Today’s reading included Richard Miller’s book ‘Solutions for Singers: Tools for Performers and Teachers’. On page 201, Miller addressed a question about the sharing of information between studios. This caught my interest today.
It was always a part of my training that teachers and coaches would allow me to record my lessons. I was grateful for this because I realised so much can be overlooked in a lesson.
Now, as an emerging teacher, I encourage students to record lessons. Accordingly, it was amusing to read this passage in Miller’s book. Miller describes a few examples of teachers who do not allow recordings or other teachers to sit in on lessons. (Miller disapproves of this practice, of course).
I have my own fun example. This week, a teacher where I am teaching this term, SOLE Music Academy, and I exchanged lessons. I had questions about microphone techniques for classical singers. A question which is so important in today’s performance world due to outdoor concerts. I learnt a very basic way of practicing with the mic which will help me tremendously. We came to the conclusion that classical singers shouldn’t always be confined to standing rigidly before a mic stand!
Imagine how many opportunities await us if we learn from our colleagues and share information? Especially cross-genre!
In February 2020, while preparing for a lockdown in South Africa, I began a three-year project affectionally named the ‘Lilli Lehmann Project’. This project was inspired by the great German Soprano, Lilli Lehmann.
Lehmann wrote several books including a book translated into English as ‘How to Sing’. It was a chance appearance of her book on my Spotify feed in February 2020 which sparked my interest in revisiting singing techniques to become a singing teacher. In particular, the book revealed the philosophy of Lehmann which was ongoing critique, reflection, and evaluation of her own practice as a performer and a teacher.
I decided to seek for myself through an approach of Research, Embodiment and Teaching.
I threw myself into the project as the South African borders closed around me in March 2020. Assuming the period would be brief. As of March 2020, I believed I had about three weeks to complete the project.
I was fortunate to be in a rural situation in the Western Cape and was able to spend the entire day experimenting with my voice in a 17th Century wine cellar. As we all now know, the pandemic continues to disrupt our lives. The lockdown in South Africa became one of the longest in the world. Weeks became months.
The first stage of the project was to revisit my technique completely because I believe that a singing teacher must be able to embody their teachings in order to teach. I kept a record of this progress on social media. I have included one of these videos below. It is with guitar because, of course, the lockdown prohibited me from seeking out a pianist.
The research stage involved an exploration of historical pedagogy. It had long been a goal of mine to sing all of the exercises by Garcia, Melba, and Marchesi. The Pandemic gave me the time to read the author’s instructions with care. I critically evaluated how I had been taught by my previous singing teacher in Auckland, who came from a branch of the ‘Garcia Singing Family Tree’ (through Anna Schoen-Rene and Lucie Manen). The result was my decision to investigate other branches of the Garcia lineage to evaluate how they imparted the knowledge, including the emphasis they put on certain elements of the knowledge.
Accordingly, I worked towards embodying the Garcia method by investigating other branches of the Garcia singing family tree. My first port of call was the work of Daniel Shigo in New York who writes wonderful blogs and has located Hermann Klein’s Phono Vocal Method. I bought Klein’s singing book (edited by Mr. Shigo and available on Amazon.com) and listened to the videos of the old gramophone recordings Klein made which are on YouTube. I then ‘pulled apart’ my technique and put it back together again according to Klein. The result was surprising. My range increased nearly an octave, the legato and tone quality improved and I enjoyed singing more! It was at this stage that I departed the Lucie Manen side of the family tree!
My next step was to investigate Dame Nellie Melba’s work. Melba’s singing demonstrates the old Italian school of singing. She was taught in Australia and then travelled to learn from Marchesi. In other words, Melba was also under the influence of the Garcia lineage.
I have found Dame Nellie Melba’s book to be the best singing book I have used so far. Melba was the first writer that imparted the knowledge of appoggio to me in a way I could understand. I now use her exercises every day to train my body in the system.
Currently, I am embarking upon a major body of research into the work of Madame Virginia Zeani. This research is possible due to the work of the New Zealand Opera School and Mr Roger Beaumont in New Zealand. Madame Zeani is also of the Garcia lineage. The benefit of Madame Zeani’s work is that a great deal of her work has been captured on film, recordings and in writings. Alongside Melba, I believe Madame Zeani is one of the few teachers who embodies and imparts the knowledge of appoggio.
Importantly, Madame Zeani calls appoggio what it is – a system. In other words, every component of the system must be in working order. Otherwise, the system will fail. This system begins with posture ( impossible while playing the guitar by the way) and is reliant on expansion and suspension of the rib cage, especially using the muscles in the back. This expansion and suspension of the rib cage, in my experience, is the only way the diaphragm can do its job as nature intended. Madame Zeani reminds us to be like a Ballet dancer.
