Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Section VI: The Attack and Vocal Instincts –

This site is about How to Develop the Voice and the sections are to be read in the order they were posted. Click all arrows down in the blog archive on the right to view that order. Thank you.

1. All voices beginning on D4 and in structure (review Enrico Caruso, Section II, Fig.1), take-in a mint in-breath and tap out five staccatos, but hold the fifth for a whole note. Therein lie the genius in the staccato; the attack of the whole note is flawless—if attacked as a staccato—because the staccato is an instinct. No one mentioned the mechanics. But in paragraph 5 of the previous section—Section V: [a] Vowel Preparation—we stated that to initiate voice, “blow" down onto to the vocal cords an [a] vowel. The staccato that initiated the whole note attack is what we had in mind with blow down the [a] vowel. Repeat the exercise and become thoroughly acquainted with the workings—in that split-second—of the staccato: the attack, the hint of a vowel and, above all, the release (yes, there is a release) and apply them, particularly the attack and release (the vowel/voice is a given) consciously to the attack and release of the whole note.

2. (Note: A conscious attack will be easily recognized as a valuable tool in sculpting the void. But to release the vowel in a whole note as the vowel is released in a staccato is High Art, and not easily accomplished; but the benefits are untold. We mention three: (1) the release of a whole note with the touch in the release of a staccato will bring vowel and release to a firm consciousness--a major tool for this work. (2) The release of a whole note as a staccato will introduce the student to a pure [straight] vowel—a foreign concept in English. [For a vowel to be pure or identified as such, it must end as it begins—one—and the staccato allows that to occur.] And most important for Anglo-American singers (3): A straight vowel development is a must to begin the elimination of a major vocal impediment to the development of the voice, built into the American throat and mind, because inherent in Anglo-American English: The diphthong.

3. (The Diphthong: A gliding monosyllabic speech sound--as the vowel combination at the end of high--that starts at or near the position for one vowel and moves to or toward the position of another. And most insidious when the two vowel sounds and the glide between them are represented by a single vowel character—as in high—and the vowel character gives no indication of the primary vowel. Where in the glide [diphthong] is the singer to carry the vowel, and what vowel is that? What vowel is he thinking in high? The primary vowel in high is [a], as in ah and if high is to be held for four counts, 9/10ths of the four-counts is a straight [a]. That is foreign to the American singer’s psyche.

4. (The Problem: When English speaking singers SEE the word high and words like it—cry, shine, buy, time, night, why, climb, mine, and so on—in song, the word cements the diphthong with a muscular response, a curve, really, a hook within the back of the throat—it is not straight: an imprint ingrained from earliest childhood through our native Anglo-American speech patterns/sounds and worked into the muscles that line throat—all of which disallows a pure vowel. The singer may think he is singing [a] in such words, but not sense the diphthong-hook—sub-conscious, as it is—because he has no other point of reference for the word; he knows no other [a], if he knows it is an [a] at all. If the [a] vowel were in our alphabet as such, we may have had a better chance of employing it.

5. (In English [a] is a diphthong, two vowels sounds—neither of which is ah—connected with a glide found in words such as hey, pay, wait, take, obey, lake, blame, and so on; [i] (as in high) is a diphthong of which the first and primary vowel is ah. It is necessary for English speaking singers to understand a pure vowel if only to release the hook. Once that is accomplished—vowel straight from beginning to end without hesitation—the singer is in control of the product and can insert as much or as little of the glide as he chooses. Listen to the [a] vowel in English sung by an Italian, Ezio Pinza, who knows not the diphthong as Americans do. Because he has to consciously insert it when required, his [a] stands out in even greater relief. In this recording of “Bali Ha’i,”* listen to his [a] vowel in the diphthongs: Island, Ha’i, night, I, hillside, shine, try, sky, and flying; and the [a] in Bali and heart, and the [a] to [o] in cloud. The [a] vowel is native to Mr. Pinza, our neuro-linguistic model of [a] vowel perfection; [a], pure and simple; that is not native to Americans. In order to learn to sing [a], we have to learn to think [a] while we sing [a]. That is the major challenge in the slow scale.


6. (Although we work primarily [a], what applies to [a] as a straight vowel applies to all vowels, and once the [a] is pure, the work is easily transferable to all vowels. But there is more to a straight vowel than relieving the pharyngeal constraint triggered by a diphthong, and that is the pure vowel itself. And why we include this lengthy note on vowel: to emphasize a conscious vowel release on the basis demonstrated in a staccato, for that straightens a vowel as no other technical principle can. And the cementing influence is in the follow-through.

7. (When one understands voice, one sees the ditch our language has left us in. Native speaking Italians, because of their language, begin between seventy-five and eighty percent of the possible one hundred percent vocal perfection inherent within the human voice. Americans, and for the same reason, begin between forty and forty-five percent of that potential. This, one will come to know.) Incidentally, Mr. Pinza does not take advantage of the Caruso smile when he sings. Ezio is Ezio.

8. When working in English, we strongly suggest taking white-out tape and applying it to all words comprised of the diphthong in high; then write in the primary vowel with the consonant that launches the word/vowel. For example: high, hah; night, nah; thine, thah; climb, clah; and so on. Remember, an [a] is an [a] is an [a]: one structure.

9. To make conscious the attack and release of a vowel, the staccato is an excellent tool. Once the concept is understood and established, the staccato may be dropped from all exercises. (Incidentally, a clean, clear-cut and vibrant staccato is not developed by working it. The good staccato comes with developing the voice, and nothing serves the voice better than a state of dynamic tension, as applied when working the slow scale.) The staccato merely serves the mechanics of an attack and release of a vowel better than any words could. It is an instinct. But when voice is understood, a whole note can be nothing but a long staccato.

10. The attack and release are the bookends to a vowel in structure, and until they are practically an automatism through conscious application, there is nothing else to think about. They help to keep structure in line. Paying attention to vowel release is analogous to paying attention to follow-through for a Major League Baseball player when he swings at and drives a pitch. After the vowel is released, hold structure for a count—follow-through.

Exercise 2

11. In Exercise 2, after the release of the first whole note as a staccato and on the fourth count, take-in a mint in-breath, and come back in with the same structure in the release, same vowel thought, same resonance, same staccato (pin-point) attack, and all of it on the next beat. Prepare then to repeat the process over again for the third and fourth measure, and after the final release--follow-through. That is a lot of thinking to be worked-in, but after the logistics are out of the way, there is something to hone in this exercise. Work it in comfortable keys until the attack and release can be applied with some authority on the beat. The beat gives us a point of focus, a conscious direction—critical. Remember, we are planting seeds. There are other attacks more conducive to expressive singing, such as gliding-in and talking-in the vowel; but for developing the voice and the mind, a conscious pin-point vowel attack and vowel release on a beat serves best.

12. Now that we are totally familiar with the staccato, the mechanism within the instinct--which we did not explain--is in its initiation and in its termination: an inaudible aspirate: [h], as in hah but without the aitches. In effect, we turn some of the initial in-take breath into an arrow or a stick of breath and, tipped with a vowel, blow it down the pharyngeal conduit onto the cords, not to pierce, but to kiss—the kiss of breath: a most exquisite touch: pure (vowel), inaudible, initiation of voice. That is an art and that is what it can be. And these concepts don't happen as concepts; they happen in work. Also, built into the instinct of the staccato is the blowing-down-mechanism; we are always attacking pitches, no matter high or low, from above--eventually to obviate all fear of coming down (attacking) on a high note.

