One of my favorite sayings:
“pluck a feather from every passing bird, but follow none completely”.
To the girl who in writing sounds attacking, I say this with love: I am sure you can pluck some wonderful truthful ideas from Mr. Mayer. And surely, you shouldn’t follow him completely.
Obviously, he has done the same for himself. He didn’t follow Mr. Jones completely.
And I’m sure, you have a lot to share with others as well. So enlighten us if you please. And allow us to choose what we want to pluck.
I appreciate this anonymous comment from the discussion about Renee Fleming. The reason I want to highlight it is because it has a lot of wisdom in it. I personally would go even farther than what it says. I would say don’t follow me at all. Don’t follow anyone. Be your own master.
But in order to be able to do that we have to learn how to see the truth. No one owns the truth and no one can really lead us to the truth. We have to see it for ourselves. Others can help us by pointing to it, figuratively speaking, but we must be open to it and recognize it. If we are concerned with technique and sound and what this person says versus what that person says we will be blind to the underlying reality.
Truth can only be experienced directly. It can’t be experienced through another. How does this apply to singing? There is a natural truth to the functioning of the voice. That is what I am concerned with. And since it can’t really be taught I am trying to “point” to it to help people experience it for themselves. Of course we talk about the principles involved, we can demonstrate the different ways of functioning. But really understanding it only comes when you yourself have experienced it and recognize the truth of the situation.
This starts to get somewhat philosophical. And I should also point out that something is not true because I say it is. It should be self-evident if it is true. That is the problem I have with labeling things like “Speech Level Singing” or “Alexander Technique” or even “Swedish/Italian School”. Even if these methods are providing accurate information, there is still only what actually exists. If someone claims to own a method that no one else knows then that is a lie or they are filled with fantasies. The truth is there for any of us to see and no one can put a patent on it.
We shouldn’t follow something because it is written or that is what our teacher told us. It takes some commitment, but we need to learn to see the truth in the situation. We need to look beyond what someone says and really understand the underlying meaning. And then we need to assess the actual thing and see if it makes sense. That is what I have been told by clients very often. Things just make sense when they recognize how the voice is designed to work.
This becomes a problem for people who want to capitalize on their research. We have to put a label on our “method” in order to own it and sell it. We have to give it a name to differentiate it from others and make it unique. Ultimately it is all marketing. This is why I have stopped referring to the “Swedish/Italian School” unless I am citing something that was specifically done by those teachers. Because if the concept is true it is true independent of where it comes from. It is universal.
I have a wonderful person who reads this blog and writes to me with her feedback. She has shared many great singers of the past that represent the qualities I talk about. But she correctly points out that none of them were directly trained by the “Swedish/Italian School”. And that is OK because the Swedish School is really just the traditional Italian School that many are familiar with. And even that is limiting because the Italian School is just the principles of natural vocal function. Which is universal. There are singers of every nationality that have exhibited these principles.
These principles are also not limited to opera. Many of my clients are what I term “non-classical” singers. One of the characteristics of good function is not being limited to one style of music. I have heard many people complain of not wanting to sound like an opera singer. But the teachers they have talked to have told them they have to because that is what healthy singing sounds like. That is just not true. A healthy voice sounds natural. It sounds like a person. It doesn’t sound like an opera singer. It doesn’t sound like a musical theater singer. It sounds like a person expressing music. The opera singer may sing with more intensity because of the needs of the situation. But no one should ever sound “pigeon holed” into a style.
A natural functioning voice is flexible and responsive to the desires of the singer. So if the singer desires to express themselves in a different style of music they just need to conceive of that and the voice and body will respond. When we establish healthy conditions for singing it becomes like we are thinking out loud. I have experienced the truth of this from working with clients from such diverse styles as opera, musicals, jazz, folk, rock, country, christian, pop, choral, crooning (style), cantor, and speaking.
This is the ultimate goal for the singer. To have the act of singing be an automatic, natural response to their desire to express. A condition where the body is behaving instinctively, like a great athlete. Without technique or methods. Without preconceived ideas about the breath, vowels, consonants. But all of these things happening as a natural response to our desire to express ourselves through speech or singing.
One of my favorite sayings: