My question is: why is this sort of “non-singing” taking the place of real singing? One hears maybe a few “pretty voices” but not a real voice, not a voice filled with real emotion (most have no emotion to their singing at all, this singer you shared with us has NO emotion whatever). There is a disconnect happening, at least to me, not just of body from sound, but from emotional connection even from the music and the words. It is like singing empty pages from the telephone book. Why is this happening? What is more, why do the producers of opera feel this is what the public wants? I have seen more often than not, unfilled seats, and people leave during a performance, because the singing was simply unacceptable. Even if it was in tune, it was so wanting that one left feeling they received nothing at all from the evening. Most of us (at least my age) remember well performances that literally blasted us from our seats with emotional intensity. We remember voices that simply grabbed us and overwhelmed us giving us goose bumps all over. Even if the singers were not all equal to the task of singing everything they sang, we were literally drawn into an experience that could not be halted. And people like my mother are so accustomed to hear (at least when she was young) Flagstad and Melchior and other such singers (one of my mother’s favorites was Helen Traubel), in performance, she won’t even attend an opera with me anymore. She stopped doing so when we could no longer get tickets to Jessye Norman performances. And even with her occasional flaws and pitch issues, to my mother, she was about the last singer of any value out there. What is happening now? I feel nothing. I feel like I am eavesdropping on a conversation that I am certainly NOT supposed to be listening to. I am left cold because nothing is communicated. I understand the words (I speak 10 languages fluently), but sense no meaning behind anything being sung. I hear pretty tones, but no real involvementon the part of the singer. And that is what I felt listening to this singer you are talking about. I hardly care if she is the “flavor of the month.” We see far too many artists come and go at a whim.

It seems to me that there is such a fear among the majority of teachers (especially University teachers) of harming the voice that they overcompensate in the opposite direction. Obviously this is a result of ignorance on their part, because if they truly understood the voice and how it is designed they would know that vocalizing on the flow of breath is as detrimental as vocalizing with excess pressure in the vocal folds. It seems as if they believe that the only way to hurt the voice is through “hyper-function”. But a great deal more damage has been done with their “proven” method of “flow phonation”. In the NATS community flow phonation has become so accepted that there is no question that it is the standard.

The problems then start because when there is a flow of breath through the glottis while phonating the larynx loses stability. Without a stable larynx the muscles that control the adjustment of the vocal folds cannot function correctly. Lamperti stated that the muscles inside the larynx (dealing with pitch and vibration) cannot do their job until the muscles outside the larynx (dealing with position through vowel) are busy doing theirs. This is the reason for the common problem of a high larynx (as well as irregular vibrato, poor tuning, weak or unstable tone, reduced range, the list could go on). A combination of muscular contractions against an unstable mechanism and the unopposed pressure of the flowing breath move the larynx out of the ideal position causing the resonator to close, the vocal folds to change shape, and simply collapse the instrument structure.

Whenever there is a force in one direction there needs to be an equal force in the opposite direction to give balance. This is the true meaning of the concept of “appoggio”. Also the concept of the voice (larynx) on the breath. The larynx must sit on the breath and even lean into it providing a balanced opposition to the breath pressure. When this is done the breath is in a condition of being compressed rather than loose, as it is when flowing. This is the true meaning of breath support. The breath supports the voice like the compressed air in the tires supports the weight of a car. The breath does not support the tone by flowing under it, holding it up like a cloud. Compressed breath was the basis of the Lamperti training, as well as Garcia with his emphasis on closing the glottis, really all historical Italian school methods. I have to remind people I work with constantly that the only purpose of the breath is to set the vocal folds into motion. The breath serves no purpose above the glottis, so it is in our interest to make sure that it interacts with the folds effectively.

It must be recognized what kind of instrument the voice actually is. The majority seem to want the voice to fall in the same category as flutes and recorders. Air flow instruments. But the voice is not designed that way. It is also not a percussive instrument like a piano or drum. It is like a wind or brass instrument. It even has some similarities to a stringed instrument like a violin when we think of the constant steady bowing needed to play it. But the wind instruments like reeds and brass are probably the closest. We have a vibrating material that is set in motion by a pressure of air applied to it. The difference is the vocal folds are much smaller than the reeds or lips of these other instruments. They are also much more flexible than the reeds and lips. These differences in dimension and material conditions make the vocal vibrator much more efficient, requiring less pressure to set in action.

It seems there is a great deal of opinion being applied to the training of the voice rather than recognising the facts of the vocal instrument. And it is a tendency of human nature to follow the opinions of the group rather than see the truth as an individual. We can see this in the overall population, not just in the voice world. You point out that you don’t always hear the escaping breath in some singers. That is correct, you don’t hear it most of the time. But you can hear the result of the escaping breath as a poor tone quality. The sound of the escaping breath is usually covered by the forced phonation that is compelled by the flow of breath through the glottis. This is what makes this whole situation so dangerous, that because of the “Bernoulli” concept singers are being taught to use an aggressive out flow of breath to make the folds vibrate. What is not recognised by these singers and their teachers is that because there is no muscular contraction happening to oppose the breath pressure in a balanced way, (as it is their objective to make the folds vibrate with no involvement of the vocal muscles) they are causing the vocal muscles to atrophy. It is a fact of physiology that a muscle unused over time atrophies and loses its ability to contract. This is the cause of all of the aging voices out there, with their wobbles and tuning difficulty, many before they are actually reaching an age that would be considered “old”. As the vocal muscles atrophy the glottis gradually gets bigger, requiring progressively more breath to get them to phonate. That is why it makes me cringe when I hear voice teachers or choral directors call out “more breath!” as the remedy for every ailment. Unfortunately it starts at even younger ages now. And that is why healthy young voices come out of college worse than they went in after 4 years of vocal abuse disguised as “healthy gentle vocalism”.

It seems to me there is confusion throughout the vocal situation, but no more than with this topic of the breath and phonation. I think a great deal of it stems from the easy mistake of confusing breath and tone. Good singing gives the impression of a flow of tone, although tone really radiates, and we actually can’t feel it except as the tickling sensation in the bones of the head, the inner skin of the pharynx and sometimes on low notes in the chest. But this impression is interpreted in the mind of the singer as what they should try to do. It is the age-old problem of confusing cause with effect. So they try to do what they heard the skilled singer doing, at least what they interpreted what they were doing. But since the only thing you can feel to flow is the breath, that is what’s done. And since tone is actually vibrating air, we have another element to confuse us. Tone is air and breath is air, but they are definitely not the same thing. So we need to make sure first that we understand the difference between tone and breath, and not confuse them. Breath can never become tone because breath is moving air and tone is still air that is vibrating. To go any farther would be beyond what is necessary for our purpose and get into the study of acoustics. And it is my feeling that science should actually stay out of the practice of application in singing. There has been a great deal of confusion as a result of so-called scientific theories applied to the act of singing. It is much better for the singer to learn to think simply about their voice and follow the mechanical principles of the natural design of the parts of the body involved in singing.