Tim: I guess my evaluation of Rolando Villazon goes back to my days as a basketball coach. I used to have kids who had great skills honed by daily hours spent on the playground. They could really play the game in such a way that it was beautiful just to watch their athleticism. As I learned how to coach I came to understand that they played almost entirely by instinct and not by technique. They could shoot the ball but they didn’t understand WHY the ball went in the hoop. So if a kid hit a slump and the ball stopped going in the hoop they had no idea as to what had happened. My players who went on to play college ball (and two to the Pros) learned from me the physics of how the entire body (feet, hips, elbows, position of head etc.) all had to be aligned to shoot the ball correctly. And I gave them exercises to use when they were having problems they could diagnose where they were going wrong and correct the problem.

I guess I see Rolando as a very gifted “athlete” who has no idea as to why, operatically speaking, the ball isn’t going in the hoop anymore. And, as with a basketball player, the more he uses the wrong technique the worse things will get. It isn’t just singing the wrong rep too much. It’s singing it, to return to the basketball metaphor, with his feet turned the wrong way and his elbows sticking out like chicken wings. He needs time off and a really good mentor (Bergonzi?). Well, that’s how I see it at least and would appreciate feedback.

Me: This is a very accurate analogy. I always use other athletes as examples for singers. Because singing is more an athletic activity, at least for the singer, than a musical one. (Like other musical instruments) Maybe it would be more
accurate to say that singing is equal parts athletic and musical. (giving some insight as to the rarity of greatness) The reason being that the musical instrument of a singer is the living body. And any activity of the body is athletic.

So in my mind singing has more in common with dance than it does with playing the piano, for instance. The reason I feel this way is singing and dancing are both the physical expressing of emotion through the body, and require the commitment and coordination of the whole body. Other instruments only need the commitment and coordination of the parts involved in activating the particular instrument.

Even though dance is a visual art form and singing is still aural like other instruments. And dancing has movement and singing, for the most part, is done standing still. That is a more noticeable difference from the perspective of the audience. But from the perspective of the performer they have a lot in common. The singer has the greater challenge because they need the same physical activity/energy as the dancer without the benefit of moving to accomplish it.

This brings to mind a quote by Pavarotti. He said something to the effect that “our kind of singing is like the 100 meter dash. There is no other kind of running for us. ‘Crack’ and go!” This was his way of describing the energy and commitment that the singer needs to accomplish their task.

I also want to point out that I too have a deep affinity to basketball, so it is nice to hear from another who has spent their life with the game. I have played since we were allowed to start in 3rd or 4th grade and still play actually, in an adult pick-up game. Most are older than I and still can play quite well. I have never coached, but I have wanted to. I think if I wasn’t a voice specialist I would coach basketball. As my kids grow I’m sure I will coach them.

So, Tim, thanks again for the B-Ball analogy. I think it is a very helpful way of describing a singer’s situation for non-singers to understand.

SueMichael, I’ve been mulling this over for a bit, and I think you have it just right. Most musicians can separate their bodies from performance, and have a chance to perform well (and musically ) even if they don’t feel 100%. Both singers and dancers are in the same bind as most athletes (maybe not baseball players, as much as I love the game, since they are not asked to put out total effort very often) as they rely so utterly on their state of being. There can’t be any other professions where one is so totally hostage to one’s physical state.

Me:  Hi Sue, Just read your response. Thank you. Just today I was working with a young singer on learning to establish an effective body condition. I am becoming more convinced that the difference between pretty good singing and great singing is not so much WHAT we do or even HOW we do it. What matters is that the body is in an alert, action-ready condition so it can react to our intentions spontaneously. In working with this singer she was quickly able to recognize the significant difference.

SueHi Michael, And I think we need to add to that that a person needs to have a “soul,” or whatever we choose to call it, so that there is some interior life to be shared with others.

I don’t think it’s actually possible to have great singing without something personal being communicated. On the other hand, there
are surely great voices without any consideration of what’s being sung (for me, Corelli, for example).

And by this I don’t mean to understate the importance of the physical voice and the importance and fragility of the physical body.

Your posts are always thought-provoking. Thank you for that.

Me:  Hi Sue, Absolutely. That is the part that is taken for granted, which usually means it doesn’t happen. But the soul, or whatever, is at the heart of the whole situation. But only if the singer is mindful of, and accesses, it. I always think of it as the body needs to respond to the soul, the intention, where the expression originates. That is what sets everything into action. But very often we witness singing that is executed only from deliberate consciousness. The part of the mind that thinks in words. “Do this and that…” (Technique)

But if the singer is thinking about HOW to make their voice work technically that part of their awareness will be distracted from WHAT they are meaning to say. This lacks the soul of the person. It is the strong desire to sincerely say something that stimulates the body into spontaneous action. That is all the technique a singer needs. The body knows how to do the correct things. We just need to learn how to stimulate it. Then we can learn how to be like the natural singer, but better. Then we can create the effect of “thinking out loud”. There is a direct link between our brain (thinking of what we want to say) and our body (which actually says it).

What creates this link between the two elements through the nervous system is the sincere feeling that brings everything to life. This is the difference between singing with technique only vs. understanding the principles of the living vocal instrument that is comprised of a physical body, a thinking mind and a feeling soul. When we understand how this whole being can operate as a singer then we can accomplish something special. We can be the singer we imagine. But we will never get there if we don’t tap into the elemental part of ourselves. That is the secret to great singing.