Saturday, March 12, 2016

Kashu-do Teacher Training: One Student's Experience

Reflections on Tai Chi and Voice Training
Michael Brown

In August of 2015, I attended the Kashu-Do Voice Studios Teacher training and Härnosands Summer Opera Academy and Festival in Härnosand, Sweden.  This program was designed by Dr. Jean-Ronald LaFond as an intensive Operatic training camp based on his philosophy of voice training.  As Dr. LaFond has stated:  


“The aim of Kashu-do (歌手道) Studios is to bridge the gap between where the singer is and where they need to be in order to be viable, marketable and employable. There is no great mystery here, for singers must have certain skills and it takes time to acquire those skills. The greatest lie that is continuously propagated is that talent is a gift. Talent is an inspiration developed by hard work. The singers I love to teach must sing and they will not take no for an answer. Their lives will take many twists but they will stay the course.”


  He has based much of his voice teaching philosophy around lessons learned studying Kung-Fu and Tai Chi Chuan, and daily Tai Chi classes for the entire community are a central part of the Opera Academy.  
The teacher training that preceded the academy was a week-long intensive that looked into how we as voice teachers effectively assist voice students in their goals while rooting our teaching in a solid foundation of physiological knowledge.  There was a general acknowledgement that while there were certain objective elements to be found in voice function, the process of applying complex ideas practically in a voice studio setting could be highly subjective, and that none of us had all the answers.  What follows is a reflection on my experiences and lessons learned, not only from my time at the program in Sweden but in my own study of both Tai Chi Chuan and singing.
I am not certain if I was looking for any mind-shattering revelations about singing and voice teaching when I chose to attend a three-week program this past summer built around the intersection of Tai Chi and Operatic Singing.  I was perhaps looking more for confirmation of my own instincts as a voice teacher and as a singer who has struggled for years to figure out how to reach my own vocal potential.  In sixteen years of voice lessons and ten years as a teacher, I have experienced both triumphs and failures, and I have had both positive and extremely negative experiences working with voice teachers.  I have immersed myself in literature to find some sort of objective understanding of the often nebulous terminology we casually throw around in voice studios.  And in all of this I have dealt with an all-too-common anxiety about my own skill with which many singers and voice teachers seem to struggle.  
It was during a year of studying Tai Chi Chuan, primarily for personal fitness reasons, that I found that the most traditional approaches to teaching Tai Chi Chuan as a physical art are very similar to the old ways of training singers as found in the accounts of the 18th and 19th century Italian schools of singing.  In applying these approaches to my own practice and, by extension, to how I encouraged my voice students to develop their technique, I found that there are pedagogical approaches that exist within both traditions that can be very powerful in developing crucial skills.


Day One of Kashu-Do Teacher Training in Nyland, Sweden:  The first order of business after Tai Chi and breakfast is to get introduced to each other and our backgrounds.   As the only member of the teacher team who had not previously worked with Dr. Jean-Ronald LaFond, I am first.  I talk about being one year into a doctoral degree in vocal performance after 8 years teaching and studying in Washington, DC.  I speak about the two attempts (one successful) to switch fach from Baritone to Tenor.  I mention the fact that I found this program from a Facebook connection after I had taken up Tai Chi in South Carolina primarily to fulfill some personal fitness goals. I am warmly welcomed, but I start to feel a bit out of my depth as the other members of the teacher training program speak about being on contract in European Opera Houses or having 20+ years of teaching and performing experience.  One member of the teacher training, Dr. Katherine Osborne, has recently completed her doctoral degree with Scott McCoy as her advisor.  There is a consistent theme I pick up on, however:  Everyone is completely open about their personal struggles both as singers and teachers, and no one claims to have completely solved them.  The mindset is that we are all here to learn from each other in open, frank, discussion.


