"Which comes first, Music or Text?"

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

Email exchange

Posted by on Jun 26, 2015 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Email exchange

I am happy to be home and have my garden somewhere between 10% to 20% weeded.  I’m sure the rest of the weeds in my back yard are still comfortably soaking up the fertilizer I intended to feed my flowers, but they should be shaking down to their roots at the prospect that I will get to them in due time.  The weather has dropped lots of happy flower making H2O for the roots, topped off occasionally with a magnificent halo of promise for the eyes that can see and appreciate.

As I recovered from my Torino trek, I have wanted to write something about it and my prayers for inspiration were answered in an Email:

—–Original Message—–

From: Michael Papadopoulos

Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 9:18 AM

To: rocky@************************.***

Subject: A note from a fan


Hello, Mr. Blake.

Just a little note to tell you how much I admire you and your voice. I’m a bel canto fan and I was following your career for years. It’s a pity I never heard you live. I think you retired too early! I have heard you in almost all your roles in private recordings. I have the old Mozart and Rossini recital lps and the Dame Blanche cd, but I think that your live recordings show off your amazing coloratura and breath control to better effect. I can’t find your complete Idomeneo. All we have is just the 2 arias on video… You’re pretty amazing in Meyerbeer too, in Robert le diable and Les Huguenots…The current Rossini tenors are fine, but none has your range of colors and unlimited breath resources.

Many thanks for the many hours of pleasure you have given us.

All the best,



Now I’m just as vulnerable to flattery as the next tenor, but I have a larger view of what it’s all about, and responded to my correspondent with the following:

Dear Michael,


Thanks for your note.


I hope my work will in time raise up a few singers capable of inspiring you to write to them of your admiration.


I have my sights set on even larger targets, but my bottom line is inspiring people like you when you go to the theatre.  It was my hope, back in the day when I was still singing, that I might be one among many singers who could inspire people like you to drag your friends to subsequent performances.  My dream moments, when I was surrounded by singers who inspired, were few, but magic when they happened.  Audiences would stop performances in mid-stream for uncomfortable periods of applause, and sometimes kept us singers and conductor parading back and forth through proscenium curtains held open for us by stage hands dreaming of the wine and cheese that some in the orchestra were already enjoying in bars adjacent to the venues.


I have returned home from a Master Class in Torino, Italy where my efforts were dedicated to this proposition, and the work had a draining effect on me.  I seemed to empty myself out in service to the singers who showed up seeking to make their way onto any stage that might allow them a chance to inspire an audience.   They did get a tiny open door at a concert that marked the end of the Master Class.  An audience of intrepid Opera lovers showed up to see if they would discover any inspirational youngsters.


My drained tank of teaching fuel got a big influx of potential energy from the applause of that audience who came out in the rain to attend our little concert.  The post event comments directed toward me that day brought my tank to an even higher level of refill.  Your note has brought me to the overflow point.


Many thanks,


Rockwell Blake

I’m going back to Torino in October, and I hope to meet you there if you are on that side of the Atlantic pond or can afford the freight to get there.  If you are stuck on the USA side, come to Plattsburgh in August.  Don’t worry, our Augusts are cooler than might be thought.  We are too far north here to suffer the effects of Global Warming, if you believe in Global Warming.

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Who was Mario Salerno?

Posted by on Jun 11, 2015 in Blog, Featured, Garcia, Living, Opera, Personal History, Singing

Who was Mario Salerno?

This blog’s for Debbie. (My wife.)  The die was cast when I mentioned Mario Salerno in my previous blog.  I don’t usually take requests, but I could not resist Debbie’s enthusiasm.

When I kick started my career at Washington Opera in 1976, I met Mario.  I found him sitting at our rehearsal piano located about level with the surface of the Potomac River somewhere deep in the bowels of the Kennedy Center in our Nation’s Capital.  Great building, lovely river and a familiar sight because I had sung many times just downstream from that great white titan for the arts in open air concerts behind Lincoln’s back at his memorial on the shore of the Potomac with the United States Navy Band.  It was one of my goals to sing at the Kennedy Center, but I had no idea how my singing would be impacted when it happened.

George London scheduled a production of “L’Italiana in Algeri” for the early days of 1976 and populated it with some of the best talent I could ever hope to work with and steal from.   I did steal a lot from one of them, Renato Capecchi, but Mario became a key figure in my musical life.  I hope to tell you about Renato in a future blog.

What I know of Mario’s history was gleaned from tidbits of information that he let slip during our conversations.  It would be a boring bit of info to know that he studied at the Conservatorio di Musica Luigi Cherubini in Florence, Italy if it were not for the fact that my voice teacher Renata Carisio Booth studied there too, and they were contemporaries.  I was so disappointed that they did not remember one another from those school days, but, even so, I suspect that their teaching styles were so similar because those long ago school days had profound influences on them.

Before Mario found work along the Potomac, he had spent more than ten years at La Scala in Milano, Italy during the golden years of singing, and around fifteen years working for Swiss Radio in their classical music broadcasting program.