13. The aitch in Hallelujah, on the other hand, is to be aspirated and so, too, all words like it: how, heaven, have, heard, and so on. Whether the aspirate is audible or inaudible—as far as the well-keeping of the voice or vocal technique is concerned—is not an issue; both are correct. The situation in which they occur dictates the aitch to use. But it is the inaudible aspirate, front and rear, built into the staccato that makes the attack and the release of a vowel flawless--perfect. Nature is at her best. What happens between the two is our voice, and that we do not have to consider, if we have considered structure. Structure will take care of the voice. Concentrate on the attack and release within structure and follow-through.

14. (Note: If the voice were reduced to its irreducible, that irreducible is a staccato. The information about voice within that incredible irreducible is analogous to the information about the universe within the Big Bang. That may be hyperbole; nevertheless, all the information about voice is in the staccato. And that information is buried in a pure vowel, which can be revealed absolutely through the staccato. There isn’t time for the hook, the diphthong, to manifest. That is a beautiful discovery; it leads us to a pure vowel. That said, the staccato is not apart of our studio regimen. We use it as a tool to introduce concepts, just as we do here. But when it comes to introducing a pure, straight [e], [i], [o], and [u] vowel, we use the staccato.)

15. If the gods of the Divine Art allowed this singer one sensation to communicate to his reader, through the printed word, it would be the sensation of an open throat--structure--or Caruso's "original position." But if we were allowed to share two, the second would be the sensation of the vowel sitting on the vocal cords, spinning there, analogous to a drop of water sitting on a hot skillet, buzzing there.* The Italian masters referred to the quality rendered as the velluto: the velvet quality of voice, and the quality first to disappear if the voice is misused and abused. First we need to identify it, and the staccato taps act as pointers indicating the velvet. Each tap says: “sing me here, sing me here.” That is, a normal-volume whole-note is initiated by, and goes through the resonance (touch) found in the staccato—in the kiss of breath.

16. These sensations are not what we shoot for in working our voice in structure, particularyly the slow scale; they are the product of working the voice in structure, and easily recognizable once the voice begins to come into its own. We are merely planting seeds. Do not attempt to make our words work. Work the voice and our words will work.

Exercise 3

17. All voices in Structure run Exercise 3 just as written (tempos may vary). Once the logistics are learned (releasing the vowel on the staccato eighth-note in the first two runs is a challenge for some students) and structure can be maintained throughout the exercise, what the vowel did the first time up (original position) is mirrored in the second and third attempt. Correct repetition is how the throat is molded. We must find the mold, our best [a] for each scale we sing, and work it every day until we know it by heart. And then singers instinctively know this is what they do for the rest of their lives.

18. (Note: We apologies to the heavier categories of voice for beginning in a key that, for some, may be high. But the [a] vowel in scale work from low C up is basically [a], pure and unadulterated, until the scale of C4 is reached. Ascending this scale the pitches along the way are high enough that, for their own survival or to remain acoustically and harmonically correct, the vowel must go through a modification. This is true for all categories of voice, male and female. Work the voice in structure from the bottom, but when approaching C4, be on the look out; things begin to happen. Approach it consciously.)

19. In Exercise 3, take just the last scale up and drop the metronomic reading to around seventy (we will call it Exercise 3a) and observe: listen to the [a]. Run Exercise 3a several times to make its acquaintance, and note what happens and where? (Remember, this is what one checks out once structure is established.) In the key of C, the [a] vowel sound, or character goes through a change before it reaches the top C, or C5. It modifies, narrows, or rounds slightly toward the direction of the [)] (aw) vowel. What counts is not what we say the vowel does, but what it does, and only the singer can identify that and only after he, himself, is thoroughly familiar with it. And that takes a good deal of correct repetition and thought for this modification to fully imprint and develop to capacity. For now, monitor structure, listen, and observe; in structure the voice is valid. But do identify where along the scale the modification occurs. And where does it occur in the key of D4?

20. In the C4 scale the vowel modifies over A and B, the sixth and seventh pitches, and continues up to and through the tonic—C5. In the D4 scale the modification occurs over A and B and continues up to and through the tonic, also; only A and B in D4 is the fifth and sixth pitches. The vowel modification over these two pitches is a constant—and this is true for all voices, male and female—the position in the scales in which they occur varies with the key. In the E4 scale, A and B is the forth and fifth pitches; in the G4 scale, A and B is the second and third pitches; in the A4 scale, the transition is in effect by the second pitch. But it makes no difference in what key A4-B4 occurs, they occur, and the experience, the sensation is one. That knowledge is power.

21. It is obvious the singer must know the notes of every scale he sings, not just to assist Nature at this point in the scale, but to learn the instrument. But that will come with working the voice. We now have our first point of reference for that education. In the flat keys, D-flat, E-flat, G-flat, and A-flat, expect the modification to begin at A-flat. In the key of F4, the modification may begin over A and B-flat and finish at C. All of this work is subtle, the heavier voices modifying sooner than the lighter voices. We single out A4-B4 to identify the modification for, as a point of reference, it is most obvious here.

22. As we have said, it is not advisable to think about tracking vowels nor anything else until structure is established—out of the way, so to speak. In the beginning, one has enough to do with head up alla Caruso and jaw down and back alla Caruso and Sutherland while singing [a] and monitoring the works in a mirror. When the voice/vowel is consistent, one, up and down the scale and the singer knows it, demonstrating authority and confidence in every repetition, the singer is ready to track vowel and learn there from. Until then, the only thing to do is to monitor structure. The reality, nevertheless, remains: the [a] vowel modifies, orbs, rounds, or narrows in the neighborhood of A4.

23. The instinctual rounding of the [a] vowel at this juncture is allowed because at this frequency, the voice works. (Note: Without a further thought, we know that if the voice could handle the second octave as well as it does the first, all true vocal instincts for that octave would be revealed, also, and the technique to extract and make conscious.) Consequently, singers, in general, pay little attention as to what goes on here and miss this transition, this instinct and the message therein: the top notes are coming. We, therefore, cannot capitalize on the change in vowel character or modification and the pharyngeal shaping (dome) that comes with it. It is here the voice begins to help effect a successful second octave. But rather than get hung-up here, what counts is this: because we can sing the first octave, we can learn to sing it, perfectly. And in structure, the marking of the vowel transition over A4-B4 is the first step in that process.

24. When we can sing the first octave and one-half, if not perfectly, with the concept in mind, we have earned the right to consider the second octave. If not, it is a waste of time and a waste of voice to do so. By marking the vowel modification over A4-B4, the first constant required for learning the voice has been designated. Knowing where the modifications occur within each scale and without doing anything, save observing, is how we break-in the throat. We monitor Nature where we can and the accompanying sensations will imprint. That is how we build the throat and learn to sing the scales—perfectly.

* * * * *

25. The second mnemonic device for learning the voice plays as an instinct, also. In Exercise 3a (p. 17), we begin in one zone of resonation and we end in another. How does that work? The first zone is commonly referred to as chest voice; the second zone, the mouth/pharynx zone, is commonly referred to as mid-voice, or mid-zone. Where did that switch take place? That is the point of reference (instinct) we seek. Where does this switch occur in the D4 scale? In order to make this switch in zones of resonation seamless—the goal—we must know the seam.

26. Whereas the [a] vowel begins to modify and narrow in the direction of the [)] (aw) vowel as pitch ascends in the neighborhood of A4, the transition from chest voice to mid-zone is not a neighborhood affair. It is to the point, spot on. In the key of C4, some may have experienced the transition between F and G (if it occurred higher than that, our vocalist is flirting with trouble, if not in trouble); some may have experienced it between E and F. Some may have experienced it not at all. Right now we just want to make the acquaintance of the transition, if one is not all ready thoroughly familiar with it.

