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Do Not Yawn!

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 Giovanni Battista Lampertiquotes 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.

http://youtu.be/nXGl8hSmujU

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.

http://youtu.be/DLkxoaZFO9U

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inV3RlOTOXM

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.

Contact me if you are interested in a consultation or assessment. I am running a Summer Special on recorded consultations. Name Your Own Price! Just record yourself demonstrating your question on a song or exercise and send me the file (if it is small enough) or the link to where you have it posted. Use the PayPal button on my Services page to pay whatever you choose and I’ll record my response.

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Comments

  • .
    January 7, 2013

    So Michael, in your response to Evandro, you were referring to the head resonance (nasal resonance, singing in the mask)? It is often emphasized that this kind of resonance should be present in every tone of the scale, even the lowest ones too.
    I came across a description that we should always aim at singing “slimer and brighter”.It is not only more efficient and easier to sing this way but, above all else, healthier.

  • Evandro
    January 2, 2013

    I just asked about “darken” the sound because she sang heavier roles (Lucia, for example, a role which is rather demanding).

    PS: Maybe I’m a boring listener, who wants to hear another Sutherland, Callas or Caballe in Lucia. KKKKK I think my problem is have heard Sutherland as Lucia, Elvira, Bolena etc and I expect similar performances (in terms of technique, I mean)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt59eyLPiY4 Dessay singing Mad Scene (after surgery – the video says so kkkkkk)

  • Evandro
    January 2, 2013

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqIgGIpcLv0 Here you can watch Verdi’s TRAVIATA, performed last year in March at Met, she sings with Mathew Polenzani. There are moments which seems to me she does some glottal attacks (I don’t know if it is part of her interpretation). But watch it when you have time to do so and, if possible, give your impressions. Thanks a lot.

  • January 2, 2013

    Good, I’m glad it makes more sense. I appreciate your comments about the blog. That is what I am after.

    I guess the reason I have made a big deal about singing this way is because it can have a negative affect on the voice. Plus, the results are not as good. This is why modern singers generally pale compared to the great singers of the past.

    I can’t say what the reasons are for Natalie Dessay’s difficulties. When I listen to her I hear a voice that is functioning incompletely. She sings beautifully still, but the voice is not connected. In other words the vibration is not pure. It is too delicate, girlish, shallow.

    Because of this the larynx is not being completely activated, which causes irritation. That is my theory behind her need for surgery. And the higher you sing with an incomplete larynx the more irritation.

    I haven’t heard her more recently. But my feeling is her problems are actually from the opposite direction than we have been discussing. Instead of singing too dark, she sings too light. Which ends up disconnected and irritating to the larynx. Hope that makes sense.

  • Evandro
    January 2, 2013

    One last question (so many kkkk sorry). Do you think Natalie Dessay’s vocal problems are due to her attempt to produce this “darker, heavier” sound you are describing? (I saw her Traviata at Met, and it seemed to me that her voice is not so good as it used to be – some notes were not so secure)

  • Evandro
    January 2, 2013

    You made me look at Gheorghiu in a way that I hadn’t seen before. The question for me is: how bad is this way of singing for the artists? Can it make a career shorter (in terms of vocal skills, I mean)?

  • Evandro
    January 2, 2013

    Yeah, you did manage to explain it – when you mentioned the pharynx and its position I could easily figure out things you were talking about. Thanks a lot for the answer.
    What I like most about this blog is the fact that we can escape from those naive compliments and reflect about singing technique. It’s a blog where we can analyze artists, discuss their work and – why not saying it – improve our singing – since we understand some aspects we can use them to improve our own singing skills.

  • January 2, 2013

    Hello Evandro – thanks for reading and your questions. I’m not sure I’ll be able to adequately answer them through writing, unfortunately. But the main idea I’m trying to illustrate with these examples of the “low position” is about how people form the resonance system.

    The pharynx is the main resonator, which is the space behind the mouth. But it extends both up and down to the naso-pharynx and the laryngo-pharynx. There should be sympathetic, or secondary, resonance in the naso-pharynx. When the pronunciation is such that the resonance is primarily in the lower part of the pharynx it has darkness but lacks the other qualities present in a good tone.

    That is what I am showing with these modern singers. It feels like they are pronouncing behind a lowered tongue. This causes a muddiness and lack of clarity. The back of the tongue should not drop to open the pharynx. This is what distorts the pronunciation.

