Do Not Yawn!
This is the title of a section from the book “Vocal Wisdom” that was my main inspiration into vocal research. It is an organized collection of quotes from lessons with Giovanni Battista Lamperti. It is interesting that even in that time (1891-1893) there was the problem of people yawning to enlarge the voice.
From the book, “One can not yawn unless one succumbs to the desire and feels the co-ordinate sensation. One can not sing unless one feels the co-ordinate sensation, and succumbs to the desire. The gratification of singing is more sensuous than that of yawning. This ‘pleasure’ continues throughout a song. The satisfaction of yawning soon passes.”
“However the sensation of singing and that of yawning are similar, in that both are all-stimulating, all-compelling, all-pervading. But yawning does not help one to sing, though it may make one realize the sensation of co-ordinate reaction.”
“One can not yawn unless the desire is urgent. ‘Do not sing unless you’d die if you didn’t.’ This was Lamperti’s way of saying ‘Singing is like yawning,’ though he never intended one to yawn while singing.”
“Many have misunderstood and tried to do both at the same time, hoping thereby to superinduce the feeling of an ‘open throat.’ Any arbitrary use of the throat, other than procuring a tone’s pitch or a word’s color, is detrimental to control of the voice. Do not yawn.”
For me, the key thing to remember is the last Statement. Any arbitrary use of the throat is detrimental to the control of the voice. This includes any attempt to open the throat, make a bigger tone, emphasize with an artificial coup de glotte, (as opposed to an automatic one for the vowel) or anything that isn’t the spontaneous articulation and formation of the vowel-tone.
If we consider this in relation to all of the advice to open the throat and round the sound and create color and darken the vowels and place the voice and lower the larynx… It is no wonder that there is so much confusion and disagreement.
It is one of my main claims on this blog that modern singers are doing things fundamentally different than the singers of older generations. This actually applies to both classical singing and non-classical styles. In most cases the voices were used more naturally. Now classical singers have gotten progressively more dark and swallowed and non-classical singers have gotten more forward and constricted.
Essentially these are just opposite ends of the same issue, imitating a sound instead of sincerely and truly saying something with the voice. When we do that the parts of the body involved in vocal production react by doing the things we try so hard to make happen with technique.
This free, reflexive behavior appears to be relaxed. But we absolutely cannot accomplish it by trying to be relaxed. It appears to be high placed as well as forward, but we will not realize that if we try to place the voice high or forward. The larynx has a relatively low position, but we don’t have any involvement in the lowering of the larynx. The body is supporting the tone, but we have no feeling of deliberately “supporting”.
The difference is accomplished by creating the conditions in the body where these things that “should” happen do as a natural result, not because we try to make them happen. Many of the recommendations we hear are descriptions of what the singer feels or what the listener observes. Which are results that can confirm that we are doing something correct.
But the key thing to understand is these directions don’t tell us how to cause that desired result. So when I say things like, “don’t place the tone”, or “don’t lower the larynx”, that doesn’t mean those things don’t exist. They do exist, it is just that we can’t make them exist by trying to do them. They happen as a result of the proper conditions being created in the body.
If I were to point out two specific characteristics that are different they would be 1)the dropping of the face/mouth/tongue, creating darker and heavier voices – and 2)the consistent and deliberate release of unvocalized breath as part of the tone. I encourage you to learn to identify these characteristics when you listen to singers.
Since there was such a positive response to the examples I used in the last post I would like to do more of that here. I’m just taking these right from YouTube. Where possible I’ll have an example of a modern singer compared with a representation of what I’m talking about. As always, these are just examples of characteristics. There is no claim of perfection, or the best. Just different characteristics of vocal behavior.
There may be even better examples than what I include. I have made no effort to find the definitive example. Just the feeling that “this singer shows characteristics of what I’m talking about”. It is possible that a singer may not even make a good impression. Just because there is some aspect that we can learn from doesn’t mean that we have to like that singer. Likewise, just because we don’t like a singer doesn’t mean we can’t still learn something. That is for each of you to decide. But if you can start to get an idea of what these singers were doing you might be able to do it better with your natural voice.
I’ll make comments as we go along.
This is from the Met last Fall. The voice is quite dark, which to me is out of place especially for French opera. It is interesting to notice that she has pretty good lift in the face. But that is negated by her concept of singing back in the throat, which drops the tongue.
Unfortunately, this is audio only of Eleanor Steber in the same Faust aria. This is an interesting comparison because she has a significantly larger instrument, but she has much better success in expressing the light, joyful youth of the character at this point of the story.
Angela Gheorghiu – Pace, pace mio Dio – Not much to say about this. Just a good example of the low position of the tone that is so common, and how that contributes to the unvocalized breath.
Renata Tebaldi – Pace, pace mio Dio – I’m not the biggest Tebaldi fan, but I certainly respect what she does here. This is from a 1958 live performance in Naples. Just notice the completely different approach to the voice compared to the modern singers.
Anna Netrebko – Quel guardo il cavaliere – From the Met, 2010. Tone stuck in her throat.
Reri Grist – Quel guardo il cavaliere (in German) – German TV, 1972. A small voice that is being what it is. If she were trained now she would be taught to drop the tongue to make more color (artificial darkness). This is what a small light voice should sound like.
Marcelo Alvarez & Vladimir Stoyanov – Duet from La forza del destino – Paris, 2011. I’ve been listening to Verdi’s Forza lately and I really like this duet. You don’t have to watch the whole thing to make a comparison.
Franco Corelli & Ettore Bastianini – Duet from La forza del destino – Naples, 1958. Corelli has his problems, but his basic approach is still light-years ahead of what we hear today. And Bastianini is a great example of achieving the snarling baritone sound the correct way. Through the face rather than down the throat.
Jackie Evancho – Pie Jesu – 2012. I want to include some singers from outside of the actual opera world as well. I would consider these next few singers classical oriented pop singers. I want to point out that with these young singers I’m not critical of them directly. They are just doing what they have been guided and allowed to do with their voice. I’m more critical of the people guiding their development and the industry for not having the knowledge to recognize that it is poor singing. Or, perhaps they do and don’t care because they can make a lot of money anyway.
Charlotte Church – Danny Boy
Sarah Brightman – Nessun dorma – This is the model for these young singers.
Deanna Durbin – Nessun dorma – 1943. Durbin was a well-trained soprano that made movies in the 1940s. She actually was sought by the Metroploitan Opera when she was a teenager before signing a studio contract.
Deanna Durbin – 16 years old, 1937. Not quite what we would want to hear on an actual opera stage. But a very good example of what a talented teenage soprano could sound like with good guidance. What I want people to notice is how she doesn’t mess around with the natural production.
Of course I could go on and on, but this is sufficient for now. I hope that these examples help to open your hearing to the finer elements of the vocal sound and the minute differences that are possible. Gradually, as you get more exposure and practice at listening it becomes pretty obvious.
Again, I want to emphasize that I’m not talking about the quality of these singers as artists. I’m discussing the characteristics of their vocal production. Everyone is free to like what they want and do what they want. But for those who are interested in finding the truth of the vocal instrument, independent of style or opinion, then this is where to start.
Please comment below.
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