Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More Bang for the Buck: The Swedish Phonation Model

When we think of Björling, Gedda, Winberg, Nilsson, etc, the picture that comes to mind is great power with what sounds like little effort and amazing elasticity. What is it about the Swedes that promote such cool fluidity? The machine-like efficiency of the Swedes have often compared unfavorably with their Italian predecessors. Swedes are often said to have a Nordic coolness as compared with their passionate Italian counterparts. In my opinion, nothing can be further from the truth. Indeed I find the Swedes to be fantastically passionate people. I have had the pleasure of teaching a few Swedish singers over the last few years and I have found them extremely passionate in their expression, both musically and personally. Those that I have met are all quite affable and rather extroverted. Why then do the Swedes get the reputation of being “Nordic cool?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvVVa62PFPo

It is important to remember that opera began in Italy and that every singer who is not Italian, indeed any opera that is not Italian is unfavorably compared unless the opera or singer adheres to Italian principles and idiosyncrasies. For the last 100 years, operatic marketing has been controlled by the music of Puccini primarily. Even in our times when stylistic rules are much more clearly articulated, it is not unusual to hear performances of Mozart’s operas that are influenced by Puccini’s style. Today Internationally successful operatic tenors by and large are of Italian descent or of pseudo-Italian fashioning, with Latin descendents being an acceptable and plentiful alternative.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEeH6iDEJsw

It is interesting that Nilsson, arguably the greatest Turandot in the history of the work, an excellent Tosca and Aida is more remembered for her “Nordic roles,” particularly Brünnhilde and Isolde. Björling who was a passionate Rodolfo and an excellent Verdian is considered the quintessential Faust, a French role closer to his Nordic heritage. Gedda is associated with Russian and French roles despite his excellence in a wide selection of Italian roles. Winbergh, a peerless Donizetti interpreter is associated with Mozart and later Wagner (really inappropriate to his lyric voice). The reason for this (at least in the case of tenors) is the following: the Swedes beginning with Björling’s and then Gedda’s meteoroic careers are models of the Italian technique heard in the first half of the 20th century. From Gigli to Pertile, Schipa to Lauri-Volpi, fluidity of phonation, elasticity throughout a very extensive range was the order of the day. Franco Corelli, a student of Lauri-Volpi, but also a product of the controversial Melocchi approach and Mario del Monaco, the standard-bearer of the Melocchi school, can be seen as a change in direction from the traditional Italian line. It is true that Del Monaco and Corelli had more robust voices and concentrated on a different repertoire. It is however essential to comment on the lyricism exhibited by Gigli and Caruso in such repertoire as L'elisir d'amore and Lucia. The voices of both Gigli and Caruso were of ample size but balanced more lightly, which yielded a different acoustic structure as compared to the post-war Italian tenors, particularly in the upper part of the acoustic envelope (Credit to Gioacchino Livigni for making this important observation. Sorry I doubted your observations).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jvn5O7QsY5Q


The more dramatic Swedes include Set Svanholm, Carl Martin Oehman and Torsten Ralf. Although they were equally celebrated in the Italian repertoire it is Wagner for which they are remembered. Back then, it is fair to say that tenors were chosen for repertoire based on their nationality. Oehman was Gedda's teacher and that of the great Finnish bass, Martti Talvela.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiV86F-94K4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-r7YjNrQrI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWtGEHfuo7E

What is particularly notable in the performances of these Wagnerians is the lyricism with which they approach these roles. In this way is the pre-war Italian model evident. This kind of lyricism is very reminescent of the Canadian tenor, Jon Vickers who could have been influenced by the Swedes.

With the exception of Pavarotti among the internationally celebrated tenors, the muscular balance that is the hallmark of Italian phonation was abandoned with the reign of Del Monaco and Corelli. The new order until today is to balance the voice toward darker colors. There are two reasons why this continued. 1) The rise in the popularity of opera after the Second World War caused a shrinking of the repertory to include mostly Puccini, certain Verdian operas, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Mozart and Carmen, the few operas that could be easily produced by the rising number of small opera companies in the United States. 2) The superficial approach to vocal training as compared to pre-war times favored the more easily coordinated lyric voices. The spinto tenors required for much of this repertory are supplanted by lyric tenors thickening their voices after the Corelli/Del Monaco model. The result in those cases is a gradual lowering of the natural muscular passaggio and thereby a gradual inability to sustain the high tessitura of the tenor repertoire. In short, these tenors gradually undo their top range, Del Monaco, noticeably and Corelli less so.

The difference in the approach of tenors beginning in the 1950s gives a clear view of Swedish superiority from an objective standpoint. I was lucky enough to have heard Gedda and Winbergh live and can appreciate the extraordinary resonance of their voices. Yet resonance is dependent upon the source tone, and therefore upon the mode of phonation. In this area, the Swedes armed not only with the pre-1950 Italian sound as a virtuous muscular model, but also with the onset of modern vocal science for a confirmation of their superior acoustical model. The writings of Johann Sundberg proved the superior efficiency of the Swedes at that time. However, they were too good!

