Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy 1st Birthday to the Blog: What have I learned in one year?

I created this blog on my birthday last year. Perhaps it was a subconscious way of keeping accurate track of the length of this exercise. In the past year, the average month has yielded nearly 1300 visits from a little more than 700 individuals in 65 countries. I have received many emails of readers thanking me for the information I freely share here.

It is I who must thank all the readers here for participating in this conversation. Through your participation I have been encouraged to study and learn a lot. I have been challenged to learn much more than I knew before and I have learned a lot about myself and my own singing.

It has been nearly 8 months since I began my change from baritone to tenor (since April 7th 2008) and this evening I sang impromptu at a party at the house of one of my students and even after three days of celebrating my birthday I felt like a genuine tenor. It was my plan to put up a clip here on my birthday, but I thought I'd give myself a couple of days to let the influence of the celebratory drinks dissipate. I will post a clip in the next few days.

I also discussed here my battle with acid reflux, nutrition, Candida, etc. With much advice from many here I have done my part in becoming healthy. Reflux is less of an issue, but it is still an issue. I follow the path of one of the singers I have had the pleasure to teach and will have the minimally invasive endoluminal fundoplication procedure. I hope to complete this in the next few weeks, which I believe will bring me the confidence I need to complete my journey to being a fully functional dramatic tenor.

More importantly, I believe that through this year-long exercise my searching has brought me a great deal of clarity relative to vocal function. It has always been my belief that vocal technique is paradoxically simple when the puzzling nature of vocal science is understood. I believe that the primary vocal functions (breathing, phonation and resonance) are greatly automatic and that we are responsible for a few simple principles when the natural balance of the instrument has been preserved. Vocal function is very uncomplicated. Vocal re-balancing (for most of us come to singing with certain imbalances) is however complex and time-consuming. Achieving the natural balance of the voice requires a clear phylosophical understanding of how the instrument functions and how through strategically chosen exercises the musculature of the larynx may be rebalanced to produce the most efficient workings of the instrument.

I also learned that teaching voice requires engaging the student personally. It has been my way ever since I began teaching. More experienced colleagues recommended that I take a more "objective perspective." What I have learned is that vocal science is fairly objective, but vocal pedagogy is thoroughly subjective. To pretend that we can avoid the emotional bonds that naturally develop between a voice teacher and a singer is ludicrous. Managing such a relationship is complex. But when total honesty and mutual respect are the foundations of the relationship, it develops with ups and downs and the confrontation of real issues that impact the life and art of the singer and teacher. It also means that such a relationship can only occur between people who are compatible.

The singers I have always admired have certain things in common. They are visionary, intelligent, phylosophical, courageous, sensitive to music and to words, curious, inquisitive, extremely hard-working, emotionally open and vocally "accomplished". Natural (spontaneous) development of efficient vocal coordination is a big advantage but by no means the measure of a vocal artist. I cross hundreds of people every month in the streets who have remarkably efficient vocal production and have no desire or impulse to sing. In a sense, achieving vocal balance is the easy part (my experience with many of my students this year confirms this in my mind). The other pre-requisites I list in this paragraph are the product of a life sculptured into a work of art. The artist's spirit is the talent. Developing the voice is a joyful process I cherish when it is with people with that kind of spirit. The unexpected happiness I have lived this year came out of a karmic call to the students I have encountered recently who make-up what I call my studio. In truth, every single one without exception has made voice teaching/learning for me an unmitigated pleasure. One must be selective. I cannot teach every student. I can only teach those students whose talents I completely value and who I feel require what I have to offer.

This year I felt more effective as a teacher than I ever have because I took the chance to project the true me through this blog and thereby attracted the very students I wanted to teach. This is only the first phase of what could be a truly exciting journey. In every good journey every new phase is more difficult but not necessarily negative. To positively meet this next phase, it will take greater faith, greater courage, greater daring and greater love. The goal is that my students and I should be singing our absolute best.

Hence the conversation will continue here. I hope our interaction will stimulate profound discussions resulting in discovery, questioning and achievement. I plan to write in all the languages in which I am proficient and I hope that you will not allow the language barrier to prevent you from participating fully.

