be perfectly honest, I never really know to which of a thousand and one (1001) possible projects I am going to commit my next chunk of time. The struggle doesn’t get easier with increased maturity. Even a tenor knows that time past is gone and future time is shorter. So the struggle actually gets harder, but I know the day to act is always today and that my time to work is now.

A certain pristine yesterday the USPS delivered me an easy answer to that “What’s next?” question. Donald V. Paschke sent it.

Dr. Donald V. Paschke

Dr. Donald V. Paschke

He sent back a stack of “A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing: Part One” proofs to the Blake compound all marked up and ready for me to correct. You know – the typos and formatting errors that were in the printout that I sent Dr. Paschke a short time ago.

Now that the USPS did its work to carry Donald’s answer to my priority problem, I can see that it’s high time to dedicate myself to getting this book ready for the printers, but I just can’t forget that Torino project scheduled for March.


I know there are already a few singers signed up to participate in Torino, but I would like to have more. So here I am adding an invitation to this stream of tenor thoughts. Please come and let me do my best to help you with your singing. Getting you to sing well is now one of the most important parts of my life’s work. My Garcia project is also important, but only as a support for the after-Opera-life I always saw coming when I finally arrived at being an unemployed tenor. I sang in the business for quite long enough for me to learn what it was all about and to collect the demanding fans who insisted that I teach others how to take the stage when I finally quit singing.

Garcia made his life all about that “Get them ready to be great Opera Artists” thing, and I stand small before his legacy calling for anyone and everyone to follow his lead. With maturity (OLD AGE) and retirement I have had enough contemplating time to fully absorb Garcia and study in greater depth the many “problems” of singing which I suffered and the few that passed me by. I am diligently trying to lay a foundation for sharing Garcia and the content of my tiny tenor mind. The first floor of this edifice may one day have many rooms, but the venue that Armando Caruso gives me at Accademia della Voce del Piemonte I already number as 101. I’ll be there on March 14 and hope you will join me.

My dearest Debbie sometimes comes at me with statements like “You’ve got to write something about……….” Many times it’s about a local political or economic (TAX) thing, and we collaborate to shine some light on something resident power broker types would like to see pass unnoticed. But we kind of like people to know what’s going on. It is a sad fact that power brokers in every category of activity and every geographic expanse are able to hide from the apathetic, but Debbie and I care deeply about many things. Big deal!!! Two people, two votes, two opinionated citizens of the World who care about what’s going on???!!!! Well, if there were more of us, there would be a lot less political dirty doings going on. I’m fortunate that Debbie also cares about what is happening to singing almost as much as I do…. To return to perfect honesty; she may care even more than I do, but who am I to judge? Anyway, she came at me with “You’ve got to do a blog about that “Don’t listen to your voice!” thing you keep telling me about.” Not that I haven’t written something (click here), but students keep quoting that hissing serpent in our lessons. I just can’t keep myself from sssssshhhhhharing with Debbie the ssssssssssssstupidities I hear students repeat. They’re phrases they have heard in pre-Blake voice lessons, and they carry them around like “gems of wisdom”. I get really hot under the collar, do my best to keep from punishing my student with a rant, and often let my bubble of anger burst when Debbie asks after the progress of a student.  So, now, even she has heard enough, and it will be a future project.


I’m off to,,,,uh,, oh yes, I forgot, the dentist first, and then the editing desk. Garcia’s “Part One” is almost back in print.


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Tenor to Tenor

Posted by on Jan 31, 2016 in Blog, Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Tenor to Tenor

Time to tell a tenor what not to do: Don’t despise your voice.  Don’t go all negative about yourself just because God gave you a vocal instrument that seems small whenever you think of Del Monico, Corelli, Bonisolli,,,,,, I could go on, but it doesn’t change a thing.  There is always space in this world for singers who are effective.  Big voices are really rare (that’s why they were valuable), really hard to manage (that’s why some big voice owners were considered stylistic pigs) and those big voices often get misdirected.