The prewar Italians (Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, etc) were models of perfect muscular balance. Each note was ideally balanced between vocalis and crico-thyroid yielding a glottal pattern that exchanged air efficiently across the vocal folds. The limited vocalic choices of the Italian Language however limited vocal tract adjustments. The Italian school would not deal with second formant resonance through vowel modification but rather through rounding and widening of the cardinal vowels (i.e. aperto and coperto/cupo). Theoretically this is vowel modification, but of a limited fashion because the acoustic distance between the cardinal vowels leave large gaps. The Swedes however have a vocalic vocabulary extensive enough to allow for more exact tuning of the vocal tract yielding a more consistently inertial acoustic environment. Supra-glottal Inertial Reactance makes possible a longer open phase of the glottal cycle, which means greater propagation of air during each cycle. This yields greater acoustic pressure (i.e. volume) because of lesser medial glottal pressure. This is why the Swedish voice (particularly of the tenors) can seem somewhat overly breath-driven when compared to its Italian counterpart. Yet it is not. Through vocal tract inertia, the Swedes are able to release more air, yet during the shorter close phase, the folds close completely. The partition of the air stream for each glottal cycle is complete. The sluggishness of the supra-glottal air lengthens the close phase even as the glottis is actually in an open posture. Thus more air moves through. It is perhaps serendipitous that Sundberg published his early theories on the acoustics of the vocal tract around the same time that Björling and Gedda became two of the most celebrated tenors of the time, with a number of other Swedish singers close on their heels.

The ease, with which Gedda and Björling sang, throughout their range and of course notably in the high register, was a mixed blessing. The higher glottal resistance with which the Italian predecessors sang was more effortful. But not so effortful that their voices would ever suffer. It was a matter of degree. Empirically, Björling’s voice under acoustic analysis is considered the absolute model of efficiency. Many papers have been published to that effect, most notably by the late Richard Miller. However, Italian opera was built upon Italian passion, better represented by a little tension (or a lot of tension in the case of the post-war Italians). Furthermore, there is no substitute for an Italian opera singer singing in his/her native language. Superior glottal efficiency and superior musicianship as exhibited by both Gedda and Björling were considered bland when compared to the physical histrionics of Del Monaco, and the bella figura of Corelli.


In the United States at least, an operatic package is multi-faceted. An operatic culture developed on a steady diet of Italian stars, American fans for the most part favor Italians in a largely Italian repertory, and of course favor native Italians singing it. And with Corelli being a particularly tall tenor with a head like the American movie idol of the time, Rock Hudson, the Swedes had not a chance. In fact, even comparing all of this as a historical exercise over youtube, I am equally seduced by Corelli and the many successors who attempted to fill his shoes. And I bet many Swedes are also. Indeed in our operatic times, if we have to chose, passion and tension and a beautiful face trump efficiency and musicianship every time.

Far from disparaging the Italian model, this article is meant to assert that perhaps the Italian tradition was better carried forward "techinically" by the Swedes after World War II. For my part, I say bring back the Swedes! For if you see them live and not just listen to them on recordings, they are also beautiful and passionate. Don’t let their easy voices fool you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uxYQvxhAHY

Edgardo: Uno Stjernqvist
Lucia: Margareta Hallin

© 07/29/2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): Heartbeats and Walking Speeds: The Inner Pulse of Schubert's Winterreise Part 2


In this installment, I will discuss the tempo relationships as established in the previous post.

Song/Tempo Dieskau /Brendel Quasthoff/Barenboim
1. Gute Nacht/Mässig quarter=56 quarter=50
2. Die Wetterfahne/Ziemlich geschwind dotted quarter=56 dotted quarter=50
3.Gefrorne Tränen/Nicht zu langsam half note=56 half-note=50
4. Erstarrung/Ziemlich Schnell Half note=56 half-note=50
5.Der Lindenbaum/Mässig quarter note=56 quarter note=50
6.Wasserflut/Langsam quarter note=56 quarter note=50
7.Auf dem Flusse/Langsam quarter note=56 quarter note=50
8. Rückblick/Nicht geschwind quarter note=56 quarter note=50
9. Irrlicht/Langsam eighth note=56 eighth note=50
10. Rast/Mässig quarter note=56 quarter note=50
11. Frühlingstraum/Etwas bewegt dotted quarter=56 dotted quarter=50*
11a.-----------------/ Schnell 84 old quarter=new dotted quarter 75
11b.-----------------/Langsam 84 Schnell dotted quarter=langsam eighth 75
11c.-----------------/Etwas bewegt 168 Langsam 16th=Etwas bewegt eighth 150
11d. ----------------/schnell 84 same as 11a 75
11e. ----------------/langsam same as 11b
12. Einsamkeit/Langsam 56 11 dotted quarter=new quarter 50*
13. Die Post/Etwas geschwind 56 12 quarter note=13 dotted quarter note 50
14. Der greise Kopf/Etwas langsam 56 13 dotted quarter note=14 quarter note 50
15. Die Krähe/Etwas langsam 56 14 quarter note=15 eighth note 50
16. Letzte Hoffnung/Nicht zu geschwind 56 15 eighth note=16 quarter note 50
17. Im Dorfe/Etwas langsam 56 16 quarter note=17 dotted quarter note 50
18. Der stürmische Morgen /Ziemlich geschwind doch kräftig 84 17 quarter note=18 quarter note 75
19. Täuschung/Etwas geschwind 56 18 eighth note=19 eighth note 50
20. Der Wegweiser/Mässig 56 19 quarter note=20 eighth note 50
21. Das Wirthaus/Sehr langsam 56 20 quarter note=21 quarter note 50
22. Mut/Ziemlich geschwind, kräftig 84 18 quarter note=22 quarter note 75
23. Die Nebensonnen/Nicht zu langsam 42 22 quarter note=23 eighth note 38
24. Der Leiermann/Etwas langsam 56 23 triplet eighth note=24 eighth note*





