There is no one else in the world like you: my teaching philosophy

My teaching philosophy is structured around the belief that I can make any student, no matter what age, see and hear a glimpse of their true potential in singing and performing. I know that I have a gift of hearing potential in singers and I always aim to find ways of digging it up very slowly, shovel by shovel, until the singer notices a considerable difference after an extended period of time.

My personal strengths, as an artist, are communication, consistency of tone, flexibility of voice, and energy. If I have command over these things, then I can to explain them in very different ways to each of my students. I enjoy new opportunities to explain something in a way that I haven’t done before. In these circumstances, I am also learning. When I learn with the student, I feed off of their satisfaction and my enthusiasm motivates them to keep working towards their potential.

As a singer and performer, my job is demonstrate depth of knowledge of languages, diction, presentation, tone quality, musical accuracy, musicality, emotional range, dramatic interpretation, character development, a listening ear, a collaborative attitude, and an enthusiastic hunger to keep working towards improvement. These qualities alone, I hope to pass along to my students over the course of my career. I hope to improve upon these qualities and with that, learn from my students who actually show progress in these areas.

My background, as a musician, is listening to classical music from a very early age, perhaps six or seven years old. I would play the LPs of Beethoven symphonies and I would notice how they would make me feel. An excitement and passion that I cannot describe was aroused in me at that age and it taught me to approach all music from then on with that same excitement. My passion was not only for music alone, but also performing. I watched all the classic films that started out as plays and I observed the wonderful dramatic timing the actors possessed. I took that tool with me into grade school. I suppose you could say I was born with this passion. Both of my parents are amateur musicians, meaning they make music for the sheer enjoyment of it. They brought that into my life while they raised me. I sang in youth choirs, church choirs, acted in plays, musicals, and speech and debate competitions, while at the same time never letting other healthy activities such as sports disappear from my life. I became an avid concert-goer in high school and that made me who I am today. I think it is important for anyone to be a “well-rounded” person. For example, it is good to get a 4.0 all four years of high school and college and even to become valedictorian, however, it is also good, maybe even more important to always participate in many activities outside of the classroom which can put your life into perspective. For this reason, I think I was able to go to college. I took my love of many aspects of life and I put it into my craft of performing. Without this, my presentation would have been dull, lifeless, and less real.

I believe my most important job as a teacher is to give my students confidence. I want them to go away with the knowledge that no, they may not be the best singer in the world, but the way they sound right now, at this very moment, is the way they are supposed to sound and it is good enough; additionally, they will always get better.   There will always be other singers that they think are “better” than them, but what they have to figure out is that those other singers do not possess the same unique qualities that they do . Everyone is different and that is the truth! My students’ jobs and my job to figure out: what is that unique quality(s) that you have? And when they discover it, they must run with it! Too many singers become discouraged (including myself) from going after opportunities that would benefit them because they always think there will be someone better at the audition. While that may be true, there is always something new you can show the panelists that they may have never seen before. There is no one else in the world like you. This statement by itself summarizes my teaching philosophy and the single, most important thing I want my students to always remember.

My job as a teacher and performer is also to listen. I can’t emphasize enough just how important this is if I want my students to learn and to succeed. I check myself constantly to make sure I am not going off on a tangent without first making sure they comprehend the most basic point of what I am trying to say. That being said, descriptions and explanations are empty without demonstration; so much of voice lessons are about putting theory into practice. The teacher and the student are, in a sense, participating in the activity of collaborative-learning. They are teaching each other. Only until the student can talk about what I just taught them and show it, will I know if I’ve clearly communicated to them.

Specific examples of my teaching include lessons with one of my fellow church choir members. She is a retired Latin and Classics professor. Her understanding and vocabulary could very well intimidate me, but I do not let my own personal weaknesses, which are negative expectations, get in the way of my teaching her. I know my strengths, and I hit them home! She is very well versed in many areas, but she came to me because she would like to be well-versed in more, different areas. I know that I have command over these areas (music, performing, acting, tone, musicality, ease, freedom) and my job is to share my knowledge of these with her. At the same time, I can also benefit from her breadth of knowledge as well. Just because you’re teaching a lesson, doesn’t mean you’re the only enlightened one in the room. I have to continually remember that. Teaching and learning is a COLLABORATIVE effort.

I have taught at a college and I definitely think I improved my students’ tone quality and confidence on stage; however, I did not get to address my entire “package” of things to work on towards their potential since I only got to work with them for a short while. I also teach kids. They can be the most fun. I find myself translating the language I use all the time into an easier- to -comprehend language that they can talk in as well. I do most of my learning as a teacher with these kids. They have different expectations than I do. For example, one wants to be able to sing in front of people without getting nervous. If she’s nervous, she can’t sing. She blushes and stops singing. My job for her is to be a support system while she sings and to give her certain activities to practice which will get her used to singing in front of people. So in many ways, the voice teacher has to be more than a teacher of music. Sometimes he or she plays the role of guidance counselor.

What I hope to inspire in my students now and in the students to come is a hunger or passion to simply live all of life! This may not sound musical, but it is very important when it comes to performing and singing. Without it, there is no life to your performance. Without it, there is no confidence or comfort on the stage. I can teach tricks to seem comfortable on stage, but without the student having personal experiences they can relate to, they cannot do justice to the art that we call singing.

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A Review of Gerald Moore’s Poet’s Love: The Songs and Cycles of Schumann

This book shall be invaluable to me and any male or female singer who is planning on doing an entire Dichterliebe or any Schumann song cycle to complete one of their life-long goals. I also loved reading through The Schubert Song Cycles with thoughts on performance by the same author. The author gives the reader a sense of what the book is about right in the preface. He says that he mainly attempts to talk about questions of ensemble between the singer and pianist; mood, tempi, rhythm, color, and feeling. I’m a lover of Schumann’s entire output and I especially love Gerald Moore’s artistry. I am anxious to see just how valuable this book will be to me over the course of my life. I plan on buying this book. I have sung Liederkreis Op. 39 and I enjoyed skimming through the pages of the songs I particularly delighted in singing. This book is easy to read because there are only a few pages dedicated to each song, and the format is pretty much the same for every song. The translation of the poem under the song title is especially elegant. In the analysis of the song Mondnacht: Moore immediately launches into the symbolism of the music. It was very informative and could indeed enhance the performance for a singer. This book is good because it gives the performer something to think about while they are not singing and the piano is playing.  This is important because what the singer is thinking is represented on the face and the audience sees the face.  Moore talks in language that a pianist might understand better than a singer. Moore emphasizes key signature agreeing with poetry and demonstrates Schumann’s attention to words and their importance. Moore is a supporter of rubato and any pianist who loves to play lieder would be wise to read this book. Singers would benefit from pianists who admire or adhere to Moore’s style of playing. He says rubato is “subject to good taste and form,” with which I particularly agreed. In terms of teaching, I am especially anxious to use this book when I give selections of Frauenliebe und Leben to female singers to study and live with. This book is mainly for performers and it should be used liberally in that regard.

