LISTENING TO OTHER SINGERS – To Emulate or to Imitate

THROUGH THE THE MAGIC OF CYBERSPACE AND SCIENCE, TODAY WE ARE ABLE TO HEAR THE GREAT PERFORMERS IN PERFORMANCE COVERING A SPAN OF CLOSE TO 100 YEARS.

YOUNG SINGERS, BOTH STUDENTS AND PROFESSIONALS HAVE AT THEIR FINGERTIPS THE ABILITY TO HEAR THE GREAT SINGERS OF THE PAST, THE PRESENT, AND OFTEN, THE FUTURE. TEACHERS AND COACHES AS WELL ARE ABLE TO HEAR VARIOUS STYLISTIC, MUSICAL AND VOCAL APPROACHES OTHERWISE LOST FOREVER WITHOUT THE LIKES OF GOOGLE, SPOTIFY, ETC.ETC.

HOWEVER, THERE IS AN ONGOING DISCUSSION AS TO THE PROS AND CONS OF THIS ABILITY WE NOW HAVE. SOME FEEL THAT A SINGER SHOULD NOT BE INFLUENCED BY ANOTHER AS THEY WILL PICK UP BAD HABITS (ALL ARTISTS HAVE BOTH) THEY PREFER THAT A YOUNG SINGERS FORM THEIR OWN APPROACH VOCALLY, STYLISTICALLY, EXPRESSIVELY, ETC. BEFORE LISTENING TO RECORDINGS OR VIDEOS OF OTHER SINGING THEIR PARTICULAR REPERTOIRE.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DISCUSSION PROMOTES THE POSITIVE ASPECTS OF YOUNG SINGERS LISTENING TO THOSE WHO WENT BEFORE US AS WELL AS OUR CURRENT ACKNOWLEDGED PROFESSIONALS OF OUR DAY. THEIR REASONING IS THAT THE VOCAL STUDENTS OF TODAY ARE JOINING A HERITAGE THAT BEGAN MANY YEARS AGO THAT SET THE STANDARD OF WHAT WE CONSIDER BEAUTIFUL SINGING. … AS IT IS OFTEN CALLED: THE OLD ITALIAN SCHOOL.

MY DEAR COLLEAGUE AND FRIEND, THE GREAT AMERICAN BASS, JAMES MORRIS , COINED A WONDERFUL PHRASE THAT SUMS UP THE BOTH SIDES OF THIS DISCUSSION AS SEEN BY TEACHERS AND COACHES OF TODAY.

“SINGERS HAVE THE ABILITY TO EITHER EMULATE OR IMITATE THOSE THEY CHOOSE TO LISTEN TO“. IF WE LOOK AT THE DEFINITION OF BOTH WORDS IN THE OXFORD AMERICAN DICTIONARY WE ARE ABLE TO APPRECIATE THE SUBTLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM.

ALTHOUGH IT IS EASY TO CONFUSE OR INTERCHANGE THESE TWO WORDS , LOOKING A LITTE FURTHER AT BOTH IT IS EASY TO SEE THE DIFFERENCE THEREFORE TO TRY TO “COPY” A SINGER`S TECHNIQUE, STYLE, SOUND, ETC IS NOT HELPFUL IN A SINGER DEVELOPING THEIR OWN SKILLS BASED ON THEIR KNOWLEDGE, MUSICALITY, VOICE TYPE, ETC.

TO IMITATE: “TO COPY OR SIMULATE A PERSON`S SPEECH OR MANNERISMS, ESPECIALLY FOR COMIC EFFECT.” THE WORD IS TAKEN FROM THE MID 16TH CENTURY LATIN: “IMITAT” WHICH TRANSLATES TO: “COPIED”

TO EMULATE: “TO MATCH OR SURPASS A PERSON OR ACHIEVEMENT” . IT IS ALSO TAKEN FROM THE 16TH CENTURY LATIN: “AEMULAT” WHICH TRANSLATES TO: “RIVALLED , EQUALED” ,

IMITATE : . WHEN A TENOR ‘”TRIES ” TO COPY OR RECREATE THE SOUND HE HEARS WHEN PAVAROTTI SINGS HIS HIGH C`S IT IS USUALLY BASED ON TRIAL AND ERROR, WITH VERY LITTLE KNOWLEDGE BEHIND THEIR EFFORTS, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT CAUSING CONFUSION AND FRUSTRATION.