I thank all of you profoundly who have taken the time to comment upon, question and even challenge the writing here. I also thank you all for conducting the conversation in such a classy manner. I look forward to another year of great vocal tech talk.

I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season and I wish you the very best for the new year.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Simplicity of Breath

I refrained from talking about breathing for a while because there are so many issues connected to it and so many emotions around the issue. I had very natural breathing when I started to sing and consequently no one talked about it to me. So as always, my consciousness needed a HOW. Over years of study and research it came down to basics.

Like everything in singing, there are many ways to look at breath function. 1) The periodic propagation of air is what we hear as pitch (I.e. in singing, breath is released by little puffs hundreds of times every second. This rapid machine-gun-like release is pitch). 2) The uninterrupted pressure of air underneath the vocal folds that makes for continuous sound.

The mechanism is simple. The lungs serve as a full bag of air that is squeezed by the rise of the diaphragm and the contraction of the many abdominal muscles that reduce the volume of the ribcage further squeezing air toward the vocal folds (hopefully). If the lungs are not completely filled, when the diaphragm and abs compress the air, instead of providing steady pressure underneath the folds, the pressure first fills the empty part of the lungs. Without adequate pressure to create the desired tone, the folds will automatically squeeze together to increase pressure. This is called pressed voice.

In a healthy voice. The vocal folds close fully over lungs and trachea full of air. This provides the means for pressure on one side. The diaphragm and abs work to pressurize from below. The abs and diaphragm work automatically.

Therefore in terms of breath support, the singer's responsibility consists of 1) taking a full breath to fill the lungs to capacity and maintain the state of expansion 2) produce a balanced onset whereby the folds gently but fully close for every vibratory cycle hundreds of times per second. The diaphragm and abs are activated automatically by the brain to provide the necessary pressure depending on the desired sound. These automatic actions provide sensory feedback in the pelvis via the Rectus Abdominus muscle in around the abdomen through the many abdominal muscles. These sensations are automatic if the singer accomplishes 1 and 2. If the singer feels a need to actively control the abs , it is a sign that 1 and/or 2 has/have not been accomplished. It is crucial that the singer takes charge of what s/he is responsible for and not what should be automatic.

© 12/14/2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Discusión internacional sobre la tecnica y la ciencia vocales


Queridos Amigos de idioma Español:

Hace mucho tiempo que soñé con asistir a una discusión internacional sobre la ciencia vocal y lo que ella podría ofrecer al desarrollo continúo de las varias técnicas vocales. En nuestra época el canto lirico se ha vuelto en un sistema internacional y con él los varios métodos internacionales de canto se han confundido en algo nuevo que según mi manera de pensar parece haber elegido las partes más superficiales de cada tradición. Con aquella nueva síntesis hemos perdido los principios fundamentales y la disciplina particular de cada tradición nacional del canto lirico. Paradoxalmente las búsquedas de la ciencia vocal (por lo menos la parte acústica) en los 60 años pasados fueron en grande parte basadas sobre las grabaciones de los mejores cantantes conservados en discos desde el tiempo de Caruso hasta nuestros días.

La información divulgada en esos últimos 60 años nos abrió una fuente inexhaustible que por mala suerte se ha quedado ignorada por los que más la necesiten: los maestros de canto. Los motivos para eso son varios. Hay buenos maestros que valorizan muchísimo las tradiciones que les formaron y en seguida desconfían la ciencia. Hay maestros mediocres que tienen miedo que sus técnicas peligrosas se quedaron refutadas por la información objetiva. Más de todo, la lengua técnica de la ciencia no hace parte de la formación de los artistas y muchos creen que no podrían beber de esa nueva fuente.

Durante mis 15 años de enseñamiento al nivel universitario, aproveché de los recursos académicos para formarme a fin de poder comprender la discusión de los científicos (foniatras y laringólogos, etc.) que estudiaron el aparato vocal en los laboratorios al rededor de mi sala de canto. Con los años nosotros colaboramos y escribimos artículos científicos después de búsquedas que tomaron en consideración los puntos de vista del maestro de canto, del cantante mismo iguales como lo del científico. Ese tipo de colaboración anduvo repetido en muchas universidades a través del mundo, pero la información se quedo en las manos de los pocos que participaron.

