I am enjoying a book at the moment called “Great Singers on the Art of Singing” by James Francis Cook. One of the fascinating things I am noticing is that some of the Great Singers were self-taught. Galli-Curci, pictured above, one of the greatest singers of all time, was largely self-taught. Other examples were Charles Dalmores and Giuseppe Campanari.
These self-taught singers all discuss their thoughts on teaching oneself. Here is what Giuseppe Campanari has to say about deciding on a method:
No one man ever has had, has, or ever will have, a “method” superior to all others, for the very simple reason that the means one vocalist might employ to reach artistic success would be quite different from that which another singer, with an entirely different voice, different throat and different intellect, would be obliged to employ.Giuseppe Campanari, Great Singers on the Art of Singing, by James France Cook.
The three singers above, Galli-Curci, Dalmores and Campanari were all fine musicians. In addition, all had access to live Opera, all spoke many languages, all were well-educated generally and, above all else, all three had a plan.
This brings me to my topic today. Becoming an Opera Singer requires, amongst other things, a plan.
In general, a plan should start with the singer laying strong foundations. However, it seems many young people today are not prepared to lay these foundations. Here is an example. I have been asked many times to teach. I would invite the parent/student for a chat. During this chat, I would discover the student had virtually no general artistic education. Accordingly, my first advice was the student should enrol their child with a instrumental teacher, preferably piano, and a drama group. If the student was older, I suggested they also take at least one language at school, preferably Italian. I insisted singing relies on strong foundations. I could see the eyes of the parent/student glaze over.
Making a plan increases efficiency. Here is my own example. At the beginning of this year, I decided to refresh my voice to teach. Now, I feel technically ready to sing 19th century repertoire and am beginning to learn entire roles, starting with Lucia. If I had of been told this at the beginning of the year, when I was still singing contemporary repertoire with a slightly different technique, I would have said this was nuts.
Why the fast progress?
I have a plan.
A plan allows me to target my personal needs.
Here is what Galli-Curci has to say:
It was no easy matter to give up the gratifying success which attended my pianistic appearances to begin a long-term of self-study, self-development. Yet I realized that it would hardly be possible for me to accomplish what I desired in less than four years.Amelita Galli-Curci, Great Singers on the Art of Singing, by James France Cook. Emphasis added.
Please note her words “…what I desired…”. In other words, Galli-Curci knew what her goal was. This goal focussed her on a plan to address the priorities. She says:
I did not require musical knowledge, but needed special drill.Amelita Galli-Curci, Great Singers on the Art of Singing, by James France Cook.
Vast amounts of money is spent on singing teachers but I wonder how many students sit with their teachers and discuss their deepest desires for their voice? For some, it may be safer not to do so. Even the greatest teachers can misjudge true potential. For others, it may be vital because the teacher can help the student tailor their musical/singing education. This tailoring will give the student purpose. For example, contemporary classical singing, of which I did a lot of, requires years of instrumental training because 20th Century music requires an ability to sing intellectually difficult music. Whereas, some singers can ‘get away with’ less instrumental training for other periods of music. Another example, a student with stage fright would benefit from joining the local drama/musical society chorus. Stage fright can be soothed with frequent walking of the boards.
I hope, as I venture forth into singing teaching, I will encourage singers to make a plan. How to begin to make a plan? It starts with a dream!