Monday, June 29, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): Coup de glotte. In search of a balanced onset!

A colleague/student of mine wrote to me recently requesting that I deal with the issue of coup de glotte, the controversial term coined by Manuel Garcia in the early 19th century. His statement goes as follows:

I had a pedagogy question that I wanted to ask you regarding the "coup de la glotte". Throughout my research of vocal pedagogy I've learned that there are (generally accepted) 3 basic mode of onset: a breathy, aspirate onset; the hard attack; and the balanced onset.

Richard Miller describes these three methods in his books and states that we should all be aiming for the balanced onset to assist in finding an efficient breath management system. His balanced onset coordinates the breath and the tone into one gesture. He recommends an "imaginary h" to assist in the onset of tone.

However, I just re-read and interesting book from my library by James Stark, entitled, "Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy" and he posits that Garcia's "coup de la glotte" was in fact a very lighter version of the hard attack whereby the glottis is closed lightly before phonation begins. Stark acknowledges the "balanced onset" of Miller but denies that it is what Garcia meant when he taught the "coup de la glotte".

Is it your feeling that Garcia's "coup de la glotte" (per Stark) is the one that we should be striving to learn and teach? That fourth onset does provide a "firmer" sensation and sound due to the fact that the cords are being sealed before phonation begins. But I do understand how it could become an exaggerated and damaging exercise if taken to extremes.

My reply to this query is based on the posts already on the blog dealing with phonation.

  1. The coup de glotte by definition is based on sensory feedback. In a sense we have to deal with it a a sensory issue. This I prefer to address one on one in a voice lesson. What language I use in such a situation depends on how the student processes information.
  2. There is also a functional component to the query, which I will address here.
  3. Finally there is a linguistic issue to be dealt with.
Let us first deal with the linguistic controversy that the term coup de glotte inspires. The word coup in French means both "blow" and "stroke" depending on context. The more violent "blow" is the one that is often taken by opponents of this technique. A singer and teacher of Garcia's reputation would never subscribe to violence in singing. His technique and that of his daughters, Malibran and Viardot are testament to the kind of singing that he must have advocated. The idea of the glottal stroke (an apt definition for the French terminoligy) is not foreign in vocal pedagogy of any period, whether we call it such, or balanced onset as more science-minded teachers like me would prefer. But what is a balanced onset?

Miller chose a practical approach to the issue. Most scientists of the time would go along with that. The desired result is somewhere between breathy phonation and pressed phonation. However, this is simplistic in light of what we know about phonation. It is not simply an issue of how close the vocal folds come together that produces this feeling of security and freedom (pressure/flow balance). It is also an issue of fold depth. (Please refer to the post: The distinction between weight and tension). Fold depth will have a strong effect on how breath flow is opposed by the glottal obstruction and therefore how firm the glottal closure feels to the singer. Fold depth is influenced by the singer's concept of his/her own sound. Developing a sense of the true vocal color will bring the instrument into balance. Likewise, dealing with issues of fold depth and fold closure as necessarily combined influences on phonation will yield the balanced sound that the singer should recognize as the true sound.

There is also an issue of continuous breath pressure. Breathing coordination/management must be organized such that the folds do not spontaneously squeeze from lack of adequate air pressure.

Finally, there is the issue of supraglottal inertial reactance (let us call it SIR for short). We have dealt with this issue in several posts. The importance of supraglottal inertial reactance (googling this term will yield results both on the blog and elsewhere on the internet that would be beneficial to read). In short under correct acoustical conditions (e.g. correct laryngeal depth and vowel choice), SIR provides a state of the vocal tract whereby the air above the the folds acts as a sealing mechanism. In such a case, the folds do not need to be totally touching during entire length of the close phase. Yet by this acoustic phenomenon, the glottis is indeed totally sealed for that fraction of time, enough to encourage a kind of easier flow that does not fatigue the phonation muscles from increased subglottic pressure as would be the case when the folds completely touch or squeeze.

