Let it here be noted that Lilli Lehmann’s was one of those voices known as a “soprano sfogato,” having in the head register a thin yet ethereal quality which she used to bring down into the medium as well, until it dropped naturally and often suddenly into the chest tone. This equalization of the scale downwards explained her ability to sing for long periods without fatigue and also to undertake the heaviest as well as the lighter soprano roles. Thus her coloratura was exceptionally smooth and brilliant, whilst at the same time she could declaim to perfection the most dramatic of Mozart’s recitatives. She was thus directly in the line of Jenny Lind, Tietjens and Ilma di Murska, and happily equipped to illustrate in an enduring form the art which they practised so superbly…Herman Klein, The Liili Lehmann Records (Herman Klein and the Gramophone).
Today’s post is about the importance of training daily to bring your head voice downwards. This was the way I was trained by Beatrice Webster and Isabel Cunningham. Beatrice was as a student of Lucie Manen. Accordingly, we are talking here, via via, about the same school.
The daily technique I have demonstrated on the technique page of this website should be understood in this paradigm. I was not taught to shove the breath through and focus on the middle voice. No. I was taught to caress the glottis, stream the air efficiently and focus on bringing the head voice downwards. This is why my voice has not been destroyed by my broad repertoire in the past and years of not singing at all because I was reading law! My gratitude goes to my teachers.
When I sing a single tone I can give it much more power, much more palatal or nasal resonance, than I could give in a series of ascending tones. In a musical figure I must attack the lowest note in such a way that I can easily reach the highest. I must, therefore, give it much more head tone than the single tone requires.Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing.
You need the head voice/ head tone for the equalization of your voice. It is your warmth. Projection. Longevity. Colour. Flexibility. Below is a demonstration of an exercise on ‘i’. It is difficult to hear the volume because my iPhone condenses everything but sing the exercise ‘pp’. Use this exercise to soar upwards with an ethereal quality then bring the ethereal quality downwards. In addition, do what Lilli Lehmann says to do in the quote above.
The ‘i’ exercise is excellent for bringing your head tones downwards. I also use the ‘ng’ exercise for this as well. These exercises are how I begin my daily practice. I sing pianissimo and start in the upper part of my voice. The chest will always be there. It is the head voice and all of its benefits that so easily vanishes!
Always think this way. The way Lilli Lehmann describes in the quote above. Every exercise, every phrase, every moment.
The purpose of my project – what I have fondly named ‘The Lilli Lehmann Project’ – is to use Lilli Lehmann as a point of reference. I will not be solely referring to her, as you can probably guess from my other blog posts which refer to other Historical Vocal Pedagogy. Accordingly, I checked Hermann Klein’s book. Hermann Klein was a student of Manuel Garcia. On Page 37, Klein teaches the blending of the registers and equalization of tones. Klein says to do what Lilli Lehmann did and what I was shown by my teachers. He has this to say.
…the student is required as soon as possible to become familiar with head tone, and be able to attack it with ease and certainty. It should be sung lightly, not fortissimo, or even forte; with abundant breath support, with a somewhat open throat, and a distinct sensation of resonance upon the front teeth, the hard palate, and in the “forward” cavities of the masque.Hermann Klein, The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia, page 37.
May I be clear that equalization is not only about blending the two registers until they sound as one. Equalization, just like on a music player, whether it be your iPhone, car stereo etc, is about playing around with tonal colours until your voice sounds balanced. Refer to my past post on voice characters where I demonstrate the light coloratura, lyric and dramatic qualities.
Here is an example. The light coloratura quality can easily sound hollow if there is not enough imposto.
Below is an example whereby my sound was lacking the imposto. I recorded it on my iPhone. It sounded hollow so I sang the F scale for half an hour trying to balance the sound. I began the scale at the top and sang downwards adding the imposto. Here is a before and after example. Even though my voice was tired for the last version, I think the sound is better equalized.