I think it’s an idea who’s time has come. “Young Person Repellent.” Please click on the live link. Maybe some of us could suggest our favorite recordings to the McDonalds Corporation. The last time I sat in one of their outlets, in Europe by the way, I would have loved to...Read More
Shiver time is upon us. Temperatures are down to ice forming levels, local candidates are telling us what they want to do to us…… pardon me… for us, if they are elected on November 5th and Halloween is already in our rearview mirror. Scary things are still everywhere to be...Read More
Parents are towing kids to cash registers all across America carrying flimsily made scary costumes, some with accessory makeup kits, in preparation for the big haul of chocolate that the little people so look forward to collecting every 31 October. With the way things are going...Read More
A great actor and standup comic once said that air is for blowing up basket balls. An airline pilot might say that it is for lifting his wings. A disappointed Olympic archer might say it’s there to frustrate him because it pushes his arrows off target. Bakers may say that it is...Read More
I just put two new pages in the “Tool Box”. You can find them by clicking on the titles Analysis Facial Movements Please take time to read those pages. They are short, for now. Look closely at Garcia’s text in “Analysis” for the content behind the immediate message of the...Read More
Just a quick note to let everyone have a link to an article that came out today at www.liricamente.it. I want to thank Mrs. Gloria Bellini for writing so nicely about me. Mrs. Bellini and I had fun talking while I was still in my Rome Hotel room. The attached photo is a good...Read More
There are those among the family of man who set perfection as their goal with no pretentions about being capable of attaining it. I am one of them. This does not confer on me any elite status. I fully admit that I continue to fail to attain to those standards by which I measure...Read More
Once upon a time there were two tenors auditioning for a Major Midwest Orchestra. These tenors were not competitors because they did not have similar voices. They were, and still are friendly, in fact able to share a rising star manager whose office had organized the audition...Read More
When in Rome enjoy the rain…. Sorry to complain, but I had to get the weather report out of the way first. The weather has been really unusual in Italy, and with reports from home sounding similar to local conditions, I’m beginning to fear that the Earth may drown before Al...Read More
It’s great to be back in Montisi. Rural life is my favorite, and a quick stop in this little hill top town is just what I need between big town visits. I just finished a Master Class in Rome exclusive to all but Santa Cecilia students and am on my way to Florence for a similar...Read More
I always thought there was something more to scaling the registers than just “The Blend”. Renata was not helpful to my understanding, even if she was very helpful to my voice. She made me do a lot of running up and down the scales and boy did I have fun even though Renata was...Read More
When the going gets tough the tough get going. I never liked that motto much, but it rings in my head these days. I guess I didn’t like it because I did a lot of going in my life, but had no illusions about being a tough guy. Besides, tough was not applicable to most of the...Read More
Long before Manuel Garcia walked the Earth for more than a century, most of the things he wrote about and taught were already integral to the singer’s art. In the preface of his big book he wonders about the history of “the art of singing” and more specifically the teachers of...Read More
What a trick question.... Voice is first.
I think it’s an idea who’s time has come. “Young Person Repellent.” Please click on the live link.
Maybe some of us could suggest our favorite recordings to the McDonalds Corporation. The last time I sat in one of their outlets, in Europe by the way, I would have loved to hear something with a tune. If I ever get to Australia, I’ll go looking for the Opera loving MacDonald’s outlet mentioned in The Telegraph article.
I am sad that there is a people deterrent quality attached to Classical music and Opera. It has been hard at work, of late, at the Box Office in the venues built for these musical styles, and it was only a matter of time that the effect would be recognized and used by the likes of McDonalds.
Perhaps we can expect water boarding to be replaced with exposure to full length Wagner Operas. I know I would give up all the secrets I have if I were faced with that threat.Read More
Shiver time is upon us. Temperatures are down to ice forming levels, local candidates are telling us what they want to do to us…… pardon me… for us, if they are elected on November 5th and Halloween is already in our rearview mirror. Scary things are still everywhere to be found if one just looks for them. It makes sense to me that people should shiver at what some of our local politicos say, given the arriving cold temperatures outside. It seems to me that many of them would not mourn to see some of us, as a result of taxation, shiver in our
own homes… that is if we can even afford to keep our little huts. I hope a few of my fellow North Country Citizens will find the signs of these times shivery and get out to vote on 5 November… That’s tomorrow isn’t it? Being out in the cold is a long tradition in Clinton County, and tax auctions are especially shiver inspiring.
Shivering isn’t fun, but at least it’s not somnolence inspiring. After publication of my previous blog on the trick of talk, I received a note from a reader. In part he wrote:
In those brief minutes of run-throughs of Operas traditionally granted in German/Austria etc. houses, I would often ask a younger singer to not sing but try to recite the text and then sing it as you said. Unfortunately 90% of them were unresponsive and as a result they sang the “telephone book”. But those few exceptions who tried it went from student to artist in a heartbeat.
Rico Saccani via Email
Now, if you think of it, there is no way to imagine the recitation of names and numbers to be much more interesting or entertaining than traffic noise. Take it from me, even traffic noise can promote sleep. At least that was my experience when I spent long periods on Manhattan Island singing at Lincoln Center. Going to bed over Broadway was a special challenge at first, and then little by little the taxis, busses and trash trucks were just as good as the crickets of home for lulling me to sleep. A bedtime story read from the top of the “L” listings in the New York City White Pages would certainly have had the same effect.
Stark wrote some supporting words for my trick:
Despite the disagreements in the pedagogical literature, we cannot ignore the common theme that runs through so many works – namely, that there is something special, perhaps even ‘secret,’ involved in singing according to bel canto principles.
Stark, James (2003-03-28). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy (Kindle Locations 346-348). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.