The Wanderer and the Linden Tree from Schubert’s Winterreise

The Wanderer character is associated with  images and themes of German Romantic poets. They sought to go beyond what is known. The new German culture at the eighteenth-century sought to eliminate boundaries. Poets sought to explore the infinite and escape mundane existence.

The journey of the Wanderer, as in Die Schöne Müllerin, is ideally suited to the form of the song cycle because the Wanderer seeks true love. The Romantic ideal of true love is found only in death, or peaceful repose. Schubert’s musical setting of Müller’s poetry takes us on a journey of musical themes, keys, and relationships. A song cycle is just as perfectly suited to telling the story of a character as an opera is suited. Many ideas and emotions, even ambiguous, are explored. The listener, as well, goes on an emotional journey and sympathizes, even empathizes with the Wanderer. Nature, even, is a character in this song cycle. (DSM) The brook, represented by the piano, talks to the Wanderer. The performance is ideally suited for the stage.

Der Lindenbaum, no. 5 from Winterreise by Schubert is in itself a masterpiece. It too represents nature as a character in a story, which goes through a range of emotions within the major and minor tonalities. The tree is home for the weary traveler. It represents good memories. The tree is his resting place. The pianistic triplets are the rustling of the leaves. The voice is stentorian and folk-like. The traveler pledges gratitude to the tree as to an old friend. The tonality is major when he thinks of good memories, and vice versa. There is also an actual rhythmic tree-motive, and it appears through out: the dotted eighth followed by two thirty-seconds and a dotted eighth is the sequence. The poem is strophic and the music follows the structure of the poem. The melody ascends on words associated with joy, which represents heightened emotion. When the traveler passes the tree at night, he closes his eyes in darkness. Here, Schubert is in minor and the triplets are perhaps a grotesque dance. The poetic meter is in itself musical: important words are melismatic and have longer note duration. If the mood of the poem changes, so does the music. The horn call-motive represents the wandering minstrel or musician; as made popular in German culture with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. On the words “hier findst du deine Ruh,” (here you find your peace) the melodic line descends into the Romantic ideal of death.

Thoughts on Performing

Halfway through the first semester of my Doctoral coursework, I rediscovered my passion for performing that had been dormant during my break from academics. Over the years I have established many important relationships with colleagues. An element of trust is understood between us; that if I am entrusted with the task of performing as a soloist or in a group, I take that responsibility seriously. I am reliable and am sure that my references will attest that I strive for a higher standard of performance quality even when the job is finished and we must temporarily part ways. My style of learning and teaching is to take what I have learned from one teacher or coach and directly apply it to the very next performing opportunity that presents itself.

 

As an artist, it is my pleasure, honor and privilege to provide the much needed service of classical singing to others.  It is an art form that is immediately recognized by all who are passionate about life; people who are courageous enough to live it to its fullest. Opera has much to offer to those of us who have yet to discover its beauty; the drama, the tragedy, the wit, the humor, are fully and boldly expressed.  My aim is to achieve a standard of quality in this medium that is comparable to a highly trained tennis player, swimmer, or an Olympic athlete. Skill and agility are the hallmarks of artistic singing. A singer should never take for granted the talent that is given him or her. Rigorous practice and honing of technique over many years are required for the true beauty of singing to shine. Working with numerous colleagues can help one understand the many challenges involved and the joy of building such a spectacular achievement, such as an operatic production. I know that I have worked with many fine artists and hope to continue to do so.

 

My goals in pursuing further musical education are to set an incredibly high standard of quality for myself by exploring all available avenues and resources in this art form. I intend to immerse myself with experienced performers and pedagogues alike to get only the best possible tools for my craft. By traveling and moving around an artist feels the pulse of what is required as a singer today in order to gain a successful and fruitful career in performance.  I cannot imagine doing anything else. I know in my heart that music is my purpose and I will actively work towards success in performing and teaching for as long as I am able. One of my many intentions is to at once make the observer feel at ease; to make them smile or cry. Ideally, I would like the person watching my performance to be touched in such a way that they are reminded of their own happy experiences or heartaches, and they leave with a feeling of fulfillment. I want to craft the emotions within myself so that they are in tune with others. I seek to make years and years of hard work seem like effortless ease.

 

Theories of Expressivity in Baroque Song

In the centuries 1600-1800, models and theories of expressivity existed in Italy, France, Germany, and England. Here, I attempt to investigate, define, and explain how these models were used by performers of these generations as tools for their expression; which were second nature to them. To us, people of the current generation, we seek to understand how a performance was enacted authentically or historically, and so we must put a name on the style or methodology which was used. In the years we are talking about, people did not know that their expressivity had names; all they knew is that they were doing justice to the composer’s wishes while at the same time bringing their own artistic vision to the piece at hand. In Italy, a term was used by the great composer and theorist Caccini: Sprezzatura, in his famous treatise Le nuove musiche, as a word that meant the performer had that certain confidence that was required to pull the observer into the performance and touch them aesthetically and emotionally. The mere presence of the performer was enough that very little had to be done in order to achieve the persuasion. Of course, that is to say, sprezzatura did not come naturally to everyone; it had to be trained into the musicians from a very young age in the first years of their education. Rhetoric was the device by which sprezzatura was fueled in the countries of Germany, England, France, and Italy. The intense study of authors such as Quintilian gave the musicians tools necessary to express one thought in a wide variety of ways.