As previously explained, the changing partitioning of the starting beat, quarter=56 (50) gives the impression of different speeds. However the scheme as I present it is not conclusive unless we consider additional musical clues from Schubert. Let us begin with the transition from song 4 to song 5 (Erstarrung and Lindenbaum)! Schubert gives some very specific rhythmic preparations from one song to another. In this case, the running triplet eighths of Erstarrung become the running sixteenths of Lindenbaum. The piano figure, triplet followed by dotted eighth and sixteenth, at the beginning of the second verse, "Ich mußt' auch heute wandern" (E minor) and the third verse, "Nun bin ich manche Stunden," (E major) foreshadow the piano figure in song 6, Wasserflut. Likewise, the thirty-second note figures in the second half of song 7, Auf dem Flusse beginning at the first "Erkennst du nun dein Bild?" foreshadow the running sixteenth notes in song 8, Rückblick. The most convincing clue that this scheme is not accidental is the example connecting Rückblick to song 9, Irrlicht. Schubert's rhythmic schemes are routinely consistent in general in his songs. Rhythmic figures do not appear out of nowhere. However at the end of Rückblick there appear triplet eighth notes in the voice part. This moment always surprises me when I sing the cycle. The triplets always feel as the beginning of something new rather than the end of the song, and always feel resolved in the triplet sixteenth notes that appear in the right hand of the piano part in Irrlicht. Furthermore we cannot ignore the obvious sicilienne rhythm connecting the beginning of song 11, Frühlingstraum and song 13, Die Post. The straight triplet figure in Die Post also continues in the next two songs, 14 Der greise Kopf and 15, Die Krähe. Notice that a Rückblick (a backward look) at song 8, Rückblick shows two connecting patterns: 1) the alternating left and right hand in 3/4 time (same tempo, quarter note=56(50) according to the scheme I propose). 2) At the end of the song, Schubert brings another rare triplet figure in the voice part "...wein auf meiner Hoffnung Grab."

From 17, Im Dorfe through 19, Täuschung there is a pattern of a relatively slower triple meter followed by a faster duple and then a relatively slower triple. This is the pattern observed in song 10, Frühlingstraum. There is an obvious question however. Why does my scheme allow for the same tempo, dotted quarter=56, for both song 17 (etwas langsam, somewhat slow) and song 19 (etwas geschwind, somewhat fast)? As previously explained, the partitioning of the beat gives impressions of fast or slow. In song 17, Im Dorfe, Schubert gives a sequence of long notes in the voice part followed by rare short notes. Conversely, the voice part in song 19, Täuschung, has many more short notes. The piano figures also contribute to the sense of fast or slow. The alternating sixteenth notes in 17 sound more like a trill than fast notes and actually has a slowing effect on the tempo.

The walking chords of song 20, Der Wegweiser are very reminescent of the opening song, Gute Nacht. The tempo marking is the same, Mässig. Song 21, Das Wirthaus, is the only song marked Sehr langsam. Yet I recommend the same tempo, quarter note=56. The harmonic rhythm of Das Wirthaus is really based on the half note. Even though there is movement within the half note, the harmonic changes determine the perception of speed, in this case very slow.

Song 22, Mut has the same marking (Ziemlich geschwind doch kräftig) as song 18, Der Stürmische Morgen. The two songs are similar in feeling. The former song tells of the oppression of a winter storm and the latter of resisting winter.

The tempo marking of song 23, Nicht zu langsam, gives reason to maintain quarter=42 or better said, eighth note=64. The dotted eighth-sixteenth figure and the quarter note harmonic rhythm and the occasional chromatic harmonies in between give a sense of speed that warrant the caution, Nicht zu langsam. There is also a persistent triplet in the voice part that appears occasional in the piano part as well. Once again this triplet figure prepares the return to quarter note=56.