The biggest misdirection I can think of is down.  That is, like you know, the COMMAND: DOWN.  It’s a good command for a big dog with dirty feet, but a “commanding” mistake for any singer with an un-rare gift to put his or her larynx down all the time.  It will have an effect, but it will almost always cost the instrument more than it can afford to pay.  Most students adopting this “all the time” command never get further than completing a college career.  Some manage to populate regional theatres, and represent, to some opera operatives, the hope for the future.  A few rise high enough in visibility to become shooting stars in the Opera world.  Very, very few become durable Stars, and most of these show us, in the twilight years of their vocal life, the symptoms that quickly overcome all those youthful voices unable to sustain the cost of the DOWN command.

Petter Reingardt’s question was:

3. I feel that my voice is quite small but high and light. I’m searching for that dark timbre you have by breathing low, relaxing jaw and throat, and keeping the larynx in a lower position. Now I wonder: have you ever felt that your voice is not big enough? If you did; how did you solve this problem?

My response to Petter:

For you to focus on laryngeal position is a misdirection of your attention.  You need to concentrate on the quality of sound you are making.  It is primary for all singers who want to be real artists.  In your recordings available on the internet, you sing as if you do not recognize the difference between Chest Voice and Falsetto.  In your “Ah! Mes amis” video, you manage to do a little Chest Voice but you insert it with no apparent artistic logic and darken enough to make the moments when you sing in Chest Voice hard to discern.  Don’t think that you can use tools like “Dark Timber” to tweak your voice into sounding like mine, and please forget imagining injections of Botox to your jaw and throat.

I did a blog some time ago about Falsetto, and confusion.  I suggest you consume it: Just click here.  Follow the music and Luciano’s singing to get an idea of how Falsetto should be incorporated into an interpretation.  There is logic to Pavarotti’s moves from one function to another.  I wonder if you can hear it happening in Luciano’s voice.  I can hear it happening in your Donizetti recording, but can you?  In your audio recording of “Languir’ per una bella” I am hard pressed to pick out any Chest Voice singing.

Please stop telling your instrument that it is just not good enough.  Sing in Chest Voice when you intend to sing mezzo forte or louder in your low register, your middle register and your high register.  Chest Voice is for the louder bits and Falsetto is almost exclusively for the softer bits.  High or low doesn’t matter.  The big “trick” is to hide your transition from one function to the other so that the in-expert listener takes no notice of the event as you go from soft (Falsetto) to loud (Chest) to soft (Falsetto).  Sadly, your singing hides Chest Voice when you find it.  You need to make Chest Voice ring in the ears of your audience.

Yes, my voice is and was a “small” voice.  All high voices are “smaller” than lower voices.  The real measure of a voice used to be its audibility.  If the audience could hear the singer, and the singer inspired the audience to applaud, then the voice of the singer was not “too small”.  I didn’t have a vocal size “problem” back in the early years of my vocal life.  I did learn to ignore those who criticized my voice for various qualities it had, and those who criticized me for some qualities that a few of my detractors said my voice should have had.  Size was an issue that surfaced in auditions and shortly showed up in print.  It took a while, but I learned that it was less about my voice than it was about my category.  You are of the same category as I, and I’m sorry that you seem to have internalized the standard carping about the “size” a voice in our category normally displays.  Making a voice sound bigger than it is by nature is a formula for microphone dependence, if the voice survives.

My hope for you is that you can let go of your obsession with laryngeal movement management, and change your focus to hearing continuity in the sound your instrument produces.

So, Petter, please don’t wrastle your larynx to the floor.  It won’t make your voice bigger.  A big voice used to be a mixed blessing, and I often went all “Why couldn’t I have a voice like that?” when I listened to Franco Corelli.  I am a tenor.  So I did try to make like Franco, but my instrument put me on notice: “OK! As long as you do this “Nessun dorma” and “E lucevan le stele”  thing in front of that Navy Band microphone then we’re on, but if you take your mouse in elephant costume show on the Operatic Stage then I’m out-uh-here!” I’m glad, I got the message.

I will try to answer your other questions briefly.

1. Coloratura: what is the secret? How should I train this the right way? I feel like I can’t be agile and sing with full voice at the same time. So how do you do it?