    The pharynx should be open so we can pronounce there and not forward in the mouth. But the tongue must not drop for it to open. And the naso-pharynx should also be open. In fact the whole of the nasal passages should be open as well. We just don’t pronounce there.

    We still pronounce in the oro-pharynx, but the nasal passages are open for sympathetic, or what I call secondary resonance. If we pronounce up there it will cause a limited resonance just as pronouncing too low does.

    But lacking this higher, sympathetic resonance makes the tone dull and lacking brilliance and clarity. This is why many classical singers can’t be understood even when singing in English here in the US.

    I hope this gives more for you to understand my point. Thanks again.

  • Evandro
    December 30, 2012

    Hi, I’m from brazil and I’ve been visiting your blog quite often. Talking about this article, I have few questions. I guess I couldn’t get your point here, mainly concerning the videos that you displayed in your text. I couldn’t see the real problems you were pointing out, but Ana Netrebko, who is a singer that I really don’t appreciate at all (though most people worship her rs). The point is that I was wondering if you could try to explain that again. For example – Angela Gheorghiu – I couldn’t see the problem you are trying to make. You said “a good example of the low position of the tone that is so common, and how that contributes to the unvocalized breath.” How does it contribute to the unvocalized breath ? And what’s the problem with the other singer who was singing Marguerite? (I could see a difference between Marina Poplavskaya and Eleanor Steber – who was a great singer). But I feel I am not able to judge that first video (with Marina Poplavskaya) as inappropriate singing. Thanks a bunch – and congratulations on the blog, which is very interesting for those who are interested in understanding vocal phenomena.

  • June 4, 2012

    Hello Dolce. You are welcome. I’m glad you are finding things helpful. Of course Ponselle and Caruso were great. I don’t know what to say. They are two o the singers that everybody after is compared to. Yes, Galli-Curci is a great one too.

    Regarding lip trills, you don’t see anything about them because I don’t use them. I suppose I could write about why I don’t use them. They are very popular with voice teachers. I had a teacher who thought they were the closest thing to a perfect exercise.

    My feeling is they are based on an incorrect premise. And so they are not helpful. Basically, if the voice is in good condition you are able to do them. If your voice is not in good condition you are not able to do them. They don’t develop the coordination. So I don’t use them. In other words, if the voice is not in good condition (which is the case for most of us as we are developing) they will not improve the condition of the voice.

    To say more would require demonstration to explain clearly. I hope that helps.

  • Dolce
    May 29, 2012

    So helpful Michael. I’m new. Thank you so much.
    I’m studying the Lamperti book.
    How about Rosa Ponselle and Caruso? Can you please give some feedback on them?
    also, lip trills…I couldn’t find anything re: this on your site.
    What do they really do? the opera dept. at the university here uses them.
    Many thanks for all of your love and expertise and I love Deanna too!
    I guess Amelita Gali-Curci is included as great too?
    Thank you so much.

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  • April 4, 2012

    Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your support for Vocal Wisdom. I agree, it is the one book I would recommend over any other. And I appreciate your support for this site.

  • Kelly
    April 4, 2012

    Vocal Wisdom is my singing and teaching BIBLE. My mom and I both use it (she has been using it for 20+ years) and our copies are both hanging on to their pages by a few seams. This is spot on! As a young singer currently throwing my hat into the performing world ring, I admire your boldness to go against the conventional, modern day teaching nonsense! It’s a battle, it truly is. So comforting to know that there are others armed with truth to help bring about a revival of REAL singing!

  • March 12, 2012

    Thank you, Carlyn.

  • March 12, 2012

    Thanks, Dinko. I remember reading that about Sister Mary Leo as well, and like you wondered about why they didn’t sound like they modeled her. I think this is actually an important issue. I suspect that most people can’t identify what is actually going on that should be modeled.

    Yes, it is easy to overlook that vocal faults have existed throughout history, the difference is now they are accepted as correct.

    I think maybe Tebaldi might be a little like Di Stefano. The voice is used in a near talking way, like you said. The problem with that, which killed Di Stefano, is it mainly resonates in the mouth area and not enough in the head which protects the voice. But there is an immediacy with the mouth that excites listeners. That is probably part of the popularity of the musical theater approach as well.