Por eso empecé a escribir mi Blog, “Toreadorssong’s Vocaltech Blog”. Uno de mis objetivos era de divulgar esa información lo más posible en palabras normales. Al final no esta suficiente. Mi primer sueño era de asistir a una polémica espontanea y respetable entre cantantes y maestros y científicos desde todo los rincones del mundo del canto. El internet nos facilita este deseo. El blog ya ha atraído el interés de unos 1500 de personas a través del mundo. Muchos de ellos son de idioma español entre España y los muchos países de idioma Español en las Américas, países que se ven bien representados en los escenarios de la Opera. Por eso me estoy atreviendo de escribir en su bonito idioma (me perdonen por favor mis muchos errores) para animarlos de participar en esta discusión sobre Facebook conectada con la actividad del Blog. La plataforma de Facebook permite discusiones simultáneas en varios idiomas.

Los temas son muchos, incluidos: Métodos nacionales, enfermedades superficiales que amenacen las cuerdas vocales y el sistema respiratorio y así arruinar carreras potenciales, enfermedades invasivas que necesiten soluciones quirúrgicos, funciones musculares y acústicos del aparato vocal, etc. Muchos de ellos son de ya discutidos en el Blog. Me gustaría ver la discusión continuar y alargarse de manera más profunda así ver el interés en la información objetiva crecer con cada tema discutido. Participaré en todas las discusiones en todos los idiomas que pueda entender y con el ayudo de todos intentaré entender la polémica discutido en otros idiomas también.

El canto es mi pasión y mi trabajo. Estamos viviendo en un tiempo particularmente complicado y llena de emoción. Es un tiempo de desarrollo y transformación mundial en la cual el valor y las virtudes de las artes están en el balance. Los invito todos a tomar este viaje virtual conmigo en la cual espero de ver nuestra arte encontrar el equilibrio entre los valores de la tradición y los avanzos futuristas.

No se olviden de pasar esta información a los colegas interesados!

Con toda humildád,


Friday, December 5, 2008

Discussion internationale sur la technique et la science vocales


Mes très chers amis francophones,

J'avais depuis des années un rêve d'assister à une discussion internationale sur la technique et science vocales. Pourquoi cela? Bien, il ne faut qu'être francophone pour avoir une idée du préjugé qui existe dans l'ambience de l'art du chant lyrique par rapport à la tradition française du chant classique. Mon but en vérité n'est pas visé simplement sur le sort du chant classique dans les pays de langue française, mais plutôt sur l'objectivisme de la science vocale qui a comme vertu la possibilité de nous instruire à comprendre pas seulement les idiosyncrasies qui se dévelopent naturellement dans n'importe quelle tradition nationale mais aussi les qualités universelles qui réunissent au lieu de séparer les diverses écoles du chant lyrique et classique ainsi que les traditions du chant populaire.

La tradition du chant lyrique inspire, comme le théâtre lui-même, une ambience de mystère qui rend l'objectivisme de la science une chose à méfier plutôt d'acceuillir. En outre, un tel objectivisme inspire la peur même chez les grands maîtres du chant qui craignent de voir leurs méthodes réfutés. Très loin de cela, la science vocale, bienqu'elle corrige les rationalités mal-entendues et refute les légendes sans base, jusqu'à maintenant avère plutôt les meilleurs méthodes et explique les raisons pour lesquelles ces méthodes soient effectifs.

S'il y a un objectif qui m'attire, ce serait de voir la polémique sur ce site agiter la curiosité et inspirer les talentueux professeurs et maitres de chants, ainsi que les chanteurs, à se mettre aux courrant de ce qui est découvert scientifiquement à propos des fonctions de l'appareil vocal. Ceci était le but de mon blog,, qui jusqu'ici a attiré plus de 1500 lecteurs de 50 nationalités dont un tier suit à partir de l'Europe. Bienque je sois ravi du succès du blog, mon désir était de voir matérialiser une polémique libre et spontanée. Je continuerai mes activités sur le blog espérant que ma contribution là-dessus inspirera la discussion ici dans ce forum.