First, let us speak about sprezzatura in Italy. I will use Francesca Caccini as an example of a composer who wrote all of the “confidence” on the page. The performer’s job was to get out of the way of the intention of the composer. In the Caccini’s song “Maria, dolce Maria” performed by Elena Bertuzzi, we see a perfect example of sprezzatura. This piece is monody with lute–that in itself says that the voice is exposed, especially since the accompanying instrument is so thin in sound to begin with. The performer must be a seasoned musician and experienced in solo singing. The basic melodic line may at first glance seem similar for every verse, but you wouldn’t know it with the amount of ornamentation added, either by composer or by singer. Francesca’s father, Giulio, set out to explain specific ornaments he wanted his singers to use; Francesca and the performers of that time period would have known those ornaments very well. Bertuzzi moves with such agility and grace, both vocally and in the body. This is the noble negligence of song, which is sprezzatura explained in another way. She has the ability of letting her voice be free and making sure that her body is also free. When I say free, I mean relaxed enough not to hold any tension in one spot in particular, but to feel as if the motion of the song moves you. The fast-moving, melismatic lines require a lot of breath control and management. If quiet, soft breaths are taken between phrases so enough air can be used for these long florid melismatic lines, the performer will have made the song sound easy, which is a big part of sprezzatura–the ease of making something vocally challenging and difficult sound very smooth and easy. I should also mention that a huge facet of sprezzatura is the singer being able to use messa di voce upon command. This piece is especially good for that. There are many opportunities on long notes for the performer to grow and shrink in dynamics. A true test of the mastery of a performer is the ability to be able to crescendo and decrescendo on any note of his or her vocal range. Another example of a piece that I believe exudes the essence of sprezzatura is Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Caldo Sangue.” This piece as sung by Renata Tebaldi is so utterly gorgeous in the production of expressivity that one does not know where to begin. The fact that the tempo is Largo means that the singer must already be a master of their breath management, otherwise the piece will get slower and slower. Tebaldi begins in the pianissimo dynamic and gradually “blooms” into the vibrant mf dynamic. This technique in itself is already enough to move the listener even before the piece has even begun! Only an experienced Graduate or Professional singer should take on this piece if they are serious about doing justice to this piece. This tessitura is high for such a soft dynamic at the beginning. Also, the sighing in the voice on the words “moro” which are repeated over and over could bring someone who is listening to tears. This is what sprezzatura does–it is rhetoric that basically persuades the listener to be on the same plane of existence as the person emoting.

In France, the theory of douceur, although similar to sprezzatura  in Italy requires that the singer be able to comfortably stop counting and at times pay attention to the rhythm of the language in a gentle, sweet manner; meaning it is a little more subdued than the Italian expressive style of singing. A piece that exemplifies this technique is Lully’s “Revenez amours, revenez!” from his opera Thésée. The singer (Venus) laments the abandonment of the graces from love. She pleads for the graces to return so that love may be more pleasurable. The g minor tonality says a great deal about the sadness the singer must exude in this piece. The douceur aspect is present in the smooth, continuous line of the French language. I think this is still employed today for singers of this generation. The nobility of the language itself requires the singer to have an air of confidence that exudes the gentility of the nobility. Even though the music is written vertically and in arcs, the singer must sing horizontally the entire time! The purity of the vowel is always the most desired effect. However the singer chooses to color the vowels is the more artistic decision that the experienced singer can be trust. A strong sense of leadership is required for the tempo of this piece in the role of the singer. The pianist must really feel like they are following the voice. The music must be provoked by the voice (or emotion), not the other way around. There must never be a moment in this piece where the listener thinks the singer is holding the tone. The tone must be escaping. This escaping of tone is a big part of douceur. The emotion is so full and powerful that it simply “leaks” out of the singer in the most expressive fashion in order to move the listener in a gentle manner; almost as if a cloud of emotion descends upon the listener. The French language is very much suited for this manner of singing, which is douceur. De Los Angeles takes many appropriate artistic liberties in slowing down at cadences. As Judy Tarling says, it is Baroque practice to always try something different at cadences. Lully understood douceur and marked it in his scores. He marks for the performer to crescendo on “Amours” repeatedly in the piece and decrescendo on “revenez.” He repeats that word so much to perhaps show an exasperated quality that the performer can bring out; which is in fact, the sound escaping from the singer’s body. Lully marks doux on the word “beauté” and the singer should react thus in a sweet manner. He writes the music in a way that brings out the text more than the beauty of the voice. The right coloring of certain vowels can make the piece more beautiful.

The second example of douceur in the French Baroque canon of repertoire is Rameau’s “Triste Séjour” from Les Palatins. It is an aria that is largo in tempo with a more upbeat middle section and again requires a graduate or professional singer with comparable breath management techniques. There is much opportunity for the singer to show off their douceur by using the messa di voce technique for the long notes. This piece gives much opportunity for the performer to be intimate with the audience by growing and shrinking in those long phrases; the listener is pulled along with the singer. The messa di voce technique in itself is unpredictable and does not allow the listener to know when, if ever, the tone will get louder. The douceur technique may elongate that messa di voce and make it sound more unpredictable than the Italian form. The more unpredictability in expressivity, the better!

In Germany, the use of classical rhetoric was prevalent in such composers as Heinrich Schütz and C. P. E. Bach. The first piece that is rich in rhetoric for our purposes is “Ich werde nicht sterben” from Schütz’sSymphonie Sacrae II. The text comes from Martin Luther and Psalm 118. The dance-like tempo which could be in the meter of one or three is a good example of how the celebratory nature of the text is meant for movement. Dancing, throughout the ages, has always been associated with joy and celebration. The text of this Psalm demonstrates the level of commitment the psalmist has in the strength of God and how that alone is enough to sustain him or her; God is the constant comfort.  Most pieces that are full of rhetoric usually can only be done by experienced singers. That is why I feel this piece is good for Graduate or Professional Lyric Tenor. The performer should accentuate the hemiolas and should confidently lead in the recitative and arioso sections. The hemiola is in itself a rhetorical device that brings out the text. This piece changes meter often. The singer will need to speed up and slow down according to the designation of the emotion of the text. Again, as I said for the French theory of expression, the language, in this case, matters a great deal; and if the rhythm of the language is followed, the beauty of the voice will come along with it.

