Articles on Vocal Technique

ARTICLES ON SINGING

Joseph Shore

Explaining ‘La Lotta Vocale’

 

 

 

In the 19th century, Francesco Lamperti set out to describe the vocal technique used for the two previous centuries during the First Golden Age of Singing.

(A Treatise on the Art of Singing. London, 1877).  Lamperti wrote:

 

‘To sustain a given note the air should be expelled slowly; to attain this end, the respiratory (inspiratory) muscles, by continuing their action, strive to retain air in the lungs, and oppose their action to that of the expiratory muscles, which is called lotta vocale, or vocal struggle. On the retention of this equilibrium depends the just emission of the voice, and by which means of it alone can true expression be given to the sound produced.’

 

Lamperti and his son, Giovanni Battista Lamperti, taught during a time when the quality and art of singing had diminished greatly from their height during the First Golden Age

of  Singing. They taught in an era very much like our own today. G.B. Lamperti wrote:

      

 “There has never been so much enthusiasm for the singing art, nor have there been so many students and teachers as of late years. And it is precisely this period which reveals the deterioration of this divine art and the almost complete disappearance of genuine singers and worse, of good singing teachers. What is the cause of this? How can it be prevented? By a return to the physiology of singing…One part of the lay world says that there are no longer real voices, and the other that there is no longer any talent. Neither is right. Voices still exist, and talent too, but the things which have changed are THE STUDY OF THE BREATH, OF VOCALIZATION and of CLASSIC REPERTORY, as cultivated by the singers of former times” (Lamperti, Vocal Wisdom, p. 1, 1893).

 

The point of this is NOT that some teachers/artists have always been crying vocal “wolf”, saying that the end of singing is near, but that Lamperti’s time was very much INDEED like our own.  Garcia, Lamperti and Marchesi taught during an era of crisis when the decline of the art of singing was evident, as compared to the two earlier centuries of Bel Canto. And yet, only a few years after Lamperti’s article, Enrico Caruso would make his debut and the Second Golden Age of Singing would be born. Who can say what impetus their teaching provided for this rebirth of singing? It was the teaching of the Lampertis, Garcia and Marchesi that indirectly allowed the Second Golden Age of Singing to emerge. It lasted almost a century. In the 20th century it robustly manifested itself in the cornucopia of great artists like Callas, Tebaldi, Bjoerling, Corelli, Siepi, Hines, Sutherland, who graced the stage until the late 60’s, even early 70’s.

 

Lamperti’s analysis should sound amazingly modern. His analysis was correct and his prescription for cure was correct. The focus of this brief article is on one aspect of historic vocalism, ‘la lotta vocale.’

 Let us look again at Lamperti’s description:

‘To sustain a given note the air should be expelled slowly; to attain this end, the respiratory (inspiratory) muscles, by continuing their action, strive to retain air in the lungs, and oppose their action to that of the expiratory muscles, which is called lotta vocale, or vocal struggle. On the retention of this equilibrium depends the just emission of the voice, and by which means of it alone can true expression be given to the sound produced.’

 

The physical set-up for the breath has been detailed very well by Richard Miller in his many books on system and art in vocal technique. Miller is the apostle of Appoggio and I believe he has accurately described the physical posture of singing. I will here simply give a brief summary. As the breath is silently taken in, either through the nose or the mouth, the epigastric-umbilical area moves outward and the flanks, the lateral planes, expand. There is some slight expansion in the pectoral region as the sternum feels somewhat elevated when the lungs are comfortably full but not overcrowded, but the shoulders are relaxed and are never used to pull the rib cage up. The action of the diaphragm is dynamic and must be the result of reflexive coordination rather than voluntary rigidity in the abdomen. No expansion in the hypogastrium is involved in the proper breath. Foreign to Appoggio are techniques which request that the singer forcefully push down and out in the hypogastrium’that area from the navel to the pubis. Equally foreign are descriptions that the singer should feel as if she were ‘pushing out the baby,’ or for a man, that he were undergoing difficult defecation. There are a variety of descriptions that come from these misadventures in the breath, e.g. that singing high notes should be like a ‘constipated push,’ or that the buttocks should contract and ‘crack the walnut.’ In my city a female teacher advises her female students to ‘sing with their vaginas open.’ The mind boggles. I suppose that teachers who give such advice would not be amused if I asked for voice science measurements for this purported expansion. One voice scientist satirically suggested that the teacher might vend a set of stretching instruments to go along with her instructions! I risk censure here, but perhaps the reader catches my meaning. There seems to be no end to the nonsense taught about breathing.

 

In the ‘lotta vocale’ that Lamperti describes, there is a dynamic ‘equilibrium’ between the inhalation and exhalation muscles, not the forces of difficult defecation or delivery of a baby. In Appoggio it is simply stated that we do not wish to allow the epigastric-umbilical area to move inwards too soon. The sense of maintaining the posture of inhalation is a dynamic equilibrium. It is called the ‘vocal contest’ but that, as a euphemism, does not mean that localized rigidity is involved in it. Equilibrium refers to ‘balance,’ which is a word more properly descriptive of the lotta vocale.

 

‘To sustain a given note the air should be expelled slowly.’  This does not mean that the breath is consciously exhaled slowly because ‘the respiratory (inspiratory) muscles, by continuing their action, strive to retain air in the lungs, and oppose their action to that of the expiratory muscles. ‘ The proprioception of holding back the air is far stronger than any perception of the small amount of air required to produce tone. Therefore the proprioception is always that we take the breath and refuse to give in to exhalation. In other words, the larynx is not proprioceptively a blowing instrument. It is instead a myoelastic-areodynamic instrument. Air is of course used to generate vocal fold vibration but it is a small amount in comparison to the large amount of air in the lungs. The singer can no more be aware of air flow in the larynx than he can feel the laryngeal muscles working. Any attempt to try to locally control air flow destroys equilibrium and starts the exhalation cycle. There is an enormous difference between what happens at the myoelastic aerodynamic level of the mechanism and what is perceived proprioceptively. At the former level there is requisite air flow according to the reflexive control of the process of singing. In the latter there is only a sense of maintaining the inhalation posture and holding back air as the inspiratory muscles ‘strive to retain air in the lungs.’ In the simplest terms, we feel like we take the breath and do not use it. If the teacher or singer does not understand the two different levels, confusion is apt to reign in both exercises and vocalism. Let me give an example.

 

Several years ago while performing in an opera, I shared a dressing room with a bass of the current generation. He was a very talented bass and seemed to have a promising career but he had a teacher who did not understand these two levels. As I was walking into the dressing room, I heard my bass friend make strange sounds like a fog horn, blasting a straight tone.

 

I said, ‘Phil, what do you think you are doing?’

He said, ‘Oh these are my air flow exercises. I’m getting good air flow.’

I said, ‘But Phil, ‘you wouldn’t go out on stage and make a sound like that.’

‘Oh yes I would,’ he said. ‘These are beautiful sounds.’

 

Then he went out on stage and did not make fog horn sounds. Fortunately his singing was governed by more appropriate reflexes. His teacher had told him that we want a generous amount of air flow in the larynx. That is true at the myoelastic aerodynamic level of larynx function. But it is not true at the proprioceptive level. Blowing air and making fog horn sounds will not induce the equilibrium Lamperti describes. It will instead move the action of the rib cage into the exhalation cycle. Just as one cannot feel the laryngeal muscles work, one cannot feel air flow either.  The relatively small amount of air flow required for vocal fold vibration is determined by the reflexive, involuntary control of the singing process, or as Lamperti says, ‘to attain this end, the respiratory (inspiratory) muscles, by continuing their action, strive to retain air in the lungs, and oppose their action to that of the expiratory muscles, which is called lotta vocale, or vocal struggle. On the retention of this equilibrium depends the just emission of the voice, and by which means of it alone can true expression be given to the sound produced.’

 

The position of the body during the Lotta Vocale has been called ‘The Noble Posture,’ or ‘Un Nobile Attitudine.’  We see this unfailingly in pictures of the great singers of the First and Second Golden Ages of Singing. Lamperti called the Noble Posture the position of a soldier at ease. Somewhat more explicit, Garcia  said ‘The head (should) be erect, the shoulders thrown backward without stiffness, and the chest expanded first at its base.’ Even more explicitly his daughter, Pauline Viardot Garcia, one of the greatest singers of all time, describes the position this way:   “Holding (the body) erect, a little arched backwards, the head slightly elevated, the eyes looking straight forward, the feet placed somewhat in the second position ”the weight on the backward foot.”  This is the position one will see in the turn of the 20th century motion pictures which captured Caruso and other great singers of the Second Golden Age of Singing. Notice she says that the head is ‘slightly elevated.’ This is not the sword swallowing position adopted by those who sing with an elevated larynx. It is instead a ‘slight’ elevation and it appears to be very important for the high notes particularly. Part of the need for this ‘slight elevation’ comes from maintaining a relatively low laryngeal stability throughout the range, especially in the head voice where laryngeal instability is likely to happen  It is not within the province of this brief article to detail the mechanics of laryngeal suspension, but a synopsis of the mechanism seems inescapable. ‘Suspension’ means support by opposite pulls. A ‘suspension’ bridge is one in which the load is supported by intricately strung cables which oppose one another. The larynx is suspended within a net of muscles, none of which are consciously controlled. Their action is a part of the reflexive system of ‘Appoggio’ and is learned through appropriate exercises. The muscles which lower the larynx by a downward pull are the sternothyroid muscles, which insert into the thyroid cartilage and pull down towards the sternum, somewhat towards 7 0’Clock position, the sternohyoid muscles which insert into the hyoid bone and pull down towards the sternum, and the omohyoid muscles which insert into the hyoid bone and pull down over to the scapula. These three muscle groups we will euphemistically call, ‘the front down- pullers.’

 

The Sternothyroid muscles

 

 

image001

 

 

 

 

Explaining ‘La Lotta Vocale’

Joseph Shore

 

 

 

In the 19th century, Francesco Lamperti set out to describe the vocal technique used for the two previous centuries during the First Golden Age of Singing.

(A Treatise on the Art of Singing. London, 1877).  Lamperti wrote:

 

‘To sustain a given note the air should be expelled slowly; to attain this end, the respiratory (inspiratory) muscles, by continuing their action, strive to retain air in the lungs, and oppose their action to that of the expiratory muscles, which is called lotta vocale, or vocal struggle. On the retention of this equilibrium depends the just emission of the voice, and by which means of it alone can true expression be given to the sound produced.’

 

Lamperti and his son, Giovanni Battista Lamperti, taught during a time when the quality and art of singing had diminished greatly from their height during the First Golden Age

of  Singing. They taught in an era very much like our own today. G.B. Lamperti wrote:

      

 “There has never been so much enthusiasm for the singing art, nor have there been so many students and teachers as of late years. And it is precisely this period which reveals the deterioration of this divine art and the almost complete disappearance of genuine singers and worse, of good singing teachers. What is the cause of this? How can it be prevented? By a return to the physiology of singing…One part of the lay world says that there are no longer real voices, and the other that there is no longer any talent. Neither is right. Voices still exist, and talent too, but the things which have changed are THE STUDY OF THE BREATH, OF VOCALIZATION and of CLASSIC REPERTORY, as cultivated by the singers of former times” (Lamperti, Vocal Wisdom, p. 1, 1893).

 

The point of this is NOT that some teachers/artists have always been crying vocal “wolf”, saying that the end of singing is near, but that Lamperti’s time was very much INDEED like our own.  Garcia, Lamperti and Marchesi taught during an era of crisis when the decline of the art of singing was evident, as compared to the two earlier centuries of Bel Canto. And yet, only a few years after Lamperti’s article, Enrico Caruso would make his debut and the Second Golden Age of Singing would be born. Who can say what impetus their teaching provided for this rebirth of singing? It was the teaching of the Lampertis, Garcia and Marchesi that indirectly allowed the Second Golden Age of Singing to emerge. It lasted almost a century. In the 20th century it robustly manifested itself in the cornucopia of great artists like Callas, Tebaldi, Bjoerling, Corelli, Siepi, Hines, Sutherland, who graced the stage until the late 60’s, even early 70’s.

 

Lamperti’s analysis should sound amazingly modern. His analysis was correct and his prescription for cure was correct. The focus of this brief article is on one aspect of historic vocalism, ‘la lotta vocale.’

 Let us look again at Lamperti’s description:

‘To sustain a given note the air should be expelled slowly; to attain this end, the respiratory (inspiratory) muscles, by continuing their action, strive to retain air in the lungs, and oppose their action to that of the expiratory muscles, which is called lotta vocale, or vocal struggle. On the retention of this equilibrium depends the just emission of the voice, and by which means of it alone can true expression be given to the sound produced.’

 

The physical set-up for the breath has been detailed very well by Richard Miller in his many books on system and art in vocal technique. Miller is the apostle of Appoggio and I believe he has accurately described the physical posture of singing. I will here simply give a brief summary. As the breath is silently taken in, either through the nose or the mouth, the epigastric-umbilical area moves outward and the flanks, the lateral planes, expand. There is some slight expansion in the pectoral region as the sternum feels somewhat elevated when the lungs are comfortably full but not overcrowded, but the shoulders are relaxed and are never used to pull the rib cage up. The action of the diaphragm is dynamic and must be the result of reflexive coordination rather than voluntary rigidity in the abdomen. No expansion in the hypogastrium is involved in the proper breath. Foreign to Appoggio are techniques which request that the singer forcefully push down and out in the hypogastrium’that area from the navel to the pubis. Equally foreign are descriptions that the singer should feel as if she were ‘pushing out the baby,’ or for a man, that he were undergoing difficult defecation. There are a variety of descriptions that come from these misadventures in the breath, e.g. that singing high notes should be like a ‘constipated push,’ or that the buttocks should contract and ‘crack the walnut.’ In my city a female teacher advises her female students to ‘sing with their vaginas open.’ The mind boggles. I suppose that teachers who give such advice would not be amused if I asked for voice science measurements for this purported expansion. One voice scientist satirically suggested that the teacher might vend a set of stretching instruments to go along with her instructions! I risk censure here, but perhaps the reader catches my meaning. There seems to be no end to the nonsense taught about breathing.