The rich parallels between Tai Chi Chuan and classical singing are intriguing. For one, the art turns out to be deeper and more complex than most would assume.  While the term Tai Chi is often associated in the West with a long, elaborate set of movements, this is only one of five aspects of a rich tradition that is rooted in Chinese philosophy and cosmology.  Dan Docherty’s concise description of the art is:


“Tai Chi Chuan is . . .  . . .a chuan governed by the changes of Yin and Yang.  For martial purposes Yin is soft or indirect, while Yang is hard or direct.  Soft is not necessarily better than hard, or vice versa;  it’s a matter of using whatever is most appropriate under an existing set of circumstances. . .   . . . Beyond this, we need to be able to switch from Yin to Yang or Yang to Yin with ease.”


The five aspects of the art are the hand form (Tao Chuan), pushing hands exercises (Tui Shou), self-defense (San Shou),  weapons, and internal strength exercises (Nei Kung).  In working through all aspects of this art, students are able to work towards physical and mental well-being.  Likewise, singers that seek to maximize their vocal potential need to engage in training that is not always clear to the outsider.  Audiences will readily see the finished product of a song or aria, but they are often unaware of the training and exercise that is required to accomplish that one aspect.
Looking toward the requirements of the art, the movements of the Tai Chi hand form demand a sense of “physical legato” in which there is constant connectedness in the slow sequence of movements and a sense of simultaneous stillness and energy.  The foundation for the flow of chi, or energy, comes from a sense of rootedness into the earth and a sense of the breath filling into the lower dantien, the area three inches below the navel and three inches into the body.  One sees both best practices in posture alignment and breathing in these ideas, elements which easily transfer to critical areas that singers deal with.  
Beyond the external parallels, there are internal elements to the art of Tai Chi Chuan that offer perspective on the challenges singers face.  In the world of Chinese Martial Arts, Tai Chi Chuan is categorized as belonging to the Nei Jia Chuan, or the internal family of martial arts.  This means, among other things, that the sequence of movements that encompasses the Tai Chi form, and even the other four aspects, are considered a means to an end, not necessarily an end in and of itself.   Those that practice Tai Chi Chuan are in the end working towards a sense of mental and physical stillness that have applications in fighting and self-defense as well as in general well-being.  In martial application, the theory is that a peaceful mindset is crucial in self-defense situations.  If one panics, then it is easy to lose the advantage.  On the other hand, an individual who is able to maintain a clear head in these situations is able to yield to and redirect an opponent’s energy in a way which will end the conflict quickly.  Doing this often requires doing the opposite of what a panicked instinct would suggest, and this can only be accomplished through disciplined mental training.  It is for this reason that one of the foundational exercises in Tai Chi is the standing meditation, where the goal is simply to stand in wu chi stance, close one’s eyes, and quiet the mind.  Students are encouraged to make their goal to be able to do this for thirty minutes.  
While the act of singing is not a self-defense situation, there are useful lessons to be learned from the way martial artists train both mentally and in terms of muscular coordination.  Dr. LaFond refers to opera singers “doing battle” with orchestras:


“The Opera singer is a special vocal athlete. The fact that someone can make a pretty vocal sound does not mean they are ready to do battle with an operatic orchestra, without a microphone. The Opera singer must win this fight every time. This incredible battle is won by a singer’s innate acoustic superiority in relation to the orchestra, providing the singer is using all the resources available to him/her. Though this superiority depends on acoustic law, the muscles of the throat and of the respiratory system must be strong enough to generate and transform the powerful compression of air inside the lungs into an acoustical energy of a very specific kind.”


In the context of Opera in particular, it is true that singers are training to reach the pinnacle of what the human voice can accomplish without electronic amplification.  To accomplish this requires training one’s mind and body into the opposite of what natural instinct suggests.  While one is aiming to focus the flow of energy in the form of air vibrations in such a way that maximizes sound output, this is done in high pressure situations that can cause the unprepared performer to become paralyzed by nervous instinct.  
It doesn’t take much to acknowledge what often seems like the utter absurdity of what the trained singer is asked to do.  They must be relaxed, yet energized.  They must sing soft dynamics that project.  And the highest level singers are asked to be completely open and vulnerable when performing, yet operate in a business environment that requires a thick skin.