Par l'éducation on pourra collectivement éviter et marginaliser ce qui soit médiocre et dangereux et peut-être avancer la technique vocale ainsi que l'art du chant lui-même.

La discussion n'a pas de contrainte sauf qu'il reste plus ou moins sur le sujet de la technique et la science vocales. Ce sera en outre un atout qui me permettra de m'améliorer dans notre jolie langue maternelle que je suis en train de massacrer à force de ne pas l'utiliser régulièrement.

Merci de votre attention,


International Discussion on Vocal Tecnique and Vocal Science


It has been my desire for a long time to witness an international discussion on vocal science and its merits relative to vocal technique. This is the reason I began the blog on my birthday last year. I have been happily surprised at the interest that the blog has generated (over 1500 readers in close to 50 countries). However, I have found that the discussion depends in great part on my contribution on the blog (which is natural) and I wanted to see a freer discussion develop either with the blog as a catalyst or spontaneously. With Facebook as such a remarkable tool for networking, it seems foolish not to utilize it. My hope is that this group will develop a lively discussion in any and all languages. A thread can be started in any language and be conducted separately from threads in other languages.

Naturally I wish I could follow the discussions in every language that is posted, but of course that is impossible. It would be fun to see how far this goes. I invite anyone who can read these first posts (I am limited to the languages I speak) to begin a discussion on any subject that has to do with vocal technique and vocal science and in any language. Happy discussion!


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Discussione sulla tecnica e scienza vocali


Cari amici Italiani:

Era sempre un desio mio di avere una discussione internazionale sopra la tecnica e scienza vocali. Dall’inizio dello sviluppo dell’arte del canto lirico nel seicento già vino esportato il canto Italiano. Così una tecnica mista (detto “internazionale” prese i suoi primi passi). Adesso all’inizio del ventesimo secolo il canto lirico internazionle è una pura realtà, faccia a cui si può appena distinguere fra i diversi scuoli tradizionali di tecnica vocale, e il termine “Bel Canto” è diventato un clichè.

Durante gli ultimi sessant’anni (paradossalmente paralello alla scomparsa graduale della lirica tradizionale) è cresciuto una scienza dedicata ai detagli della lirica tradizionale. Infatti la ricerca acustica è specialmente basata sugli esempi dei più grandi cantanti che sono accesibili sui dischi incisi dal tempo di Caruso in poi. Questo lavoro pur troppo quasi non arriva al livello delle sale di pedagogia vocale, cioè pochi maestri di canto prendono il tempo per studiare questa nuova fonte d’informazione che pur troppo è scritta nella lingua della scienza invece di quella tradizionle dell’arte. Quelli che capiscano la nuova informazione passano il tempo a scrivere libri che divulgano la scienza a cucchiaia d’informazione superficiale che forse la massa potra capire a due occhiate ma che non avra effetti notevoli sui metodi di canto.

All’inizio ho voluto anch’io (fra i cantanti che hanno dedicato anni, in mio caso 15 o più a studiare la scienza vocale) di scrivere un libro per motivo di divulgare l’informatione di manera sostanzioso in un linguagio meno scientifico (anche se il materiale fosse scientifico) a fine che i talentosi maestri di canto ci potrebbero servirsi per avvanzare i suoi propri metodi e in fatti con informazione più oggetiva ritrovare le traccia del sia-detto “Bel Canto”.

Così è commincato il mio Blog "Toreadorssongs Vocal Technique Blog",, scritto in Inglese giacchè la mia attività professionale di docente si è sviluppata più negli Stati Uniti che in Europa. Ma la conversazione, secondo me, deve andare al di là dei confini geografici. Per questo ho osato di scrivere nella bella vostra lingua ch’io amo ma di cui non ho ancora la padronanza, sperando di animarvi a dirigere una polemica sulla tecnica vocale e quello che la scienza ci può realmente contribuire.