C. P. E. Bach, in his piece “Jesus Gethsemane” with text by Gellert, is a perfect example of rhetorical writing. The tempo is adagio and experience will lend itself to presenting this song in an easy vocal technique.  I believe sacred music always has the most rhetorical devices. The song has many long, drawn out notes. As if it hasn’t been stated enough, the technique of messa di voce can never be overused. Common Baroque practice and Caccini’s Le nuove musiche state that. The block-chord accompaniment gives the singer ample opportunity to show off the voice. With very little going on in the piano part, the singer must demonstrate something vocally exciting.  This piece could be sung from the viewpoint of Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene represents a crucial figure in Christianity in that she was associated with prostitutes and yet was still welcomed into the kingdom of God. If the downtrodden underdog theme doesn’t get the listener already, then the singing of the text in that particular character should. Voiced consonants can be emphasized. I think this piece is most appropriate for low mezzo. Extremes of dynamics are a big part of rhetoric and are present in this piece.  Maureen Forrester and John Newmark beautifully show these extremes in this piece. Rhetoric is alive in the fact that this piece sounds like a dirge or funeral march. It is a preparation for Jesus’ death. Carl Philipp knew these devices as he learned them from his father Johann Sebastian.

In Britain, John Dowland knew very well the rhetorical devices and his work became a model for later composers such as Purcell. I am a huge proponent of John Dowland. I think his music is some of the most beautiful rhetoric in the Baroque repertoire. Dowland’s “Sorrow, stay” is chalk-full of rhetoric.  It is exposed, it is monody, a lute song, and is mostly in the piano dyamic to name just a few examples. The messa di voce  is of course used on the long notes. The first word “sorrow” sounds like a downward sigh. The melody itself sounds like a person reciting a monologue to themselves in private. As the song grows, the dynamic gets louder and more declamatory, as if someone who is talking to themselves gets more excited. The arioso, free, rubato tempo is a rhetorical device that forces the listener to not get stuck in a certain meter, but to listen to the text. On the repeated words “but down I fall” and “down and arise,” these phrases do just that; they descend and ascend. This is only simple rhetoric, but it achieves the purpose of persuasion. I believe that the counter-tenor or alto or Andreas Scholl is just made for Dowland’s music or Baroque lute music in general. The timbre of his voice is like an emotive color that immediately draws the listener in. The passion and expression is heard in the color of his voice. He is able to perfectly control his vibrato and straight tone so that it is always appropriate for the text and the listener hardly even notices it. I think Dowland would have considered Scholl an exemplary performer of his music, although he may have sung it better than Scholl or have been jealous of Scholl’s technique. Who knows? It is an interesting thought. The song centers on extreme depression. The text and music are both by Dowland. Dowland may have in fact himself been depressed judging from his history. I like this piece for either counter-tenor or baritone. The baritone can give a darker color to this song and perhaps emphasize the depression. Impeccable diction is a must for rhetoric to work.

As I mentioned earlier, Purcell may have learned from Dowland and employed the same rhetorical devices. In Purcell’s “Not all my torments,”rhetoric is alive and well. The tempo is in the Arioso and Accompanied Recitative style. Only Graduate or Professional singer should sing this piece in order to do it justice. The theme of the piece isunrequited love, living in sorrow, and going to the grave for that love. The declamatory fashion of singing is prevalent in this song. The repeated words “torments” are in the mf-f dynamic. The accompaniment is bare and thin. The singer again has much room to grow out of nothing into something ecstatic. This piece requires a range of emotion and Magdalena Kozena does an amazing job displaying the breathy quality of “yet to the grave” and the verismo quality of “I love” on the highest note of the piece.  If the singer, in this case, Kozena, saves her dramatic outbursts for the end of the piece, which she does, then the rhetoric has been achieved.

The persuasion of the audience is accomplished if the Rhetoric has worked. You can always tell if your use of rhetoric has worked by just listening to the applause. How enthusiastic is the applause exactly? The only way to achieve the rhetoric that you desire is by laying your soul bare before the audience. This amount of energy is required for every single performance. The act of artful singing is very exhausting, and the musicians of the Baroque era lived and breathed this. They were trained from very young ages. We, as performers today would do well to look to the rhetorical devices of composers from this era to use in our own performances. Sprezzatura in Italy, Douceur in France, and Classical Rhetoric in Germany and England are all related in that they seek to combine the emotions of the listener of music with the performer of the music to make a cohesive whole.

The Ideal Voice Teacher

For me, the ideal voice teacher is both an experienced performer and teacher. The pedagogue has the ability to think outside the box, which is invaluable when it comes to teaching concepts which may seem abstract to some, concrete to others, and perhaps theoretical to the rest. This teacher will have sung all over the world, worked with many directors, conductors, and sung in a variety of languages, including some challenging and rarely performed.

This person can confidently teach all voice types. He or she has knowledge of the vocal mechanism that can adapt to all sorts of issues that will arise for singers of different ages, body type, and cultural background. A good voice teacher is never afraid to try new things. For instance, just because he or she has used the same canon of repertoire for his or her students for a number of years does not mean that he or she cannot branch out into new music once in awhile. After all, the teacher also has room for change and improvement as well as the student. He or she must be ready for all kinds of teaching, including elementary, high school, college, and graduate-level singers.

The method of drawing from different genres to teach certain techniques is always a good practice. For instance, if a teacher wants to introduce a concept to a particular art song that the student doesn’t immediately grasp, he or she may pause, go to a musical theater piece, teach that concept, and then perhaps the student will better understand it. Another great asset to voice teachers is their ability to accompany their students; this is both an acoustic and psychological support to the student. A teacher with impeccable diction in the sung languages is universally understood; however, it is not always required by certain academic institutions. The ideal voice teacher is a support system to the student in many ways. Sometimes the singer may need more discipline. Sometimes the singer needs a teacher that can de-stress, relax, and be somewhat of a cheerleader for him or her. In many ways, the voice teacher is the one person fan-club of his or her students.

This “ideal” voice teacher is by no means perfect, and he or she must never make the mistake of thinking he or she is the only good voice teacher out there. He or she must be confident, yet humble in his or her methods of teaching; always willing to admit when he or she may be wrong. Who knows? Perhaps once in awhile, the teacher can even learn something from the student!

Strategies for the New Voice Teacher

Strategies for the New Voice Teacher

By D. T. Lentz

 

What are the dangers that new teachers should watch out for when taking on serious voice students? How much anatomy knowledge should new voice teachers really have? What are some safe methods and basic strategies for the new voice teacher to use in the studio? How much does professional performance experience affect the way one teaches? Does much technical knowledge come from performing out in the field and watching other famous singers perform? When is an“experienced singer“ qualified to hold a serious music student’s education in the balance?

