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.