Today’s post is written to mark the first turning point in my three year ‘Lilli Lehmann Project’. To reiterate, the Project is created to refresh my voice and engage with historical vocal pedagogy with the aim to become a responsible singing teacher. Today’s turning point, coming four months into the project, is to focus on efficiency. Efficiency to me means that, if I am to train myself to sing full coloratura roles, which I believe will be the test as to my understanding, or otherwise, of the Old Italian School of Singing, I must avoid wasting energy.

This is quite a different focus for me because, until now, I have been focussed on sound. Sound, of course, is (nearly) everything. In a recent Tumblr post, I quoted Isaac Nathan (pupil of Corri, who was, in turn, the pupil of Porpora) who told a wonderful story about a certain Signora Grassini. According to Nathan, she was wonderful when she sung only seven notes but when she extended the compass of her voice, to two octaves, she lost the sound quality and fell out of favour with the public!

For the past four months, I have concentrated on reading and applying Old Italian School of Singing/Bel Canto literature. This literature is primarily focussed on technique. Technique and Art, to remind us of Lilli Lehmann’s words, go hand in hand. There is a great deal of work to do over the next two and a half years, but the first steps are in the right direction. However, there are more than one way to skin a cat, depending on the psychology of the pupil. Here, the pupil is myself. Therefore, I can easily analyse that if I look at singing from a different angle then I may be able to solve lingering problems once and for all.

Therefore, today, and for the next few months, I am changing my priority. I will prioritise efficiency. Fortunately, the Masters of the Old Italian School of Singing were/are experts in efficiency. This is why a properly trained singer of this school of singing can sing for extraordinarily long periods of time, use the full compass of their voice range, engage a range of expressive techniques such as messa di voce, mezza voce, voice characters and the like, and, have a long singing career. Singers like Lehmann, Sutherland, Te Kanawa, Pavarotti and Dawson have had extraordinarily long careers. As Denes Striny says, it is how they sung.

An example of how my singing wastes energy is the tendency to scoop. Scooping can be obvious, but, more often than not, in my case, it is subtle. Accordingly, I am using my iPhone to record every note I utter. I critique every note. Often it may be that the voiced consonant is slightly flat. To combat the stubborn voiced consonants, I am engaging the use of a grace note and then repeating the note three times without the grace and then the phrase three times until it the errant note is contained. Sometimes, I have ignored one note in the pattern. (I must then make an enormous effort to correct the following notes). Sometimes, one wrong note, many notes prior to the top note, causes the top note to fail. My top A is constantly flat. It took a while to notice but the great thing about coloratura singing is that it is unforgiving. Eventually, I could not ignore that the constantly flat top A was causing my top notes to fail. Fix the A and the top C/D/E takes care of itself!

In the end, inefficiency can be attributed to bad technique. Or worse still, if a singer knows technique, then it is simply sloppiness. Therefore, a focus on efficiency, means I must focus on 100% accuracy rather than thinking that I can ‘get away with’ producing a ‘nice enough’ sound.

The great singers were masters of efficiency. One has only to compare a lesser singer with La Stupenda. Dame Joan Sutherland lightened her voice quality yet it was beautiful. Her mouth was her pharynx (to use the words of Garcia). She expressed with her voice, not her body and extraneous body movements. And the result? We all know! The lesser singer, of which I am one, will engage in all sorts of contortions, whether it be an extraneous body movement, opening the mouth too wide or scooping.

Another singer who is efficient is Amelita Galli-Curci. Luckily we have superb recordings of her singing. Archive.org has recordings of Galli-Curci that are freely available on the internet and slightly better for our purposes than listening to Spotify.

The third Lockdown Concert, to be recorded on my iPhone and uploaded to this website, will focus on efficiency. In the meantime, I will be uploading little snippets on Instagram when I feel confident an efficiency has been achieved. I did this yesterday by recording a little snippet of Estrellita. Estrellita is a simple little song but my change of focus when I learnt the song was different. In essence, I made sure I was 100% accurate with the intonation before thinking of dynamics or anything else.

My reserved conclusion is that a change of focus, for me at any rate, away from sound and to efficiency will address lingering problems with my singing whilst improving, inevitably, the quality and sustainability of my singing. Today’s professional classical singers must be good musicians and sing sustainably. Hopefully, the next few months will sow the seed for insights I can share with pupils in times to come!