When I found him, I needed everything he had learned over his long musical life and he was ready to share.  I loved the way he worked in studio.  He was full of musical suggestions and was dedicated to improving or just varying an interpretation.  He was challenging, meticulous and not easy to please.

Mario became my go to guy for help with repertoire and, after Washington, I made the trek to Milano one summer to work with him at his home.  It was wonderful.  He would hand me suggestion after suggestion for how to sing 4 measures at a time.  Not that he had to hector me to sing the way he wanted, because Renata Booth had done the work necessary to prepare me technically to do everything he asked of me and, sometimes, after only one rendition of his suggested interpretation he would say good, now why don’t you try………  I found this work ethic addictive, and when I was invited to return to Wolf Trap in the young artists program, I suggested to Frank Rizzo that he bring Mario in to coach us youngsters.  Frank knew how good Mario was, and I got my wish.  The only problem with his method of working, that I loved so much, was that it inspired some of my colleagues at Wolf Trap to leave Mario’s studio with tears streaming down their cheeks.  I didn’t know that many of my fellow Wolf Trap singers-in-training were accustomed to running all the way through arias before coaches would make any suggestions.  The best comment I remember was from a wet faced soprano that couldn’t believe she had spent the better part of an hour working on 8 measures.  If my tenor memory serves, I told her that she must be really good, because Mario had the habit of making me work on only 4 measures at a time!

Nothing was too small to address.  While I was doing my best in Milano to sing Mario’s musical suggestions, he got frustrated with me doing recitative according to the composer’s notation.  That is to say, me following the note values I had memorized.   He decided I should study the recitative as spoken language, and he told me he wanted me to learn the rhythm that would be natural to the language.  I was all for it, that is at first.  He assigned this teaching task to his teenage daughter.  I had my doubts that this young lady was going to be able to do anything for me, but we got started.  She listened to me recite the recitatives before telling me “Non sembra Italiano.” (That’s not Italian.)  During my month long sojourn her three word comment became less and less frequent.  She was more than qualified for the job, and she got it done.  Mario was pleased with the way I did my best to forget the note durations in those recitatives and rambled over the notes with the replacement rhythm associated with my recitations that had garnered an OK from his young daughter.

Mario and my voice teacher, Renata, may not have remembered each other from Conservatory time, but I think they remembered a lot of what was taught them while they were there.  I wish I had asked Mario about his professors at Conservatorio di Musica Luigi Cherubini.  Renata had spent time under Ottorino Respighi’s instruction way back then, and I wish I could say the same for Mario.  What I can say is that they were consummate professionals who knew what making music was all about, the traditions and how to drill them into their students.  They also taught, Renata by insistence and Mario by example, humility along with confidence in one’s abilities and understanding.

Mario was the natural next step in my preparation for the professional life.  Renata dragged me out of the woods, pruned off some of my North Country bumpkin culture and put my voice in order.   Mario showed me what I should try to do with my voice and my Renata inspired appreciation of sophistication.  It was a long, interesting and fulfilling road with many more people stepping in at just the moment needed to point me along in the direction that my life took.

Along the way, Garcia was dropped in my lap… or on my head… Whichever seems more appropriate to your attitude concerning tenors.  These formative influences were living introductions to Garcia.  I think of them as:

Introduction to, and implementation of Garcia Part One: Renata Carisio Booth

Renata Booth

Introduction to, and implementation of Garcia Part Two: Mario Salerno

(and daughter – sorry, I don’t have a picture of her).

Mario Salerno

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Almost Two Weeks to Torino!

Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Blog, Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Almost Two Weeks to Torino!

I left my previous blog with the promise to write “more” about “Una furtiva lagrima”.  I’m back with a little bit more Falsetto stuff, and an invitation to meet me in Torino, Italy for a Master Class.  It starts on June 9, and I am looking forward to making new friends as well as getting back to work with those of you signed up already for more of what Garcia spent his life teaching.  Even if you haven’t already signed up, I hope to see you there if you will let me help you.

In case Torino is too far to travel or just doesn’t fit your calendar, please come to my home town, Plattsburgh, NY, for a Master Class. It will begin August 10 and finish with a concert on August 16.  Last year’s Plattsburgh event was a blast that moved some of our participants to make some really big changes in their vocal lives.  Come and see if we can bring your singing to a higher level.

Now to get back to dragging Falsetto out of today’s confusion, let’s first remember what the Great Master had to say about discerning talent:

Garcia writes:

                Often one needs an experienced judgment to recognize in the voice of the student the germ of the true qualities which it possesses. Generally, these qualities are only in the rudimentary state, or well veiled by numerous faults from which it is necessary to free them.

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

I don’t think anyone needs any experience or judgment to admit that Luciano Pavarotti had a fantastic talent, and successfully sang all over the World.  I seem to remember that when anyone wanted to talk about the “faults” that Luciano may have possessed while he was still singing, critics and theatre goers were more concerned with non-vocal imperfections.  I don’t remember anyone quibbling with his vocal qualities.