The remaining connections are obvious. Where there is not a rhythmic pattern that foreshadows the new tempo, the pulse remains constant. Furthermore the tempo markings play at least a double role. Not only does the markings guide in deciding how the continuous pulse will be partitioned from song to song, they also give guidance with respect to subtle tempo changes in a given song. A marking like Nicht zu langsam as appears in song 23, Die Nebensonnen tells us first of all that the song is of a slow nature. Indeed the tempo marking we chose, per Dieskau/Brendel or Quasthoff/Barenboim (in this case quarter note=42 (38)) is indeed slow. The tempo marking guides us in this direction. It also gives the performers the freedom of chosing a tempo that is a few metronome clicks faster than the exact tempo relationship.

*The three places where I place the asterix relate to duple to triple or triple to duple relationships. Song 10, Frühlingstraum is the perfect example of how the construct of the song rhythmically is logical relative to duple to triple to duple changes. What happens in that song is a key for what needs to occur globally. The complete logic of the changes in song 10 establish the kind of precedence that makes less obvious cases acceptable to the listener.

Indeed as we will see in the next installment, Dieskau/Brendel will usually begin and end the song at the prescribed tempo with respect to the pulse relationship, but within the the song they take liberties with respect to text coloring or the general nature of the music. This kind of flexibility is possible when there is a clear sense of what the pulse relationship is. I should also said that a different scheme that diverges in the middle of the cycle from the one I prescribe here is possible. What does not work are random tempi that do not connect one song to the next.

Finally, I prefer quarter note=60 as a starting tempo. I believe this tempo makes for a more dynamic performance. In fact even though Dieskau/Brendel begin four clicks slower, they often accelerate in the middle of songs to arrive at a tempo that works better in those particular songs.


© 07/22/2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): Resonance and the released jaw

The idea of the "natural voice" is so froth with contradiction that it is almost foolhardy to address the many issues that contribute to the confusion. But that is the point of this blog: making sense of misconceptions and confusions. One of the issues that I find troublesome in the current pedagogy environment is the idea of singing with a closed mouth or nearly closed to be exact.

There is a reason why most vocalises are done of the [a] vowel and that most dramatic high notes are written on the [a] vowel. The baby's cry is produced on a vowel that fall on or near the [a] vowel spectrum. Both the dramatic high note and the baby's cry are meant to attract attention. They are both meant to be acoustically piercing; the high note piercing the orchestral texture and the baby's cry piercing through ambient noise and the lulling dullness of their parents' slumber.

The released jaw, consistent with a good [a] vowel releases the larynx to a lower position.

With the jaw closed touch the surface of the larynx at the thyroid cartilage (Adam's apple)
and while touching it release the jaw. The larynx automatically goes slightly lower.

The released jaw also promotes a palatal stretch without additional muscular activity. So why do many teachers promote the idea of a closed jaw or at least a closed mouth?

A well phonated tone produces important high harmonics that contribute to audibility and vowel intelligibility. Indeed those overtones are not possible if the tone is not properly phonated. In the case of improper phonation (breathy or pressed), those high overtones are not very strong. The resultant sound is then dull. To give the illusion of a "brighter" sound (not necessary a resonant sound) the singer will reduce the low harmonics. The easiest way to do this is closing the jaw, which brings the larynx up with it, thereby reducing the strength of the lower harmonics.

Another reasoning is adherence to the Italian axiom, "si canta come si parla" (one sings as s/he speaks). There is a problem with the axiom itself (already discussed on the blog). We do not speak with the intent of piercing through orchestral textures or our parent's lulling sleep, except as baby's and at parties. In other words, every day speech does not require peak acoustic output. This is particularly relevant to the production of the [i] vowel. Most of us produce an [i] with the jaw closed because it is easier to coordinate. The tongue, principal muscle of vowel formation does not need to be very active to produce an [i] when the jaw is closed. With the jaw released in the [a] position, the back of the tongue has to migrate considerably to form the [i] vowel. This is not easy for most singers. To make matters worse, the natural acoustics of the [i] vowel yield strong high partials even when the jaw is closed. Therefore there is little insentive to produce an [i] with the released jaw.

My argument is the following. The [i] vowel can yield strong high partials even when phonation is not ideal. In fact, when phonation is unbalanced, singing a closed jaw [i] vowel produces an acceptable sound. If however the jaw is released, the sound even on [i] often becomes dull. This can be confused to mean that a released jaw yields a dull sound. And this is precisely the conclusion that many teachers come to. However it is the opposite. What the release jaw does is that it reveals the nature of the phonation. If the phonation is breathy or pressed, when the jaw is released, the sound will be of poor quality. Therefore by maintaining a released jaw, we are able to uncover the inefficiency and then are required to address it. When the inefficienty is addressed, then good phonation will be the norm and be able to transfer from one vowel to the next without loss of quality.