Days Two through Five of Teacher Training:  There has been rich, open discussion in both formal and informal settings on everything from the physiology of vocal function to the current environment in European opera houses.  Ron LaFond and Dr. Osborne have facilitated discussion regarding some recent research regarding the vibrating surface of the vocal fold;  an understanding that in many ways reconciles longstanding debates between advocates of “top down training,”  “bottom up training,” and “middle out training,”  while adding new dimension to the old Italian concept of “chiaroscuro.”    I find this reflective of the philosophy that underpins our Tai Chi exercises each morning before breakfast;  we must find a point of relaxation and energy that is not a compromise between the two seemingly opposing concepts, but the simultaneous presence of those two elements.
Beyond the daily discussions, it is during the morning standing meditation that I am confronting the roots of my own challenges.  We are encouraged to relax and “be” during the meditation, but this becomes difficult as I’m determined to do things “right.”  The two goals seem at cross purposes, as an over-determination to “make” the right result happen results in undue tension which prevents that result.  My own approach to singing has fallen into the same pitfall time and again.  


The underlying philosophies of the Chinese martial arts school, or gwan, demand an environment conducive to attentive, detail oriented learning.  In my work at the Columbia Tai Chi center for the year prior to the singing program in Sweden, I was introduced to an environment that balanced respect for more experienced students with the understanding that on a certain level, everyone is a student and has room for improvement.  The philosophy of Wu De demands that students repeat what they are given to work on until they are given something new;  it is considered inappropriate to demand new material from one’s teacher.  The result is an approach toward learning the art that is very slow, yet highly effective in building a solid foundation for the art.  In my personal work, certain moves in the forms have required repetition, correction, and repetition for months before I was allowed to move on to the next part.  The approach has been known to frustrate students, but those who have had the patience realize the value in the end.  Sifu Wes Adams, the owner and head instructor at the Columbia Tai Chi center, acknowledges the difficulty for students and often jokes that it is a small miracle he stayed in business with the often excruciatingly slow approach he takes to teaching the art.
Additionally, the basic exercises in developing Tai Chi Chuan are considered critical to success in the art.  It is often said that anyone who has become a master of the art has at some point gone back to the most basic fundamentals reworked them, sometimes for a span of years.  It is not uncommon during instruction to have a group of students that span multiple levels of experience all spend a significant period of time on fundamental skills such as basic stances or forward walking.  No one who studies the art is considered too good to go back and revisit the basics.  
Teachers of singing face this same dilemma;  those of us who have spent time studying the physiology and reading the literature know that real vocal change and development takes time.  The legends of our tradition acknowledge the fact;  we have the disputed story of Nicola Porpora giving the castrato Cafarelli one page of exercises to work on for six years and then dismissing him with the statement that he was at that point the “greatest singer in Europe.”  Additionally, accounts of European conservatory training in the 17th through 19th centuries emphasize an almost militaristic approach to musical training in general.  Given the knowledge we have in the modern age coupled with the tradition, it seems that the raw repetition of certain fundamentals should be a cornerstone of vocal development in aspiring singers.  We are, however, expected to often deliver rapid results in the form of public performances.  The tension between offering good training and achieving business success is a palpable one.


Day Eight, the end of Teacher Training and the beginning of the Opera Academy:  With the voice teachers relocated to Härnosands Folkhogskola and fifty more students added to the mix, things are much bigger and busier.  Dr.LaFond addresses the large group at the Tai Chi class before breakfast, and states that above all, this is the most important element of the program in terms of bringing our community together each day.  After Tai Chi, breakfast, and announcements, the event affectionately referred to as “Death by Aria” commences.  Every student at the academy gets up and sings something.  I am with the teachers furiously taking notes on what I am hearing, but over the course of the day I am floored by certain performances.  A young tenor decides to attempt “Mes amis,” and does quite well.  Another individual is incredibly nervous in front of the group and then proceeds to floor us with a stunning lyric rendition of a Lied.  The Academy participants run the gamut;  some are post-high school students at the Folkhogskola, some are active professionals in Europe, and some are community amateurs.  There is no pretense that any one singer is more “worthy” than another, but instead a shared goal of everyone finding improvement during the program.  