Vocal author Edgar Herbert-Caesari maintained that the foundation of the old Italian school, from Caccini onward, is the ‘completely natural voice … that, without training, is able to articulate, enunciate, and sustain with perfect ease and freedom all vowels on all pitches in its particular compass’ (Herbert-Caesari 1936, 4). These views are unrealistic. Why one may ask, if the techniques of bel canto are so simple and direct, has great singing always been the art of the few and not of the many? Or, if Herbert-Caesari thought bel canto was just natural, untrained singing, why did he bother to write a book about vocal technique?
Stark, James (2003-03-28). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy (Kindle Locations 361-369). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.
James Stark tells us there is a bel canto “secret” running around in vocal literature. He further tells us that Edgar Herbert-Caesari did not capture or cage that runner in his theories. It is an interesting tactic that Stark employs to set up Herbert-Caesari as a crazy believer in “Natural Talent”. After all, why do we need voice teachers at all if the theories that Stark says Herbert-Caesari wrote down are true? (I know how to use the open question argument technique, even if I don’t like it much.) Voice Builders of the World should unite under the banner: “Hebert-Caesari – HERATIC” and advocate the burning of his books. That would be honest.
The true accent which is communicated to the voice when one speaks without preparation, is the base on which the singing expression is patterned. The chiaroscuro, the accents, the feeling all then take an eloquent and persuasive aspect. The imitation of the natural and instinctive movements should then be, for the student, the object of a very special study; but there is another means which will not serve less to initiate him into the secret of the emotions, and which we recommend to his zeal; here is this means; to isolate himself completely from the character which he is supposed to represent, to place himself face to face with that character in his imagination, and let him then act and sing. By reproducing faithfully the impressions which will have been suggested to him by that creation of fantasy, the artist will obtain much more striking effects than he would attain by beginning work straightway.
A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing Part 2 PAGE 140
As a footnote to the above text:
This advice is precisely that which Talma gave to a young man. This beginner was wearing himself out with vain efforts of declamation in the study of the role of Oreste; “You are deafening yourself: it is impossible for you to know what you are doing, because you do not know yet what you want to do; you have not determined in advance what effect you want to produce. Declaim your role without pronouncing a word.
Place your character before you, and then listen to him: judge his manner of acting and his delivery; finally, when you are satisfied with the performer [t'artiste] which your imagination portrays for you, it is then that you can imitate him and declaim aloud.” This precept of the most capable French tragic actor applies to every point in the art of singing. When the singer has learned an aria, if he wishes to render it with as much expression as he can impart to it and to embellish it with all the ornaments which the melody and the nature of the piece permit, he must concern himself with the conception before thinking of the performance. He must sing mentally, as it were, while his imagination places before him the character he will portray. When he has thus strongly conceived the dramatic situation, when he is well penetrated by the emotion traced by the composer, in short, when he has created for himself an ideal which is as perfect as possible, it is only then that he will put to work all his imitative faculties, that he will display all his means of expression and execution, in order to approach the pattern which his thought has offered to him as a model.
A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing Part 2 PAGE 140, 141 FOOTNOTE
As you can see in Garcia’s text, my trick is not new. The principle underpinning it is one of the “running secrets” Stark would like to capture. Herbert-Caesari may have inflated it into his own “Theory of Singing”, but Stark gives us no theory at all. It’s Garcia who gives us something to work with. See “Expression“
I simplify the Garcia advice down to the bare essentials. How you say what you say can live happily inside how you sing what you sing, and without a lot of magic mystery. The tools you use to make the spoken phonation and the sung phonation are the same tools in both cases. There is no magic here. What you hear you can mimic, and that includes mimicking yourself. These things rest on natural abilities, but they do not replace vocal technique. They can, however, confuse the ignorant….Read More
Parents are towing kids to cash registers all across America carrying flimsily made scary costumes, some with accessory makeup kits, in preparation for the big haul of chocolate that the little people so look forward to collecting every 31 October. With the way things are going nationally and locally, I can imagine there would be many parents seeking alternative costuming. Take, for example, the organic number displayed in the photos a proud Grandparent is allowing me to embed in this Blog. By the way, behind those traditional inorganic costume preferring parents at the registers are people like us. You know: the home owners who can pay our land taxes and still have enough in the budget to afford Halloween candy. The Trick/Treat word paring that’s been bouncing around my mind lately has inspired a new thought into the mix of the many echoes in there that won’t go away. I teach a trick that has turned out to be a universal treat.
The treat is that it works. It works in many ways, not the least of which is the liberation of the voice from the tyranny of the thinking part of the brain. The idea of the trick is to put the ears to work, and the calculating part of the brain out of the way. I keep repeating a principle in my studio and on the Master Class road so much that I forget to mention it with the same insistence on the blog. Now I shouldn’t forget, because it underpins so much of my understanding of vocal matters and should challenge quite a few of my readers. You cannot think your way to excellent singing or even good singing. Do think “Tenor”. He doesn’t think, he sings. You know: “I sing therefore I am!!!..Uh!….. a tenor.” Oh! Just a minute… For the tenors: I’m plagiarizing a quote: “I think therefore I am”, which is a bastardization of, and plagiarizing the Bible for God’s self-definition: “I Am”. Let’s get past the looming argument over the meaning of “Truth”, and just remember chronology is important. Who wrote what first is all I care about here, because chronology is also an underpinning principal of the trick I want to talk about.
Trick: Recite the words of the song or aria you are seeking to interpret. (My apologies to those who say interpretation cannot be taught.)