Considering the many factors that come into play to achieve a balanced onset, the coup de glotte as described by Garcia constitute a sensory feedback experience once a coordination has been achieved between fold depth, fold closure, breath management and acoustic adjustment. The Bel Canto schools of singing were in fact based upon sensory experiences that may or may not yield the conditions necessary for balanced singing, because the teacher's own physical experience as passed on to the student might not contain a complete conception of the several issues pertaining to balanced singing. I am more apt to entertain the thought that Garcia's experience was that of a complete vocal concept. Yet, he faced a great obstacle from linguistics already, let alone the explanation of the concept.

Such are the eternal issues of vocal pedagogy. The dangers lie in attempting to express total vocal function in terms of a single sensation. Indeed, when the voice is balanced, all we sense is a flow of sound. However, to achieve such a state, the singer must become aware of the sensations associated with imbalance in specific areas. These sensations are froth with contradictions. The sensation of chest voice (anchoring in the chest) for example, does yield greater fold depth, and increased opposition to the air stream. If this is added to a voice that was pressed from inadequate depth, the result could be disastrous. Yet, adequate depth is necessary. In such a case it is important to address flow simultaneously to ascertain that the student is releasing the glottal squeeze before greater fold depth is added.

In adressing balanced onset, it is my recommendation that a teacher deals with all the elements that could have an effect on phonation. Guide the student to pay attention to all the elements until s/he accomplishes a personal sensation associated with balance as confirmed by the teacher's feedback and a recording for the student's personal gratification (for the balanced voice always sounds inadequate to the student the first time).

Garcia's experience was sensory. Miller's directive in his books was theoretical and logical, James Stark's proposition was practical relative to his own vocal taste. The idea of closing the glottis first has been discounted resoundly. Starting with a closed glottis yields a snowball effect of greater medial tension forced apart by increased subglottal pressure. Theoretically, I would have to disagree with Stark. Yet he may get good results with this approach. The tone might be somewhat tense at the beginning, and he would probably correct the tension over time. What I do not agree with is that the final product requires a mild glottal onset.

What does seem plausible however is the paradoxical nature of SIR. At the moment of onset, it is possible that the vocal tract is in an inertial state, which could be the condition necessary for a sealed glottis by way of inertial loading. In such a system, the entire process is breath driven and the singer would feel a combination of resistence and flow with little effort. This could be what Stark is advocating. However, without taking SIR into consideration, his only option based on sensory feedback would have to be that there some glottal resistence. The only other option would have to be that the folds are closed at onset.

In the end, the final product is indeed based on the individual singer's voice, and it changes over time. Some are lucky enough to maintain a natural, balanced voice from childhood. We other mortals, must find that golden fleece again and keep our sights on it. It is fleeting and requires time in order to truly own it. In other words, balanced onset or indeed the experience of Garcia's coup de glotte is a process. The moment we experience a balanced onset, we think we have discovered something brand new, when in fact the principles that lead us to balance have been in use for months before resulting into that magical sensation of pressure-flow equilibrium.
Knowledge can be immediate. Coordination takes time.

© 06/29/2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

Posting soon!

Dear Friends,

After my laptop was stolen in NY (car break-in, long story) I have been a little handicapped relative to computer access. The problem is being worked on and I anticipate being fully active again in a couple of days. Lots to share! Thank you for your many positive responses to the last couple of posts.

TS in Berlin!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Strength, grace and the hollow fake that passes for both

I have always equated singing with figure-skating. In the sport, it is very transparent that grace depends very much on strength, and the skillful management thereof. Skaters like Michelle Kwan and Brian Boitano are considered masters for all time. They embody the values of a sport that like opera has seen standards drop for the sake of audience consumption. Quadruple Axles are considered more important than the graceful footwork (figures) for which the sport was named. The difficult figures are not even part of competitive figure skating anymore. Perhaps very much like scales no longer form a part of the teaching of many teachers. A recent, entertaining New York Times article lampoons a voice teacher who has his students do scales and the unsuspecting neighbor who becomes unnerved by the incessant vocalizations and begs for a song to be sung all the way through. This reveals very much the poor understanding of not only the opera-going public, but also questions whether the teachers who are supposed to be the custodians of the technique of opera know any better or even care. Well some do. Many don’t.

