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.