27. Before reviewing Diagram 3: Zones of Resonation, take Exercise 3a in the key of C4 and D4 and document where in each scale the transition occurs. See if the transitions aline themselves with the zones scored in the following diagram. The zones of resonation are identified by their all-important (boarder) notes of transition. The fourth zone, the super head voice, is a true zone separate from head-zone, but worked in like manner.

Diagram 3: Zones of Resonation —

28. As depicted in Diagram 3, the transition from chest to mid-zone in the C4 scale occurs over the pitches that line the border: E and F, and one half-step separates the two zones. In the D4 scale, the transition occurs over E and F-sharp, a whole step. But this whole step lands one half-step into the next zone. The transition is easier to identify because of that half-step when comparing it to the transition in the C4 scale. In the D-flat and E-flat scales, the transition occurs over E-flat and F, a whole step, but a whole step that lands on a border note. There is detail to discern when negotiating with these pitch-vibrations.

29. Whereas the vowel modification/rounding in the neighborhood of A4 will vary, the heavier categories of voice beginning sooner than the others, the transition from chest voice to mid-voice is, or should be, concrete--and this for all voices, male and female. In song we do have some leeway for greater expression, but this is about developing the voice. And when in structure, nature is allowed to take over and leads the way: the shift is zones is more or less natural. But now we have two points, two mnemonic devices set along the academic scale, to help us learn the scale, our instrument and, in the process, develop it.

30. Given the inherent instrument, basic instincts begin with the most obvious: the ability to carry a tune. Note how we take that one for granted. The instincts we have brought up, however, are not as obvious and cannot be taken for granted. Quite the opposite; they must be observed and developed, particularly, the staccato (attack and release); the vowel rounding over A4-B4; and the shift in zones of resonation over E4-F4. We must know how the voice works before we can guide our instrument. And working it in structure teaches us how to guide it. That is our position. In time our words will trigger the sensations and thoughts about which we speak. We are planting seeds

31. When all the above can be applied to the slow scale, consciously, structure is established. Now we are free, free to observe and confident in our approach. The slow scale is the perfect medium for developing the mind as well as the voice. Built into the exercise is time: time to think. Work the voice in structure and monitor the process. That is the passage. We have one more instinct to investigate before we apply them to the slow scale.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Section V: [a] Vowel Preparation --

1. The previous sections have been presented to help establish the principle consideration in the development of the voice: Stance and Structure, or How to open the mouth correctly to engaged one's full voice. And to set the stage for the first [a] vowel/sound out of our mouth, if our reader/singer has not all ready tried it. How to open the mouth/throat for an [a] vowel has more to do with what comes out than all other technical principles necessary for beautiful singing, combined. Voice is vowel first; and vowel is best within the structure depicted by our vocal models of perfection. But to work the voice, we must set some guidelines.

2. The classic vowel, or what is known as the Italian vowel, is the sound the symbols refer to.

[a], the sound in hah.
[e], the sound in hey, or hay.
[i], the sound in he, or heap.
[o], the sound in hoe, or home.
[u], the sound in who, or hoop.

The remaining vowel sounds and their symbols we introduce as we apply them. We will make every attempt to use the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA.

Diagram 1: Scale Designations: Excerpted from William Vennard, Singing, the Mechanism and the Technic (New York: Carl Fischer, Inc., 1967), p. 11.

3. We use the scale/pitch designation in Diagram 1 from here on, because with it pitch is easier to indicate. If an exercise for all voices begins on D4, D4 serves as an indicator of where to begin better than does D, first space below treble clef. C4, the fourth C from the bottom of the piano, is middle C, and every half-step that falls within the C4 octave is designated with a four: D4, Eb4, F4, and so on until the C above, C5, is reached. And every pitch between C5 and C6 (high-C) is designated with a five. When sopranos and tenors are on high-C, C6 (1,046 cycles per second [cps]), however, the tenors are entertaining C5 (523 cps). Nonetheless, C6 is used when scoring high-C for the male and the female voice. The discrepancy in frequency is understood and we address the male and female voice in the treble clef.

4. We divide the categories of voice into two groups. Group 1 consists of all females (coloraturas, lyrics, mezzos, and contraltos) and tenors. Group 2 consists of baritones and basses, although baritones and basses at times will be treated individually. Group 1 take the exercises up to and through F5 and no higher; baritones, E5; and bases, Eb5). The "open" quality of the [a] vowel up to the top pitch for each group was designated open to distinguish it from the [a] vowel modification (quality) necessary to effect the next half-step up successfully—which vowel quality was identified as "closed." It is also the closed [a] vowel quality that identifies entering the head zone of resonation at these pitches for each group when singing [a].

5. What happens with vowel modification we address in another section. We mention it so our reader/singer will understand why we take the [a] no higher than the pitches designated for each category of voice--for now. The high notes are not important, because they cannot work correctly without a fully-functioning first octave and one-half. And to introduce head voice, the [a] vowel modification, or the high notes prematurely is nonsensical. In the studio, we may work the upper range from the beginning, but we are not in the studio. We are working through the printed word.

Exercise 1a: We suggest all voices become acquainted with it in the key suggested, and migrate up and down from here. (All exercises are to be done in a mirror.)

6. With the head up and looking down the nose as one must, mouth opened as Caruso’s is in Figure 1 (don’t be bashful—stretch out), the lower-lip positioned up against and hugging the lower teeth as Ms. Sutherland’s is in Fig. 2, and sensing the smile, with it, pull the jaw not just down, but back. (Note: Remember, anything new in physicality will feel awkward at first, as in trying on a new pair of shoes; we need to work and break-in the new structure.) With mouth open, take-in a puff of air to feel it hit (caress) the back of the throat as if one had just eaten a peppermint lozenge and, without moving, "blow" an [a] vowel down onto the vocal cords from that spot. The in-breath, if set-up correctly, will open the throat, particularly at its base and all by itself—a sensation to develop and know. Not through the taking of breaths in the manner suggested, however—that may or may not work—but through engaging the [a] vowel in structure and working the voice.

7. No matter how successful or unsuccessful the in-breath is at relaxing and opening the throat, if the vowel is engaged in structure and on a comfortable pitch, instinct—as in the voice wants to sing—will take care of the base of the throat. The lower constrictor muscles (see Diagram 2—p. 20) will automatically billow out and expand (open) to fill the room made available because of structure. The sensation, here, is obvious and the one (original position) we want and need to carry up to and through the second octave to make that octave available. But we learn it and develop it where we can: the first octave. With that in mind and coming from the head-up/mouth-open/in-breath throat position, blow down onto to the vocal cords an [a] vowel, and become familiar with it in Ex. 1a.

8. Rarely does a prospective student demonstrate the above procedure for engaging an [a] vowel the first time, but that is unimportant. That will come. It is the [a] vowel, the voice first produced in structure that is important. Usually it was better than the sound first demonstrated during the introductory lesson. The first weeks of lessons are devoted to structure with the five-note and the eight-note scale (Ex. 2b) up and down, and in easy, comfortable keys. Only where the voice works easily will the mind be allowed to (1) sing while (2) looking in a mirror and (3) concentrating on structure, a new physiology, all at the same time. We make up our mind to break it all in slowly, patiently, for all are habits-to-be if we are to ascend the vocal ladder.

9. It is understandable why students take the first octave for granted; the voice works easily. Instead, we fret over the high notes. But the structure that produces a resonant-perfect [a] vowel on the second octave is the structure that launches it: a resonant-perfect [a] vowel on the first octave. (Caruso's words: "take up the original position.") And since we can sing the first octave, it is here that we develop the original position, or structure and, in the process, the voice. When we challenge the summit, we will be ready.