The either/or simplicity of a world culture bent on fast foods and immediate gratification cannot conceive that an “and” ideology has the potential of greater entertainment value. It is perfectly possible to build a modern opera for consumption while preserving the values of tradition.

This is a pedagogical question because those who run the business of classical singing dictate for better or for worse (I think mostly for worse these days) the way teachers prepare their students. I am rather ideological with a practical bent, so I aim to prepare the students with traditional values in mind but fully prepared to meet the changing landscape of this complex field.

Consider the Metropolitan Opera! The bastion of operatic conservatism has loosened its dogmatic approach in the person of Peter Gelb, the new General Manager who has been a subject on opera forums as popular as President Obama is in the political forums. It has not been all good, but it is certainly not all bad. Personally, I am a proud subscriber of Met Player. With the same high standards that brought Met Titles, the Metropolitan Opera’s web designers have created a gorgeously high quality product that boasts the smoothest video streaming on the Internet. Customer Service at all levels of the Met is top notch. Yet the operatic product for which this house is known has been terribly compromised. Yes we have the beautiful triumvirate of German-rooted singers, Diana Damrau, Rene Pape and the Polish tenor Piotr Bezcala. Yes we have the mighty Stephanie Blythe who makes an opera singer proud to be American. Still, most of the performances I have attended at the Met recently left me completely cold, to such a point that I have had to leave after the first act of three performances after shelling over $100 for a ticket.

Why is the ratio of good to bad performances at the Met so dismally tipped to the bad?

Opera aficionados agree on the idea that the Met has become a business first and an art institution last. Consider this paradigm! The Met seats nearly 4000! On an average Saturday matinee it is probably full, but 4000 is probably peanuts compared to the numbers represented worldwide in movie theaters through a satellite simulcast. This strategy is fantastic on the one hand. Many more people are experiencing Met productions visually the way many of us did aurally through radio in generations past. On the other hand, are they really experiencing opera: that gladiator-art where singers take advantage of acoustic law to do battle with a 100-piece orchestra and win, all the while defying gravity with top notes that threaten to shatter crystal chandeliers and low notes that resonate in the chests of audience-members, and all the while dealing with philosophy and poetry and life at quite possibly the highest level possible in art? More than likely, not! With broadcast microphones turned up to rival the soundtrack of the latest X-Men flick in Dolby Sound Surround, the battle with the orchestra is no longer part of the equation. And the philosophy and poetry is too often not grasped by the people performing because the jaded operatic businessman and the sheepish artists who often follow think that the audience will not get it anyway.

This is the grave error that the opera business people (i.e. general managers, agents, directors, etc) are making. They seem to think that the defining qualities of opera are no longer relevant; that the only way to sell tickets in a visually stimulated world is to have size zero pseudo-divas whose frail forms can barely support their clothing let alone the rigors of singing a full-length opera. I have nothing against a size zero Carmen if I can hear her. I have no problem with a Don Giovanni with a ripped six-pack if his voice is authoritative enough to make me believe he can defy the elemental figure of a stone statue come to life.

Three years ago, I found myself in a touristy little bar in the Kreuzberg section of Berlin. I was enjoying my beer, when the bartender came out and said: “I heard you are an opera-singer!” I said yes! He said that they were having a Karaoke night and he wanted me to sing something. I told him I could not. There is nothing worse than a professional singer crashing a Karaoke party. It’s bad taste. He said he already announced that I would sing and that he would not serve me if I did not come down to the cellar where this was taking place. It was his way of being friendly, so I went expecting to find a Sinatra tune I would do. The list was rather thin, so I decided to sing a Neapolitan song a cappella, sans microphone (as any self-respecting opera singer would). The rowdy crowd was still talking when I broke into O paese d’o sole. Suddenly the place was dead silent and with a Toreador-like gesture a la Carreras-Domingo, I finished with the climactic top note. The place roared with approval. I was not even in good voice, but it is not so difficult for a trained singer to vibrate the walls of a relatively small room. Several genuinely stunned people told me they could not believe the human voice could make such a big sound (on a tangential note, it should have been the clue that I was in fact a tenor, for I sang the piece in the original key).