I believe that singing teaching in the 21st Century requires the incorporation of both old and new vocal techniques. My experience as a cross-over performer has been the increasing need for authenticity. In other words, the need to embrace a wide range of aesthetic choices. In the past, as a singer-songwriter, I had to discover for myself how to belt, make noises and use aspiration. At the time, many thought I was ruining my career. To my mind, I was embarking upon what I love – exploring the possibilities of the human voice to express.
In this respect, I have been emboldened by the work of Barton and Spivey in the USA. Their teaching/writing pays homage to the Bel Canto methods while incorporating techniques such as belting to meet the demands of musical theatre. Musical Theatre singers require a diverse set of vocal skills to meet the demands of musical theatre. Classical technique is not enough. CCM is not enough. Musical Theatre requires a combination of old and new. It is very difficult.
Therefore, the next stage of my project is to teach in New Zealand in a CCM studio. This will allow me to investigate modern techniques whilst teaching the foundations of the old Italian method.
In addition to this opportunity, I am being given opportunities to deliver masterclasses or to drop into coaching sessions. Last week, I was able to drop in on a young student and teach posture and support. In this student’s case, the benefit of the system of appoggio was instantaneous. The register difficulties disappeared (there is no need to concern oneself with the register if the system is correct because the change from chest to head happens as nature intended) and the quality of the sound greatly improved.
The final word is from Madame Zeani’s teacher, Lydia Lipkovskaya singing Verdi’s aria ‘Caro Nome’. Young singers of any genre should be taught to realize the techniques required to sing like Lipkovskaya will give them the foundations for lifelong singing. It is upon these foundations that the belting, aspirations, and noises can be placed. To think singing technique can be otherwise is a grave error.
Today’s post discusses and demonstrates some of the singing techniques required when including musical theatre pieces, from the golden age until the present day, in a concert.
I am focussing on the singing techniques here. However, to make the transition truly authentic, the singer will need to spend time on accent. The correct accent will add the X factor needed for true authenticity.
To see where I am coming from, here is an example of my classical singing. This demonstrates the classical voice which focusses on efficiency and beauty of sound. The range in this aria is well over two octaves. The top note is a D6. I use chest voice until Eflat 4 and then blend my registers at that point.
Next, I will show you some examples of singing in a different way for musical theatre.
An obvious next step for a classical singer is to gently edge away from operatic singing into the ‘legit’ voice. ‘Legit’ is the word used by the musical theatre world to describe singing with an operatic quality.
‘Legit’ singing is abundant in the Golden Age of Musical Theatre (1940s, 1950s and 1960s). Here is an example from Show Boat by Jerome Kern. If you compare the previous example to this example you will hear I have lightened the resonance but I have maintained the same point (Eflat4) for blending of the registers. In this example, I still focus on a legato line over and above the words.
Here is an example of an opera that has been turned into a musical. The song is ‘Dere’s a cafe on the corner’ from Bizet/Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones. In this example, I begin the transition of prioritising the word over the legato line. This is the key to transitioning into musical theatre. Words, words, words.
To state the obvious, opera doesn’t use a microphone and musical theatre does. Accordingly, including musical theatre in a concert can be tricky. Here are some examples of pieces I would only include in a concert if a microphone was available.
‘Day by Day’ from Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell (rock/pop musical). Techniques: use chest voice, focus on word, use aspiration from time to time and consider adding the odd straight tone opening up into vibrato.
‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ from Lloyd-Weber’s Evita (British musical). Techniques: use chest up to Dflat5 at the climax of the song. (This is referred to in musical theatre as ‘belting’).
‘The winner takes it all’ from Abba’s Mamma Mia (Jukebox musical). Techniques: use of ‘belt’ and head voice interchangeably over all of the voice range.
‘Mama who bore me’ from Spring Awakening (Rock/folk musical). Techniques: head voice and chest voice used interchangeably. Aspiration and breathinesss throughout the voice is used to achieve a folk quality to the voice. (Operatic sopranos are trained for efficiency. Therefore, allowing breath through the voice should be practiced or the muscle memory will revert back to an efficient use of the breath/ quality which is not suitable for folk).
Finally, not every voice will suit every song or style. It is obvious, for example, I have a mellow voice that suits classical/legit singing. Also, my personality is classical/legit. However, it is virtually impossible to have a career without crossing over to contemporary at some point.
Furthermore, classical music is incorporating more and more contemporary singing styles. I have just workshopped a new opera that used classical, belt and jazz vocal styles. The composer wasn’t aware of this until I pointed it out and asked for a microphone!
We classical singers need to be flexible and open to contemporary music.
For those interested in reading further, see the contemporary section in my reading and listening page, or go to: https://belcantocanbelto.com
The attitude of the pupil, in singing, should be as natural and easy as possible.