Martial Arts and Singing have both had their share of contentious arguments in terms of best practices and pedagogical approaches.  Singing has perhaps had the easier time, due to the fact that there has been less opportunity for these disagreements to erupt into physical violence. Nonetheless, both arts deal with long histories full of unverifiable legends and descriptive vocabulary developed from empirical practice prior to the advent of modern scientific understanding.  
How to retain the integrity of the art while adapting to a modern environment remains a challenge for both Tai Chi Chuan and Singing.  Some teachers will hold fast and hard to a single technique or approach while dismissing others and lamenting the impending death of the art.  Others will do their best to carve out a middle ground.  Sifu Adams, in discussing small and large differences between approaches in Tai Chi Chuan, has said that correct question to ask when dealing with these conflicts is not “what are they doing,” but “why are they doing what they are doing?”   Understanding the root problems that differing techniques are trying to address can bring about common ground, and ultimately results in better experiences for students.  This inquisitive and flexible approach seems to spring from the philosophies inherent in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan, and is seen in the outlook presented by Dan Docherty.  In looking at both the history and modern practice of the art, he comes to an interesting conclusion:


“The majority of Tai Chi Chuan practitioners only practise a few aspects of the art, and in most cases are also only aware of a few, and this applies to Chinese and non-Chinese alike.  Furthermore, despite claims to the contrary, no-one alive today is practising precisely the art that Yang Lu-Chan brought with him to Beijing around 1852.  Since that time, successive generations of teachers have added to, and just as often have subtracted from the art;  moreover in many cases the additions have been as detrimental as the subtractions.  Nevertheless we must accept that any art, if it is to thrive, must develop and change to fit the circumstances of the society in which it exists.”


In the long and storied history of singing and teaching singing, there are the same desires for both integrity within our tradition and adaptability to the modern environment.  Voice teaching communities would do well to take a lesson from Tai Chi Chuan and see that it is possible to maintain a tradition while acknowledging the changes that occur over time.
The Summer Opera Academy in Härnosand seemed to embrace the idea of different perspectives in pursuit of the same goal in the way student lessons were structured.  Over the course of the two week academy, each student took lessons with four different teachers.  In setting up voice lessons this way, students were able to gain a multitude of perspectives in a short period of time.  The result was that each student was indeed able to grow and learn over the course of the two-week intensive.


The End of the 2015 Opera Academy:  The two weeks became so hectic that it became difficult to summarize every single day. I taught lessons to eight different students and took lessons myself with four different teachers.  I sang in three student concerts, one teacher ensemble concert, and a public masterclass with George Shirley.  I found that my own approach to singing changed, but importantly, I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin as both a performer and a teacher. I had started teacher training feeling like the least of the teachers, but during the Academy I had a number of participants tell me in casual conversation that I had (somehow) managed to tell them and others exactly what they needed to hear at certain times.  In a practical sense, the daily routine of exercise, breakfast, practice, rehearse, teach, etc.  left me feeling that the two-week academy had truly embodied Wu Chi and Tai Chi, stillness and movement, in that during those days I had felt very internally peaceful despite a packed schedule.  Moreover, the community I had worked with over the three weeks felt like a new-found family.  Since returning to my work in South Carolina, I have continued to correspond with my fellow teachers and students from Härnosands Opera Academy, not hesitating to check in if I have a question about a student I am working with or a struggle in my own singing.  The experience changed me, and continues to do so.

Bibliography


Docherty, Dan.  Complete Tai Chi Chuan.  Crowood, 1997.
LaFond, Dr. Jean-Ronald.  “Kashu-Do:  The Philosophy.”  <http://www.kashudo.com/kashu-do-philosophy>.  Accessed 12-8-2015.



For more information about Kashu-do Teacher Training and Härnösand Summer Opera Academy and Festival, please visit www.kashudo.com


21st Century Immediate Gratification: Abandoning Bel Canto Principles

Would you prefer to crack a high C while attempting to execute "proper technique"? Or would you prefer getting an acceptable result doing something you know is not totally correct?