That experience in Kreuzberg was followed a couple of years later by a production of Macbeth, which I directed for the Berlin International Opera, a group of international singers who got together in Berlin to create singing opportunities for themselves. The production received wonderful reviews, even though our budget was probably 1/10000 that of the Metropolitan opera’s average for a production. The values were classic: great, resonant voices in a small space that truly stunned people; modern costumes (i.e. soldiers in modern German Army fatigues, etc), a witch ceremony during the overture, coupled with thunder and battle sounds to set the scene, a light show during the apparitions scene, and a loud gun-battle during the final battle music. Duncan was killed visibly on stage and we saw the reactions of Lady and Macbeth to the various sounds they heard, all of it created the basis for a variation during the sleepwalking scene. All the extraneous ballet music and some of the witches’ choruses that slowed the progress of the play were cut. As a result, the story was brought closer to the Shakespeare original.

Opera is not rocket science. It has intrinsic values that are spine-tingling, hair-raising, tear-jerking and heart-warming. One does not need to do traditional productions in the sense of period costumes, but one can bring clarity, a new perspective, and yes absolute relevance by understanding the impact of a logical musical phrase, especially when produced by a healthy strong human voice with a clear understanding of the language of music.

Strong is a tenor singing a full-bodied (not just full-throated) high C. It is a completely different thing when that high C is crooned in some reinforced falsetto called head-voice by those who have never sung an unamplified note with a large orchestra. Strong is a ballet dancer balancing on her toes, and the male partner who carries her seemingly effortlessly over his head. Strong is Diana Damrau sustaining a full-voice high Eb (not a flute-voice faux top note). It is Johann Botha singing the prize song and making that punishing tessitura sound easy, while every audience member feels his very bones vibrate in sympathy because the sound is that visceral and primal. It is James Morris even at his advance age singing the Villains in Hoffmann with thundering sound and acting mastery. It is Stephanie Blythe making Orfeo relevant again, because such a voice would make any opera worth hearing. It is Kim Begley making Herod a lead role as opposed to a mere character part because his secure, beautiful voice reflects the strengthening that comes with years of proper singing. It is not about big voices or small voices, but rather about substantial, supported voices coupled with musical and dramatic intelligence.

Yesterday, in a German opera house, I met a 30-something lyric baritone who sings in the chorus. He approached me about a voice lesson because he had to sing Carmina Burana solos soon. He was gifted with a beautiful voice, was musically impeccable (even singing the baritone solos from memory) and a handsome lad besides. We worked to help him support his voice more completely and suddenly with a little tweaking he was the equal of some of his leading colleagues at the opera house. I know because I heard them. The voices are not lacking. As a lyric baritone, that excellent singer would have been viable in our current system 10 years ago before he knows how to support his voice. Now more than likely, some other baritone 10 years his junior who cannot yet support his voice but cuts a dashing figure will fill the requirements for some coveted young artist program at a major A-house, and will have fulfilled his worth, which is to fill small roles that are less expensive when done by a young artist rather than a bona fide character singer. Then five years from now, most likely we will not hear about this young singer because he could not move forward for lack of a viable technique. Then fully supported lyrical voices will undertake dramatic roles because no one wants to wait for real dramatic voices to develop and more lyric voices will bite the dust before their 40th birthdays. We all know the story.