The secret is in your ability or inability to make your diaphragm flutter and with your coordination.  The primary physical apparatus that produces good coloratura is the diaphragm.  This controller of support acts in a negative fashion.  That is to say that the potential energy developed in the pressure under which your viscera are place by your abdominal muscles is blocked and controlled by the diaphragm.  That pressure created by your abdominal muscles, unopposed by your diaphragm, would normally be transferred to the air in your lungs, and if you didn’t stop it by other means the air in your lungs would escape you immediately.  So your diaphragm stops your tightened abdominal muscles,,, you do know,,,  I forgot.  You’re a tenor!  The source of energy that goes through two conversions and several modifications before ultimately landing in our ears as your voice are your abdominal muscles.  Anyway, your diaphragm is in charge of controlling the transfer of the pressure in your viscera to the air in your lungs which then motivates your vocal chords which provide the vibrations that the rest of your vocal instrument converts into intelligible language and hopefully satisfyingly attractive singing.  If you didn’t care a whit about coloratura, that would be enough said.

But, since you ask, the diaphragm is also the main generator of the pulsations that we recognize as coloratura.  It is even logical.  Not all vocal things are logical, but this one is.  There is no other component of your anatomy to which you can award credit.  Leo Nucci once told me that he believed that the old school castrati used to do coloratura with their lips.  He demonstrated his proposition on the Met stage during a “Barber of Seville” rehearsal.  It was a good laugh, but I was never quite sure he meant it as a joke.  The diaphragm takes care of this work.  I have often offered the following advice:

Sing the violin part from the shaving scene in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA.  Start it in anySaving Workout.musx convenient key, really slow at first and singing every note without any interruption of vocal cordSaving Workout.musx activity except during inhalation.  And, by the way, not forgetting my target audience, doSaving Workout breathe and breathe where ever you find convenient.  String players don’t have to breathe, soSaving Workout.musx composers can forgo putting in breathing points some tenors need in the melodic line.  YouSaving Workout.musx could say I am calling for you to sing legato. When you get to the repeated notes, just keep onSaving Workout singing without interrupting your vocal chords’ intonation of the pitch.

You will find that the diaphragm is the only thing that will get the job done.  If it does not do the job, then all those repeated notes that represent bow direction changes on a violin will become one long held note or you will be forced to stop your vocal chords from vibrating between each note…. Oh!!! I forgot.  Leo Nucci’s method does sort of get the job done, but it would inspire most people to laugh, so I don’t recommend it.

2. Low notes: I find it hard to be heard in the lower register (below g3 down to a2). It feels either breathy or very tight. I’ve been singing “vado incontro…” from Mitridate, re di Ponto, and it’s extremely hard to keep access to those two octaves.

When you have a good idea what Chest Voice is, then you can address this problem.  You must use Chest Voice in the Chest Register if you ever hope to have those notes heard while an orchestra is backing you up.  The way you sing now leaves the orchestra little choice.  It’s going to cover you up, if it is composed of more than a dozen or so instruments.

When you can sing in the middle register of your voice with Chest Voice, then you can experiment with descending by 5ths into your Chest Register keeping Chest Voice function active.  When you find yourself singing in Chest Voice in your middle register, you will likely also find your pharynx to be less dilated and your larynx at a higher position than you seem accustomed to maintain.

Don’t forget to use the “Glottal Attack” of Garcia.  Tight is not right.  You will need to allow for more space into which your vocal cords can comfortably phonate those low tones in Chest Voice.  Just be aware that the lowest notes require the least tension on the vocal cords, but they are going to be asked to flap large slow vibrations.  They require the chamber above them to accommodate the larger wave forms of the low notes as compared to the 5th above.

“Mitridate” was designed for an expert.  If you master that Opera, you will have solved the low note problem.  Oh! By the way, you will have solved almost all the rest of your vocal problems as well….. ooops!   The coloratura thing might still be unresolved.

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Dead Man Talking

Posted by on Dec 29, 2015 in Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Dead Man Talking

My wife, Debbie, was ripping some old CDs that we have in our collection and, rather than twiddling her thumbs, she started to read the liner notes while she waited for ITunes to do that saving thing.  When she got to this CD, she forgot about ITunes and lost herself in the notes.

Horowitz wrote his own notes for this CD.  Debbie put them on her scanner and then insisted I read them.

Well, here I am cribbing from his notes.

I don’t feel too bad about putting his words in my blog since DG recycled the same words in at least one other CD/DVD compilation.

Vladimir Horowitz on performing:51IdvfgBAdL__SX425_

Classical, Romantic, Modern, Neo-Romantic!

These labels may be convenient for musicologists, but they have nothing to do with composing or performing.  In fact, they may be more of a hindrance than a help in the education of young performers.  All music is the expression of feelings, and feelings do not change over the centuries.  Style and form change, but not the basic human emotions.  Purists would have us believe that music from the so-called Classical period should be performed with emotional restraint, while so-called Romantic music should be played with emotional freedom.  Such advice has often resulted in exaggeration, overindulgent, uncontrolled performances of Romantic music and dry, sterile, dull performances of Classical music.

510lT2-F-yL__SY450_As far as Mozart is concerned, we know from his letters that he showed great concern for musical expression: he continually criticized performers whose playing lacked freedom for their “mechanical execution” and the absence of “taste and feeling”.  As for Beethoven, historical accounts describe his playing as very free and emotional – the trademark of a Romantic.

All my life, ever since I was a young man, I have considered music of all periods romantic.  There is, of course, an objective, intellectual component to music insofar as its formal structure is concerned; but when it comes to performance, what is required is not interpretation but a process of subjective re-creation.

The notation of a composer is a mere skeleton that the performer must endow with flesh and blood, so that the music comes to life and speaks to an audience.  The belief that going back to an Urtext will ensure a convincing performance is an illusion.  An audience does not respond to intellectual concepts, only to the communication of feelings.

A dictionary definition of ”romantic” usually includes the following: “Displaying or expressing love or strong affection; ardent, passionate, fervent.”  I cannot name a single great composer of any period who did not possess these qualities.  Isn’t, then, all music romantic?  And shouldn’t the performer listen to his heart rather than to intellectual concepts of how to play Classical, Romantic or any other style of music?

Of course, mastery implies control – in music as well as in life.  But control that is creative does not limit or restrain feelings or spontaneity.  It is rather a setting of standards, limits and boundaries in regard to taste, style and what is appropriate to each composer.  In order to become a truly re-creative performer, and not merely an instrumental wizard, one needs three ingredients in equal measure: a trained, disciplined mind, full of imagination; a free and giving heart; and a Gradus ad Parnassum command of instrumental skill.  Few musicians ever reach artistic heights with these three ingredients evenly balanced.  This is what I have been striving for all my life.

Liner notes to “Horowitz At Home” and “The Magic of Horowitz” published by Deutsche Grammophon GmbH.

I have to thank Debbie for looking beneath the cover and finding these jewels of thought and musical wisdom.

Horowitz is now one more dead white guy among many, but I think we are forced to overlook that post-modern epithet, because his recordings stand as brilliant testimony that he knows what he is talking about.  Well “forced” is a little strong.  Nobody can be forced to purchase the recordings that put flesh on the bones that are the words of his liner notes.  By banning his artistry from your ears, you can feel safe believing Horowitz to be just another white guy shilling for White hegemony. t8uadeb8gvuiqehwoiqh Move away from the “H” bin at Tower Records.  OH!  I’m sorry……  Like,,, it’s so yesterday.  Tower Records closed its last door in 2006.  There is no “H” bin because there is no Tower Records in which you can avoid it.  I’m so sheltered here in Plattsburgh that I didn’t even notice it went belly-up.

Horowitz figured it out.  Horowitz walked the walk of his talk, and I tell my students to listen to his recordings for hints on how to shape vocal lines.  His recordings have yet to stop surprising me with interesting turns of phrase that I missed in the many previous plays I have enjoyed.  I share his dedication to the proposition that audiences want performers to communicate feelings.  Garcia surely believed the same thing.

I just sent out the last of my editing work on the Garcia translation I have been editing.  Now it’s up to Donald Paschke, the translator, to check my efforts give his approval or send me corrections.  The pages of this publication are Garcia’s “Gradus ad Parnassum” guide to singing: A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing: Part One.

At the start of the New Year, I will begin editing Paschke’s translation of Part Two.  That second book is full of guidance for just how to engage in the sort of artistic endeavor Vladimir called “subjective re-creation”.  It is a guide that young people really need.  It has everything a singer needs to know about performing, and I am going to get it back in print.  Garcia and Horowitz spoke the same musical language.  Garcia Sr. was the best tenor. Garcia Jr. taught the best singers.  Horowitz was the best pianist.  All of them, just dead white guys.  Who am I?  Well, I’m not dead yet.

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