The previous paragraph alludes to a common problem that is often discussed of discussion forums: "why is it that when I transition from [i] to [a], the [a] falls in my throat?" Because the [a] vowel requires a released jaw, the inefficiency inherent in the closed jaw [i] manifests when the jaw is released on [a].

Beyond revealing the glottal inefficiency, the released jaw makes for a better acoustical environment for vocal production. The lower laryngeal position is absolutely crucial to the operatic production (less so for Commercial Contemporary Music). A lower larynx (not depressed, but rather released when the jaw is released) promotes strong first formant resonance and gives strength to lower notes. The first formant also helps in the transition to the female middle voice and the male high voice. By maintaining the integrity of the first formant, as pitch rises, the dominance of the first formant is left behind and the influence of the second formant takes over. If however the larynx climbs (research shows that first formant values rise when the larynx rises) then the first formant will continue to follow the rising pitch and the acoustic transition from low register to high (middle for women) does not occur. Instead there would be a conflict for dominance between the two formants and the sung tone would be unstable. In fact this is the central argument for a double formant strategy. Not that both formants dominate, but that in order for one formant to dominate when it is appropriate, the other formant must not interfere.

If the larynx rises we also lose the efficiency in phonation provided by supra-glottal inertial reactance.

Each singer behaves differently and some very skilled singers are able to produce a very satisfying sound with a closed jaw. However, resonance is often weakened in a certain area of the range. Clever singers often preempt the loss of power by making an adjustment before the problems occur (e.g. bringing the chest voice higher, letting the larynx climb really high, etc). We are also willing to accept a certain loss of quality in parts of the range when the singer sings extraordinarily in the top voice. Such singers are often cited as examples of successfully singing with a closed jaw. It is crucial to give singers credit for their strengths and not for their weaknesses. A great singer can be great because of awesome stage presence, refined musicality, a strong vocal output, even while leaving much to be desired technically.

By following correct acoustic principles, it makes sense to maintain a released position on all vowels and to return to the released position after articulating consonants that require closure (fricatives in particular). Maintaining a flexibly released jaw promotes consistency in the resonance of the sound and gives an even quality from vowel to vowel. This is not easy to accomplish and requires a level of patience. When accomplished, this release reveals technical flaws that can then be addressed yielding a vocal instrument capable of maintaining stability thorugh the many changes required by the operatic repertoire.

I wish to pay tribute to Daniel Pratt, one of my early teachers who emphasized the importance of what he called "the tall [i]". Great principles stay with us through all our different stages of development.

© 07/18/2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): Heartbeats and Walking Speeds: The Inner Pulse of Schubert's Winterreise Part 1

Many musicians fall victim to the thought that great musical interpretation is spontaneously made manifest from the fertile soul of an inspired musician. Inspiration is the child of forgotten experiences. Musicality is the product of unconscious learning. With this I address a point (among many) of central importance to the interpretation of Schubert's Winterreise.

Performances of this cycle are spellbinding or painfully long. I have performed the cycle several times in my life, after many years of singing through it and researching it. My second performance was revelatory. After a well-sung first performance three months before, I was not satisfied with the fact that my very able pianist and I had decided on tempi established by others. That was never my approach to interpretation. Although that first performance was very well received, I felt something had been missing. During the three months that separated the first performance and the second, I discovered the inner pulse of the cycle. I had studied Beethoven Symphonies with Gustav Meier, who showed clearly how Beethoven's metronome markings represented metric relationships. This kind of inner pulse is also found in the music of Mozart and indeed many classical composers before and after. I thought it made sense to consider Schubert's cycles in the same manner.

Later in a conversation with one of my other masters, Dalton Baldwin, I learned that he disagreed with Hermann Prey who once told him that he felt there was a constant pulse that ran through all twenty-four songs of Winterreise. I agree with Prey. As Maestro Baldwin explained, the beat works for the first two songs but not throughout. This is however the problem! Prey meant that there was a steady pulse, not necessarily a steady beat. The former deals with a physical sensory perception related to metric values, while the latter with one exact metric value.

The pulse that Hermann Prey must have referred to, but perhaps could not articulate in theoretical terms, is based on metric values that link one song to the next, such as quarter note = dotted quarter note, or eighth-note = triplet sixteenth note, etc. Indeed there can be multiple choices for these metric relationships. In the case of Winterreise, Schubert provides tempo markings that would inform the metric relationships and provide the performers with modifiers that would allow for some flexibility relative to the exact tempo values. As will be obvious, metronome markings would have been superfluous.