100% efficiency!

High Notes

…there is almost no limit to the height that can be reached by the pure head tone without admixture of palatal resonance.

Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing.

…the whole secret of both [extension of the compass and equalization of the registers] consists in the proper raising and lowering of the soft palate, and the pillars of the fauces connected with it.

Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing

Over the next three years (2020-2023), I have created a project for myself called the “Lilli Lehmann Project”. This project aims to refresh my voice and brain to prepare myself for teaching. The whole point of the three years is that I believe that in order to teach responsibly, I must be able to actually do it myself!

The first stage of the project is to learn bel canto repertoire, in particular coloratura. Coloratura repertoire demands, amongst many other things, secure high notes because the arias often end with a high note.

Today’s post discusses my thoughts about high notes.

First, here is short audio file where I am rehearsing the high notes at the end of Caro Nome.

Developing high notes.

In this audio file, I focussed very much on increasing the nasality in the notes before singing the notes above top C. I also increasingly thought of [e].

As soon as the head tones come into consideration, one should never attempt to sing an open ah, because on ah the tongue lies flattest. One should think of an ā, and in the highest range even an ē; should mix the ā and ē with the ah, and thereby produce a position of the tongue and soft palate that makes the path clear for the introduction on the breath into the cavities of the head.

Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing.

In addition to thinking [e], I watched Dame Joan Sutherland singing high notes. Imitating her mouth position as it changes through the registers. Once I reached the C# I positioned my mouth ready for a wide opening on the Eb.

Dame Joan Sutherland.

Here is a picture of Maria Callas laughing. This is a good example of the mouth shape for high notes.

Maria Callas

In addition, to the above, there was one more thing I did. This was to extend my neck upwards. In the following video, the Italian bel canto singing teacher, Capucine Chiaudani, explains why this is important.

Capucine Chiaudani

Tips for Cherubino’s Aria “Voi Che Sapete” – follow up

This is a follow up post to my earlier post on Cherubino’s aria. Here are three versions of Cherubino’s aria sung at 421HZ. The first version is too dark. I pressed down on the sound. It was tiring and uncomfortable. The second version isn’t as dark but I have another problem – you can see my mouth is moving too much. There is also a trace of tension. Accordingly, the language is distorted.

I decided the most efficient way to fix this was to listen to Herman Klein’s Phono-Vocal Method and sing a Solfeggio. I did this for ten minutes or so and then recorded the third version. The third version is my preferred version. The only reservations I have is that it now needs other musicians to bring it to life and time to settle.

Version One – too dark

Version Two – mouth too wide and tense

Version Three – vowels in better alignment

Herman Klein’s Phono Vocal Method

Herman Klein’s method and these recordings are an excellent resource.

Gregorian Chant for Opera Singers

Wow, the closed Italian [u] – why Italian? – why did Gregorian chant, opera, and singing in a certain way seemingly start in Italy? Their language was the main reason, and of course, we must consider that because it started there, it started because of their language.

Denes Striny, Great Singers, An Endangered Species, How to Get Back to Mother Nature, Page 43

I could pose a similar question from a New Zealand perspective. Why are there so many stunning Pacific Island Opera Singers? Their language is the main reason.

Language for some of us Kiwis is a challenge. How do we train our mouths to speak like an Italian or a Pacific Islander or a native Te Reo speaker?

Here is one way. It is cheap, easy and will save you doing a three year Italian degree like I did.

Listen to Gregorian Chant!

This post contains a Gregorian playlist for listening while you take that daily walk. (You will need Spotify to access the entire track).

Language is my everyday struggle because I have a thick Kiwi accent with more than a hint of Aussie – could it get any worse – ha ha ha! Yes, it could. I love pop music which means I am often singing around the house in chest voice trying to be Beyonce!

Gregorian chant is the perfect remedy. The language is focussed on the [u] vowel, there is no chest voice, the vocal range is not taxing and the singers sing directly onto the note (no scooping).

Put your headphones on and have a go at imitating this. Imitation is training. Training your lips to feel the [u] shape and to maintain the [u] sensation in every other vowel.