Richard Miller has said that the teacher in search of vocal pedagogy through applied scientific information is not free of some serious pitfalls.[1] The new teacher in the age of vocal science has much of his or her own personal research to do in preparation for the serious music student. An adequate knowledge of the functions of the vocal mechanism is required in order for the teacher to give clear explanations of vocal function to the student. Upon completion of the bachelor’s or master’s degree, the young teacher must also realize that they aren’t going to know everything. With many students and much experience in the teaching field, the young teacher must never stop learning and discovering, both from study, and even from their students.

It is necessary to ask the new student important questions in their first lesson, such as:

“What are your goals as a singer? What do you hope to gain from studying with me? What previous vocal training have you had? Are you aware of any specific vocal problems that you have? What kinds of songs do you most enjoy singing?“[2]

These questions are crucial to any progress made with the student in the studio.

All of this being said, there is much vocal pedagogy in the world being taught to students that is unsupported, merely based on myths or legends, and ultimately harms the student’s voice, causing them to digress. No magic formula is used for voice teaching. One teacher alone cannot solve all of the student’s vocal problems. A wide variety of feedback is necessary for the singer to grow in their artistry and musicianship. I know that not all would agree with me on this last point, but this has been my experience.

Let us first define a Teacher of Singing. A Teacher of Singing in the time of Lamperti, was both a vocal coach and a teacher of voice production. Nowadays, we seem to have confused the two roles. Rose defines voice production as:

“learning to develop and control the voice with the greatest possible beauty of tone; expressing clearly with out destroying the purity of the vocal line.“

He also defines the teaching of musicianship as:

“knowledge of music theory, sight reading, languages, memorizing roles, songs, and having a deep understanding of what is being sung in order to express the message in the most beautiful and powerful manner.“[3]

I would like to say that most voice teachers today fit both descriptions. Unfortunately, some vocal coaches have been mislabelled as voice teachers, confusing and generalizing the term, which is detrimental to the student.  Most good and able voice teachers should fill the role of coach and technician. If a teacher is fulfilling only one of these roles, then they should be labelled as such, and the student should seek extra instruction from another teacher who fulfills the other role. The new teacher must be very honest with him or herself as to what kind of a teacher he or she is, and whether or not he or she can fullfill both of these roles for the student. The eager graduate who seeks a career in teaching must meet the“general“ requirements of a voice teacher, which include:

“ a sensitivity of ear, intuition, individuality of approach and a high degree of scientific knowledge.“[4]

It should be said that this is true only for teachers who are seeking to secure a college-level teaching job, however, good basic knowledge of vocal technique such as posture, breathing, and a good ear are only required for the private studio. I do also recommend that the young teacher of singing not imitate the exact methods of another teacher.

“If any two teachers use the same approach, ….one is noncreative.“[5]

Since we are discussing teachers in the age of voice science, one can easily confuse a voice scientist with a voice teacher, and some scientists don’t mind this freudian slip. Arnold Rose argued against this when he said that voice scientists should present facts as such, and not attempt to teach if they have no experience.[6] On the other side of the coin,“successful“ or famous singers in the field should not automatically be regarded as good teachers.[7] A good teacher is born with the skills to interpret facts so that they are easily understood by the student.

Perhaps the most important step that should never be neglected in voice lessons is the description and definition of the voice. Before the first voice lesson begins, a clear understanding of what the vocal instrument is and how sounds are made, is recommended for success. Johan Sundberg calls this instrument a“voice organ,“ much like the pipe organ. This comparison is made because in the voice there are“different structures we mobilize when using the voice.“[8] He also goes on to describe the process of sounds made by the voice organ:

“…sounds are considered voice sounds if they originate from an airstream from the lungs processed by the vocal folds and modified by the pharynx, mouth, and perhaps the nasal cavities.“[9]

The air is the engine of the vehicle that is the voice.

Some voice teachers consider the act of singing based totally on aesthetics. Appelman said:

“singers and teachers who interpret the act of singing as wholly aesthetic find it difficult to accept scientific terminology.“[10]

What this means is that some voice teachers have gotten away with being too vague in their descriptions of the sounds they want. Some are not even sure how they produce their own sound, let alone their student’s sound. They just go on trust, and are assured that their experience will guard against any harm to their student’s voice. Aesthetics are useful for technique, but when they are relied on as the sole tool for vocal production, it is like building a house with no firm foundation. The job of researchers is that they

“constantly interpret scientific facts so that they become realistic pedagogical tools which may be employed by future teachers.“[11]

Also, it is fine to suggest that a performance career full of observations of other fine performers is a good pedagogical tool. The only drawback of this method is that the observer doesn’t really know how the performer was producing the sounds, assuming the performer even knew. The only way to assure productive observation of your colleagues in the field, is to have a good working knowledge of the vocal mechanism.  I shall now get on my soapbox and say that a qualified teacher of voice does not come with at least a master’s degree. I have met a teacher who has had many successful students go on to reputable graduate schools and young artist programs, himself having sung in the Metropolitan Opera Young Artist Program at the age of twenty. Of course, I will say that raw talent counts for something, however, the notion that a teacher of voice cannot be hired at a college just because he or she does not have a master’s, yet has a bachelor’s (with enough performance experience to impress anyone), is just plain ridiculous.

“Good voice teachers should be used wherever they’re found, and voice teaching should be an open rather than a closed profession, because no college can assure teaching competence in a studio or classroom.“[12]

Here is where we meet the voice teacher as the prescriber of solutions. The maintenance of good vocal health is a must and cannot be stressed enough in the studio. A constant vigil must be kept in order to ensure the student is in good physical fitness and in good spirits. The act of singing requires a lot of mental stamina. These issues should be addressed. To pretend this is otherwise is witholding valuable information from the student that could be taxing down the road. The body is the vocal organ, and if the body is not kept in shape, certain aspects of the voice tend to correspond to the lack of exercise the body doesn’t receive. It is the job of the teacher of singing to diagnose solutions to problems when he or she hears them. It is understood that their ear can recognize these problems when they come up. It is through careful and critical tuning of the vocal instrument by other ears that the student is able to make any real progress, which is why tape recorders in a lesson are sometimes a useful tool. McKinney said:

“Every teacher should establish a systematic approach to diagnosis of vocal faults as a prescribed part of his teaching technique.“[13]

He also says remember this plan of action:

  1. recognize symptoms
  2. determine causes
  3. devise cures[14]

This means every pedagogue, no matter how many teachers they’ve had, must determine their own system of diagnosis and prescription unique to the individual they are teaching.