A basic pulse can be made up of different subdivisions that can give the illusion of different speeds. This is the paradoxical principle that guides the steady pulse and the varying tempi in Winterreise. If the principle is followed, the chosen tempo for the first song determines the tempi for all of the songs in the cycle. Chosing the first tempo in this case is easy. The published score is marked Mässig (medium). Schubert's autograph score has in addition, In gehender Bewegung (in a walking movement). There is latitude as to the meaning of a walking tempo. Dieskau and Alfred Brendel take quarter note = circa 56, while Thomas Quasthoff and Daniel Barenboim takes quarter note = circa 50. From these values we can extrapolate the metronome markings based on the principles outlined above. Based on the opening tempi, these should be more or less the resultant tempi of the other songs:

Song/Tempo Dieskau /Brendel Quasthoff/Barenboim
1. Gute Nacht/Mässig quarter=56 quarter=50
2. Die Wetterfahne/Ziemlich geschwind dotted quarter=56 dotted quarter=50
3.Gefrorne Tränen/Nicht zu langsam half note=56 half-note=50
4. Erstarrung/Ziemlich Schnell Half note=56 half-note=50
5.Der Lindenbaum/Mässig quarter note=56 quarter note=50
6.Wasserflut/Langsam quarter note=56 quarter note=50
7.Auf dem Flusse/Langsam quarter note=56 quarter note=50
8. Rückblick/Nicht geschwind quarter note=56 quarter note=50
9. Irrlicht/Langsam eighth note=56 eighth note=50
10. Rast/Mässig quarter note=56 quarter note=50
11. Frühlingstraum/Etwas bewegt dotted quarter=56 dotted quarter=50
11a.-----------------/ Schnell 84 old quarter=new dotted quarter 75
11b.-----------------/Langsam 84 Schnell dotted quarter=langsam eighth 75
11c.-----------------/Etwas bewegt 168 Langsam 16th=Etwas bewegt eighth 150
11d. ----------------/schnell 84 same as 11a 75
11e. ----------------/langsam same as 11b
12. Einsamkeit/Langsam 56 11 dotted quarter=new quarter 50*
13. Die Post/Etwas geschwind 56 12 quarter note=13 dotted quarter note 50
14. Der greise Kopf/Etwas langsam 56 13 dotted quarter note=14 quarter note 50
15. Die Krähe/Etwas langsam 56 14 quarter note=15 eighth note 50
16. Letzte Hoffnung/Nicht zu geschwind 56 15 eighth note=16 quarter note 50
17. Im Dorfe/Etwas langsam 56 16 quarter note=17 dotted quarter note 50
18. Der stürmische Morgen /Ziemlich geschwind doch kräftig 84 17 quarter note=18 quarter note 75
19. Täuschung/Etwas geschwind 56 18 eighth note=19 eighth note 50
20. Der Wegweiser/Mässig 56 19 quarter note=20 eighth note 50
21. Das Wirthaus/Sehr langsam 56 20 quarter note=21 quarter note 50
22. Mut/Ziemlich geschwind, kräftig 84 18 quarter note=22 quarter note 75
23. Die Nebensonnen/Nicht zu langsam 42 22 quarter note=23 eighth note 38
24. Der Leiermann/Etwas langsam 56 23 triplet eighth note=24 eighth note*

Discussion

Any discussion on Winterreise requires profound considerations. I include the Dieskau/Brendel and Quasthoff/Barenboim performances for consideration because the two singers at least are generational icons relative to German Lieder. I will state upfront that I prefer the Dieskau/Brendel performance for the considerations that will be discussed in the next installments. The metric scheme is multi-layered and is a substantial part of Schubert's formal procedure. This part is an exposition of the metric considerations in the performance of this work. In the second installment I will discuss the metric scheme relative to Schubert's tempo markings and how the cycle proceeds naturally as a result. In the third installment I will discuss the two performances by Dieskau/Brendel and Quasthoff/Baremboim relative to the metric scheme discussed here.

© 07/15/2009





Kashudo (歌手道): What is a voice teacher? Inspired by a wonderful post by Susan Eichorn Young

If you have not been reading the blog: Once More With Feeling, you should. Susan Eichorn Young is a fabulous teacher that I am proud to call colleague. Her recent post called What is a Voice Teacher? is a must read. It is her own manifesto of teaching and it speaks to many of the principles that we as teachers of singing aspire to. Her post certainly made me reflect on what is important to me as a teacher, and far from contradicting her I hope that this post will complement her inspirational post.

As I am in the middle of three other posts (one on Winterreise, one on the importance of the released jaw, and one on the abdominal component of breathing), this will be somewhat brief. Indeed, I remember a conversation with Susan when we practically finished each other's thoughts. I believe as she does in the importance of challenging a student to live up to their talents, and that is a complex issue. In my opinion, the most challenging aspect of becoming a successful singer is to recognize the talent we have. In a world that is so driven by the bottom line, ageism, the fast track, entry through the backdoor or side door, I have been telling several of my students they need to slow down and wait until their package has been thoroughly prepared.

Unlike the average I do not give any worth to the obstacles that the business place before us. I firmly believe that all the isms (i.e. ageism, sexual orientation ism, religion ism, racism, height ism, size ism, you name it) are all obstacles placed there for those who need a reason to stop singing. I cannot help but be philosophical about singing. A singer will find his/her place in the firmament only by facing himself/herself. One can look at a singer and ask what is wrong. I prefer to look inside and see what is possible, and without exception, what is possible is beyond anything the singer himself/herself ever expected. But there is a catch! Is the singer willing to live up to what s/he see.