The recitation I’m talking about is more than correct pronunciation. I’m talking about speaking the words with every ounce of emotional content you can give them. As if you are reading the words for a radio program. The listener needs to hear in your voice as you recite every bit of character and drama necessary to give the listener everything necessary for understanding and believing what you say and that you mean it. Listen closely to the sound of your voice, and then sing those words intending to drag every inflection of your spoken rendition into the melodic line.
Treat: You will sing those words with at least some of the expressiveness you attain in your recitation. If you are able to appreciate the result, you should be able to bring more and more of the emotional content of your recitation into the song or aria in question. You may also begin to have some cross pollination from your improved singing back into your declamation.
Now I’ve got to warn you away from the inhibition consultant that might tell you to be careful not to disturb the composer’s music. If you go for the gold and do a great job of recitation, you will certainly have your own rhythm for the words, and if you allow (please do) that personal rhythm to distort the rhythmic structure of the composer’s melodic line, you will have created a unique interpretation, and probably gotten your pianist/vocal coach all upset. I know that was the effect I had on some of my good friends at the keyboard. Not every pianist I ran into was a stickler for rhythmic purity, but the majority was. Please don’t let injecting a little language inspired jazziness into the note values be the end of the game. Listen carefully to yourself declaim the words. When you do a convincing job. The inflections in your voice are going to be very complicated and the variations are not going to be limited to rhythm. You will hear lots of variables related to volume and color. Volume differences you make among the words will be easier to inventory than the many color differences which your voice will put into each phrase and even each word.
My last bit of advice is to work the song or aria or recitative or duet or trio…….. Ok!!! I know I do run on a bit. Work one sentence at a time. Get each phrase of the words you say as close to your spoken expressiveness as you can. If you feel you are not as successful as you would like to be, work the text one word at a time until you get results. It is beyond difficult to describe with any accuracy or completeness the sonic result of a great recitation of a text. The ability of your brain to retain a memory of it is also beyond measure.
Lately I have been listening to a lot of success taking place with the implementation of the above trick. One of the participants in this game is so good at the mimic process that he is deluged with requests to put various famous figures on display by mimicry just about any time he finds himself in friendly company. I’ve seen this happen even in the hallway of a public building. “All the World’s a stage.” Forgive the depressing message in Shakespeare’s play, but just imagine getting someone with a great singing voice to sing those words just as the actor declaims them in the clip. If Mr. Sandow’s nightmare for the future of classical music doesn’t happen, then my students have a shot at finding a home in Classical Music. If they follow the above trick, they will also stand out in the crowd that mostly seems to be reading the telephone book when singing.
There will be a Part 2.
I hope you will look forward to it.
If I can pull my eyes from the fall foliage, it will come.
Life is too complicated for this tenor to keep things straight. I have been meandering through many muddy mental matters trying to work out how to clarify them all, and I am only becoming aware of the futility of my quest as the number of ideas competing for my attention becomes impossibly large. Even this tenor can now see that too much is just too much. I’ve got to put these thoughts in some sort of order, but even ordering them is beyond my ability….. So let’s forget order and try random access to my mind’s thought pool and put a few on the blog.
Wikipedia is one of my favorite catalysts, and I will blame it for today’s bit of clarity. I went there to get an idea of what the “High Minded” thought the words “Professional and Professionalism” mean.
What a fabulous monster I found. I have spent a lifetime using a word that now means the opposite of my understanding.
In my development as a singer, I was always aware of the bits of artistic genius that passed in front of me from my very advantageous position on the stage with some really wonderful singers. The artists from whom I stole the largest number of tools of the singing trade set a high bar for me to jump. I thought of the word “Professionalism” as being printed in large letters right in the middle of that bar. I did my best to organize what Renata Booth taught me and everything I lifted from the best of the professionals around me to bring my work on the stage as close to that (Professionalism) bar as I could, even if I might have failed, in my own eyes, to attain-to it. Click here to see the lowest point I can think of for setting that bar.
Wikipedia has dug a trench for that bar.
“qualified professionals are less creative and diverse in their opinions and habits than non-professionals,”
I did a little criticism of this attitude of “mediocre is like so happening” in “Soup and Sandwich” and wish I were able to leave it alone with that single blog, but the cloud of witnesses against my point of view is too dense to let me walk away from the subject. As I kept my eye on Ann Midget after my blog “So Why Should Anyone Belt?”, I ran across her husband, Greg Sandow. I guess he could be labeled a professional consultant, even within the limits of the definition of “Professional” that the professional thinkers and writers at Wikipedia are keen on selling. I subscribed to Greg’s blog, and he recently kicked the hornet nest of thoughts that trouble my tenor brain with the gem:
“Better to aim low, I might think, and plan small, practical steps, and then be surprised when things take off. Better that than to start off expecting big things, and then fall on your face when they don’t happen quickly.”
Perhaps we could call Greg a professional “inhibition consultant”.
I could live with the above advice if we were talking about a bicycle I may buy for nearly nothing at a garage sale, or walking out my front door intending to burn up a few calories jogging during an ice storm that “Climate Change” is supposed to eliminate for us Rock Eaters of the far North. It is a long way from the philosophy I followed when I first thought to become a “professional singer”, and I believe I shared that “Reach for the stars” attitude with my colleagues who became successful professionals. Just because a few inevitably disappointed individuals shared this “Devil may care” manner of pursuing the profession does not make INHIBITION a better policy for all aspirants to professional status. Especially when the majority of the disappointed from among my generation were actually following Mr. Sandow’s advice and had all the inhibition he might think they needed.