La mia speranza è che col tempo potremmo riunire tutti quanti per far capire chiaramente quali sono realmente gli effetti diretti che il cantante può avere sull’apparato vocale e come riuscirci. Il canto lirico è sopratutto un talento musicale che si trova spesso ostacolato al livello fisico perchè il cantante in questione non sa perchè non arriva ad esprimersi colla voce e loro che dovrebbero aprire il camino lo trovano più facile di dire che “non ci hai voce” invece di confessare che non sanno come rislovere il problema. Non tutti possono cantare, ma molti lo possono fare ad alto livello se avessero l’aiuto di qualch’uno con l’informazione necesseria. Tante volte l’ostacolo è una malatìa facilemente curata che non affetta il quotidiano ma può rovvinare una carriera vocale. Una volta che il problema è risolto il cantante potrà velocemente ritrovare la bella voce nascosta.

Le domande sono molte e la discussione darà luce alle molte domande ancora non fatte. Spero che queste righe vi animeranno tutti a parteciparci attivamente e a divulgare igualmente attraverso l'Italia l’esistenza del Blog e questo forum.

Blog Dikussion auf Facebook auf Deutsch und anderen Sprachen


Meine Deutschsprachige Freunde,

Vielleicht auf Facebook können wir die Diskussion über Gesangstechnik und Wissenschaft verbreiten. Ich habe schon eine Gruppe auf Facebook dafür begründet.

Ich schreibe den Blog auf Englisch weil ich zur Zeit mehr in den USA unterrichte. Über 1500 leute (ein Drittel davon aus Europa) lesen den Blog. Die Unterhaltung bisher ist ganz auf Englisch geführt. Ein Teil von meinen vielseitenden Ziel ist eine Internationale Unterhaltung haben über die Weiterentwicklung eines Internationalen Gesangstechnik. Deswegen wage ich auf Deutsch erstmal zu schreiben (sicherlich mit vielen Fehlern) damit alle euch zu ermutigen aktiv im der Diskussion auf der Muttersprache teilzunehmen. Später schreib ich ebenfalls auf Italienisch, Französisch und Spanisch.

Wir haben so viele neue wissenschaftliche Information über die Funktionen des Gesangsapparat die den Zeitlauf einer technischen Ausbildung verkürzen können. Leider wird diese Information selten zum Unterrichtssaal ankommen. Ich habe immer geglaubt dass ein Logik existeierte in einem guten Verfahren Gesangs und hab endlich durch die Entwicklung meinen eigenen Schullern diese Meinung geprüft. Vielleicht die Kunst Gesangs wird immer misteriös aber das mechanisches Teil ist heutzutage fast total durchsichtlig wenn man es verstehen möchtet. Es dauert Zeit die Information zu lernen, das ist klar! Aber man darf es begreifen und der/die Gesangslehrer(in) soll diese Information lernen um die verschiede Typen von Schullern richtig und persönlich angehen. Sonst wird es wie immer dass nur die naturlich koordinierte Sänger eine Chance haben sich weiterzuentwickeln. Meiner Meinung nach ist dass viele hochtalentierte Sänger können lebenslang leiden ohne entdecken was mit der Stimme richtig los sei dass Sie nicht weiter entwickeln können. Ebenfalls kann ein professionele Sänger die Stimme schnell verlieren wegen irgendeinen oberflechliches Problem weil er nicht bewusst ist das solches Problem existeierte.

In der Vergangenheit hatte man viel mehr Zeit für Gesangsausbildung, d.h. Zeit für tägliches Unterricht das im vergleich mit dem heutigen Fall vielleicht nicht soviel gekostet hat ; Zeit auch für Fehler und echte Lösungen; Zeit richtig vorbereitet zu sein bevor man der Bühne auftreten darf; und Zeit überall sich selbst stimmweise kennenzulernen.

Heutezutage müßen wir auch von vielen neuen Krankheiten bewusst werden und damit leiden. Krankheiten die im Alltag nicht besonders problematisch sind, die aber eine Gesangskarriere ruinieren können. Wieviele hochtalentierte Sänger (zum Beispiel) schon am Anfang der Ausbildung unbewußtlich mit solchen Krankheiten leiden müßten und gehört haben dass sie einfach keine Stimme hatten? Das ist nur eine Frage unter hunderte darüber wir unterhalten können. Ich lade alle deutschsprachige Kollegen ein in diese Diskussion aktiv teilzunehmen und den Blog in Deutschsprachigen Ländern zu verbreiten.