Well, if its proper technique it should result in a good high C! Or if it produces an acceptable result it must be an acceptable technique! Right?

I will put it a different way:  You are singing a series of arpeggios.  Beginning from the low range and going up by half tones until you get to the high C.  Every scale up to high B natural (si naturale) is perfectly balanced.  Then you get to the high C arpeggio and it cracks.  Do you continue with your technique or do you look for a different approach to the high C?

Well if the technique is not working for the high C, I'll make a change to get that note! Besides, there are those that say that there is a different register at play at high B.

Yet the high B worked perfectly with the standard technique.  So would you cheat a little just to get an acceptable high C?

Totally!


---------------------------------------------------------

The above was a hypothetical conversation, but I've had this talk with professional singers and it is at once understandable and sad.  In our times few pedagogues make a difference between muscular development and the proper coordination of the instrument.  The Bel Canto incorporated both training and the proper use of the instrument.

Imagine you have a formula 1 car that can get to 320 kilometers per hour.  The fastest speed recorded is 372.6 kph, a considerable difference.  So what are you going to do to get your car up to speed? You may have to redesign the motor, work on the efficiency of the exhaust system, work of the material the car is made up of, consider the traction vs. friction of the tires, etc.  In other words, you must consider what structural condition the machine is in, as to why it cannot reach speeds higher than 320 kph.  Likewise...

Is your instrument structured for a high C?

I have sung several high Cs and posted on this blog.  Yet, I cannot say that high C is a note I trust in context.  In a reading of Otello, I got one out in the third act duet but it was a borderline scream--Not very technically correct or beautiful in any way.  That most tenors just scream it is no excuse.  I heard Alexanders Antonenko sing a beautiful, well-supported C in that situation at Carnegie Hall (NY) a few years ago and it was dramatically and vocally thrilling. So it can be done correctly.  Today in my practice I warmed up to a comfortable high C# and I could have gone to a D.  But I did not go further because in the last two weeks a B had been the norm.  Today I felt my breath coordination and my throats ability to deal with the appropriate sub-glottal pressure were both improved.  I understood that other than taking lines out of context, my tendency was to reduce my support as I went up.  The throat has to grow and the support system in general had to get stronger.  Now I can approach a high C the way I approach every other high note.  It is not a new register.  It is still F2 (second formant dominant) and balances well with the SF (singer's formant).  It can be a great note when I support fully, without necessarily increasing volume.  Increasing volume is often accompanied by a little squeeze at the level of the folds.  With a robust voice, one cannot sing too many high Cs that way.  It was necessary both to maintain adequate support and reduce volume ever so slightly.  I did it several times.

What I see with today's youth is an obsession with a result in the moment.  So a typical practice session is about "how do I get that high C?" "How many ways can I twist myself into a pretzel to get that high note, or to make that long phrase?"  There is only one way!  The same way that got you the arpeggios up to a solid high B is the same way that will get you a solid high C.  Two years ago you only had a G, now you have a B.  Just keep working in the same way to achieve your C, realizing that maybe the support system needs to get stronger or the laryngeal musculature needs to be able to resist the breath adequately without losing balance. Answer:

Ain't nobody got time for that!



Ain't nobody got time for real training!
Ain't nobody got time for trench work!
Ain't nobody got time for things that are difficult in the beginning!
Ain't nobody got time for the vision that something that was once difficult, with real invested and focused practice, can become easy.

Instead:

Is there a pill that can fix this?

Operatic singing like any discipline requires resilience and determination and the willingness to do the difficult work in order to present something extraordinary.  

