As we begin a new academic year it is a good time to look to our goals and how we can best achieve them as singers – teacher, students, professionals.
Taking voice lessons is not the whole answer. It involves the singer
s attitude, musicality, readiness to absorb information from many sources, and then to mould it to ones own ideas – vocally, musically, and expressively.
Long before the world of voice science became a part of our vocal studies, the development of the singer`s imagination was the main way the characteristics of beautiful singing were taught. Neither the teachers nor the students really had much knowledge as to how the voice was produced physically. Yet great legendary singers came out of these studios and excelled on the international operatic stages. A great deal of it was developed through the use of terminology – maxims, descriptive imagery and helpful phrases. It was basically formed by training the imagination (inner ear/inner eye). Here are a few examples:
COMPLETE, SATISFYING BREATH : When one has this goal in mind the air easily enters the lowest part of the lungs without interference and allows the diaphragm to spontaneously distend .
ONSET OF THE FIRST TONE: When the singer mentally hears the first pitch, its color, its weight, the vocal mechanism adjusts automatically to spontaneously produce that preconceived sound.
PHRASING: When the singer, on inhalation, mentally sees the whole phrase to be sung, the tone from the first to the last tone will be sung with uninterrupted legato energy.
DYNAMICS: When the singer understands the emotional content of the text the voice will automatically produce the right emotional vocal color.
Does this mean a young singer does not need knowledge about the various physical components that are involved in the art of beautiful singing? Of course not. Knowledge is never a burden. However, to try to develop the characteristics of beautiful singing simply through direct focus on specific muscles is not ideal. The singer must have a highly developed sense of how they want to sound, what they want to say, how they want the audience to receive.
“IMAGINATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN KNOWlEDGE: KNOWLEDGE IS FINITE, IMAGINATION IS INFINITE” (Albert Einstein).
Here are a few of the time honored terminology and imagery:
THE INHALATION IS THE UPBEAT TO THE PHRASE: When one inhales with the music, it gives time for the air to settle and become a column of compressed air.
INHALE/INHALE: Continuing the sense of inhaling rather than exhaling allows the first tone to start spontaneously without wasting air or locking in in the throat. The first tone is therefore never “attacked” but is “contacted”.
SING ON THE BREATH: The sensation that the voice rides on top of the column of compressed air throughout the phrase maintains the position of inhalation which is so important to the breath management approach of the Italian School (Appoggiare)
PREPHONETARY TUNING: This is a pedagogical phrased that entails hearing the first pitch, breathing in the first vowel and seeing the last note of each phrase , all on inhalation. (inner ear/inner eye)
FIND THE MAJOR STRESS NOTE AND SYLLABLE IN EACH PHRASE: Every language has one major word in each sentence. Finding the stress note and syllable as set by the composer assures the shape of each phrase.
LISTEN TO YOURSELF BEFORE YOU SING, NOT WHILE YOU SING: Hearing and seeing the color, shape and dynamics of the phrase on inhalation keeps the singer from “listening” to themselves while singing, thus leaving the body to produce the desired sound.
TOP DOWN/BOTTOM UP: Focusing on the opposite direction in ascending or descending the scale stops the singer from “pushing up” to achieve higher notes or “pressing down” to achieve the lower range.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN AHEAD OF THE VOICE: Anticipating the following note to the one you are singing allows the physical elements involved in singing to easily coordinate from the beginning to the end of each phrase.
YAWN UP: This image of inhaling upwards causes the throat to spontaneously open before, during and following each phrase. (Open Throat)
IN THE FIRT VOWEL ARE ALL THE OTHER VOWELS: This phrase, coined by Nico Castel, allows us to sing harmonized vowels without jaw, lips or tongue manipulation.
INSIDE SMILE: This image prepares the entire vocal track for singing (resonators, speech mechanism, larynx. (open throat)
SING THROUGH: The concept of keeping the energized line from the beginning to the end of each phrase insures that the blending of the registers will be smooth.
CHIARA/SCURA (BRIGHT/DARK): One of the major characteristics of the Italian school is to have a bright/warm even tone throughout the entire voice.
DONT`T TRY – ALLOW: If the singer allows the organized thoughts to guide his singing the various physical elements will coordinate to produce the sound without “trying”.
IMPORTANT MAXIMS: Throughout the history of classical singing teachers, coaches, recognized classical singers, etc. have left and continue to leave descriptive sayings that prove very helpful in developing the art and craft of classical singing. Here are a few.
“A BEAUTIFUL FIRST TONE IS NEVER AN ACCIDENT” (Thomas Hampson)
“WHEN I SING WELL I FEEL AS THOUGH I AM SINGING ONE NOTE AND ONE VOWEL” (Jussi Bjoerling)
“KEEP YOUR THOUGHTS AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE, BUT NO SIMPLER” (Albert Einstein)
‘INFORMATION IS NOT KNOWLEDGE. THE ONLY SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE IS EXPERIENCE” (ALBERT EINSTEIN)
“KEEP YOUR THOUGHT SIMPLE AND STRONG” (MATHILDE MARCHESI)
“THE SIMPLER THE MECHANISM THE SMOOTHER AND MORE PERFECT ITS FUNCTION” (Enrico Caruso)
I will share more of these images, terms and and maxims in future blogs. Please feel free to send in others you fine useful to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best wishes for a great year ahead.
(Curtis Institute of Music – Manhattan School of Music – Bard College Conservatory)