IT ALSO HAPPENS WHEN A SINGER TRIES TO ACHIEVE THE LONG LEGATO PHRASE SUNG ON ONE BREATH OR TO ACHIEVE THE DYNAMIC COLORING THEY HEAR ON A RECORDING THEY MAY NOT REALIZE IT IS JUST THAT – A “RECORDED PERFORMANCE”. THE SOUND ENGINEER COLD BE THE ONE WHO , WITH SUBTLE MECHANICAL MANIPULATION, INSURE THE LISTENER HEARS A LONG LINE OR A SUBTLE DYNAMIC COLOR. REGARDING VOICE QUALITY , ONE NEED ONLY HEAR THE DIFFERENCE IN A SPECIC PERFORMANCE OF AN OPERA AT THE METROPOLITAN – FIRST LIVE AND THEN THROUGH THE MECHANICAL HIGH DEFINITION TELECAST TO REAIZE THIS.

THE REASONING BEHIND THE ADVICE NOT TO LISTEN TO RECORDINGS IS THAT THE YOUNG SINGER MAY NOT DEVELOP THEIR ONWN SKILLS BASED ON KNOWLEDGE, MUSICALITY, IMAGINATION, ETC.

EMULATE,” ON THE OTHER HAND , HAS THE CONNOTATION OF BEING INSPIRED BY ANOTHER. IT IS A DESIRE TO WORK TOWARDS AND TO ACHIEVE THE EXPERTISE AND BEAUTY ONE HEARS WHEN LISTENING TO AN ADMIRED SINGER AND ARTIST. A YOUNG SOPRANO LISTENING TO RENATA TEBALDI WILL FOREVER HAVE THAT SOUND IN THEIR INNER EAR. A YOUNG TENOR LISTENING TO THE LONG LEGATO LINE HEARD IN FRITZ WUNDERLICH`S SINGING IS ALSO FINE TUNING AN IMAGE IN HIS INNER EYE THAT WILL ALLOW THEM TO PHRASE MORE BEAUTIFULLY THROUGH APPLIED STUDY OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF BEAUTIFUL SINGING. THE YOUNG STUDENT OR PROFESSIONAL THEN HAS A GOAL OR A MODEL BASED ON ADMIRATION OF THAT ARTIST“S OVERALL PERFORMANCE , VOCAL, MUSICAL, INTERPRETIVELY, AND/OR DYNAMICALLY .

THE QUESTION IS, OF COURSE, TO WHOM AND HOW DOES ONE LISTEN TO IF THEY ARE PREPARING A NEW ARIA OR SONG? IF THEY CHOOSE ONLY ONE SINGER`S PERFORMANCE THEY HAVE ONLY ONE TO USE AS A MODEL. IF THEY CHOOSE THE SAME WORK SUNG BY THREE OR FOUR DIFFERENT ARTISTS THEY WILL BE ABLE TO TAKE WHAT THEY LIKE FROM THIS ONE AND/OR THE OTHER. THIS CAN BE AN ENORMOUS HELP TO A SINGER IN DEVELOPING THEIR OWN IMAGINATION ( INNER EAR AND INNER EYE) – THEY THEN HAVE A MODEL OR MODELS THAT WILL HELP DEVELOP THEIR OWN UNIQUE PREFERENCE AS TO TONE QUALITY, DICTION, EXPRESSION, DYNAMICS, ETC.

ALL SINGERS, STUDENTS, PROFESSIONAL PERFORMERS AND TEACHERS SHOULD BE AWARE OF THE CHOICE BETWEEN IMITATING AND EMULATING TO BE SURE THEY GET THE BEST OUT OF THE TREASURE TROVE OF PERFORMANCES AVAILABLE TO US IN THE 21ST CENTURY WOLRD OF CYBERSPACE.

Please feel free to send your comments or questions to: SingingWithManyVoices2023@gmail.

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