  • Carlyn White
    March 12, 2012

    “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.” – such wisdom in that statement, and exactly what my own, very humble, attempt at teaching is all about. This was a great post. Thank you for including so many wonderful examples of your point. Your writing always gives me so much to think about! Bless you!

  • Dinko
    March 12, 2012

    Great post Michael with many important details! I’ve been a fan of Deanna for quite a long time, and found her voice always interesting. The fullness and the easiness of her singing is stunning. The last and only interview after her career was given in 1983. when she said she still sings, but for friends and such. There are many writtings about Sister Mary Leo who was so inspired by Deanna’s voice, that she became a singing teacher and trained all her pupils to sing like Deanna did. This is interesting, because some of them had great careers (like Kiri Te Kanawa) but almost none, at least how much I can hear, used their voices as naturally as Deanna. Now the next generation (there is a clip of Kiri Te Kanawa teaching a young soprano) seems to drift away from those ideals even further. I also find it interesting that the yawning idea happened even that long ago, I should read Lamperti again as well. But it does just confirm that bad singing and ideas were present even then, though they weren’t mainstream. A Swedish soprano and teacher I mentioned before wrote 100 years ago that the aesthetic sense in the “modern” (of that day) audience is deformed. That they are so used to hear the unpure vowels that they consider them beautiful…I wonder what she would write today…

    Would you believe that until the age of 16 I was thinking that something is wrong with me because I can’t understand opera singers? Because someone told me as a child that you need to get educated in the field to learn to hear and understand them! So much about nature…

    Also, Tebaldi…your comment is interesting Michael, I was also never her great fan, but I still can’t seem to figure out why and sometimes feel guilty for that (I really really try hard every now and then to figure her out). Her tone, I find so fascinating sometimes (I have a CD of hers with great sound which I listen just for the purity and easiness of her tone), and I can’t figure out why at the same time I don’t like it as much as I do. It’s as if her singing is so “raw”, the voice is so extremely fast responsive and easy that I can’t distinguish her singing from speech in a way, it’s as if it is too easy sometimes (not sure if that is supposed to be good or bad) but at the same times seems extremely static, monumental and too consistent in this easiness. (I am aware it’s opposite things, it’s precisely what makes it difficult to describe) And I still can’t figure out the function of her voice by listening. Maybe that is exactly what makes her so interesting to many! I find her voice enigmatic…

  • March 11, 2012

    Roger – yes, how many college singers are trying to sound 40? Good points regarding color. I think the loss of the natural use of the voice is the big reason we hear such little color variations in singers. When the voice is part of the natural expression the individual the color changes with our thoughts. If we are depending on a manipulated, deliberate vocal production that connection to our expressiveness is lost. Everything needs to be manufactured. I enjoyed the cleverness also.

  • March 11, 2012

    You’re welcome, Iris. Good points. I think Reri Grist is a good example for you. I’m an optimist and feel that even a Zerbinetta can make an impact if she sings with that indescribable something that natural vocal behavior provides.

  • March 11, 2012

    Thank, Chris. Great, it is the best reference, in my opinion. Drain-pipe singers is a funny, but actually quite accurate, description. Yes, the sameness is the thing, isn’t it? That happens in voice studios as well.

    I don’t think it is an individual thing, any longer. It is definitely an issue of the system. The whole classical singing world has accepted this approach as the norm. I think the fans fall into a couple different camps. There are those younger audiences who haven’t heard anything else, so the bigness and richness, even if it is artificial, is impressive.

    Then there are those that are old enough to have heard singers that had some elements of natural production. Some wish for that singing now but accept what we have. And others just have given up.

    Thanks for sharing your listening experiment. Good points.

    Yes, Deanna D. always wanted to be an opera singer but was trapped by her movie contract. It sounds like she had enough and gave it all up, moving to Paris for the rest of her life. Still there from what I read.