Training, training, training! Training your ear. Training your muscles. Training, training, training!

Tips for Cherubino’s aria “Voi che sapete”

Here is the process I have followed today to locate a shiny sound for Cherubino’s aria. I would like Cherubino to sound youthful. Accordingly, I am looking for that old fashioned bright Italian sound. I will add to this post over the next month or so until the aria is complete.

The word ‘piu’ is a handy word for finding the sound needed for this aria. The ‘p’ keeps the placement light and the mouth small. The ‘i’ adds in the width (brightness) while the ‘u’ adds in the depth (mellowness and access of head voice)
Sing the voice consonants on pitch, fully resonant and with a relaxed expression
Line up the vowels so they all resonate within the ‘u’ sound. (Sing ‘piu’ again if you get stuck)
Sing sharp. This develops the tendency to approach from ‘above’ rather than scooping up to the note.
Put it all together, phrase by phrase.

Tuning the semitones. Semitones are different ‘sizes’. Some are ‘bigger’ than others.
Here is a nasal close in slow motion. You do this on a double vowel. First consonant is nasal then the next consonant is full resonance. This is the word ‘donne’. You can read more in Lilli Lehmann’s book ‘How to Sing’ and also I posted on this in my blog.
I put this phrase together but I am not happy because the ‘d’ is not on pitch. There is a scoop upwards. I am also not happy because the voice is too full. I want a youthful Cherubino and this Cherubino is beginning to sound like a Granny.
Now the ‘d’ is on pitch but the phrase is beginning to sound laboured so lets move onto the next phrase for now…
Here is the word ‘quello’ sung very slowly. The q and w should be sung before the beat. The u lands on the beat. The u vowel gives us a beautiful mellow sound so don’t move too far away from that to sing the e. The double l gives us another nasal close. First l is nasal and the second is full resonance. This allows the word to be heard better.
This phrase needs a springboard from the pro of provo. The pro should have imposto and a little messa di voce to create a springboard. I make a terrible scoop on the v. Don’t do that!
Here you can hear another scoop on the last note and even worse, I am closing my mouth slightly on the last o which distorts it. This should NOT be done!
I have fixed the last o but not the scooping… the scooping has to be fixed…but lets move on…
Need to make a springboard out of the ca of capir by adding a touch of imposto and messa di voce
Here is an example of no legato. No tying of one note to the other.
The way to help achieve a legato is to practice a vibrazione on every note.
Here I am adding in a more lyric quality to darken the ‘gelo’ and also, yay, I add in the chest. All of those days trying to be Beyonce didn’t go completely to waste…
We are now up to the middle of the piece. Now we can have fun. Here is the use of the two voice characters to colour the phrases. First the light quality and then the lyric.
I sing this slowly and then faster so show the series of nasal close. The difficulty of this passage is the series of nasal close, not the crossing of the two registers. If the nasal close are right the registers will naturally fall into place. Remember, with the nasal close the first of the double consonants is nasal & the second is with full resonance. Because you are crossing different pitches put the nasal on the pitch prior and the full resonant consonant on the new pitch. This passage must be sung slowly before attempted at speed.
Think of the top notes here so that you don’t droop. If you droop onto the lower notes they will go flat and it will be darn difficult to climb out!
Here I have exaggerated the rolled r. This should be practiced in isolation to make sure it is rolled on pitch or you will sing off key! Also, the roll makes sure the singing is on the breath support. In fact, the voiced consonants are terrific for making sure you are singing with the breath support. Breath support is gentle. It is not forcing the air through but it is not floppy either so if you have a lovely resonant consonant you are off to a great start!
Here the first two breaths I took are correct. They are silent. The second two are incorrect because you can hear them.
Here is the end of the piece. Try to vary it from the first time it was sung. Can you sing it softer? Louder? With a different tone colour?
Now here is the entire piece. This time we are looking for shapes. Looking for shapes usually takes a performance or two. Remember to put on your metronome!

Voi Che Sapete – further blog post

I am continuing this post in a separate blog post because I notice the information is too much for one page. Please look at my more recent post to see a comparison of different versions…

Peter Dawson

Peter Dawson, (31 January 1882 – 27 September 1961), Australian Baritone.