A propos, I have been reading a novel by the legendary writer, George Sand, lover to Frederic Chopin and socialite who had in her salons the likes of Franz Liszt and Paganini.  A lover of the art of singing, she wrote a novel that takes place in the 18th century (one century before her time) detailing the experiences of a talented young singer Consuelo, who became one of Porpora's best students.  The comparison between the dedicated Consuelo and her naturally talented boyfriend with facile top notes but little refinement could have been written about singers today.  Teachers of the Bel Canto complained as early as the early 17th Century less than a half century after the establishment of the principles of Bel Canto singing that the "Old School" had been lost.  Every generation gives us a few singers that remind us of a time when fundamentals were essential and artistry depended as much on technical development as it did on charisma.  Now it is shine that trumps substance! Charisma and good looks over technique and artistry.

Today, top singers do not last beyond 50 years of age, an age when the great singers of the past were only beginning to peak! Ageism, lookism, racism, etc...These are much easier to implement than to wait for talent to mature.

© March 12, 2016


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Belcanto in a Vacuum: Coordination Without Structure

My process when I meet a student for the first time is to discover to what degree they have developed the structural vocal instrument and then how well they understand how that instrument should be utilized.  The latter depends entirely on the former.  What good is it to speak about "reducing" pressure when going towards the top of the voice" if the student has not yet developed a tone? A weak tone means either weak or compensatory breathing strategies, "off-the-voice" effects that is supposed to pass for artistry and therefore uncomfortable, cramped and unfocused interpretations, usually lacking in personal emotional involvement.  If only many of those hiring could tell the difference in a small audition room!!!

A student of mine sent me an interesting video about Bel Canto Breathing.  Nothing on this video is wrong! From a position of experience, I find this video very interesting and instructive.  When I think of what would happen if a young student tried to take this video as a lesson (as many do), I tremble.  The person instructing has a very well developed voice and makes a convincing sound.  Naturally there are things one could improve there as well, as with everyone!  More importantly, in the discussion about breathing, the discussion is always on the "How!" One is left with the sensation that one must access this muscle or that in order to have control of the breath.  It is also said in this video that breath for speaking requires much less breath than for singing.  I would say that depends on what kind of speaking.  If one listened to Piero Cappuccilli speaking, or even the moderator in the following video, one realizes that this is not an average voice speaking. Cappuccilli speaks the way he sings (if a little lazier in this interview.  He had just flown from the Canary Islands, he said early in the interview).  Furthermore at 7:50 in the video Cappuccilli said:

"sicome da bambino non ho mai avuto voce bianca, ma invece avevo una voce da tenore..." (Since as a child I never had a white voice [boy soprano; baby voice] but instead I had the voice of a tenor...)
He continues to say he imitated Gigli singing popular songs.


Cappuccilli's statement about his childhood, as well as the robust voices of both moderator and interviewee are significant in that Italians tend to have well-developed voices.  The nature of the extroverted Mediterranean culture combined with the limited vocalic content in the Italian language make for very primal emotional expression.  Primal in sound and therefore primal in the breathing that supports such sound.  Some singers develop in environments that help develop the voice naturally, unconsciously and others who become great singers have had to build their instruments, and the breathing strength that must accompany it, from weak speaking habits and daily usage . That is most of us mortals.  But mortals can rise to the firmament of operatic legends. Not everyone comes to this the same way. Here is a take of a recent recording session captured on the side by my iPhone.


 

This period is an exciting one for me! The voice is now coordinating as it should.  This was a song I sang a lot as a baritone and as any singer who had a strong Lieder upbringing, we have a tendency to make effects and sing off the voice, as I do at 2:35 (Sie verstehn des Busenssehnen, kennen Liebesschemerz).

A change from lyric baritone to Heldentenor is not as easy as it seems.  One of my students who went through a similar change once said to me: "Do you realize that as lyric baritones our first cares were elegance and gentleness? Now as dramatic tenors, power and stentorian top notes seems to be our first priority."  I replied at the time that elegance and gentleness is still a part of what we aspire to just as there were moments as lyric baritones when power and high notes were just as important (Valentin, Silvio, very vocal roles).