Exercise 1b:

10. Exercise 1b (any comfortable tempo will serve) and 1a are our exercises of choice—through the printed word—for braking-in structure and for becoming familiar with the workings of the voice. Work them from the lowest serviceable pitch through the scales designated for the singer’s individual category of voice. Take periods of rest where needed going through Ex. 1a and on completion, or before Ex. 1b is begun. Use your instincts for determining the length of rest. Instincts is appropriate—our reader knows what we mean—that, however, is not why we use it. Instincts play a major role in the development of the voice and in understanding the vocal-technical principles therein—the Old School developed as it was on the instincts of the natural. To our knowledge, that connection has not been made or published.

11. In the meantime, however, the experience common to all in attempting to develop the voice, especially if the procedure is foreign, is that of being in the dark. This is the difficult period. Make friends with the dark. Fill it by concentrating on structure in a mirror. Every thing that is to come is dependent on how one begins. During this difficult period, take the models of vocal perfection we offer for real—they are. That is all we can offer, for real, except to say, listen to your voice and trust your instincts.

12. Work the exercises between forty-five and sixty minutes a day with sufficient bouts of rest. It is important to break-in the throat slowly and why it is not necessary to take the voice out of a comfortable range. One should leave a workout session in “good voice” to be in good shape for tomorrow’s session. But one may work the voice judiciously two hours a day, six days a week, but never more than two hours a day. One hour twice a day is best if one's life can afford such luxury. Again, trust your instincts.

13. None of the suggestions above or that follow develops the sensations about which we speak. They are developed working the voice (muscles) in structure. The process creates a pharyngeal imprint that, eventually, develops into a cognizable sensation—the open throat. Sensations cannot be communicated through words, printed or spoken, until the sensations are within (developed) the reader/singer. No one can tell another that which the other does not all ready know, if not consciously, sub-consciously, and this is the challenge. Some things offered here one may capture on first attempt (well-developed instincts), and not to be taken lightly, much less for granted. It is an instinct and, therefore, to be make conscious and a habit.

14. Truly, there is nothing to do but develop structure with Ex. 2a and 2b until one can approach the slow scale with a degree of confidence. That decision belongs to the singer; trust your instincts. Then work the slow scale for three months and revisit these words; they may begin to have more meaning—sensations communicated; that is the plan. Nevertheless, it does not hurt to think the mint in-breath as you take breath.

15. The thought of blowing down the vowel onto the vocal cords (attack) from the sensation where the in-take breath "hits" the back of the throat, is designed to keep the throat in that position, open, when the vowel hits the cords—especially on a comfortable pitch. The throat opening is favorably enhanced if the vowel-thought is directed down and onto the back end of the vocal cords (if our reader is familiar with the anatomical set-up) and re-stating, in another way, Caruso’s dictum: “attack the ascending scale notes well back,” that is, engage all the space available.

16. But we need to be careful when it comes to thinking. Human beings are fond of getting involved; we like doing things; we like to feel that we are making it happen (a problem). When it comes to thinking, this doing-attitude is dangerous. It can defeat the thought and we can miss the awareness sought. And this doing Nature of ours is more than ego; it is a creative force tied to and stemming from our very instinct for survival. It is deep. And movement, when unnecessary, may be motivated by that subconscious desire to help out. If that happens, it will preempt and interfere with the very process we want to observe, study, and learn from. Think softly; think gently; and it will work itself in.

17. If our reader/singer were in the studio, we would dispense with the detail. We would simply have the singer locate the TMJ, and have him open his mouth as Mme Sharnova demonstrated in our very first lesson, or as depicted in Figures 1—4. Then have him take that structure up and down a comfortable scale on [a]. (We are interested more in maintaining structure, the original position--no unnecessary movement—up and down the scale (and why we work in a mirror), rather than in what comes out the singer’s mouth. Given structure, through the printed word voice may not be a given, but we are counting on it.

18. Correcting and encouraging each repetition up and down the scale, our singer begins to gravitate to the voice/sound demonstrated. But our reader is not in the studio, and if we are to have any success, if our reader is to have any success, we have to believe that we can communicate an open throat and relevant sensations through the printed word and, thank goodness, with the help of some great singers captured in performance, their recordings, and their own words. However this information may guide our reader/singer, he must view the proceedings not as a student, but as a teacher. He must learn how to observe and guide himself. Just to sing and watch one’s self in a mirror at the same time, in the beginning, takes a little getting use to. It is here the student begins to develop a respect and an appreciation for the first octave. It is here that we learn how to sing and, yes, learn how to think.

19. The major sensation is that of an open throat, broad at its base, and revealed through and carried in structure. Caruso is not known as a vocal pedagogue; he is known as the greatest singer that ever lived. It so happens that his words--and Tetrazzini's--about structure support the structure that we are here to establish as principle number one for the development of the voice, and why we take advantage: "It is a good idea to practice opening the throat before a mirror and try to see your palate, as when you show your throat to a doctor."

20. Caruso is referring to the in-breath, the puff of air the doctor would ask the patient to take (to raise the soft plate—if you like) if, when the patient opened his mouth, it was full of tongue. But once the throat is opened the doctor can insert the laryngoscope (invented by a voice teacher, Manuel Garcia) into the patient’s mouth and peers down the pharyngeal conduit to the base of the throat—the vocal cords. (See Diagram 2) (Do not make the mistake of thinking that raising the soft-palate opens the throat or lowers the larynx. The soft-palate is a response muscle, only, and reflects in exact degree the laryngeal position—as is explained in the section on Anatomy.)

Diagram 2: William Vennard, Singing, the Mechanism and the Technic (New York: Carl Fischer, Inc., 1967), p. 100. Semi-realistic drawing of the pharyngeal or constrictor muscles.

21. The base of the throat—the shape of the lower-constrictor muscles—is what is allowed by structure, and what the mint in-breath can create when in structure. We all ready know the sensation subconsciously, if not consciously, because this is the state of the throat a split-second BEFORE a yawn or a sneeze begins. it is an autonomic survival response triggered by an insufficient level of oxygen that sets it up in a yawn; it is in the genome; it is flawless. And do not mess with Mother Nature. Do not attempt to create what you see it Diagram 2. Do not try to raise the soft palate with the in-breath. Do not "help." (Where, how far up do we raise it?) The thought of holding up the soft palate is a throat constrictor. Let the in-breath do the work by itself; step out of the way; trust your instincts. It is a soft throat, a soft puff of air, and a soft thought.

22. In structure the throat catches or responds to that puff of air analogous to the flex of a sail when it catches a gust of wind on a calm sea. And because the throat is open (or can be) by that in-take of air, if one comes from there with the vowel—move nothing—onto a relaxed pitch, that throat will remain open, flexible and, of necessity, house the best voice one’s [a] vowel can muster. The voice is pure instinct, too. It knows how to work and how to find its self if engaged in structure.

23. (Note: Some vocal pedagogues choose to interpret the yawn-breath automatism as ill-procedure for singing, reflecting as it does the actions of the weary, the bored, or the tired of body and spirit.* But the logic does not follow, because what stimulates an autonomic, involuntary response that opens the throat is not important; the response, the open throat, is important. It is not a conscious, physical act and the pharyngeal set-up in the instinct is what we want to learn. Also, just because an open throat is triggered by a yawn, what has that got to do with taking a yawn-breath? That is the argument for staying away from the yawn set-up, a yawn-breath. Who is talking about a yawn-breath? That is absurd, and a specious argument stimulated to support what, we do not know.)