Some good bits of information that every serious voice student should know at some point in their career of study are that the tongue is the main articulator in the resonating cavity.[15] This will hopefully solve of alot of problematic spots later on. The tongue is the cause of much tension for a singer and can affect the way the tone is produced and the purity of tone. If the singer is made to be aware of how their tongue acts while they sing, this is a huge step for the beginning and advanced singer alike. Also, the question of how to teach vibrato is always tricky.

If the singer is told to sing any note with a healthy onset and told to sustain it, chances are the vibrato will just happen.

“Vibrato is a relaxant principle and a major component of well-balanced resonance.“[16]

The point here is that straight tone should never be taught as a compensation technique to get in the center of the pitch. If the singer is too high or too low in pitch, have them sing in their normal vibrato without controlling it, and have them think higher or lower or approach from above the pitch.

Finally, I would like to sum up these hopefully helpful strategies for the new voice teacher with a quote from Arnold Rose:

“It is the work of a teacher to try to discover what mental concepts produce the best results.“[17]

With these goals in mind, the new voice teacher should feel confident with the serious music student. The point of vocal pedagogy is to make concepts that are complex easy to understand. The singer must trust their voice teacher with what they say, and their physical health depends on it. My hope is that many new voice teachers will go out into the world with the creativity they were born with, and trust themselves to learn from their students.

Works Cited

Miller, Richard.“The Misuses of“Scientific Information“ in the Teaching of Singing,“ On the Art

            of Singing. Oxford University Press: New York, 1996. 249-250

McKinney, James C. The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Waveland Press, Inc.:

Long Grove, IL, 1994. 14-19

Miller, Richard. Solutions for Singers. Oxford University Press: New York, 2004. 125-126

Appelman, D. Ralph. The Science of Vocal Pedagogy. Indiana University Press:

Bloomington, IN, 1967. 3-8

Sundberg, Johan. The Science of the Singing Voice. Northern Illinois University: Dekalb, IL,

1987. 1-6

Rose, Arnold. The Singer and the Voice. St. Martin’s Press: New York, 1971. 19-29


[1] Miller, p. 250

[2]McKinney, p.14

[3] Rose, p. 19

[4] Rose, p. 21

[5]McKinney, p. 14

[6] Rose, p. 28

[7] Rose, p. 25

[8] Sundberg, p. 1

[9] Sundberg, p. 1

[10] Appelman, p. 3

[11] Appelman, p. 5

[12] Appelman, p. 7

[13]McKinney, p. 14

[14]McKinney, p. 19

[15] Miller, p. 258

[16] Miller, p. 126

[17] Rose, p. 28

Verdi’s Otello

 Otello: The humanity behind the crime of passion and its influence on verismo composers

 

In looking at the humanity of the crime of passion in the final scene of Verdi’s Otello, one can see that the character of Otello throughout the entire opera is derived primarily from personality traits to which we can all relate. First of all, in order for us to sympathize with Otello, we must understand how he came upon the tragedy, we need a character development, and this can only be done with the character’s presence on stage. Scott Balthasar, in his article on Desdemona’s alienation and Otello’s fall from the Cambridge Companion to Verdi says “the more presence a character has on stage, the more the audience emphasizes with them.” This is also true of Desdemona as he goes on to say “So by emphasizing Desdemona’s purity, naïveté, and vulnerability, Verdi and Boito adhered to an aesthetic involving the cathartic destruction of a sympathetic female lead with which their audience could readily identify.” (237) I think the tragedy of both the characters’ downfalls lies in the amount of stage time they have.

In order for the character of Otello to be truly engrossing, we must see him as a normal human being, with flawed emotions, and not as a saint. Julian Buddin says in The Operas of Verdi that tragic heroes need the right circumstances to give away their morale, otherwise they are not interesting, and the audience can not relate. (305) In talking about the flaws of Otello’s character, we can look to many famous portrayals over the years, in play and in opera, especially by Sir Lawrence Olivier and Plàcido Domingo. Domingo says in his semi-autobiographical My first forty years, “Otello, the once great commander, has so completely lost his sense of direction that he clutches at everything Iago suggests to him as if it were revealed truth.” (132) One can certainly empathize with this pathetic human trait which lies in all of us. In a Zeffirelli production at La Scala in 1976, Domingo and Piero Capuccilli’s Iago are staged in Act II doing “mundane things.” The reason for this was the less Otello looked Iago in the the eye, the more he would fall into his trap.

To see how Otello transformed into chaos, let us dissect his character at the beginning of the opera. We know from the Shakespearean drama, that the Moor of Venice is of darker skin than the rest of his colleagues. Domingo says the characterization by Zeffirelli comes from Olivier, and therefore from Shakespeare, “thinking of Otello as a black man alienated from white society.” (132) Balthasar notices in Act I, after the inn brawl, we see Otello abusing his power when he dismisses Cassio for personal reasons of waking his bride, Desdemona. Is this irrational? I think it is. Verdi and Boito go to the trouble of portraying Otello as irrational rather than Shakespeare’s rational “It is the cause” speech and reason for committing the crime from Act II in the play, which was eliminated from Otello’s role in the opera. (239)

In order to rationalize the tragedy, Verdi and Boito made Otello an anti-hero, an “emotional weakling and abusive dupe who irrationally disregards his wife’s loyalty.” (240) The darkness of Otello is even hinted at in the love duet of Act I in the words “furious heart, war thunder, world is engulfed in immense wrath.” (241) Desdemona acts as a healing presence to Otello in the opera, different from Shakespeare, where she is “intelligent, assertive, and articulate” in Iago’s homily of Act II. (240)

As for its influence on verismo operas, Otello is a true standard. Although it is sometimes romantic in style, especially in the lyricism of Desdemona and the fake-goodness of Iago, it still rings true to the ever-present qualities in all of us that push us to the point of true evil, which is human. This is present in the verismo operas of Mascagni and Leoncavallo, with the tragic downfalls of the heroes and the action leading up to them. When evil is thrust upon a good person in the right way, the result is disastrous.