  • Roger Bryant
    March 11, 2012

    Good posts, Chris and Iris. Thanks! Indeed, “chiaroscuro” is often but easily bandied. It’s a fine term we have borrowed from the world of art (pictorialism)/photography. But notice a basic Webster’s definition: “pictorial representation in terms of light and shade WITHOUT REGARD TO COLOR.” Michael’s sample clips – the ones in B&W – gave us singers with more color in the voice than those in the clips in “living color.” How ironic! Many (most?) of the more current singers are, at best, giving us “brownish-gray” SEPIA “tones”, rather than artistically colored and enriched HUMAN language. The voice is not (IMO) a musical instrument in the conventional sense. Singing is a sublimation of speech (Fields) and is the “interpretation [elucidation?] of text BY MEANS OF ‘musical tones’ produced by the human voice.” (Henderson) Even Henderson’s “musical TONE” I do not construe to mean “tone” in the conventional sense. Rather, text is imbued with musical values by which words are communicated/expressed in a certain “tone of voice.” Vocal color emerges – OR, the voice emerges colorfully – by virtue of the singer’s reaction to the sum total (and more) of what he/she finds in the material chosen to perform. This goes well beyond a merely mechanical “playing” of the vocal “instrument”, with emotion added. As for Iris’ comment about university opera productions: RIGHT ON! We forget that we are teaching 18-21 year-olds (undergraduates) and that they are not the adults we may have sung with when we still had enough “chiaro” to shine on audiences ourselves. Lesson: Chiaroscuro minus chiaro = professional “o(b)scurity.” -RB. Who’s next?

  • Iris
    March 11, 2012

    Hi Michael,
    Thank you so much for this article and for putting up these clips for comparison. I wish more students in music programs were taught more about singers such as eleanor Stebe and Reri Grist. Instead, I find many coloraturas today looking up to singers like Natalie Dessay (I don’t say that out of disrespect for her artistry) and anna Netrebko. I think even now many people want bigger voices than they have because the bigger voices are often the ones who get to do roles like Cio-Cio San and Mimi. I guess many operatic productions put on by universities look for the heftier voices because it does make a bigger impression on audiences, not to mention the prima donna gets quite a bit of attention too.
    I mean, if you’re looking to draw more potential students to your music program, who’s going to make a bigger splash, Mimi or Zerbinetta?

  • Chris Byrne
    March 11, 2012

    Excellent article, Michael. You’ve inspired me to dust off my copy of Vocal Wisdom and re-read! Aside from missing brightness and unnatural technique, another terrible thing about these drain-pipe classical singers is that they all sound the same to me – like they’re being churned out of some bulgarian factory – the “hooty” quality of the production completely obscures the natural timbre of (what is supposed to be) a unique instrument. Regardless of the fach, they all sound like they are attempting to sing whilst choking on a chicken bone. I can’t really hear anything uplifting in these voices, and that is quite sad because every single one of these singers has bucketloads of potential. Is it that these people all want to possess bigger voices than they do? To sing repertoire that is beyond them? Is it ego or money, or both? Or perhaps a flawed system that has lost sense of what a desirable sound is? Are opera buffs complaining about this, or have they all just adjusted their palates? :)
    Even the person I played these clips to (after I asked her to put aside bias and really listen carefully) said that she could hear the people (who distorted their voices) were good singers, but it just wasn’t beautiful and that all- important connection was missing – in fact, she described it as less like singing and more like not-unpleasant noise and words on pitch; and the very reason she doesn’t really like opera. I can understand where she’s coming from – even high notes sung like that are dull and lifeless. The word ‘Chiaroscuro’ gets bandied about a lot, but the more I listen to great singing the more I realise just how vital it is. I am beginning to think it’s a lot more than just a balanced sound, it’s almost like an acoustical passcode or key that unlocks the audiences’ imagination and emotions. Perhaps it stems from our animal origins – genetic memory or instinct and all that. I’ve noticed that my cat is never fooled by people imitating a meow, even if it sounds quite realistic to my human ears – obviously he hears a lot more in a meow than I do. And I think people hear more in singing than they are consciously aware. I notice a lot of people describing singers’ voices these days – big, powerful, raw etc., but they rarely seem to use the word ‘beautiful’ anymore.

    I’d never heard Deanna Durbin before – what a talent. Certainly puts modern teen idols into perspective. I was interested and a little saddened to read that she retired from the public eye at 29 and never performed again. Instead, we got another 20 years of Judy Garland. Where’s the justice in the world?

  • Roger Bryant
    March 10, 2012

    Michael,

    A teacher friend of mine – I’ve mentioned him to you; he lives in Minneapolis – once told me that, as a 19-year-old college student, he was told by his teacher that he had the “mature” voice of a 40-year-old. He thought he was being complimented – then he figured it out. Add 21 years to the present ages of Marina, Angela, Anna, Jackie, and Charlotte, and ask how they might sound when they really are 21 years older. Thanks for your blog!

    Roger

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