Wikipedia serves well to bring into focus the thinking of the chattering class, and Mr. Sandow’s profession would seem to make him a chattering charter member. His advice for professionals to go “low ball” in their expectations would seem to fit right in with Wikipedia’s “low ball” estimation of the creativity a “Professional” can be expected to possess. Both these opinions fit together very well with Karen Sell’s attitude that interpretation/“artistry” is by nature innate and un-teachable. (See “Soup and Sandwich”). Since professionals are supposed to lose the ability to be creative through the very education process Wikipedia asserts as necessary for attaining to “Professionalism”, and Karen Sell believes creativity is ultimately un-teachable it would seem logical that Mr. Sandow would advise low expectations for any effort a “Professional Artist” may make in “creating” a career. What is education for, anyway?
My last bash at this subject will be to reiterate my opinions contained in my blog “Barcelona and Friends”. The people with whom I collaborated in Barcelona, mostly from Mr. Sandow’s chattering class, seemed to agree with Mr. Sandow’s opinion that a “low aim” is better than a big disappointment. As we gathered to see and hear young people show their desire to be, preparation for and accomplishment of “Professional”, the largest vocal gifts, the biggest and riskiest bets, were eliminated early. The less gifted and more “Professional”, according to Wikipedia and effectively the least impressive, were promoted to the final. Those “Wikipedia Professional” artistic organizers voted their agreement with Mr. Sandow, and guaranteed my ultimate boredom in that magnificent theatre: Liçeu. Those Viñas participants who have the greatest likelihood to attain to my definition of “Professional Singer” were just too “iffy” in the eyes and ears of the supporters of the status quo. I wish those Wikipedia favored youngsters well, but I believe they are part of the problem that troubles even Mr. Sandow. Click here to see the first blog that I was happy to receive from him after I subscribed. There are no coincidences.
Crisis is what it’s about.
A great actor and standup comic once said that air is for blowing up basket balls. An airline pilot might say that it is for lifting his wings. A disappointed Olympic archer might say it’s there to frustrate him because it pushes his arrows off target. Bakers may say that it is a heat transfer agent for cooking grain based foods. A few vendors in Alba, Italy might say it is for attracting customers to their shop by carrying the aroma of fresh truffles into the street. An environmentalist may say it is a sacred fluid meant to be worshiped. Tenor that I am, I say it is for singing, even for singing sacred music.
I know, everyone on my hypothetical panel of “opinionators” (my tenor version of “opiners”) mentioned above can say what they like, but we all miss the fact that air existed before anyone of us or any of our ancestors were around to use it for anything. If we want to know why it exists, we will certainly need to stop talking to each other about it and search for the answer from somewhere other than within our own opinions. Job 38:4 is a good place to start when cogitating on such things as “Existential Air”.
Most tenors understand that they need air to sing high notes. The rest of the vocal categories know they use it for the same purpose, but also tend to credit air as supporting thought, exercise, writing letters, talking about non singer subjects and supporting the voice in a manner that produces beautiful phrases as well as just keeping themselves alive. Tenors are not barred from any of these complicated activities, but rarely associate air with these undertakings, so I don’t want to strike up an argument with a fellow tenor about the many whys there are to support the proposition that it is good to have air hanging around.
It seems to me to be a valuable opening to this blog to clear the air of the differences of opinion about air that I have overheard expressed during my life of observation. We live in a Post Modern, Post Rational, Hyper Utilitarian universe that would propose that all my air panelists are “absolutely” correct, because the only truth is point of view. The “for me” qualifier is supreme, and for the rest of humanity there is only the power of the opinion holder to consider. OK!!! I’ve got to get off this track, or my tenor club card might be taken from me.
AIR!!!! What do we do about air? We breathe it. Singers struggle to use it to create “ART”. Garcia made short work of describing the method he imposed on the students in his studio:
One could not become a capable singer without possessing the art of the control of the breath.
The phenomenon of breathing is composed of a double action; the first is inspiration, the action by which the lungs draw in the exterior air; the second is expiration, which makes them return the air received.
In order to inhale freely, hold the chest erect, the shoulders back without stiffness, and the chest free. Lower the diaphragm without jerking, raise the chest by a slow and regular movement, and set the hollow of the stomach. From the moment when you beg in these two movements the lungs will dilate until they are filled with air.
This double procedure, on which insist, enlarges the envelope of the lungs, first at the base, then by the circumference, and allows the lungs to complete all their expansion and to receive all the air which they can contain. To advise the abdominal breathing exclusively would be to voluntarily reduce by one half the element of strength most indispensable to the singer, the breath.
When the lungs are filled gradually and without jerking, they can retain the air for a long time without fatiguing. This slow and complete inhalation is what the Italians call a respiro [breath], as opposed to a light hurried inhalation, which gives the lungs only a little supplement of air for the need of the moment. That half-breath they call mezzo-respiro.
In neither case should the passage of the air through the throat be accompanied by any noise, under pain of spoiling the effect of the song and making the throat dry and stiff.
The mechanism of expiration is the opposite of that of inspiration. It consists of exerting a slow and gradual pressure on the lungs filled with air. Jerks, sudden movements of the chest [coups de poitrine], the precipitous fall of the ribs, and the abrupt relaxation of the diaphragm would let the air escape instantly.
In fact, the lungs, spongy and inert masses, are enveloped in a kind of cone (the thorax) , the base of which (the diaphragm) is a wide and convex muscle arising from the edges of the chest and separating the chest from the abdomen. A single fissure a few millimeters [lignes] in length (the glottis), placed at the summit of the cone, serves as a passage for the air.
In order that the air may enter the lungs, it is necessary that the sides [of the chest] separate and that the diaphragm lower; air then fills the lungs. If, in this situation, one allows the ribs to fall and the diaphragm to rise, the lungs, pressed from all sides like a sponge in the hand, immediately give up the air which they had inhaled.
It is necessary, then, to let the ribs fall and to relax the diaphragm only so much as it is necessary to nourish [alimenter] the tones.