24. We are interested in an open throat; that which is set by the autonomic response manifested BEFORE a yawn, a cough, or a sneeze. That throat is perched open. Once the vowel is intoned on a relaxed pitch, the pharynx is free to engage and envelop all available space inherent within the singer's throat. And that is what constitutes perfect vowel formation: engaging all the space available for resonation; which is an open throat and what Caruso and Tetrazzini are referring to.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Section IV: Negative Structure --

1. The following Figures are available to the public. We include them not to finger-point, but to help us make sense of the Art of Singing. We have all suffered under the hands of incompetence, no matter how well-meaning that incompetence may have been. One doesn’t have to be a voice teacher or a master-singer to know something is wrong, here. Whatever a singer gives voice to, good or bad, that voice is always reflected in the singer’s face, and to the exact degree of the good or the bad.

2. In the following singers, all most all are working hard to keep the head down, especially when approaching, or are on a top note. This is what they have been taught, but Nature is working against them; that is, they are working against Nature. The body wants to sing, but a great deal of energy is working to defeat that. Some of the pitches for some of the singers are high enough that they lose the battle; they cannot keep the head down, but they are working at it, nonetheless—thus, the strain. The questions upon viewing: (1) What vowel are they singing and on what pitch? And (2) is this how the vowel "looks" when they vocalize it in scale work on the pitch they are vocalising it here, in performance?

Fig. 7

Fig. 8

Fig. 9

Fig. 10

Fig. 11

Fig. 12

3. The corrective for any vocal discomfort begins with stance: the structure depicted by our models of vocal perfection. Structure is not an instant cure-all, just the beginning.

4. Once the voice is developed, however, a singer doesn’t have to sing with his head up all the time. He and his voice will be instinctively appropriate to the situation: sitting, on one knee, or lying on the floor. But when it comes to developing the voice, developing a sense of touch (not available with the head down), not to mention taking the top notes, or simply singing one's heart out, structure is imperative. Remember: Every voice/vowel that is beautifully produced has a corresponding structure from which it flows; every voice/vowel that is not beautiful produced, also has a corresponding structure from which it flows--if one can call it flowing. And the difference between the two is in the singer's face. That is a clue and it can work as a guide to a beautiful voice--[a] vowel.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Slow Scale

We will leave this up for a few days. For the slow scale to take real effect, the modifications the [a] vowel will surrender to (hopefully) as pitch ascends need to be stated. But that is an unfinished section. When finished, the slow scale will be reinstated.

The Slow Ascending Scale:

The vocal workout of the great Lilli Lehmann (1848-1929), and her great respect for the Slow Ascending Scale, she imparts in her book, How to Sing (New York, Dover Publications, 1993), first published in German in 1902. In it we find Chapter XXIX: what she refers to as The Great Scale, and from which the following is excerpted.

“This is the most necessary exercise for the voice. As a pupil one must practice it twice a day, as a professional singer at least once. The great scale, properly elaborated in practice, equalizes the voice, makes at flexible and noble, gives strength to all weak places, operates to repair all faults and all breaks, and develops the voice to the very heart. Nothing escapes it. It brings ability as well as inability to light. In my opinion it is the ideal exercise, but the most difficult one I know. By devoting forty minutes to it every day, a consciousness of certainty and strength will be gained that ten hours a day of any other exercise cannot give. This should be the chief test in all conservatories. If I were at the head of one, the pupils should be allowed for the first three years to sing at the examinations only difficult exercises, like the great scale before they should be allowed to think of singing a song or an aria, which I regard only as cloaks for incompetents.

“In earlier years I used to like to shirk the work of singing it. There was a time when I imagined that it strained me. . . . It cost me many, many years of the hardest and most careful study; and it finally brought me to realize the necessity of exercising the vocal organs continually, and in the proper way, if I wished always to be able to rely on them. Practice, and especially the practice of the great, slow scale, is the only cure for all injuries, and at the same time the most excellent means of fortification against all over-exertion. I sing it every day, often twice, even if I have to sing one of the greatest roles in the evening. I can rely absolutely on its assistance.

“If I had imparted nothing else to my pupils but the ability to sing this one great exercise well, they would possess a capital fund of knowledge which must infallibly bring them a rich return on their voices. I often take fifty minutes to go through it only once, for I let no tone pass that is lacking in any degree in pitch, power, and duration, or in a single vibration of the oscillating vocal cords.”

Ms Lehmann’s words are as relevant today as they were when her book was first published. Keep in mind that Ms. Lehmann was working a full two and one-half octaves, maybe more, and she may have rested a minute or more between the upper scales. She probably worked all five vowels (one vowel, one day) and a few more to include the umlauts. (The voice can be fully developed within structure on the [a] vowel, however, with the appropriate modifications.) She knew every pitch through vowel character and sensation (resonance) of every scale she sang. Such a comprehensive education was core to the Old Italian School of Singing. It is a dynamic-tension exercises, and much ignored today.

For three months I would not take it above F, top line, treble clef; that is, all voices except baritones and basses--E-Flat for you, gentlemen. The second slow scale depicted above I suggest to beginners. Also, untill the top notes are secure, you may increase the tempo of the upper scales; make it easy on yourself in the beginning.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Section III: Stance/Structure Continued --

1. Structure is the over-all term we use for the stance of the singer: to include the position of the head and how the mouth is open for an [a] vowel on a top note. Of the five classic vowels, [a] is the only vowel whose structure—mouth opening—may remain unchanged from low-C to high-C. Structure may be viewed as a crucible. If the goal is to carry the original position up to the top, everything that happens to the vowel or voice on its way to the top note happens on the inside, within the original structure—once the voice/throat is fully developed. If the so-called crucible begins to lose its original position as pitch ascends, as when the lips spread approaching the top notes (identify the pitch), one can be sure it is here the vowel must be modified (Section to come) for the express purpose of keeping structure in line or in its original position. Structure (the Figures) is the defining issue and our guide.

2. Note: Although we speak to the top notes, it is in passing. We spend all our time within the first octave and one-half for two reasons: (1) Structure can only be developed where the voice works easily and (2), our reader/singer is not in the studio; he is without guidance, without a teacher. The singer will have to guide himself—a daunting proposition. Within the middle voice, however, we believe our reader/singer has a chance at finding a fully-formed [a] vowel if he realizes (1) they do exist and (2), he stays with it long enough, not just to find it, but to develop it.

3. Lip spreading on the tops notes applies more to the female singer than it does to the male. Men have a greater tendency to funnel their lips under the mistaken idea of projecting the voice. And lip tension has no place to go but back, in domino-effect, and stiffen the throat or pharyngeal wall in degree. This adversely affects not just the vowel and, therefore, the sound of the voice, but the pharyngeal adjustment that must accommodate a rising scale becomes impossible when the lips are locked in tension. The singer in this vocal set-up can only push from here, and shorten the life of the voice (forget the high notes) thereby.

4. Lip funneling is anathema to good production. When combined with the head-down/diaphragmatic-drive/forward-production method, it is all too sad. The variance between smiling while on a glorious top note, and vowel spreading or lip-funnelling because the throat/voice can not handle the pitch, is obvious. Once structure is established and the throat developed within it for the first octave and one-half, the high notes (vowel modifications) will have a greater ease of application and efficiency. The muscles that vibrate the cords on the top notes have a better chance of operating efficiently, if the muscles that vibrate the cords on the first octave operate efficiently.

Figure 2: Dame Joan Sutherland in duet with Marilyn Horne (removed), “Mira, o Norma” from Norma, by Vincenszo Bellini (Great Moments in Opera, Sofa Entertainment, distributed by GMG, Great Neck, NY—all rights reserved).

5. Ms. Sutherland is Ms Sutherland is floating an [a] vowel on high A-flat which, for Ms Sutherland, is not high. She was in a run that topped-off at high-C. We captured it here because it represents best what Tetrazzini refers to as “simple relaxing exercises.” (We call it stretching out.) We draw your attention to how her lower lip is wrapped up against and over her lower teeth (click on the image to enlarge it). This is how Tetrazzini draws her jaw back. In here is Caruso’s smile. This is how we open our mouth for an [a] vowel.