Let’s push off into the Falsetto fog by agreeing that Luciano is not displaying any “faults” in the little video embedded at the end of this blog.

The audience response recorded at the end of this video should help me convince you to agree.

Mario Salerno

Mario Salerno

Luciano used enough Falsetto in his interpretation of Nemorino’s aria to fulfill the traditional interpretive mannerisms I learned from a fantastic old man of the theatre, Mario Salerno.  “Who was Mario?” could be a stand-alone blog, or a page, and I may get to it one day, but for now I introduce him as my guide to a lot more Falsetto use in Nemorino’s aria than Luciano used when he was caught on video tape.

Falsetto can be a big fault in the singing of a student when it appears unintentionally on notes that a composer would argue should be sung in Chest Voice.  I encountered, in Roveretto, just such a student.

In that same jewel of a town, Roveretto, I ran into an un-tenor that reported the displeasure of certain important Italian Opera operatives with a tenor that used a lot of Falsetto in Nemorino’s aria just as I had I taught him to sing it in Torino last year.

I can agree that when Falsetto is the only function used by a fella, it is a fault.

When Falsetto is used convincingly, according to traditional interpretive values, it is not a “fault” but is a wonderful tool.

Back to Luciano: I suggest you download the music (by clicking here) and follow along with the video.  You will find that my markings in the music indicate where Luciano used “CGC” – “Complete Glottal Closure” or “Chest Voice” and where he incorporated in his singing “IGC” – “Incomplete Glottal Closure” or “Falsetto”.

This blog is an introduction to my analysis of Luciano’s performance and only addresses two issues.

  1. Where did Luciano change from Chest Voice to Falsetto?
  2. What does Falsetto – IGC and Chest Voice – CGC sound like?

Luciano’s voice has a striking divergence of quality when he moves from Chest Voice to Falsetto and back.  The difference that you can hear in this video is an excellent example to use for recognizing these two functions in the singing of other vocalists, and in your own singing if you happen to be a guy.

How much of either function should a singer use?

An answer to that question was dumped on me by that un-tenor in Roveretto who put me on notice that Falsetto is just not good singing.  I’m glad Luciano knew better.

Luciano used Falsetto much less than I would like to hear.  Falsetto only appears on 35 notes of his singing as compared to Luciano using Chest Voice on 159 of the notes he sang.  But then I can understand that Luciano’s voice was just so beautiful when he sang in “CGC” – Chest Voice, that making his listeners wait and wish for that gorgeous flow of glowing vocal gold by singing a lot of Falsetto might seem a big risk.

Does anyone want to suggest that there is no difference between the beginning phrase Luciano sings at measure #10 and the phrase we hear at measure #27?  If so, you need medical help or an upgrade to your hearing aid.  If you think Luciano should have sung #27 the same way as #10, then you may be a Verdi or Wagner addict who needs to expand his/her taste in music.

I’m going to leave you with an assignment.  Keep the music with my markings handy.  Print it out if you like, and troll through You Tube for “Una furtive lagrima” sung by other singers.  See if you can pinpoint where each singer sings in “CGC” and “IGC”.  Certainly no other tenor will sing this aria the same way as Luciano.  I believe there was no more perfect voice for “Nemorino” to be found anywhere, but his rendition of “Una furtiva lagrima” could have been more interesting interpretively.  But, again, given the beauty of his voice, keeping his audience happy was more about delivering his sound to their ears than developing the character of Nemorino or sharing Nemorino’s emotions with them.  This is not the case for the rest of us.

I have a lot to say about what the rest of us should do, and I’ll be back later to say it.

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Falsetto Friends

Posted by on Apr 8, 2015 in Blog, Featured, Opera, Philosophy, Singing, Teaching

Falsetto Friends

I am about to pack my bags and go back to Torino for a Master Class that will bring me back where another Falsetto kerfuffle in my life was born.

Last September I had the privilege to work with some really talented young people who offered me many opportunities to use Garcia. It was a tenor, of course, who started the ball rolling toward an incident in Rovereto.  I taught that tenor how to sing “Una furtiva lagrima” from L’ELESIR’ D’AMORE. It wasn’t the only aria we worked on, but it became a bone of contention.  I mentioned this tenor’s success in the little concert we did in Torino in a previous blog from that city.  It was a struggle to convince him, but eventually he successfully put Falsetto to exactly the use for which the Bel Canto composer, Donizetti, intended.  The result was most gratifying, but a kerfuffle was set to catch up to me a month later.

Now, my struggle with my Torino tenor was nothing new to my work.  I strove for an extended period, back in Plattsburgh, to convince another tenor to utilize Falsetto in Bel Canto music with eventual and welcome success.  Apparently Verdi loving voice teachers are loath to accept Falsetto as a worthy component of good singing, and I encountered in these tenors a shared attitude of aversion for Falsetto use.  My Plattsburgh tenor told me that his previous Maestri had told him that what I was suggesting to him was “not singing”.