Opera is the vocal equivalent of ballet and of figure-skating. Grace and poetry require strength and intelligence and above all the patience to learn how. I remember one rare moment of original wisdom: a young colleague was disappointed when all the attention was given to another singer who had a naturally strong voice, although she had the intelligence and grace of a porcupine. On that wonderful spring day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I told her to uproot one blade of grass. She accomplished it on her first try. Then I told her to try to uproot three blades of grass simultaneously. She failed four times in a row. I then told her that the first task was what her colleague had accomplished—a one-dimensional challenge. Then I told her that she had failed at what she was attempting to accomplish (i.e. a combination of vocal balance, conscious musicianship, linguistic mastery and professional stagecraft), which requires patience, skill, balanced strength and faith. Just as the young pianist who gets attention is the trained monkey who can play all the notes too fast, the young singer who gets attention is often the one that has a level of strength and coordination that came from accidently being brought up in a good speaking environment and around someone who recognized the vocal potential. The establishment believes that this basic muscular coordination constitutes a potential artist. In truth it is rather the musically sensitive, intelligent singer who has the potential to become the great artist. Intelligence and musical sensitivity must be fostered early on to become substantially viable. That means a house where music of high quality and variety is at least listened to if not actively performed, whether it be a father singing his daughter to sleep or a grandmother humming a simple tune with feeling and perfect intonation.

Without this accidental or consciously prepared environment the seed of musical sensitivity might not be sewn. Hence, there is no guarantee that the vocal or pianistic monkey will graduate to become an artist. YET, THE VOCAL INSTRUMENT CAN BE COORDINATED AND STRENGTHENED TO PROFESSIONAL QUALITY AT ANY TIME PROVIDED THERE IS A TEACHER WHO UNDERSTANDS HOW TO GET IT FROM POINT ZERO TO POINT PERFECT AND A STUDENT WHO IS NOT AFRAID TO SWEAT.

At very least there was a time when the vocal monkey had chops. A voice that thrilled right away with its power! Now the acceptable vocal show-monkey only needs to sound pretty and even. Pretty is not operatic! Beautiful is operatic. And beauty requires substance. Beauty is strong and primal and elemental. Beauty grips one with power. Pretty simply does not offend, and that is not enough! Leontyne Price sang a visceral pianissimo that vibrated the heart itself. I was fortunate enough to hear that pianissimo live in 1989 at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Nowadays singers are being taught to release a flute voice sound or a falsetto and it is considered singing. And the impresarios do not really care, as long as tickets are being sold. And thus I conclude with this thought: the audience may not know when it is not being thrilled, but it certainly knows when it is being thrilled. I recommend that we custodians of the art form aim for the noble pursuits of the latter situation rather than bank on the ignorant precepts of the former. In order to do that we must cherish the intrinsic value of our art form and not apologize for it.

Most of all, it seems every one involved is playing the victim, saying that opera is moving in a new direction and there is nothing we can do about it. Opera in the movies is not going to rival The Fast and the Furious. Opera can thrive if it is sold for what it is and not what it appears to be superficially.

© 06/13/2009

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Greetings to my European friends

I will be back in Europe during the month of June and am looking forward to reconnect with all of you. I will be based in Berlin. I have been very moved by the activities in Finland and Sweden. So many of you Finns have followed the blog and I have been very touched to receive such nice emails from you. Equally the case with the faithful Swedes. Close behind are the Germans and French. The blog is read throughout North America, Europe, South America, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Japan and China, South Africa and Indonesia, India and Iran, Turkey and Russia and other places. I have been really moved by your many supportive comments off-line. I welcome you to comment in your language and to request topics that you would like to see covered.  I will be back in New York in July, Europe in August and then back to New York in September. The schedule will alternate with a month in NY and a month in Europe. I look forward to seeing those I have not seen in a couple of months and many more new friends.