6. Mme Sharnova did not give her students this stretching exercise. She had them locate the jaw-joint as Tetrazzini describes, but what solidified the [a] vowel structure was the structure she employed for the [o] vowel. (The [o] structure is demonstrated in another section.) We share Tetrazzini’s words because she points us in the direction of how to open the mouth with her “relaxing exercise,” and because she is one of the finest singers of all time.

7. This structure of Ms Sutherland's, if applied on a medium-low note, demonstrates an open throat (full [a] vowel) as no other structure can. Every muscle around the vibrant cords is out of the way, relaxed as they are. We suggest our reader become thoroughly familiar with it. Through the first octave and one-half, structure will keep the voice in line all by itself. After that, in this singer's vocal education, structure was everything, but we are not there, yet. As pitch ascends structure is more important than any muscular activity, because it is structure that allows the strap muscles to do their work. Unencumbered by a faulty jaw structure, the all-important depressor muscles are allowed full play. It is the correct release of the TMJ, which occurs when the lower lip begins to hug the lower teeth or jaw, that allows it drop in the back, in a real sense, first; from there the jaw is allowed to hang open, or hang down, on its Path of Least Resistance as demonstrated beautifully by Ms. Sutherland.

8. There is more to successfull high notes than simply structure: vowels have to modify at appropriate pitches, and the muscles that respond to the vowel modifications have to be developed. But within structure, it can happen. Given a voice, talent, intelligence, a gravitational pull to the footlights and a passion to sing, one would think it not possible all that--the life of a singer--could be contingent on the successful articulation of a joint. But it is. For the most part, singers do not seem to understand the intimacy between vowel, voice, and structure. For every vowel that is perfect and on every pitch, there is a corresponding perfect structure.

9. Structure, how one opens one's mouth for any vowel on any pitch, in the beginning, is more important than vowel or voice. A vowel well produced is safely ensconced within a well prepared mouth/pharynx cavity. When the vowel/voice is right, structure is right. When the vowel/voice is wrong, structure is wrong. It can be no other way. But how does a singer identify the perfect structure for an [a] vowel--as simple as that would seem on a med-low note--if no one ever showed him how to open his mouth? We offer structure as step one to that identification. The remaining Figures support the original premise: To set the vocal cords for maximum efficiency with minimum effort, the head must be up and the singer must know how to release the jaw or open his mouth.

Figure 3: Ms Kirsten Flagstadt performing “Hojotoho!” from Richard Wagner’s Die Walkure (Video: The Art of Singing – Golden Voices of the Century, NVC ARTS, 1996—A Warner Music Co.) This clip was also aired on Great Performances (PBS). She is singing [a] on the last high B in the aria, and it is glorious.

10. We understand that she lip-synced this scene for the film The Big Broadway Musical. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAo_fTiZ2hY She doesn’t lip-sync well with the head down either. One comes away with the feeling that she acted it just the way she sang it. Note the position of the head, the jaw down and back, and the lower lip positioned up against the jaw. Note the look in her eye, too. She is living her voice. As you view this figure, know that the lips are the farthest extension of the back of the throat. That flesh is connected and the shape of the lips always reflects the back of the throat, and vice versa. And where most singers are not looking too good on high B, her throat is so strong that her smile is real.

Figure 4: Beniamo Gigli: performing “Mamma e generoso” from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. This eleven-second scene was a beautiful digital-remastering aired on PBS: The Vocal Cords.

11. Beautifull Gigli, another known natural, was truly a singing animal. He could explode from anywhere in song or aria and on a dime. Note the position of his head and how his jaw hangs down and back. Here he is letting it fly on two vowels, [i] and [o], in addio on top A-flat, and without moving his jaw an iota between the two vowels. In deed, all vowels on top come out of [a]. His throat is braced open by the jaw, which bracing allows the muscles engaged by the [i] and [o] vowels to work unencumbered. The Bell Canto Society has the whole scene in Gigli in Opera and Song: No. 9001. The copy is murky, if they have it at all. But on youtube we can hear him in two contrasting songs: “Agnus Dei,” by Bizet, and “Caro mio ben,” by Giordano. http://youtube.com/watch?v=YO8zSpqcLhI&feature=related As you listen to the “Agnus Dei,” check the dotted eight-note/sixteenth-note combinations in the word Miserere and elsewhere. Many singers sleep through those combinations; do not give them the energy, or the attention required.

Figure 5 Enrico Caruso

12. From Caruso’s biography presented by Arts and Entertainment: He is singing “Over There,” by George M. Cohen for a war rally in New York City, 1917. We have studied the video and in our opinion he is engaged with the [eh] vowel in there (no American r) on Db5. It could be the same vowel in prayer on Eb5. If it is the [eh] vowel of the Great Caruso on either of those pitches, it begs investigation and why we mention it. But know, Americans, Mr. Caruso is a foreigner; his vowels are Italian; his throat is Italian. It is something to consider, because they are foreign to us.

13. What works anatomically and physiologically under the skin with the head up is a later Section: Anatomy. But know: With the head up and mouth open as depicted here, the cords are stretched, strung, analogous to the strings of a finely tuned piano or violin and as flexibly taut. The glottis, the slit between the cords is, therefore, razor thin. In this position it is practically impossible to muscle the vowel through the slit to manufacture a big, meaty tone, because (1) the cords won’t let us through and (2), the vibrant flesh for that production is no longer there—stretched out, thinned, as it is with the head up and jaw hanging down and back.

14. We mention this for those singers who are accustomed to that big meaty production, which is what happens when the cords are slack (relaxed), as they are with the head down. One may have difficulty adjusting to a new structure, a new sensation, a new sound, and a new psychology. We presented the above Figures to let our reader see for himself how the great singers sang.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Section II: The Singing Stance --

1. Every art, labor, and athleticism has a technique best served from a stance, a position, or a posture designed to initiate the technique with as little friction as possible—a technique designed as all techniques are designed: to develop maximum output (product) with minimum input (energy/effort). We sense the significance of stance when watching a Major League Baseball player step daintily into the batter’s box—one toe at a time—and position himself before the ball is pitched; or when an Olympic diver steps onto a three-meter board and positions himself before he begins his approach; or when a sprinter steps into the starting blocks and positions himself before the gun fires.

2. Stance is the position that launches the technique that launches the performer: ballerina, boxer, violinist, and carpenter if he pounds sixteen-penny nails eight hours a day. Yet ask a singer the stance he assumes to work his voice and, for the most part, we are met with a “fish-eye”—non-comprehension. Singing is a physical act—athleticism first. Forget art, forget song. Develop the voice; develop the muscles that operate it. Stance is as fundamental to singing as stance is to any art or athleticism. Our contention is that stance, in general, has no true meaning for the singer, because the stance all most universally taught for developing the voice is the opposite of what stance is, or what stance should be and, therefore, stance does not register as such.

Figure 1 -- Enrico Caruso is entertaining the [a] vowel in infr[a]nto on high A in “Vesti la giubba,” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.*

3. From boy soprano on the author was taught to sing with his head down, or chin tucked-in to relax the vocal cords. We have read this position advocated in book after book. But in viewing the following images of some of the greatest singers (vocal athletes) that have ever lived, there is a contradiction. And who is right? The self-anointed vocal gurus that teach and publish the head-down position, or what we see in these vocal paragons caught in action? When stance is right the head is raised, the chest is raised, the mouth appears to be hanging open, and there is never any lip tension. No consideration is given to the small of the back, as it is in some pedagogies. (We have read the singer, for correct posture, is to "press" the small of the back flat up against the wall to straighten the spine, which movement, we are told, necessitates "tucking the buttocks under," under referring to the pelvic bone—brilliant!)