Even with this background, I was not ready for the incredulous inquiry I received after the Rovereto concert.  A Rovereto home boy baritone participated in the concert, and during the crowded aftermath he got in my face (it was very noisy in the hallway) and asked me if I had, by chance, ever worked with a certain tenor. It was my Torino guy.  I told the home boy that I had worked with him in more than one master class, upon which declaration the baritone told me that he had recently been on the jury of a competition in which that tenor had sung “Una furtiva lagrima”.  He did not win the competition because of the way he sang that aria.  The baritone wanted to know if it were true that I had taught him to sing so badly.  Given that I was not there to hear what that tenor had done, I was at a loss to discuss the quality of his rendition of “Una furtive lagrima” but I did manage to bellow that I had taught him how to sing the aria “alla” Bel Canto.  I was happy that at that point in our semi-shouted conversation a bevy of fans grabbed him away from me and I was accosted by a few audience members that wanted to recount to me good memories of performances in which I sang.  I felt badly for my Torino tenor.

The baritone’s dislike for good Bel Canto style was easily understandable given his performance of Mozart’s music in the concert.  Everyone, including me, would praise the quality of the man’s voice, but I wouldn’t suggest his rendition as a model for anyone to follow in the interpretation area.  This is because I believe Mozart’s music lives best in a style of singing that this Rovereto home boy just didn’t bring to the concert.  I suspected that many of my favorite components of Mozart style are missing from the man’s vocal technique.

I subsequently learned from my Torino tenor that he was a “good friend” of this Rovereto home boy and that they had shared a voice teacher.  A light bulb switched on in my head!  It has long been my observation that teachers often teach the style of singing they employed, when and if they sang for a living, as if it were a technique. I have often heard and read references to Verdi technique, Rossini technique, Bellini technique etc. essentially mixing style and technique together.  These Torino / Rovereto events brought home to me most forcefully how limiting this way of thinking and teaching can actually be.  Vocal technique is not style specific, but empowering to all styles.  Style and technique are not the same thing.  Each style, excepting the hardest Bel Canto, has a limited set of technical requirements, and teaching only those requirements leaves the student bereft of many elements of technique necessary for the other styles.

I knew that the technical components I had taught my Plattsburgh and Torino tenors to use for “Una furtiva lagrima” would inspire an audience to applaud.  My audiences did when I used them.  Since I learned these technical things from a woman born just 5 years after Garcia’s death and I learned how to apply them to “Una furtiva lagrima” from a man of her generation who attended her alma mater at the same time she did, I assume my taste and style of execution for the singing of this aria are traditional.  Looking back at the history of music through the lens each composer offers us on the time line can be a wonderfully enlightening study, but if one of them, like Verdi, becomes a glass so darkened that his becomes the only style visible to a teacher or singer, then just about all other composers’ music will suffer damage at the hands of the teacher and the voice of the singer.  It was nice to hear from my Torino tenor about his audience at the competition that he didn’t win.  He told me that they enthusiastically approved of his rendition, even if his “good friend” Rovereto home boy, and the teacher they once upon a time shared, who was also on that jury, didn’t like it.

Falsetto has a place in the House of Music, even for boys.  There is a lot of confusion about when it is called for, what it should sound like and when it is inappropriate.  I hope to get to these issues very soon.

The artist in the above video is my reason for never singing Nemorino.  I knew I couldn’t compete with Luciano.  My Torino tenor is no match for Luicano either, but he learned to do everything Luciano did in the above video and more.  I’ll be back to explain the “more”.

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Falsetto Fog

Posted by on Apr 5, 2015 in Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Falsetto Fog

Today’s confusion surrounding “Falsetto” is only one good reason modern times should make room for questions about the future of Classical Music.

On my first day in Rovereto, a big strapping young tenor, Mr. Gao Si Chen, baptized me with enough falsetto for a whole season of French repertoire.  Not that he seemed to have any idea what falsetto was.  I took particular pleasure in meeting this challenge and dragged most of his singing out of falsetto. Mr. Chen has an interesting voice but, submerged as it was in “Falsetto”, who could tell?  Mr. Carlo Vitali, one of my fellow jury members for Premio Ferrari, came to observe our progress in the master classes and noticed Mr. Chen’s results.  Mr. Chen’s singing improved so much that Mr. Vitali convinced the full jury to invent a special prize just for this tenor.