Yet on the whole, he was correct.  Correct because we both had to build the vocal structure and accompanying breath support required to become viable tenors.  It felt like a total change of personality; a psychological challenge to be sure. I recorded Max's aria from Der Freischütz on the same day (too bad the iPhone was not on for that bit. Have to wait for the final cut), and it was Schubert times ten.  The amount of breath compression needed on a continual basis to prevent compensation from the throat is extraordinary.  What I got away with as a lyric baritone was inadequate.  Had I learned to support my voice as a young baritone the way I do now, I would have figured out early that I was actually a robust tenor and even as such I could have been more convincing in the baritone repertoire as well. Ramon Vinay, as Domingo now, sang many baritone roles after he stopped as one of the world's leading Otellos and Tristans.  In a sense I had to become a tenor to learn what it is really like to fully support the voice.

The video I received also suggests that singers should study with those who have proven that they know how to sing and have had major careers.  I don't need to poke holes in that theory.  We only need to look on Youtube and see how some of the greatest singers fail miserably as teachers.  Teaching like every other skill requires time.  I've been doing it for 30 years, and I get better at it every day.  Still I take the challenge of the video, because I don't believe that one can continue to grow as a teacher if one is not actively dealing with his/her own voice no matter what stage of our development we are in.  I estimate my best days are ahead.

The main point of this blog edition is that the principles of the  Bel Canto are simply that: principles. Understanding them relative to not only the coordination of some functions but all functions is crucial.

How does an undeveloped instrument behave? The teacher cannot get great results unless the instrument is physically developed.  Teachers who came out with naturally evolving instruments are not aware of this and call a student untalented when they cannot get results using their usual bag of tricks.

Involuntary coordination or physical manipulation? Whether breathing or phonation or resonance, teachers have a tendency to teach the last sensation they had, whether a new muscular sensation or a new resonance sensation.  The fact is that a well-developed instrument responds to the need to express, without exceptional controlling of one muscle or another.  Once the singer knows what his/her complete voice sounds and feels like, s/he begins to expect that sound (it takes some singers very long to accept the newly developed sound).  Once the expected sound is the singer's true vocal timbre, the body begins to work to "support" the production of that sound.  However in the case of transformed voices (from weak and unsupported to strong and well-supported), the breathing mechanism that drives the new more robust instrument often lags behind, especially with dramatic voices in small bodies, who heretofore conveniently sang more lyrical, lower-tessitura repertoire.

The singing process is rather simple in a sense.  But the specific inadequacies of the individual singer can cause the process to appear very complicated and very difficult. A teacher must not be afraid to put the student through a thorough development program for an operatic voice.  Some freelance teachers are afraid to lose a student (must pay the rent) and so lower the bar.  The better approach would have been to help a few students develop greatly and thereby develop a reputation. Singers are more willing to spend the time if they know there are results ahead.  Some school teachers are burdened with juries and a need to show their colleagues they are good teachers. So they rush the process or try to find students who are already physically developed so they look good.

How many great artistic souls who love classical singing and want to do it but never find the teacher who is invested in helping them develop their weak voices, or musicianship or language challenges or physical limitations?

Thousands upon thousands, who never stop singing for the love of it.  Then someday in their advanced years you hear something extraordinary and wondered why they did not do this earlier. They were discouraged instead of helped but late in life found the right teacher.  Those are more important to me than those who develop their voices naturally and take their talent for granted.  Operatic talent is multi-dimensional: text, music, voice, acting/presence, poetry, history, dance, psychology, physical strength, etc...Who are we to count anyone out? Only the singer can count him/herself out.

For my part I love teaching beginners just as much as I love working details and advanced concepts with one of my professionals. I am a better teacher when I take a new beginner with no experience whatsoever.  Not all such singers have what it takes to grow to fully developed singers. But how do you know until you work with them?

Few cared to work with me when I began my difficult process from lyric baritone to tenor.  Now everyone has a piece of advice for making it better.  I have many coach-pianists who advise me.  But the voice teacher to whom I will hand my voice faithfully, must understand what the last 8 years of my life have been like to get from there to here.  I'm always open to advice, but I take all advice in context and process it. Bel Canto in a Vacuum is not my cup of tea.

© March 10, 2016