Works Cited

Sadie, Stanley, ed. and Robert Parker. Verdi and his operas.New York:St. Martin’s Press,

 Incorporated, 2001

Balthasar, Scott, ed. Cambridge Companion to Verdi.Cambridge:Cambridge UP, 2004

Domingo, Plàcido. Plàcido Domingo: My first forty years.New York: Alfred A. Kopf, Inc. 1983

Budden, Julian. The Operas of Verdi. 3 vols.Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992

A Survey of Opera Literature

A Survey of Opera Literature

by D. T. Lentz

I. Operatic Economics: Courtly entertainment at a lower price

This is how an ad would have read in Venice around the late 17th century. In order for us to understand this slogan and how it came about, we must look at opera’s origins. Opera started out as high court entertainment. The intermedi of 1589 were funded by the royalty, and therefore, the government. To get an idea of how lavish these productions were in the 1600s, we know that the scenery was made only from “top-of-the line” material. Workers such as carpenters, painters, and singers were guaranteed job security for these elaborate court productions. As long as the court spectacle was produced and performed, the court didn’t care whether or not they actually enjoyed it. Opera served the purpose of entertaining the elite few, and for political reasons, was competitive with other courts to see who had the most expensive scenic designs.

The audience’s role around the beginning of the 17th century was not fully defined until the 1630s in Venice, when opera became public. The only audience for these court spectacles was courtiers, whose job was to attend court functions and elaborate ceremonies. So, I think I can safely say that any entertainment value to be absorbed from the earliest operas was secondary until Venice. In fact, any repetition of the first operas was merely to catch up any upperclass citizens who missed the first performance. It was a kind gesture on the part of the monarch to give the performance a second time on the behalf of his obedient subjects. Another reason for a second performance of a court spectacle was lack of space during the premiere.

II. Music serves the Poetry!

It seems that one name was on the lips of all the intelligent, well-read minds of the early eighteenth century, Metastasio. Of all the librettists in history, he is certainly one of the most respected, sought after poets to be set to music.

As audiences of the late Baroque opera are pleasured by the “spectacle” of the production, a new type of opera emerges, the “aria opera”(Grout, 203). Three schools of opera had also been growing and changing for years: the German, which would imitate and conform to the Italian. The English was fading away with its leader, Purcell, and the French would also progress towards Italianate styles of opera. The “aria opera” consisted of periods of musical reflection, a series, which was outlined by recitatives to form the plot. Recitative served the drama, and the aria was a moment of dramatic rest, according to Grout, but the music of the aria, was much more tense than the recit. I tend to disagree with Grout in that “the central position of the aria as a musical unit” serves only this purpose. I think there was much opportunity at this time to expand the drama from the recit into the aria. In a modern sense, singers are coached to “go somewhere” with the aria. What does it do in the grand scheme of things? Galuppi, translated by Burney gives the definition of good music as “beauty, clearness, and a good modulation.” (Grout, 205) One could correlate this idea of clarity of text to later composers of the German romantic movement of Wagner and Wolf. It seems we have come full circle.

Other facets of eighteeth century opera would evolve, like the french overture, which would become faster, include a slow section and be called Italian, leading the way for the classical symphony. In Naples, the Italian school of composition such as ornamentation, simplicity, and a light texture, would eventually be called Neapolitan. In this group of composers were Leo, Vinci, Steffani, Keiser, and Handel. Music serving the text was a product of many years of tasteful and well thought out librettos. Some of the first librettists to lead the movement of reform were Gravina, Cicognini, Stampiglia, and Metastasio, the big kahuna. His librettos would be set by almost every major Italian opera composer, such as Handel, Pergolesi, Hasse, Gluck, Conti, Caldara, and Bononcini. Why was he such a big deal and compared to Homer and Dante? I think it was because he standardized the prevailing scene-recit form of the eighteenth century, and more importantly, sought to eradicate all unnatural, superfluous elements of the seventeenth century which made it such a spectacle.

“His achievement consisted in the creation of a consistent dramatic structure conforming to the rationalistic ideals of the period, but incorporating lyrical elements suited for musical setting in a such a way as to form an organic whole.” (Grout, 207)

I am of the strong opinon that the Enlightenment during the eighteeth century was the vehicle of change for the text-driven opera. Weiss adds that Metastasio was not only admired as a librettist, but as a literary genius. We begin to see the librettist take great care in attention to the musical setting of their words. In Hoole’s translation, Metastasio talks about the right instrumentation for the right words, and if it isn’t a certain way, it will not be affective. During the enlightenment, the librettist is fast becoming a central figure, occupying the same stature of the composer.

Not that singers were no longer regarded as divas, especially the castrati, but the Italian opera of the early eighteenth century in its truest form centered around the powers of the voices that sung the words and music of the composers and librettists. This perhaps grows out of our last class discussion of the birth of the prima donna. Even though the castrati held their sway in the opera world, only until composers like Hasse did the female singer gain equal share of the diva stature, especially Faustina Bordoni, and Francesca Cuzzoni. The castrati in the eighteenth century were”comparable to Liszt or Paganini in the nineteenth” (Burney).

The interesting form of the Pasticcio or “patchwork” to the modern reader, was just another example of how opera needed a reform. It’s very rigid structure of loosely put-together arias by many composers into one opera was a “greatest hits” of its day.

In my opinion, the aria had room to grow into a dramatic outlet, just as the recitative did. Was recitative purely a musical element of the drama and nothing else? Why was the tragic ending in Metastasio’s Attilo regolo (1740) an innovation? Could lyricism really have a place in the midst of all that anguish and violence?

III. The Philosophy of Bizet and the Sweat of Wagner

Even one of the biggest promoters and supporters of Wagner was also one of his biggest critics. Nietzsche was certainly approaching Wagner’s music from a philosophical standpoint in that music should improve the listener. In this way, he found Wagner’s music flawed. He wanted an intelligent mastermind composer working on the ears of the listener, who did it in a steady and sly manner, like Georges Bizet.

Bizet’s Carmen was a masterpiece to Nietzsche for its “light, graceful, stylish” music that did not “sweat.” (Weiss, 225) The philosopher is talking about the definition of aesthetics, and what it means to different people. What do people prefer? What is disagreeable? One of the flaws Nietzsche points out is Wagner’s over-use of leitmotifs that hits the listener over the head, in contrast to Bizet’s assumption that the listener is intelligent.