Australia produces fine singers. Today’s blog post features the singing of, Australian Baritone, Peter Dawson. It is obvious, by listening, that Peter Dawson, born in Adelaide in 1882, was trained in the Old Italian Method of Singing to produce Bel Canto. Dawson’s sound quality is dark. His attack is clean, intonation secure, legato pure, agility without fault and diction faultless.

We are so lucky to have access to Dawson’s singing which could be used by teachers of singing as the ‘goal post’ for singing in general, and, specifically, singing in English. In this respect, I am very glad to have discovered Dawson’s recordings for both my students and improvement of myself.

Here is a playlist of Peter Dawson’s singing and, below, an example of his teacher’s singing.

Peter Dawson studied with, Englishman, Sir Charles Santley. Sir Charles recorded only a few songs and arias at the end of his career. However, his voice remained fresh – one of the tell-tale signs of good technique! Here is an example of his singing. Examples such as this could be used by teachers of singing as a ‘reminder’ of the Old Italian School of Singing. The power of this example may be enhanced by reading Sir Charles Santley’s books on singing and his memoirs.

Una Voce Poco Fa…

Gioachino Rossini 1792 – 1868

Everyone knows it, and most lovers of the old school of Italian singing adore it. Yet how few, even of the cleverest vocalists of to-day, can sing it really well!

Herman Klein, Herman Klein and the Gramophone, The recording of Una Voce, page 66

Listening to the finest examples of Bel Canto and learning how to critically engage with the examples is essential for developing one’s ear for the Old Italian School. In the Spotify Playlist below are four of five examples that Klein compares in his article ‘The Recording of Una Voce‘. Klein’s critique gives us insight into the performance of this aria. I suggest you listen to the four recordings and then read pages 66 – 68 of 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. (You can locate this book on Internet Archive to borrow).

Equalization of the scale downwards

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.

‘i’ exercise sung pp to bring your head voice / head tones downwards – Deborah Wai Kapohe
Ng is a great exercise to bring your head voice /head tones downwards – Deborah Wai Kapohe

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.

This version of La Serenata needs the imposto to balance the bright sound. My sound at the moment sounds hollow.
I sang a scale in the same key as the piece of music a few times to equalise the voice. Adding in the imposto.
Even though my voice was becoming tired, you can hear the added imposto balances the bright sound creating the Light Coloratura quality I was aiming at for La Serenata. Singing the F scale a few times helped me to equalize the voice. Scales are vital, they expose everything.

Consonants – Oskar Guttmann

The starting point to introduce the various techniques required for singing consonants today is to choose a Cancone Solfeggio phrase and refer to Oskar Guttmann’s ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’. The majority of the techniques I blog about are for the classical voice. However, this blog is for every style. Every singer should be aware of how they produce their consonants.

Here is a demonstration of the first note. First, it is demonstrated with scooping (bad unless done consciously for effect). Then the consonant ‘m’ is practiced in isolation to make sure it is directly on pitch and resonant (good). Then the first note is sung again. This time there is no scooping (good).

Demonstration of how consonants should be isolated and practiced – Deborah Wai Kapohe

The ‘words’ of this solfeggio phrase are ‘mi fa sol do si mi do sol’. Let’s take a look at Oskar Guttmann’s page on consonants from his book ‘Gymnastics of the Voice’. We see the voiced consonants are m, l and do. These must all be on pitch. There are other techniques for the unvoiced consonants but they are not my focus today (but just as important).

Oskar Guttmann’s book ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’

Following on from my previous posts about voice characters, I decided to have some fun. Here is the Cancone phrase, first in the light coloratura quality and then the lyric and dramatic qualities. Interestingly, I didn’t treat the consonants the same way every time, something I will ponder upon in upcoming posts!

Light Coloratura version of Cancone – Deborah Wai Kapohe
Lyric version of Cancone – Deborah Wai Kapohe
Dramatic version of Cancone – Deborah Wai Kapohe

Finally, here is some music. This is the first phrase of ‘Regnava nel silenzio’. Referring again to Oskar Guttmann’s page above. The voiced consonants are r, the nasal n, v, n and l.

Opening phrase of Regnava nel Silenzio – Deborah Wai Kapohe

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