Garcia 1 pages 33 and 34
Garcia basically tells us to breathe in as deeply as possible, and to expel air at a rate and under a pressure matched to the needs of the sound we wish to produce. This seems a simple statement, but in fact it is terribly complicated. Garcia seems to believe most average teachers would be able to guide a student to understand the functions he describes, and offers exercises that I believe should also have some hands on guidance attached:
One can, by subjecting the lungs to a special exercise, develop their elasticity and power to a very high degree. This exercise is composed of four different operations successively practiced:
1. First, one inhales slowly and during the space of several seconds as much breath as the chest can contain;
2. One exhales that air with the same slowness as with which it was inhaled;
3. One fills the lungs and keeps them filled for the longest possible time;
4. One exhales completely and leaves the chest empty as long as the physical powers will conveniently allow.
These four exercises, very fatiguing at first, should be practiced separately and at rather long intervals. The first two, namely the slow inhalations and exhalations, can be practiced more regularly if one will nearly close the mouth in such a manner that only a slight aperture is left for the passage of the air.
This is the physical means of obtaining the steadiness of the voice, about which more will be said later.
Garcia 1 page 34 and 35
Because I used swimming as a large set of training exercises for gaining control over my breath when I was younger than I am now, I hit upon the idea that swimming coaches might have something to say that tenors could use to help them with high notes and the like. So I went trolling around the internet and this is what I found:
What goes into taking a breath:
What we use to exhale:
Exercises for breathing:
These articles may not be for everyone, but they will give the truly curious a greater understanding of the mechanisms we singers share with the water babies who want to win races. All we want to do is to get to the end of the longest musical phrase we encounter without breaking it into shorter pieces because the composer does not anticipate our need to breathe.
Now that I have surfaced from my deep immersion in face to face communication with people, puppies, plants and pitched phonation pupils, I hope to bother you more regularly with my thoughts on future pages.
I just put two new pages in the “Tool Box”. You can find them by clicking on the titles
Please take time to read those pages. They are short, for now.
Look closely at Garcia’s text in “Analysis” for the content behind the immediate message of the words. There is almost always more to discover than meets the mind at first reading. Garcia lists things he has not defined anywhere in his books: dampened and shrill timbres, trembling tone, noisy and misplaced breath, and then absolves himself for leaving them off his pages by admitting that they would seem to be so far outside the boundaries of the singer’s art as to be considered “grave errors”. They are surely errors in the preliminary study of singing. They are errors because this early study should be dedicated to training the voice to work like an instrument. Well, I always knew that one man’s pleasure would find somebody calling it poison, but here we have a poison that should ultimately become everyone’s’ pleasure.
“we considered the voice as an instrument whose range, purity and flexibility, elements necessary for correctness of style, had to be developed. “
This text is more evidence that supports some of my assertions in “Climbing Stairs”, and the pages that follow in Garcia’s book are the antidote to my displeasure with the status quo I put into “Barcelona and Friends”, but what does this Analysis stuff have to do with Soup and Sandwiches?
Remember “So Why Should Anyone Belt?”? Food is one of my favorite things. It does reside a few levels below singing, but it is in my top ten. That’s one good reason why I put a picture of a pizza place with my name on it on top of that Belting blog, and why I want to make a parallel between Garcia’s books and the title of this blog.
Garcia’s part one is all about how he “considered the voice as an instrument” and it is complicated like a sandwich. You put a sandwich together, and the component parts produce an effect in the mouth that is distinct with every combination possible, given your pantry. After you take that first bite, you can always take the sandwich apart and list the components. You could have done that yourself as you made the sandwich if you were the one engaged in the art of sandwich making, but the disparate parts are recognizable to anyone who wants to disassemble that sandwich. Vocal technique is just like that. Garcia built a book, A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing, part 1 that is a pantry full of components that come together and then come apart like parts of a sandwich, even a Dagwood.
Garcia’s part two is all about “arriving at the most intimate resources of the skill” which is complicated like soup. Try as you might, you will not be able to take that soup apart in the same manner available to anyone contemplating a sandwich. You will be off to the lab to play with test tubes and spectrographic equipment to discover the flavor components squeezed in between the H2O molecules that host them in the bowl. If you want to know about soup from my perspective, take in the movie “Tampopo”. Garcia wades into the soup to tell us of things that, especially today, have fallen off the table of pedagogical discussion. Ms. Karen Sell puts us on notice that these things are no longer “intimate resources”. She might as well declare there is no such thing as Soup. On page 2 of her book she sets the tone with:
(a) A title which may give a preliminary clue to interpretation. Hoole suggests that interpretation as a subject cannot be taught.
but it can be cultivated in all but a small minority. Anyone whose personal desire is to learn a musical instrument must, by the fact that they are interested, suggest at least some basic interpretational senses on which to build (1995. p. 12).
Hoole, Ivor (1995) ‘Once more with feeling’, Music Teacher, September, 12-15.
I’m sorry to admit that I was not able to source this magazine.
Ms. Sell further rounds out her opinion on page 153 with a quote:
In the final analysis interpretation cannot be taught. If the student does not have enough creative imagination to react aesthetically to the text and the music, and enough freedom of personality to express what he feels, no amount of instruction can redeem the situation (1994, p. 29).
Nashville: Genevox Music Group.