In academia, many singers were not happy with me when they were shown what they could do. I never forgot one brave, ridiculously talented young soprano who said to me: "You don't get it Dr. LaFond! I don't want to be a professional singer. I am waiting for my fiance to be ready so I can get married and become a mom." Inside myself, I was thinking: "then why are you wasting my time?" but I asked her calmly, "then why are you studying singing?" She replied because she likes it and it will be good to sing beautiful lullabies to her children. My feeling remains the same: "Why are you wasting my time then?" There is nothing wrong with a prospective mom studying music, but why aim for a degree in music if she is not going to commit the energy to be the best musician she could be? An amateur singer has the luxury of not having to worry about getting hired and therefore can be thoroughly committed to achieving the highest level possible for the love of the art form. A professional should not have to give up on this ideal in order to be marketable. Inferior quality is not compatible with professionalism.

My knowledge has grown over the years, as I would hope, but one aspect of my approach is constant and that is simply this: my instinct is to expose the student to the limitless possibilities of their talents. Their valor is determined by the degree to which they are willing to live up those possibilities. In the professional arena, the principle does not change. The working singers I teach face the same question: "Do I settle for what I can safely accomplish now, or do I reach for a higher level?" Last week, I taught a very experienced singer who knows more about the state of the operatic field than most people currently working. She is already committed to achieving her best level and so I did not have to do very much beyond showing her what was possible technically, or rather confirm what she already knew. What made that experience fun was that this singer knew herself intimately. She knew what she had accomplished but was not complacent. She felt something more was possible and sought my help. She could have gotten that help from any other competent technician. I am honored that she came to me.

In the end the answer to Susan's question, What is a Voice Teacher? might be different for every teacher and indeed every student. My answer is the following: I will show what is possible. How far you, the student go depends entirely on how far you are willing to go. Those who read my posts on the blog and on NFCS, know me superficially as a technician. But singing for me is a total journey. It is physical, it is mental, it is psychological, it is spiritual. Many would like to limit the teacher's role to what they define. The paradoxical nature of singing permits for an apparent contradiction. I am defined by the student's concept of his/her own needs. The student may also be redefined by my view of what they need to accomplish lasting success.

The process may be illustrated by the following difficult example:

A professional student came to me describing herself as a lyric and wonders what is missing in her technique. I tell her she is a coloratura and has to develop the rest of her top. This is the kind of difficult, challenging impasses we face as singers routinely. This is not just a technical challenge. It is an emotional, psychological and even spiritual challenge. Any opera singer knows how deeply we identify with our voice type. It is exponentially more difficult to make a Fach change after one has established a reputation in a different Fach. Few would understand this problem to the degree that I do. Many questions come to the mind of the singer in question:

1) Can I get those coloratura notes?
2) What coloratura roles are possible after age 30 in the current age-conscious atmosphere
3) Will my coaches and directors think I'm crazy?
4) Will my agent want to continue working with me?

These are all great questions. Why would I make a Fach recommendation in such a situation?

1) The soprano was not getting roles
2) The competition with true lyrics, especially of a younger ilk is tough
3) The high notes can be acquired in a short time if the singer is dedicated and patient
4) The singer is a natural coloratura who got away through her considerable charm doing light lyric roles
5) I hear often from directors and agents whether I have a ready-to-go Lucia or Konstanze in my studio

This is not the story of one coloratura who started as a lyric, but of many. Regardless of what people think, success in opera is about vocal impact first. It is also about not giving casting directors a reason to consider other superficial criteria, but it is about voice first. Thus, I have to make sure that the principle weapon of the singer is in good order. The most exciting repertoire for a coloratura soprano is coloratura repertoire. If the singer can take the time to make the difficult technical, emotional, psychological, spiritual change, I believe she will become more viable and ultimately stronger.

Some of those singers that I have taught have made the change successfully and some others have remained true to their lyric past. The path is ultimately the singer's and that must be respected. Yet vocal philosophy cannot be ignored. I am most at peace as a teacher when the singer's journey is in keeping with his/her vocal nature. I believe the singer would be equally peaceful.