4. Note: In observing vertebrates of other species—wolf, elephant, lion, nightingale—not one makes its sound or sings its song with the head down. Of course they want to be heard (there's an idea). But does a coyote howl at the moon because he wants to be heard, or because he cannot get his sound out if he howls at the ground? It happens in Nature that one is contingent on the other; it couldn’t be any other way. Yet this vertebrate, our species, is taught to sing with the head down, or eyes straight and chin neatly tucked in? Remember back to your childhood: How you would call your pals across the school-yard, or prairie, or down the street. What did we know then when we raised our head, which pulled the torso up (the singer’s stance), before we cupped our hands around our mouth to call out? Was that conscious? Did we “know” sound travels a trajectory, something like a golf-ball? If a singer is to drape the entire house in song, he must sing to the gallery. We know not how the Alexander Technique affects other disciplines; for singing, it would just be stupid and ludicrous, if it wasn't so debilitating—in deed, disastrous.

5. Observe how our neuro-linguistic programming models of vocal perfection (Section III: Stance/Structure Continued), Joan Sutherland, Kirsten Flagstadt, Beniamino Gigli, and Enrico Caruso address their art. We want to learn from them. Get acquainted with the over-all structure—stance and jaw position—of Caruso; he is a vocal truth.

6. Caruso's stance in Figure 1 positions his head balanced on and over his center of gravity. Neither muscle used nor energy wasted here to keep his head up. Let gravity do it. This frees up the all-important strap (elevator and depressor) muscles that anchor the larynx and allows them to do their work—pull their strings, as it were. (Section: Anatomy to be added.) If the head is not in this position the throat is not opened, and the strap muscles can not fully engage to do the necessary work. Note, also, that Caruso could not open his mouth the way he does if his chin were neatly tucked-in, or in that so-called "noble position."* That is tantamount to a kink (jack-knife) in the pharyngeal conduit. We want that tube straight, deep, and dilated. We want an open throat.

7. If Mr. Caruso were to take two full octaves, middle C to high C on an [a] vowel, the position in Figure 1—which we underscore as the athletic stance for a singer—is set to embrace the high C before he begins the ascent. And then he runs the scale. In the spirit of neuro-linguistic programming that is exactly what we intend to check out when the time comes. How Caruso feels about singing with his head up is self-evident. We apply his words to support the depiction in Figure 1, and for insights the figure may not reveal.

Excerpted from Enrico Caruso and Luisa Tetrazzini, Caruso and Tetrazzini on The Art of Singing (New York: Dover Publication, Inc, 1975), p.53.

8. “It is necessary to open the sides of the mouth, at the same time dropping the chin well, to obtain good throat opening. In taking higher notes, of course, one must open the mouth a little wider, but for the most part the position of the mouth is that assumed when smiling.” That is, the sides of the mouth will open automatically, if the mouth is opened with a smile.

9. This sends the wrong message—a toothy grin—with no reason as to why "the mouth is that assumed when smiling." But since these words come from such a great singer, and referring to how he takes the high notes, they dictate a closer inspection. His statements: “. . . open the sides of the mouth.“ and “ . . . for the most part the position of the mouth is that assumed when smiling” give us a clue. He is referring to what we view in Figure 1: the jaw brought back by the smile is the major sensation of support offered there, buttressed, as the jaw is, because the jaw can go back no more. That is the major sensation we would have our reader secure; it allows the throat to open.

10. The smile also draws our attention to the joint that connects the jaw (mandible) to the head (temporal), the hinge on which the jaw operates: the Temporomandibular Joint or TMJ. How the TMJ releases and the mouth opens, for all vowels as pitch ascends, requires a thorough understanding of how the joint works, period. And it is the smile that directs us to the easiest, smoothest, TMJ operation and understanding. In the figure one can sense the smile in Caruso's [a]; but his smile is more about the position of the jaw than the smile. Caruso’s throat, the muscles that line it, is very well developed. His lips can just hang there, loose, with absolutely no involvement/tension, no participation whatsoever with vowel product. But his throat was developed supported by the structure he advocates, and depicts in the figure.

11. Mr. Caruso also states: (all Italics are the author's) "It is a good idea to practice opening the throat before a mirror and try to see your palate, as when you show your throat to a doctor." He is referring to the little puff of air one takes with the mouth open. What the palate does is a consequence thereof. On page fifty-five, Caruso adds: "Beginning in the lower register and attacking the ascending scale notes well back, a balance must be maintained all the way up, so that the highest note receives the benefit and support of the original position." And that is what this work is all about: the original position. All we have to do is find the position that Caruso is referring to, and the place to do that is the first octave.

12. We hear a lot of talk about the depressor muscles, the ones that anchor the voice box to the torso (breast bone, collar bone, and shoulder blade) and, hopefully, keep the voice box there, where it sits for a low note, when the pitch hits the roof. But they can not begin to do their work, or develop to do their work, if they have to fight with a faulty jaw position. Structure, one could say, does ninety percent of the work. Does Caruso say the structure he advocates is the first consideration for developing the voice? No. But he should have. It is, however, what he infers. Let us read what the greatest female singer in recorded history, Luisa Tetrazzini, has to say about structure and the head up.

13. Ibid., p. 23. “The jaw is attached to the skull right beneath the temples in front of the ears [she of course is referring to the TMJ]. By placing your two fingers there and dropping the jaw you will find that a space between the skull and jaw grows as the jaw drops." (For some, this space, this indentation in the jaw-joint as the jaw drops, is obvious; for others the action is not so obvious. But it is important that all become familiar with the most comfortable working of this hinge. It is the only moving part involved with singing that the singer must move himself and, therefore, needs to be understood and conscious.)

14. She continues: "In singing this space [hole in the joint] must be as wide as possible for that indicates that the jaw is dropped down, giving its aid to the opening at the back of the throat. It will help the beginner sometimes to do simple relaxing exercises, feeling the jaw drop [from the position of a raised head, as only it can] with the fingers [in the joint opening]. It must drop down, and it is not necessary to open the mouth wide, because the jaw is relaxed to its utmost. However, for a beginner it is as well to practice opening the mouth wide, being sure to lower the jaw at the back. Do this many times a day without emitting any sound merely to get the feeling of what an open throat is really like. You will presently begin to yawn after you have done the exercise a couple of times.”

15. (Note: We included her words not for their teaching value in first read. When this singer first read her words, he knew their intrinsic value--understood what she was driving at, because what she is describing is what our teacher, Mme Sharnova, demonstrated in our first lesson. Lessons started there: how to open the mouth. But Tetrazzini's words, which we will return to, have everything to do with Tetrazzini being the great singer she was.)

16. She does not say opening the mouth as described above is the first consideration for developing the voice, either. But she should have. This is what she infers, nonetheless, in her statements: “In singing this space must be as wide as possible [referring to the hole in the joint],” and “for a beginner it is as well to practice opening the mouth wide, being sure to lower the jaw at the back. Do this many times a day without emitting any sound merely to get the feeling of what an open throat is really like." That is stretching out.

17. (Note: We stretch out not as an athlete stretches out; we stretch out to introduce ourselves to how we work: Physiology 101. We are to become acquainted with a new physicality, a new sensation, and a new jaw position (if it is new) so that when we open our mouth to sing, it will not feel as a stretch and it will not feel foreign. Once structure is oriented, the stretching exercises are no longer necessary. But if how one opens the mouth is the singer’s most important consideration for his life as a singer, there is no technical principle to be applied before, or in front of, that procedure, that structure. With it, we have a possibility, slim though it may be through the printed word, to develop our full voice; without it, we haven’t a prayer, and why so few singers today, beautiful voices though they have, truly sing. Thus, we repeat Tetrazzini’s words: “Do this many times a day without emitting any sound merely to get the feeling of what an open throat is really like." We say do this many times a day, each one a duplicate of the other, to learn how it works--our most significant ally. .