I do want to cut a break for Ms. Sell in this area of the vocal arts. There was a “Ha Ha” saying I picked up in the years 1969 – 71 during which I had my introduction to the University system for which she wrote her book, and it went something like this: “He, who can, does. He, who cannot, teaches. He, who cannot teach, teaches teaching methods.” I would guess one must take seriously the second paragraph of the Preface of her book:
This book is a revised version of my Middlesex University doctoral dissertation. Unlike many such works, however mine is not of the kind which could have been produced at or near the beginning of a career. On the contrary, it arises from many years of performing as a soprano, of teaching in educational institutions from primary to tertiary, of working in private practice at home and abroad, of lecturing to professional bodies and conducting workshops and master classes, and of serving as a voice consultant to members of the health professions.
Sell, Karen: The Disciplines Of Vocal Pedagogy: Towards An Holistic Approach, June 30, 2005 unnumbered Page: Preface
I do take seriously this self-introduction, and suggest that you Google her name in search of any audio visual record of her performing career as a soprano…. So what did you find?…… Yes I know. I found the same nothing. May we assume she might have a certain deficit in the area of interpretation, if none of her efforts to interpret have survived? It would explain her affinity for quoting people who say interpretation is un-teachable. If her deficits were vocal and organic in nature I would stand corrected, but for the fact that I have no reference point from which to judge or even make conclusions.
Today, since the modern pedagogical literature design’s them as un-teachable, teaching these “intimate” interpretive things would seem to be in the same category as cooking. For voice teachers who always eat out, it would be logical to say “Not my job!” Garcia had the holistic approach that Ms. Sell pretends to publish in her defense of the pedagogical present.
Garcia tells us how to interpret. Although His voice was not good enough to make a career as a singer, his life with his father was more than enough preparation to begin his career teaching singing, and for his meticulous research that resulted in some great singers being prepared for the stage, and the writings that we still have today that are like a great big key to the House of Singing. If you open the door and walk into the kitchen you will find that virtual vocal Sandwich and bowl of Soup. Garcia’s recipes are on the counter beside each one of these complementary dishes. Beside the Sandwich sits Garcia’s recipe: his big book part 1, and beside the Soup you will discover his big book part 2.Read More
Just a quick note to let everyone have a link to an article that came out today at www.liricamente.it.
I want to thank Mrs. Gloria Bellini for writing so nicely about me.
Mrs. Bellini and I had fun talking while I was still in my Rome Hotel room. The attached photo is a good example of the fun singers can have, on or off the stage. That’s me in white hair. Guess who is with me?Read More
There are those among the family of man who set perfection as their goal with no pretentions about being capable of attaining it. I am one of them. This does not confer on me any elite status. I fully admit that I continue to fail to attain to those standards by which I measure my life and my singing, at least while I was still singing. When I recently reread Quantz seeking to cover my “proverbial back side” concerning some of my assertions in earlier blogs, I ran across the following text. I read it as if I had not read it before, because my memory is selective. I seem to have conveniently forgotten what I once read years ago. Anyone measuring himself or herself against this description of “good singer” may feel a little stress.
The chief requirements of a good singer are that he have a good, clear, and pure voice, of uniform quality from top to bottom, a voice which has none of those major defects originating in the nose and throat, and which is neither hoarse nor muffled. Only the voice itself and the use of words give singers preference over instrumentalists. In addition, the singer must know how to join the falsetto to the chest voice in such a way that one does not perceive where the latter ends and the former begins; he must have a good ear and true intonation, so that he can produce all the notes in their correct proportions; he must know how to produce the portamento (il portamento di voce) and the holds upon a long note (le messe di voce) in an agreeable manner; hence he must have firmness and sureness of voice, so that he does not begin to tremble in a moderately long hold, or transform the agreeable sound of the human voice into the disagreeable shriek of a reed pipe when he wishes to strengthen his tone, as not infrequently happens, particularly among certain singers who are disposed to hastiness. The singer must be able to execute a good shake that does not bleat and is neither too slow nor too quick; and he must observe well the proper compass of the shake, and distinguish whether it should consist of whole tones or semitones. A good singer must also have good pronunciation. He must enunciate the words distinctly, and must not pronounce the vowels a, e, and o all in the same way in passage-work, so that they become incomprehensible. If he makes a grace on a vowel, this vowel and none other must be heard to the very end. In pronouncing the words he must also avoid changing one vowel into another, perhaps substituting e for a and o for u; for example, in Italian pronouncing genitura instead of genitore, and as a result evoking laughter among those who understand the language. The voice must not become weaker when i and u appear; during these vowels no extended embellishments should be made in the low register, and certainly no little graces in the high register. A good singer must have facility in reading and producing his notes accurately, and must understand the rules of thorough-bass. He must not express the high notes with a harsh attack or with a vehement exhalation of air from his chest; still less should he scream them out, coarsening the amenity of the voice. Where the words require certain passions he must know how to raise and moderate his voice at the right time and without any affectation. In a melancholy piece he must not introduce as many shakes and running embellishments as in a happy and cantabile work, since they often obscure and spoil the beauty of the melody. He should sing the Adagio in a moving, expressive, flattering, charming, coherent, and sustained manner, introducing light and shadow both through the Piano and Forte and through the reasonable addition of graces suited to the words and the melody. He must perform the Allegro in a lively, brilliant, and easy manner. He must produce the passage-work roundly, neither attacking it too harshly nor slurring it in a lame and lazy manner. He must know how to moderate the tone quality of his voice from the low register into the high and, in so doing, how to distinguish between the theatre and the chamber, and between a strong and a weak accompaniment, so that his singing of the high notes does not degenerate into screaming. He must be sure in tempo, not rushing at one moment and dragging the next, particularly in the passage-work. He must take breath quickly and at the proper time. And if this becomes rather trying, he must try to conceal the fact as much as possible, yet not allow it to throw him off the time. Finally, he must seek to rely upon himself for whatever he adds in the way of embellishments, instead of listening to others like a parrot who knows only the words his master has taught him, as most do. A soprano and a tenor may allow themselves more in the way of embellishments than an alto and a bass. A noble simplicity, a good portamento, and the use of the chest voice are more suitable for the alto and bass than use of the very high register and the abundant addition of graces. This is a precept which true singers have respected and practiced at all times.