© 07/15/2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): A traditional and revolutionary concept: A tribute to Glenn Parker

A dear friend who recently read my latest post, responded with "Gesundheit" when he saw the term, Kashudo. I had to explain that it was a concept that came to me spontaneously as I reevaluated my experiences with martial arts and most recently with Bikram Yoga. I feel a need to dedicate a post to the concept of Kashudo. The need to articulate this, as I am working on a book (a guide to the experience of studying singing), has become very important to me. In teaching I am experiencing a widening of horizons I knew could exist but that I have not really experienced to this extent during my many years as a student of singing. The one teacher who embodied this concept in a lasting way in my life is the late coach-accompanist Glenn Parker. We became particularly close while we were doing our doctorates together at the University of Michigan. But he was my greatest teacher during my undergraduate years at Westminster Choir College. Much of the philosophy of my teaching come from my experiences with him. Glenn Parker died in the late fall of 1995 (correction, February of 1996). I was in my first year of teaching at Utah State University and I remember cancelling classes for the day. It was the most devastating loss I had suffered up to that point. Because of duties at school I could not attend his memorial service in the east coast and it killed me. I never told him in just those words how much he meant to me. He asked me to sing his last doctoral recital at the U of Michigan. It was Brahms' Magelonelieder. He narrated from the piano and I sang those beautiful songs. A few years ago, in the process moving from North Carolina (yet another academic job that often feels like a waste of time in retrospect but taught me important lessons about the dark sides of human nature and the courage of a precious few), a friend from my undergraduate days took the drive with me from the South back to the Northeast where I grew up. Among the recordings in my car was a cassette of that performance with Glenn. She was also a student and friend of Maestro Parker and she was curious what our performance together might have been like. We both cried many tears, not only in solemn memory of that unique man, but also in gratitude for what he had instilled in us.



By his side, I was a fearless performer. Although my vocal technique left something to be desired, my spirit was bold and implacable. He instilled total confidence by making the music absolutely crystal-clear. Musical interpretation was not whimsical. It was a product of hours of considering musical issues objectively. He in fact was the one that taught me that the best way to perform a piece is by knowing it inside out, which made it possible to improvise in the moment without fear of going against the nature of the music. In early 1995 when we performed that cycle together, he had transformed me from being his pupil to being his colleague. He asked me questions about the piece because he knew I came completely prepared. He had seen me conduct opera and respected my musicianship. Little did he know that my entry into orchestral conducting had much to do with my desire to become as thorough a musician as he. He even shared his fears with me during that time. A kind of intimacy developed between us that I had wanted so dearly during my undergraduate years. Back then, I often felt as an outsider among the chosen few of the Westminster Choir (the smaller touring ensemble). When I finally had that joining of the spirit with him, he already had AIDS and was not to be long with us. He was only 40 years old.

Kashudo (歌手道), The Way of the Singer, is what I learned through martial arts, tennis, yoga and Glenn Parker. Those activities have nothing to do with arrival, but rather with a lifelong process of self-improvement relative to an ideal that is paradoxically attainable and fleeting. Glenn Parker in no uncertain terms made me feel that I was ready to sing now and simultaneously that on my best day I was not up to the ideal requirements of the music. I could be infinitely confident and humble at the same time.


After one year and three months of training to make the change from bass-baritone to tenor, I feel ever closer to my technical goals. I have felt limited to a full voice high B in context even though I could occasionally touch high C#. Recently, the lighter high voice that I've always had that made one teacher say I might be a Rossini tenor may years ago is now connecting to my fuller voice and becoming more substantial. The journey continues with absolute clarity. I am not in a hurry and that feels right and good.


The Way of the Singer however is not just about vocal technique. It is about musicianship at the highest level because the musical truths of a piece of music dictate what we need to accomplish technically. It is about mastery of languages because we are less complete when we do not have a total image of the complex package of information that accompanies every word; that the English word table is accompanied by different pictures in my mind when compared to the exact same word table in French. It is about a philosophy of people, how they interact in this life, and indeed what this life and the experiences therein (both emotionally subjective and empirically objective) mean to us as a collective of souls. It is about the obvious significance of art and artists in our lives and the paradoxical devaluation of them in our daily existence.


Every artist has had many significant apprenticeships. I should honor each of my masters and probably will right here over time. My significance as an operatic artist, with all the disciplines I have had to experience, took shape in the presence of that magnificent teacher who inspires Love even though he has been physically gone for almost 15 years. We have all had such teachers. In a time when the operatic art form seems more precarious than ever, we need to be confident, bold and indeed humble before the art itself, in order to speak the truth as we see it, forgetting for a few moments the political fallout that might threaten our career aspirations. The careers of artists is about bringing light to the darkness, about investing our souls to bring out change in the narrow minds of those who value material goods over substantial humanity. The operatic art form maybe becoming a business first and an art last, but none of us need to take it lying down. That is the meaning of Kashudo. It is a means of changing our art form from within ourselves. By developing our inner potential, we dare our colleagues to meet us at that level. If each of us is true to himself and the depths of his/her potential, then all the managers will be compelled and happy to sell a substantial product as opposed to just one that can be packaged, the general managers can concentrate on making money since the artistic product is of such quality. In the end, we can change the art form to the ideals that we hold dear simply by holding ourselves to those ideals. That is the meaning of Kashudo. That is the eternal lesson of Maestro Glenn Parker.

None of this is new. It only seems new when we as artists have forgotten our calling. I do not have the luxury of forgetting because the spirit of Glenn Parker lives in me forever as it does all of his students, many of them very famous opera singers, and pianists and conductors.

I miss you Glenn!

© 07/02/2009