Warmest Greetings,


Monday, June 1, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): Zwischenfach and Changelings, a journey of courage

Two weeks ago, a robber broke into my car and stole my backpack with my laptop computer in it and two weeks before that my suitcase was stolen from a bus and it had my external drive in it with all my back-up files. While lamenting this loss, an acquaintance I now consider an ex-acquaintance commented insensitively that the universe took away from me that which I do not need and that my vocal science research was an escape from what I am supposed to do, meaning learning to sing.

Despite my extreme frustration at that condescending commentary, I considered the inherent spiritual challenge. Was I running away from facing my vocal issues? It took a few seconds to realize that this singer, a former baritone struggling with his change to tenor, should have known better. On the contrary, my vocal research has been a fundamental part of me confronting the vocal puzzle that now actually makes sense. Not only have I learned a wealth of information in the 15+ years that I have been actively studying vocal science, I have also seen the effectiveness of my teaching grow exponentially with this knowledge. The students who come to me do not seek a lesson in vocal science but rather a thorough understanding of their vocal challenges in a language that they can understand. My studies render me able to explain a concept to different students in different ways, but always rooted in what is known about the voice. As for my own journey, this information has instructed me through the difficult process of changing from bass-baritone to tenor, or rather through the process of returning to my natural voice. I have become a bit of a magnet for singers who are considering a change in vocal category. Although my vocal pedagogy can be described as a journey back to the natural voice, wether remedying technical misunderstandings or fine tuning a balanced voice, I recognize that there is a special psychological and spiritual component to the journey of changelings.

Why go through the heart-wrenching process of changing vocal category, especially when one has had some success in the current Fach? Those that do it (for the most part) have an intuitive knowledge that they have not been singing in a tessitura that is natural to them. The human voice is much more extensive in range than we think. A fully developed voice, male or female is capable of three modal octaves. In vocal pedagogy, we learn that the average male singer has two octaves of modal range. This is unfortunate and leads to confusion for young teachers. A wide range is not a special occurrence. Some singers develop their wide range spontaneously through both speaking and social habits. An outgoing person is more likely to express himself in an extroverted manner that includes greater vocal range, be it through high pitch laughter and yells or low growls. Latins and Africans tend to be so extroverted and often develop instruments with very wide ranges. I have also met singers from those cultures who are very introverted and vocally much more contained. Their range is often comparatively limited.

But to the point, a large range is often a source of confusion for the teacher trying to decide how the singer should be categorized. Why categorize? Many singers feel that categorization is arbitrary and has no real foundation in reality. I disagree. The fact that I can sing a C2 and a C5 can be confusing and led to the more manageable idea of categorizing me as a bass in high school, a bass-baritone in undergraduate school, a lyric baritone in graduate school and everything else later on. The range is material only if we consider the complete range of other singers in comparison. If every singer sang his complete range, it would be easier to catergorize because we would see a corollary between the range and the comfortable tessitura. Not so easy when the extremes of the voice is not well developed and a light lyric tenor often has better low notes than a dramatic tenor who does not develop the lower range. Think Jussi Björling vs. most spinto tenors in the aria Di tu se fedele... from Verdi's Un ballo in Maschera.

My low C was developed because of those early years as a bass and probably from copying my father's voice. He spoke very low. By the time I was in graduate school I could warm up to C#5 in full modal voice and continue on to F5 in what some might call a reinforced falsetto. One visiting conductor thought I was a Rossini tenor. That would have been more misguided than lyric baritone. As a lyric baritone my repertoire was close enough to the tenor tessitura that I would not have had a great deal of problem making the switch to tenor once I discovered the error of those early categorizations. However, because of the dramatic color of the voice (a hidden dramatic tenor) I began to get offers for dramatic repertoire (e.g. Wotan's farewell and Fire Music with orchestra, dozens of performances of Messiah and Bach oratorios, Germont, Scarpia, etc). Despite my vocal science experience, I was a singer like most others: I was happiest when I was singing and had an uncanny ability to change my voice to what was needed. Still, 25 years of singing unnatural vocal categories will take the voice out of balance (in my case very slowly).