Mathilde Marchesi, Bel Canto: A theoretical & practical vocal method. Dover Publications, Inc., New York.
The image above says it all.
Here are two audio examples to demonstrate the importance of the neck position for singing.
Example one demonstrates a note that is distorted by sticking my neck out. I begin the note in a noble posture. I then stick my neck out as if I am looking at my iPhone. I then resume the noble posture. I repeat this. Listen to the sound deteriorate. I change nothing except my neck position!
Example two demonstrates scales to a top C. As the scale went higher I adjusted my neck position to enable more length in the back of my neck. (I trained myself to lengthen my neck by grabbing my pigtail and pulling it upwards. Good luck with using this training method in today’s world).
I have found the following books, manuals and listening to be a ‘pathway’ to studying a way of singing that some refer to as ‘Bel Canto’. Others may refer to it as the ‘Old Italian School of Singing’. Others may describe it as the ‘Italian School of Singing’. (For me, the last description is unreliable because the Italians adapted their singing techniques in the early 20th century to meet the new demands placed on the voice by verismo composers).
There is a great deal of confusion about the term ‘Bel Canto’. This is because the term can mean different things in different contexts. The list below is the ‘pathway’ to ‘Bel Canto’ as I understand it to be; a way of singing as described by Celletti (see below) and taught by Klein’s phono-vocal method (see below) and heard on some (not all) of the early gramophone recordings (thankfully there are some modern examples of ‘Bel Canto’ too, see below).
I don’t think ‘Bel Canto’ should be only academic. I think it must be experienced in the same way that riding a bike must be experienced. In other words, studying books on how to ride a bike does very little for the person who cannot ride a bike but wants to go for a bike ride in Amsterdam. Accordingly, I recommend a good starting point is to try the exercises of Garcia Snr. or Melba (see below). Both books are uncomplicated and free to download on the internet.
Celletti, Rodolfo. A history of Bel Canto. Oxford University Press. 1991.
Garcia, Manuel,Snr. Exercises pour la voix. Between 1819-1822?
Garcia, Manuel, Jnr. Hints on Singing. Canoga Park, Calif. Summit Pub. Co. 1970.
Klein, Hermann, and William R. Moran. Herman Klein and the Gramophone : Being a Series of Essays on the Bel Canto (1923), the Gramophone and the Singer (1924-1934), and Reviews of New Classical Vocal Recordings (1925-1934), and Other Writings from the Gramophone. Portland, Or.: Amadeus Press. 1990.
Melba, Nellie Dame. Melba Method: Part One. Breathing and Other Exercises, Examples, and My Daily Exercises. Part Two. Vocalises. London. Chappell & Co. 1926.
Nicola Porpora. 25 Vocalizzi. Published somewhere between 1686 and 1768.
Pilotti, Katarina. On my re-training to Chiaroscuro. Master’s Thesis at the Academy of Music, Orebro University, Sweden 2009.
Radomski, James. Manuel García (1775-1832): Chronicle of the Life of a bel canto Tenor at the Dawn of Romanticism. Oxford University Press. 2000.
Daniel James Shigo, and Hermann Klein. Hidden in Plain Sight : The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia. New York, NY: VoiceTalkPublications. 2013.
Striny, Denes. Head First: The Language of the Head Voice: A Concise Study of Learning to Sing in the Head Voice. 2007.
Musical Theatre refers to singing in a classical style as ‘legit’. However, it has bothered me for a long time that the classification is too broad. Therefore, I was pleased to read the following in the library today:
Legit can be further divided into traditional legit and contemporary legit.
Robert Edwin, A Broader Broadway, NATS Journal of Singing, 2002-2003, Volume 59, page 431.
Edwin goes on to say that traditional legit is ‘…heard in many of the pre-1960s musicals…’ and that contemporary legit ‘…can maintain some of the classical requirements such as vibrato from onset to release, chiaroscuro, and sostenuto, but can also include pop and rock-influenced sounds.’
I think this division of legit into traditional and contemporary is very useful for singing teachers and students. For example, if there is a microphone available, a singer of legit material may be able to sing both traditional and contemporary legit in concert. Conversely, if there is no microphone, it may be prudent for the singer to perform only traditional legit material (to sing contemporary legit may result in overloading the voice when singing the pop & rock influenced sounds without amplification).
Legit does not mean the same thing to me as singing classically. Classical singing to me requires the perfection of chiaroscuro, alignment of vowels and consonants and the seamless use of ‘chest’ and ‘head’ voice registers. Classical singing divides into many styles that have their own techniques, ornamentation and conventions. In contrast, I feel legit voices should come as close as they can to classical but not jeopardize the expectations of the audience.
The audience of musical theatre expects the triple threat.