After Rovereto, Falsetto held center stage in my thoughts, and in short order two E-goads appeared from the Internet to inspire this blog.  The first one emerged from Face Book:

Caro Maestro, ieri ho discusso via facebook con Enrico Stinchelli della barcaccia, ieri nella trasmissione hanno fatto ascoltare diversi tenori nella cabaletta dell’aria vivi tu, tra i quali lei. Lui sostiene che lei usava il falsettone. Mi sono molto arrabbiato perchè non si possono dire stupidaggini così grosse in pubblico. Se lei usava il falsettone, allora non ho capito nulla di canto!!! Sbaglio??? La saluto con tanto affetto

My English translation:

Dear Maestro, yesterday I communicated on Facebook with Enrico Stinchelli of barcaccia, yesterday in the broadcast they let us hear various tenors in the last part of the aria vivi tu, among whom there was you.  He (Stinchelli) maintains the idea that you used a large falsetto.  I am very angry, because one should not say such incredibly stupid things in public.  If you used a large falsetto, then I understand nothing of singing!!!  Do I make a mistake??? I salute you with much affection

The guys at La Barcaccia are lots of fun, and love good singing, but they seem to be lost in some kind of Falsetto fog.  My Face Book pal is correct to disagree with their suggestion that my singing in the pirate recording of ANNA BOLENA they aired on RAI 3 included an example of me using a “falsettone”. Whatever a “falsettone” might be, it was not what I produced. I sang a very high pitch in Chest Voice.  There was no falsetto on display at all, but why not make the assertion?  It makes for lively controversy, doesn’t it?  It inspired my Face Book friend to write to me and I welcome all goads toward doing good things.

The next E-goad that impacted my virtual hind parts came by Email and I excerpt a bit of it here:

When I sing up, I feel quite well a resonance shift in the passaggio-area (so somewhere middle b-natural to g). But its not like a different register and there is no “break”, so thats fine.

Until half a year ago, I could never sing higher than bflat though. I would push and strain and my throat would close up or I would crack horribly which was always good for some amusement but nothing more :-). I thought that the remaining high notes would come with time and patience…

Then suddenly I discovered some sort of “click” around that high bflat/bnatural which brought me in what I thought was falsetto – so I never thought, this could be any acceptable sound. Someone then pointed out to me that this sounds just fine and nothing like falsetto because it still kept a metallic twang and even that from outside its not an audible change in “register”. But it always felt to ME like a different register. Its a bit like a scream of a baby but it is comfortable and I can “sing” up that way to super high d or higher without hurting myself (there is no blood coming out of my mouth :-).

Now, my questions:

1. Do you understand me and this sensation I feel? Do you remember feeling something similar when learning your fantastic technique?

2. You say that boys (and clearly I am a boy) stay in the same register (chest) all the time, so how should I explain this sensation?

I hope you find time to answer me! I know its hard to talk about it without hearing, so I could send a recording or something.

My tenor friend is on the right track.  He needs to know that the trick of the “click” he has discovered is a simple thing to explain, but is a difficult maneuver to do.  He is not switching from Chest Voice to Falsetto. He begins at his “click” to reverse the “resonance shift” (Dark Timbre application) he did in the “passaggio”.  That is to say that the “scream of a baby” character of the sound he has “discovered” in the vocal mesosphere is not falsetto.  It is Chest Voice.  Had he not done the “resonance shift” (Dark Timbre application) in the “passaggio” (transition between troposphere and stratosphere), he would have discovered the inevitable “scream of a baby” on much lower notes.  19th Century composers expected Chest Voice function from us boys when they wrote f, ff or fff in their music.  It didn’t matter whether their notes were written in the vocal troposphere, stratosphere or mesosphere.

I believe we could burn off the fog surrounding falsetto today in a minute if we would just get the facts straight.  Garcia himself mixed the voices of boys and girls together when he first published his theories.  No one likes to admit that they are wrong, and Garcia did not admit he had changed his opinion about falsetto when, in later editions of his Treatise, he changed his descriptions.  We modern types have to untangle the web of conflicting texts, because Garcia did not straight forwardly admitted that he was wrong in his first assertion that girls’ and boys’ voices move from Chest to Falsetto on the same pitches. This idea of sex synchrony disappeared when he invented the laryngoscope.  With his little mirror on a stick he could finally see the vocal chords operate, get a clear view of vocal function and complete his vocal theories.

His Laryngoscope pierced this Falsetto fog and changed his mind.

How fun is History!!!!!?

I hate Foggy knowledge and Falsetto fog is just one component of the greater fog surrounding the art and craft of singing.   I happen to love real fog when found where it belongs, like Venice:

I’m glad I’m not the only one to like fog for fog’s sake.


Pierre Auguste Renoir liked fog in Venice, too.

Pierre Auguste Renoir liked fog in Venice, too.

Turning full circle back to the future of Classical Music, this link will give you a chance to hear some movers and shakers wonder about how the future will support Classical Music.

I will be back to talk about these movers and shakers again because Falsetto fog figures fundamentally in the Opera example played near the end of that show.  I hope to be able to shine enough Sun light on this fog to burn it up.  I’ll use mirrors if I have to.

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Thanks for all the Happy Birthday good wishes!

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 in Featured

Thanks for all the Happy Birthday good wishes!

I often wonder how many more of these time clicks I will be allowed to mark off in celebration with family and friends.  Tempus Fugit, and I have to remind myself that it doesn’t belong to me.  It flies like the birds who won’t stay put long enough for a good photo shoot.  So when Debbie snaps a hawk and I complete another year of life, I count these things as blessings.  I hope I will be able to share some of these blessings with you.