There comes a point when we, as professionals, must become conscious of the nature of our voices. It often takes some kind of crisis for us to question our misconceptions about our own voices. When that occurs, we find ourselves at an impasse: Do I continue with the vocal category that I have been known for for a quarter of a century and the repertoire that I have identified with for those many years, or do I go on a risky journey in search of my true voice? As an artist, I always was in search of some kind of truth, whether it be the truth of a character or of vocal pedagogy. Once I was convinced that I was in fact a tenor, all those years of study were called to the service of my search.

From what I knew of vocal function and of helping singers through a vocal change, I was certain that I would go through some very unstable periods. And I did! It was frustrating and at times discouraging. I was already hearing the voices of many friends saying that I am a baritone and should remain so. I was not in the mood to pay thousands of dollars to teachers who were not convinced that I was in fact a tenor. My former teacher George Shirley who had a hunch that I might be a tenor was too far for me to work with him regularly. I was forced to do this on my own, and in fact welcomed it. I knew I would not lie to myself and my vocal research tools, particularly Voce Vista would give me empirical information that I knew how to decipher. I knew the road was long and froth with discouraging days. I am beyond the worse days and my tenor students hear the confirmation of my voice type through the consistent Bbs that I demonstrate for them. I am far from out of the woods yet. I am now happily dealing with balance issues: How much chest resistance (i.e. glottal resistance) is necessary for good breath management without going too far and over-pressurize? How specifically does it feel when I sense the pressurization of the breath on the one hand and the freedom of the light, lean voice floating on top of that pressure? Can I remember the exact feeling of the breath feeding the tone from below that produced my excellent high C recently. The questions are in traditional language, because the singer really has personal sensory feedback to go on. Those questions are all interesting in the moment. Yet, it is concepts that freed my voice from its heavy baritone past, and it is those same concepts that will help me refine in the later stage of the game. The other day I sang through Tosca with my ridiculously gifted girlfriend. I am not ready for prime-time yet, but there was a time that I thought Cavaradossi would never be in my future because that kind of tessitura was just too high for me. But low and behold it is feeling like a reality that needs to be refined.

I teach several tenors who are letting go of their baritone mislead categorizations. I also teach several dramatic coloraturas who were categorized wrongly as lyric mezzos or lyric sopranos and one brave contralto categorized as a soubrette who sang pretty much a reinforced (by that I mean pressed) flute voice. A year sometimes feels like an eternity! But that is what it has taken for that lyric mezzo to sing a beautiful Norina and a concert of crazy coloratura show pieces; that is what is has taken another coloratura to find her high Fs when her voice would simply stop at a Bb5 when she was singing lyric rep; that is also what it has taken one ex-baritone to acquire anew what he calls the voice of his youth and me to feel that I have come home.

A year is a blink of an eye. Yet I have a feeling that I have been working with those particular changelings for 10 years. I become closer to them, because they take such big risks, they leave all of their past glories on the roadside to take that uncertain journey. Their victories give me intense pleasure. It humbles me to think that it has only been a year when I hear how far they have come. They are no longer wondering what they should be singing, but rather how to sing it well. Realizing that all my scientific knowledge in the world would not help if I did not realize that some days they need a hug more than a vocalise. Studying science is to know its limits. Studying science is to know that it is the beginning of knowledge not the end. Studying science gave me an appreciation for spirituality and humanity which must complement it.

Thus to my former, self-righteous acquaintance who made not a wise commentary, but a selfish stab at someone in pain after a loss, who has not a shred of scientific understanding, I say humbly, I would not give up my research even if God himself came down from the skies and offered me a perfectly functioning voice, which I ache for. Life is about the journey, which brings us to wisdom and contemplation. I enjoy growing in a lasting way and I am blessed to accompany these soulful singers on their spiritual journey, giving them the comfort of knowledge and of compassion. When you, former self-righteous friend, have walked my scientific path, then may you from knowledge and not from prejudice challenge the spiritual value of my path.

© 06/01/2009