I believe singers and singing teachers should not maintain a rigid dichotomy between classical and contemporary. For example, two weekends ago I was called in to workshop a new opera. The music the composer presented to me, in my opinion, included legit, jazz and traditional belt styles. In my opinion there was no classical singing required. I explained my choices of vocal style to the composer and she was happy with this. Furthermore, during the workshop performance I used a microphone for the contemporary styles. I hope these decisions enabled the composer to hear her music in its best light. I think in this circumstance classical singing would have not fulfilled her intent.
Finally, here are a few examples from You Tube. I would categorize the first as classical, the second as traditional legit and the third as contemporary legit. I would do so to enable myself, as a singer and singing teacher, to make informed decisions about style and to choose the vocal techniques to enable myself or my student to be true to style.
I love Dame Nellie Melba’s singing book called ‘Melba Method’. Here is an audio example of what happens when I follow Melba’s simple instructions which I have included below. The example is recorded in close proximity on my iPhone.
For fun, here is an example of suddenly slouching.
A month ago, I completed the mandatory New Zealand Managed Isolation Quarantine (“MIQ”). (New Zealand does not have Covid-19 in the community. Therefore, the country sets about quarantining every person who arrives in New Zealand from overseas, in isolation, for two weeks).
Naturally, during my time in MIQ, I could not vocalize. Therefore, I set about choosing to correct something about my singing that was silent: I was not maintaining a noble posture when I sang.
Once I was released from MIQ I began to integrate this new habit into my singing.
To cut to the chase, the noble posture is yielding results far beyond what I could have imagined. I can’t wait to post some sound files once I have a better space to record in. The noble posture was a habit I desperately needed in my singing. It has stabilized my body; a noble posture allows me to maintain appoggio.
For me, Vennard’s famous book ‘Singing: The Mechanism and the Technic’ sums up this positive change:
Mechanistic pedagogy is applied behavioristic psychology. Behaviorism is a philosophy based upon the famous experiments of Pavlov, who conditioned the salivary reflexes of dogs. This concept assumes that personality is the sum of simple units of behavior called reflexes, and that experience conditions these into various behavior patterns, various habits. The mechanistic voice teacher assumes that singing is a complex skill made up of simple skills, and that when a singer is less than perfect it is because one or more of these skills is deficient. He therefore sets about, first to analyze singing itself…and second to analyze each of his students to see which skills need development, what new habits must be formed and what old habits need to be changed.
Vennard, William. Singing: The Mechanism and the Technic. Carl Fischer. 1967. Para. 758.
An understanding of Bel Canto’s simple, yet difficult to master, techniques, can be of tremendous use to classical singers who crossover to popular styles of music. Crossing over to popular music, convincingly and safely, is a necessity for the majority of classical singers, both amateur and professional. At some stage, most classical singers are going to be called upon to sing crossover, whether we like it or not!
One of the fundamental differences, between classical and pop singing, is the need for a microphone. Generally speaking, classical singing has carrying power and pop doesn’t. In upcoming posts, I will be demonstrating some microphone techniques but, for now, I wanted to begin with a post on the use of head and chest voice in pop singing because, in many ways, this is putting the horse (tone colours) before the cart (microphone).
In Bel Canto, a Soprano would normally use chest voice until around ‘e’ on the bottom line of the stave. The voice must then transition to head voice without the listener noticing. To learn more about this, I suggest reading and practicing Dame Nellie Melba’s ‘Melba Method’. I have been practicing Dame Nellie Melba’s exercises on blending every day and I now feel a lot more secure. The Melba Method is available on the internet for free.
To contrast with this, in pop singing, there is more opportunity to use head and chest anywhere in the range because the microphone will amplify the voice. In addition, a pop singer is not so concerned with blending the voice to make a seamless instrument – all they need to do is compensate with the microphone or sound engineering. Hence, a pop singer can use head down low or chest up high. A first class example of the mastery of chest and head voice is Sia. I love the emotion Sia achieves with her highly skilled use of head and chest voice. For example, in her acoustic performance of the song ‘Chandelier’. The use of chest voice up high also adds expression by creating cracks and a shredding sound. I love this in Sia’s voice. (I wouldn’t want it in my voice, to be honest, but it is such a perfect sound for her style of music).
Here is a short and simple video from Lisa Popeil that explains where to begin exploring head and chest voice.
Finally, here is a video I made demonstrating this use of chest up high and head down low. It is not too difficult if, as Lisa Popeil says above, the singer thinks of chest as being the speaking voice.
The analysis of the first few six notes of the song are – chest, chest, head then chest, chest head. Again, to reiterate, this form of voice production does not carry like classical singing does. You will notice, if you know my voice, that I have also stripped away resonance to thin the sound down. However, that is what a microphone is for. We classical singers shouldn’t be afraid of it but we do need to learn more about it. More about that in later posts.