On Playing The Flute – Johann Joachim Quantz – translation: Edward R. Reilly pages 300, 301
If you try to find all the above text on Google Books, you will be disappointed. Someone, perhaps the marketing people, at Google Books decided to make some major cuts that make my above inclusion necessary. This text is a wonderful, intense white light with which any singer may engage in self-examination. Humble is hardly a word one can expect a tenor to entertain in his mind much past gathering a good definition, but it must have stuck on me when I first read that “good singer” definition. Selective is as Selective does.
Let’s get one thing straight, if I failed to be clear on this point before. Singing, acting, public speaking, dancing or any other form of performance art is personal. We each must examine, as meticulously as possible, who we are before we can really expect to be able to communicate with our audience. One singer who would seem to have been able to be comfortable with and even agree with the above Quantz text would be Manuel Garcia Sr.
Quantz sets the standard for how to prepare to live the life of a “good singer”. Garcia Jr. did not invent the label “good singer”, but he watched his father live it and Manuel Jr. was the first one to capture the essence and practical principles that his father lived by. His first edition of “A Complete Treatise on The Are of Singing” appeared eighty eight years after Quantz published his book. I believe the “art” of singing actually improved from the days of Farinelli, a singer of the same era and known to Quantz, all the way to Garcia’s days when composers began to change the demands they made on singers. But from those days forward the move has been toward diminishing the use of Garcia’s tools for singing. Sorry, I don’t wish to imply that Manuel Jr. invented the tools you can find in his “Tool Box”. He just knew them and organized them well. Quantz knew the results he wanted to see in a “good singer”. He just didn’t know the tools. After all, he was carving flutes not voices.
I bring his text to your attention because it tells us a great deal about the traditions that Garcia Sr. was born into and to point out that Garcia Jr. could have made reference to Quantz for much of the content of his own book about “good singing”, and still retained a lot to say about the practical issues. However, Garcia did not need to rely on Quantz. He had a living, breathing, singing best example to watch throughout his father’s life. Everything Quantz wrote was, in the days of the Garcia family, well known. That is what tradition is. What everyone understands as basic to the métier.
I do have some advice for the young of voice who wither under the first flash of the Quantz “good singer” specifications. It really is harder than a modern thinker might believe. Taking the path of a singer should be carefully considered. If you are willing to shoulder the responsibility of completing the quest, you should read the rest of that long ago flute player’s book. It is an amazing guide to the attitudes to which Garcia gives little space in his writings. But I have every confidence that Manuel and his father lived by them and assumed everyone else was in line with their thinking.
Once upon a time there were two tenors auditioning for a Major Midwest Orchestra. These tenors were not competitors because they did not have similar voices. They were, and still are friendly, in fact able to share a rising star manager whose office had organized the audition in which these two guys were participating.
These tenors, being tenors, were certainly aware of one another. But more than there being another tenor on the scene had little probability of penetrating their concentration on the job at hand. Selling! They were there to sell themselves to the Major Midwest Orchestra. These two were so different in character that the project of selling was like one tenor selling a Rolls Royce and the other tenor selling a Renegade. They will both get the job done, but not the same way.
These tenors were well familiar with the ambiance in which they would make their pitch for a contract at that Major Midwest Orchestra. They had arrived via the normal entrance, back door or stage door, to be nice, on West 65th Street in NYC. One tenor made his way directly to the active center of organization, off stage right, where the chronological audition list was in the hands of the person responsible for shoving all the singers onto the stage one at a time. The other tenor made a quick appearance and quickly departed after he discovered his estimated wait time before his pitch could begin. The tenor still on hand found a chair, almost the only chair available, and sat down in a strategic location. He had an unobstructed view of the piano and of the singer who had been shoved onto the stage of Avery Fisher Hall to audition. Given the fact that the singer auditioning at the time was not a tenor, the seated tenor soon forgot who it was that was making a pitch for a contract…. You know, with that Major Midwest Orchestra. He even forgot which Major Midwest Orchestra was the reason for the audition because he did not get a contract from this Major… sorry. I expect the other tenor, who was diligently warming up his Rolls Royce (RR) voice, has forgotten the entire affair, but the Renegade salesman never forgot.
In the fullness of time the warmed up RR tenor reappeared and proceeded to pace the rather small L shaped hall way that served as waiting area. Auditioning continued on the stage, the seated tenor continued to gather fodder for forgetfulness from the activities in the Hall and the warmed up RR tenor kept legging his way past the seated tenor as he measured the length of that L shaped hall way.
As time began to weigh heavily upon those still waiting, the pacing RR tenor seemed to speed up. Suddenly he stopped in front of the seated tenor and exclaimed: “Rocky, will you stop sitting there like that!? You’re making me nervous.” Yes, I was sitting there, but what I did at that moment I cannot remember. Memory is so selective.
Anyway, time past, singers finished singing, other singers were shepherded onto the stage and finally the RR tenor got his turn. I found myself watching the RR tenor put those very active legs to good use. Out onto the stage he went and he sang gloriously. Then I smiled and understood the challenge.
As often happens, the order of appearance of disparate acts/skits/performance artists can be a tremendous disadvantage to the act that follows. There is sage advice that still floats around in the theatre. Never follow a Kids Act or Animal Act. As soon as the RR tenor approached the end of the aria he was so magnificently singing, I was told to get ready to stand and deliver. When Neil Shicoff finished his aria, he set his sights on the door, stage right where I was waiting for my turn. I wish I could remember if/and/or what I might have said to him as he left the stage, but I do remember that his voice seemed to me to continue to ringing in the theatre as he passed me on his way to the stairway and 65th Street. Onto the stage I went to meet the challenge that Neil had left floating in the auditorium for me to face.