Hunting Hawk

Hunting Hawk

Anyway, 2015 is begun and has lifted off for a good flight.  I closed 2014 with a pause in the Blog, but with a great Garcia victory.  It seems like only a few days ago that I ventured a “Thank you” to Donald V. Paschke in a blog. Since that blog, a few years have passed during which I tracked down the man, pestered him and convinced him to let me republish his books.  My fingers are now often dancing all over the editing/formatting work that this project requires.  I’ll let you know when I get these books ready to go.

Another crusade, that distracted me from blogging, delivered a victory.  Debbie and I did our small bit to help elect the youngest woman ever to the United States Congress.  We met Elise Stefanik when she first set out to win her election to Congress, and when we had the opportunity we decided to help.  The reason we got involved is the same reason I do this blog.  Generations change as time flies, and the newest generations must live with the greater portion of the future time carries us into.  I believe Elise will be a preserving influence on our Nation.

Putting Garcia’s books into the hands of students of moderate means, and electing responsible young people to office are the same exercise.  We want to preserve the best of History’s achievements.  I want the USA and Opera to make it from 2015 to 2100 in good shape and full of joy for those who appreciate freedom and glorious singing.

As you may know, the Bible tells us about salt.  I pray to be really salty.  I expect Elise to maintain her saltiness. Garcia may be a dead white guy, but his legacy is like:

Bacalao in open market Oporto, Portugal

Bacalao in open market
Oporto, Portugal

 Saltier than these Portuguese staples would be hard to find.

Thanks again to all who remembered my Birthday.  I remember it with thankful gratitude.

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Premio Ferrari

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Premio Ferrari

It’s part of being a tenor.  There are more places to be than the number of me to be there and there is always more to do than time to do it.  I am reminded of Economics as taught by my favorite big brained thinkers.  They teach that what we desire is most often more than we can afford.  At this moment I have two places to be and one of me.  One tenor equals one location occupied by that tenor.  It is a hard truth for a tenor to accept.  That’s why tenors often used to collect contracts for two Opera productions in the same period.  I think things have changed a lot.



It is unlikely that tenors will change between the ears, but lots of them would seem desperate to have enough contracts on their calendars to pay their bills these days.



Rovereto 3

Walk Better

As usual, I want to stay home but I will ignore that desire and soon go down the airport access tunnel, after turning in my boarding pass, to take my seat on the aircraft that will take me back to Italy. The reason for the trip is almost the same as my visit to Torino.  Young singers are what the future of Opera and Classical Singing is made of.  My desire to see that future be as bright as the past in which I lived my professional life keeps my studio doors open to students and pushing me out the door of our little house to exit the North Country.

Premio Ferrari

Premio Ferrari

This trip will bring me to Rovereto, Italy.  It would be wonderful to find singers who can make conferring the Premio Ferrari a difficult decision because of how good they all are.  If you are a Soprano or a Baritone, and you think you have what it takes to help make the future of Classical Music bright, come to Rovereto on the twenty first of this month to make judging the competition difficult, or, if you are really outstanding, you might make it easy.

On top of seeking out talented singers to promote through the Premio Ferrari, I will also be doing my Master Class best to help anyone, Tenors and Mezzo Sopranos included, who want to come to Rovereto for advice.   Even if you are among the contestants, I know I have something for you.  I always find something in my tool bag for everyone who asks me to help them improve their ability to sway their audience.  There are lots of things in my tool kit to help resolve vocal difficulties.  I’m ready for anything and everything you bring with you.  Please come.  Please win.

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Lesson 1.003

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Lesson 1.003

I arrived back home from Torino just in time to see our North Country trees alight with color.  Along with putting things in Snow ready order, it also seems good to me to continue delineating the syllabus that Garcia’s writings suggest to me.  Reading and pondering his writing leads me to believe in these torturously small steps.

In Torino, a Master Class participant handed me an opportunity to apply these tiny Garcia steps.  I used exactly what I described in Lessons 1, 1.001 and 1.002.  The lesson material needed to be well packaged for a Master Class participant of long vocal experience.  He wanted answers to the nagging question for which many vocal students never find even one answer:

Close to HOME

Close to HOME

“Why can’t I sing as well as so many other singers are able to sing.”  This particular answer seeker has a vocal instrument worthy of consideration, but his sound was terribly encumbered by many, varied, extreme and extremely contradictory adjustments. He allowed me to suddenly situate him inside Garcia’s starting gate.  I knew Garcia’s principles would work if I could ease this singer into accepting them.  He accepted and they worked.  His voice began to reorganize and the faulty phonation gave way to a sound production much easier to listen to, even pleasant and promising to become reliable.   My hope is that he will have the force of character, attentive ears and good taste to continue the work, and keep improving.