The question posed by Nietzsche: “Has anyone ever observed that music emancipates the spirit…the more one becomes a musician the more one is also a philosopher?” really means that music to me is an embodiment of the soul and/or spirit, and that music should for all purposes, improve the life of an individual in some way. It stirs the mind, and makes us question ourselves and others even more, making all of us, especially musicians, into philosophers.

The concept of love as a complex emotion and puzzle that is usually misinterpreted by composers is realized by Nietzsche in Carmen. “I know no case in which the tragic irony that constitutes the kernel of love is expressed with such severity…” (Weiss, 227) He is saying that the composer Bizet really understood love and understood that there is noONE interpretation. Love is an emotion that can rear its ugly head when not returned. Love is a mutual agreement that is not a selfless thing, but a SELFISH thing. One who loves someone else wishes to receive those same powerful sentiments from the other person. “Love is, of all sentiments, the most egotistical and consequently, when hurt, the least generous.” (Weiss, 227) I’m not saying that all forms of love are like this, I’m just agreeing with Nietzsche that an emotion as complex as this, should not be treated in the standard formula of the past.

In Wagner, someone always wants to be saved. This is a highlight of Nietzsche’s support for the composer. He understood that Wagner was deeply concerned with salvation and all its forms. It is a theme that reoccurs in all his operas. He does pose the question of whether or not Wagner should have dissected this theme so thoroughly. Did the composer get too much into his own head?

The harsh criticisms of Wagner’s music by Nietzsche was very surprising to me, given his history with the composer. Although I would agree with the fact that Wagner’s idea of aesthetics did not conform with the audience’s ideas at the time and his comparison of the rise of the Third Reich giving rise to Wagner’s music was example enough of how harsh he could be. Do you think Nietzsche’s criticisms of Wagner are too harsh? Does Wagner’s music have its own place in our world of thought-provoking music, even though many our attention spans would not be able to survive it nowadays?

IV. A New Kind of Opera for the Twentieth Century

Wagner, in a backwards way, influenced Debussy in his music, especially in Pelléas et Mélisande. I think we can also all agree that the goals of these two composers were the same, just approached in a different way, using different tools. In Debussy’s most influential opera of the 20th century, we are directed towards the tendency to avoid Wagnerian techniques, which inadvertently shows Wagner’s influence by Debussy resisting it. While Debussy was resisting Wagner, he was also creating a new type of music that parallelled impressionism in painters.

We see the “idea-leitmotifs” of Pelléas influenced by the mature Wagner in Tristan. Of Wagner’s operatic output, the previously mentioned is the work that stands out to Debussy. From the Smith we learn that the impressionistic composer saw in Tristan the perfect model of leitmotif and harmony that doesn’t detract from the action. Debussy felt that leitmotifs should be used sparingly and that the characters “should not be subjected to the slavery of the leitmotif.” ( 81)

In their music dramas, Wagner and Debussy both sought to paint a vivid landscape with orchestral colors and both achieved this; one used more blatant and powerful forces, and the other used restrained and simple methods. One obvious difference is that Debussy futher explores his harmonic juxtapositions, whereas Wagner makes only appearances and continues in a new direction.

Debussy’s independent method of composition was aimed at indirect symbolism and hidden meanings. “In Pelléas, as in all works meriting the title ‘Symbolist,’ there is a sense in which the words used create a higher level of meaning above the literal, in which to define is to destroy.” (78) Wagner also influenced symbolist thought, as we learn in his Lettre sur la musique quoted by Baudelaire. Baudelaire was considered the father of symbolist thought. (78) The poet and critic quoted Wagner in his Lettre à Berlioz saying that when poetry reaches its limits, the other will then exert itself. Debussy’s opera was a product of its time and in reaction to Wagner, but at the same time a new type of music that would influence composers in the later half of the 20th century. Do we also find the character-motifs used by Wagner and Debussy used in Verdi’s and Puccini’s music? Do we see the ‘stock- villain’ motifs in the characters of Scarpia and Iago? Were Puccini and Verdi influencing Wagner and Debussy?

V. Glass’s Operas: At first a hard pill to swallow

The general consensus of Glass and his music seems to be that most listeners either boo a performance or give five standing ovations. To me, when someone becomes truly innovative, they are usually disregarded by society as unorthodox. In Philip Glass’s operas Einstein and Satyagraha, his innovation is at first a challenge to our conception of music, time, and theater.

Ashby mentions Glass growing up in the New York “progressive theatre” of playwrights such as Brecht, Genet, Pinter, and Beckett, as opposed to “traditional theatre” such as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Glass was accustomed to non-conventional forms of art from the very beginning. The kinds of plays that Glass saw would change our ideas of society and sense of time. Some of these plays lasted five hours long with the first half hour in total silence.

Ashby defines minimalism as an “offshoot of avant-garde theatre.” (244) This music is rooted in the New York revolutionary theatre of the 1950s. So, we can see a change in direction of opera’s priorities. We move from Berg’s dramatic portrayal of the orchestra in Wozzeck and Lulu to music which is totally composed for non-traditional theatre, theatre that is “progressive.”

In order for theatre to look forward, it needs to change time, and transform the listener. In the Weiss, the flutist Ransom Wilson comments on Glass’s music: ” As I listened to that five-hour performance, I experienced an amazing transformation. At first I was bored, …The music seemed to have no direction, almost giving the impression of a gigantic phonograph with a stuck needle…I thought of leaving, Then with no conscious awareness, I crossed a threshold and found that the music was touching me, carrying me with it.” (Weiss, 324) What I think Wilson is saying is that the repetitive music forces us to digest it in a very slow way, not rush to conclusions, and become very meditative in our discoveries and realizations. Glass makes us “feel” the music in a physical sense, as if we are changing with it in its meticulous and slight alterations of repetition.

Glass really introduced a form of music for the theatre which was no longer abstract or narrative. The audience would no longer feel detached from the sounds, he or she would either willingly accept and be swept up with it, or resist it. The latter would be slightly pained with classically trained ears. Should we be judgemental of this music? How much of it is ridiculous? How do we decipher through the repetitions what is truly inspiring and what is unnecessary? The music of Glass causes a tension that never really lets us relax. Do we see this as exciting theatre or a nuisance?