I don’t remember what I sang or how I sang, but I do remember the vision of the two individuals in the center of the auditorium. The one we were singing for and the other one, our agent, Matthew Epstein.
I guess I was heavily influenced by listening to Neil sing his heart out, because when Matthew got hold of me after the audition he asked me: “Why did you sing so loud? You sang louder than Neil!!” I will never forget that audition because of the features so far explained, but I have to say that I never quite believed what Matthew said about my singing that day.
The last and, at the time, most important feature to this story was that no contracts ever came to anyone as a result of these auditions. It turned out that the person I remember seeing seated next to Matthew Epstein in the auditorium had no authority to offer contracts from that Major Midwest Orchestra. We singers turned out to be a free afternoon entertainment. As far as I know that guy who sat with Matthew may never have worked for that Major Midwest Orchestra.
Life is full of satisfactions that cannot be anticipated, and that audition is more valuable to me now for the pleasure it has given me in memory, than anything a contract could have delivered as a consequence of it.Read More
When in Rome enjoy the rain…. Sorry to complain, but I had to get the weather report out of the way first. The weather has been really unusual in Italy, and with reports from home sounding similar to local conditions, I’m beginning to fear that the Earth may drown before Al Gore can realize his dream of watching the World burn up. When I discovered the alternate shelter choice, in the photograph, on the Tiber river, I was inspired to ask if I could rent space. But, then it started to rain. I began to believe that the river might just get higher than I would find comfortable.
I am on day 4 of my second Roman Master Class with more students than a tenor should be asked to count. I am having so much fun watching surprise spread across singers’ faces who improve their results by following Garcia’s advice and then find that the singing process gets easier on the throat. The messed up way most of these students go about singing is often so easy to unravel that it feels like child’s play. That’s good for a tenor like me who would love to have a life full of play. The old days of stage-play have now changed to teach-play and I cherish the moments when a student breaks out in a big smile because of the joy felt at overcoming difficulties.
So where is the count? “We” includes me, so I guess I’ll start with my mess making.
I am still learning…… No, that is not included in the “mess up” list! I messed up when I came back to Italy…… HOLD ON!! That’s not a “mess up” either. It has to do with the way I organized my return to Italy. There is a very good adage that goes something like this: Every Army is prepared to fight the last war they fought. They almost never keep up with the times and anticipate the attack that will come tomorrow. History is full of proof of the value of this little saying. Let’s just say: I’m a tenor, and am no more intelligent than any army around. Coming back to Italy with the same basic program as last year plus added activity was not a big mistake, but I now recognize that I should have been much more involved in helping my friends in Montisi organize the Florence/Montisi portion of my work. I was happy to meet some really nice people and discover some promising talent, but the structural difficulties presented by the school in Florence proved more than I could anticipate. I’m happy to say my time was not wasted, but I know I should have been able to help more young people than was possible under the circumstances. Unlike an unprepared army that gets destroyed, a tenor usually gets, at least, a second chance to get it right. Next time, it will be different.
OK! I should talk about at least one mess not made by the writer of this blog. My most frequent complaint this trip has been singer’s ignorance of and misuse of Vocal Function because I find it to be incredibly common in the singers who came to me for help.
The use of breathy Falsetto as a stand in for, or reinforcement for Dark Timber is the strongest and #1 impediment to good singing I have seen this year. Indiscriminant, chaotic vacillation between the Falsetto and Chest Voice that the men showed me runs a close second place, with the suppression of the Head Voice in the upper register that all the ladies engage in contends strongly for that second place.
It is wonderful to find that almost every Functional Error sufferer I encountered in Florence, Montisi and Rome was vulnerable to suggestion, and came to at least some understanding of the issue with which they were confused. Most of these were able to put these vocal functional attributes to better use. When I left Barcelona back in January, I was worried about these very issues. This trip restores my hope that the use of Chest Voice and Falsetto can still be brought back to Garcia standards, even in the face of the apparently universal taste for the Dark Side of Vocal Pedagogy.
About second chances: I will be coming back to Italy to try again. The first part of the story is that on 16 September I will be in Torino to collaborate in a Master Class with:
We will start on 16 September and work every day until 21 September. It marks my second opportunity to work with my friend Armando Caruso. It will be a pleasure to again be at the service of Armando and his collaborators. We all want to see the same thing. The best singing possible from every singer we meet.
The rest of the story will come later. The world of singing offers us “interesting times” these days, and I am fascinated by the future, for which, the present may be a fitting introduction. I find myself being called Don Quixote, and I know that there are apt similarities even though I refuse to put on armor and ride a horse. I also have no interest in wind energy. I do have interest in helping young singers discover the best qualities in the giftwrapped talent they received at birth, and it can be an uphill battle in these “interesting times”. My experience in Florence and Montisi testified to this fact.
If you have the time, are awake and want to hear a retired American tenor mangle the Italian language on an Italian Radio Show listen at 13:00 Rome time. That would be, for the tenors in my readership, 7:00 am New York time, 6:00 am Chicago time, 5:00 am Denver time and 4:00 am Los Angeles time….. Wait, I guess I’m a tenor too. To what location am I inviting everyone?
Click the program name, and you will be whisked directly to Rome where you will be able to laugh with us.
Sorry that the tenors in London, Tokyo and Honolulu will have to fend for themselves to discover the correct time of transmission. I didn’t forget you all…… You know……. I’m a tenor too. I got tired of compiling the list.