Closer to HOME

I feel the need to talk about just one more thing before leaving Torino for today.  I repeated myself in that Master Class on many things, but I made tatters of the words: “Impose the rhythm of the language of the text on the composer’s music!”   Composers have the pitch prerogative.  Singers, however, can successfully play with the accent and syllable duration to make the composer’s vocal line correspond with the language.  Language is made up of many components, but the most important characteristics of the words are pitch and rhythm. Even film writers are aware of the importance of pitch in elocution.  So when we give that tool to the composer we should be under high motivation to resort to using the equally important tool, rhythm.  Tempo Rubato is not evil.

Now I’m ready to return to basics, and add another pitch to the scale.  There is no room for any of the deficiencies or defects I discussed in the previous lessons.  The singer travels one pitch higher. The result should be that the basic quality of the sound on the lowest pitch remains on all three pitches with only the slightest diminution of weight or some might say heft or darkness or others might call it caliber or warmth or, or, or,,,  Yes, these vocal issues are just as invulnerable to my linguistic description as they were to Garcia.  Garcia knew what he wanted to hear, as did just about everyone in the “Italian” School back then.  One day I hope to include at least one successful example from one of my students, but, until then, we will have to put up with the limitation of language.

As I passed through this .003 lesson stage with my Torino Master Class participant, I was reminded of a difficulty.  Singing an ascending three note scale can be a challenge in itself, but singing down the scale can be an even more difficult voyage.  It is common to attain victory in ascending the scale, and then to be unable to return to the original sound on the lowest pitch.  Remember, the sound quality remains with each higher pitch, but the apparent weight of the sound should become progressively lighter as the voice ascends the scale.  Going down the scale successfully will necessitate a reversal of this sonic sliming of the voice.  The goal is to have the most beautiful sound on the first pitch which stays just as beautiful if almost imperceptibly slimmer on each higher pitch, and then to find the way back down to that starting pitch displaying all its fulsome glory.  A student failing to find that initial fullness of sound at the bottom of the descending scale and not being able to discern any difference for himself or herself, is displaying either a tin ear or total inattention.  The hearing system can be trained, and the singer can give more attention to the project. When the student can get this little hurdle behind him/her, we have confirmation that the student’s ear is developing the ability to observe his or her own voice as it operates.

It may have been revealed that Garcia himself suffered in his youth from something like the above difficulty when some of the history of his lessons with his father was reported by his biographer:

The monotony of the first portion of this training evidently became very wearisome in time, for Señor Garcia would afterwards recall how one day, after being made to sing an endless variety of ascending scales, his desire for a change became so great that he could not resist bursting out, “Oh dear! mayn’t I sing down the scale even once?”

Mackinlay, M. (Malcolm) Sterling (2011-09-07). Garcia the Centenarian And His Times Being a Memoir of Manuel Garcia’s Life and Labours for the Advancement of Music and Science (Kindle Locations 365-366). Kindle Edition.

Can you imagine what his daddy might have said?

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Road Rant

Posted by on Sep 30, 2014 in Blog, Featured, Opera, Philosophy, Singing, Teaching

Road Rant

Recently, I was a happy guest at the Sheraton Malpensa airport.  I had an early enough flight to catch to make overnighting there a comfortable alternative to getting up in the wee hours in Torino for the two hour trip to Malpensa.  Oh! How I love to travel.Road Rant Sheraton

I decided to try the restaurant, and found a wonderful acoustic space. Restaurants are usually really good for intimate conversation which means something like the environment talkative children tend to create when the “Shut up and go to bed!!!” order arrives from parent central.  With a blanket and a flashlight an intimate conversatoin acoustic is found and parent central may never know.  The space in which Il Canneto Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner is a marvel of friendly warmth…… But not the blanket type.

My fun began when I noticed an entertaining mistake in the wine list which I pointed out to my server. A little while later, during my meal, a young man came to my table to thank me for the proof reading work I had done for him.  We struck up a conversation, and with young singers still fresh in my mind, I asked if he had ever thought to have live singing in the restaurant.  The answer was no, but he was willing to bring the idea to the attention of the administration.  His superior joined our conversation and admitted to being a La Scala subscriber in her student days, but had to give it up when she lost her ability to acquire a student discounted subscription.  She also expressed interest in the idea of live singing in her restaurant.  They wondered how they would be able to know who was good and who was not. I left my card with them and asked them to please let me help if classical singing was something they decided to fit into their marketing plans.  An audience for a young singer is essential.  Who cares where you find it?

My favorite futurist sent me more relevant quotable stuff just in time for this blog. While Greg Sandow talked about his “Speaking about Music” communications course he is teaching at Julliard School, he let a big cat out of the bag.  The first sentence I quote makes reference to a “that”, and here is the full meaning of his “that” in just two words: “self-promotion”.  He contracts twenty five words in his blog with “that”:

Now students know they’ll have to do a lot of that on their own, and that they’ll have to do it in new, lively, communicative ways. Of course this is tied to the new stress on entrepreneurship in conservatories, Juilliard included. Classical musicians in the future will be much better off if they can create careers on their own, and being able to engage people about what they do is a central part of that.