18. A word of caution: be gentle with the TMJ. This joint for some can be very touchy. (We address it in another Section.) For now, get acquainted with it on a smile and, to this end, by pulling the lower lip up and over the lower teeth. (See Joan Sutherland, Figure 2, Section III: Stance/Structure Continued.) That is the best way to learn How to Open the Mouth and investigate (come to know) this Path of Least Resistance from a mouth closed to a mouth opened on an [a] vowel. With the head up, find the bottom—where the jaw can go back and down comfortably no more. That sensation acts as a brace and anchors the throat open. It is here we work the voice. It may take weeks or months of vocalizing in structure before structure feels true, but we contend one will enjoy the process.

19. Although no two jaws release and mouths open alike, all jaws have a path on which to open that has less interference and less resistance than any other possible path. This is the path of the smile, and what Tetrazzini and Caruso would have us locate and identify. We term it the Path of Least Resistance (PLR), and it is relative to the individual; we each have our own dictated by one's physiology. We want to know how we work.

20. No matter how different the individual Path may be for our vocal models (if there is any difference at all), they all end up in the same place. They are all where they belong and we are here to see where that is. They do have a number of things in common, however: their center of gravity is one; their state of relaxation is one; their stance, or position, or structure is one; their lips are flexible (no inappropriate tension) and if their voice/resonance, the harmonic structure, were graphed, we contend the arrangement of overtones is one, also.**

21. On page 38 Tetrazzini states: “One should always stand in such a position as to inhale comfortably . . . with the head sufficiently raised to let the inflowing [of] air . . .” That is not the best reason to take breath or to sing with the head up, but that is not important. That she sings with her head up is important. She, too, stresses (P. 29): "The young singer should practice constantly in front of a mirror . . . a singer can never allow the facial expression to alter the position of the jaw or mouth." (Here she is referring to the singing of songs, but that begins with scale work.) "The mouth in singing should always smile lightly. This slight smile at once relaxes the lips. . . ." Thank you, Ms. Tetrazzini.

* * * * *

* The Figure of Caruso is taken from Enrico Caruso—Voice of the Century, produced by A & E Home Entertainment: Biography: Cat. No. AAE-14368. Marketed and distributed by New Video Group, New York, NY. One may also find Figure 1 in The Art of Singing – Golden Voices of the Century, NVC ARTS, 1996—a Warner Music Co. This clip also aired on Great Performances (PBS): The Vocal Cords, March, 1998, with host, Thomas Hampson.

Section I: Where It Begins —

This work is in progress, adding sections as we go, and to be read in the order the sections were posted. Clicking all the arrows down in the blog archive on the right will reveal that order. Although each section is predicated on the previous post(s), each has its own center. If material posted in a previous section is appropriate to the section at hand, we incorporate it as though it were spoken for the first time. Expect repetition.

1. Any singer who invests his life in the art of singing comes to learn that for the better part of the last Century the art has been in the dumps. During that Century the human being has gone on to split the atom, land on the moon, discover radio waves in outer space, trace them back to where they no longer exist (some 15 billion years ago) confirming the Big Bang, and launch a telescope, the Hubble, with which we may view it someday. We successfully map the human genome, add years to our lives through the advancements in medical science: organ transplants, chemotherapy, gene therapy, and the potential that exists in stem cell research is waiting in the wings. And the list goes on—not to forget the computer.

2. Yet despite all our advancements in every field of human endeavor over the last Century, the art of singing continues its downward spiral. Consequently, there is no industry or profession with more room at the top clamoring to be filled, for the thrill in the sound of a great voice singing the most beautiful music composed for the instrument, than that of the professional opera singer.

3. Young singers, who are not familiar with the history of voice, the evolution of song (solo singing), the development of the Italian School of Singing, and the historically great singers it produced, are not aware of the arena from which we come. And why we began paragraph 1 with the sentence we did. Nevertheless, we believe our words about voice and its development will stand on their own, and stimulate an interest in anyone who truly loves to sing. The development of the voice is one; it has nothing to do with genre. Voice is voice. All genres require voice—two full flawless octaves if the singer is to have any fun. Here are two glorious products of the Old School: Enrico Caruso and Luisa Tetrazzini. Incidentally, Tetrazzini was a natural.


That is what we are talking about. +


And so is that. ++

4. We share these recordings not to intimidate, for they can, but to let our reader hear voices (technique) that allow their possessors pure vocal abandonment. Great singers reveal the possibilities inherent in the human voice and entice some thoughts. The fundamental and the profound exist side by side in the question: How do they do it? And the obvious emerges: if it can be done by one, it can be done by all.

5. Twenty years ago, we were introduced to NLP—neuro-linguistic programming: a science of behavior and personal achievement developed on the behavior-model of highly successful people. Our definition is sorely lacking, but in hearing the words of these researchers, we had to stop the tape and reminisce. The neuro-linguistic programming method these men and women were describing was the very method employed by the men who instigated the development of the first school of singing, the Italian School, c. 1600; the first school opened in Naples in 1681, by Alessandro Scarlatti.

6. The irony in the awareness touched on sadness, because not to know the history of the Italian School, which for two hundred years produce legions of glorious singers, and without which grand opera could never had been invented (what could Beethoven have done without the instruments of the orchestra), leave students of singing in the dark. What are they to strive for? But our vocal neuro-linguistic researchers, composer-singers and members of the Florentine Camerata, began the development of the Italian School as an after-thought. In part, they were inspired to compose music for the human voice and, naturally, drawn to inspect the instrument they were to compose for, because history tells us the most beautiful singers that ever walked the earth was living then: the Castrati, male singers with treble voices secured through emasculation.

7. The Castrati started the show that soon grew to include the male and female categories of voice. The point is, there is something for which to strive in knowing the first school was developed through the observation, study, and analysis of the completely natural voice, a product of Italy.* There was no school at this time. It is comforting to know man did not invent singing; it existed in Nature, and he figured it out. How this knowledge alone would affect the steps of a budding student of singing today, we can only conjecture; the sadness speaks for itself.

8. What is it about Italy that produces the natural? Therein sleep the long-sought answers regarding the technique of the Italian School of Singing. But we are not going there. We are here to develop the voice, and although that requires fundamentally one structure and, basically, one vowel ([a]) over two octaves plus, through the printed word that is still an "iffy proposition—all one can hope for. We will take a neuro-linguistic look (if I may) at how the great singers open the mouth to run a two octave scale, however, and trust that look will help set our reader/singer on the right path. If the voice develops, we trust the singer will know how to use it—sing.

* * * * *

+Caruso: Francesco Paolo Tosti, "L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra," recorded in 1917; in Vienna, May 1999, the 1917 acoustical orchestra was removed and in its place the accompaniment of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO). Conductor: Gottfried Rabl. Project-Concept and Artistic Supervision: Robert Werba. Gentlemen, Thank You.

++Tetrazzini: Vincenzo Bellini "Ah, non giunge," from La sonnambula: The London Recordings (13 July 1908). Digitally re-mastered: EMI, 1992.

* For an introduction to the development of the Italian School of Singing, see Edgar F. Herbert-Caesari, The Science and Sensations of Vocal Tone (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1938), p. 1-7. For a complete history and, perhaps, found nowhere else, see Tradition and Gigli by the same author (London: Robert Hale Limited, 1958).