Future Past

This is really rich. Mr. Sandow is looking into a future that seems distant but familiar. He sees a future in which highly educated, heavily indebted graduates of his university will be better served by finding work outside the traditional classical music outlets.  Does he believe that the future will look like the middle ages when guys with guitars or lutes would sing for change in market cities?  Of course those future troubadours will need to take his “Speaking about Music” classes to learn how to use their hand-helds and smartphones to market themselves on Face Book and Twitter.  Does he consider that the income level of such pursuits would never be able to pay off the debt to which an un-rich student needs to enslave himself or herself in order to pay Julliard tuition?  Maybe Julliard is just looking for a way to stay relevant.  In the retail business, I’ve heard it said that when demand is down Advertise, Advertise, Advertise.  I guess someone at Julliard overheard one of those conversations. Business is business, but I thought Julliard was a music school. Anyway, Mr. Sandow sounds bearish on the music business when he blogs.

Road Rant Street Bass

Who needs the stuffy theater?

My eyes are always open for opportunities allowing youngsters to cut their teeth in nontraditional venues.  I hope future Julliard grads won’t need them to support themselves. Let’s get real.  Sandow gets it right in one of his later blogs that I already talked about.  Grow the audience in those traditional classical music outlets, and professional level performers will meet healthy demand for their services from those healthy institutions of Classical Music.  It’s frustrating that Sandow doesn’t tell us how he thinks this rosy future can be won.  What he does tell us is that he and Julliard want their grads to look to non-traditional venues in which to make a living.

Where you find it..

Where you find it..

Sandow would seem to be anticipating an imminent collapse of demand for their graduates.  This would create a supply of talent in the music world that main line presenters could not save from starvation.  I guess I would be wrong to even encourage young people to strive for a career in Opera if my outlook were so skeptical.  I think Sandow and Julliard are worse than wrong. If they really believe in their “new stress”, they are stealing money from students, even from those who have to borrow it.

Sandow does say that the keystone or maybe the corner stone for music’s fabulous future is to: “Create performances so powerful — and so much in tune with current culture — that people just about break down our doors to go to them.”  Now that statement is so packed with stuff that I would have to destroy my 1000 word limit to comment.

I will keep reading Mr. Sandow’s blogs, but I wonder if we will ever receive even the smallest snippets of his magic formula that forms the basis of his consultancy to classical music.

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Posted by on Sep 21, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching


Last night was a first for me. I never thought sitting in the audience was going to become harder work than being on the stage.  The closing concert was an introduction to a nervous condition at least some parents must experience while attending their children’s dance recitals, piano recitals and school plays.  There I was trying to sit still while my Master Class students did that singing thing in front of a bunch of Opera loving Italians.  A cold sweat would have been better.  I got overheated.  When I had to wipe my brow dry, I knew I needed to calm down.

Yesterday morning, with all those singers, my work had already finished. They all allowed me to push and shove them toward the best artistic results I could envision for them, and all the twitching in the world that I might do in my seat was not going to help any of them in any way.  In fact, I could have made a spectacle of myself already, without intending it.  It wasn’t until after the program came to the inevitable finish-line that I had the freedom to think back over just how well everyone had done.

There are lots and lots of arguments about what is needed to save the economic viability of the performing arts, and I have my own angle, but what is needed by each and every singer is the approval of an appreciative audience to confirm that the artist’s efforts had the intended effect. Who cares that a teacher might be increasing the humidity of the room by sweating every detail?  The members of the audience shouldn’t, and don’t care that the artists are taking great big risks by following the advice of a sweat drenched teacher.  They are there to enjoy something that this nation may be justified to claim as their invention.  Italy was certainly integral to bringing Opera to maturity, and, back in my day, I assumed that if I could make Italians applaud my singing, I was doing something right..… You know, that singing thing.

Well, the attending Opera lovers affirmed all the singers’ efforts with one of the artists singled out for particular attention.  He gathered into his singing almost everything I had thrown at him over the desperately few days we worked together, finished his second aria to receive enthusiastic applause and bravos.  He graciously bowed and proceeded to exit the room, but before he could make good his escape, a voice, not mine, was heard from the audience: BIS!  For the non-Italian non Opera devotee that means: “Play it again Sam”, or let us hear that thing again.  The artist hesitated in mid stride and turned his head to look back over his shoulder.  I’ve never seen a happier smile.  It was almost as big as mine.

Those moments of triumph are exactly what artists need for inspiration to ever more risk taking in this art form suffering from apathy, mediocrity and let’s just play it safe singing. The organic gift cannot be improved, but the gift must be put to the best use possible.  When that is done, the gift itself becomes less important.  After all, great painters aren’t considered great artists because they used the best quality materials.  The best performing artists are often not the interpreters in possession of the best instruments.  Violinists might have to wait a long time after they are recognized as great artists before they can afford a Stradivarius.  Singers can never buy a new instrument.

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