 

In the ‘lotta vocale’ that Lamperti describes, there is a dynamic ‘equilibrium’ between the inhalation and exhalation muscles, not the forces of difficult defecation or delivery of a baby. In Appoggio it is simply stated that we do not wish to allow the epigastric-umbilical area to move inwards too soon. The sense of maintaining the posture of inhalation is a dynamic equilibrium. It is called the ‘vocal contest’ but that, as a euphemism, does not mean that localized rigidity is involved in it. Equilibrium refers to ‘balance,’ which is a word more properly descriptive of the lotta vocale.

 

‘To sustain a given note the air should be expelled slowly.’  This does not mean that the breath is consciously exhaled slowly because ‘the respiratory (inspiratory) muscles, by continuing their action, strive to retain air in the lungs, and oppose their action to that of the expiratory muscles. ‘ The proprioception of holding back the air is far stronger than any perception of the small amount of air required to produce tone. Therefore the proprioception is always that we take the breath and refuse to give in to exhalation. In other words, the larynx is not proprioceptively a blowing instrument. It is instead a myoelastic-areodynamic instrument. Air is of course used to generate vocal fold vibration but it is a small amount in comparison to the large amount of air in the lungs. The singer can no more be aware of air flow in the larynx than he can feel the laryngeal muscles working. Any attempt to try to locally control air flow destroys equilibrium and starts the exhalation cycle. There is an enormous difference between what happens at the myoelastic aerodynamic level of the mechanism and what is perceived proprioceptively. At the former level there is requisite air flow according to the reflexive control of the process of singing. In the latter there is only a sense of maintaining the inhalation posture and holding back air as the inspiratory muscles ‘strive to retain air in the lungs.’ In the simplest terms, we feel like we take the breath and do not use it. If the teacher or singer does not understand the two different levels, confusion is apt to reign in both exercises and vocalism. Let me give an example.

 

Several years ago while performing in an opera, I shared a dressing room with a bass of the current generation. He was a very talented bass and seemed to have a promising career but he had a teacher who did not understand these two levels. As I was walking into the dressing room, I heard my bass friend make strange sounds like a fog horn, blasting a straight tone.

 

I said, ‘Phil, what do you think you are doing?’

He said, ‘Oh these are my air flow exercises. I’m getting good air flow.’

I said, ‘But Phil, ‘you wouldn’t go out on stage and make a sound like that.’

‘Oh yes I would,’ he said. ‘These are beautiful sounds.’

 

Then he went out on stage and did not make fog horn sounds. Fortunately his singing was governed by more appropriate reflexes. His teacher had told him that we want a generous amount of air flow in the larynx. That is true at the myoelastic aerodynamic level of larynx function. But it is not true at the proprioceptive level. Blowing air and making fog horn sounds will not induce the equilibrium Lamperti describes. It will instead move the action of the rib cage into the exhalation cycle. Just as one cannot feel the laryngeal muscles work, one cannot feel air flow either.  The relatively small amount of air flow required for vocal fold vibration is determined by the reflexive, involuntary control of the singing process, or as Lamperti says, ‘to attain this end, the respiratory (inspiratory) muscles, by continuing their action, strive to retain air in the lungs, and oppose their action to that of the expiratory muscles, which is called lotta vocale, or vocal struggle. On the retention of this equilibrium depends the just emission of the voice, and by which means of it alone can true expression be given to the sound produced.’

 

The position of the body during the Lotta Vocale has been called ‘The Noble Posture,’ or ‘Un Nobile Attitudine.’  We see this unfailingly in pictures of the great singers of the First and Second Golden Ages of Singing. Lamperti called the Noble Posture the position of a soldier at ease. Somewhat more explicit, Garcia  said ‘The head (should) be erect, the shoulders thrown backward without stiffness, and the chest expanded first at its base.’ Even more explicitly his daughter, Pauline Viardot Garcia, one of the greatest singers of all time, describes the position this way:   “Holding (the body) erect, a little arched backwards, the head slightly elevated, the eyes looking straight forward, the feet placed somewhat in the second position ”the weight on the backward foot.”  This is the position one will see in the turn of the 20th century motion pictures which captured Caruso and other great singers of the Second Golden Age of Singing. Notice she says that the head is ‘slightly elevated.’ This is not the sword swallowing position adopted by those who sing with an elevated larynx. It is instead a ‘slight’ elevation and it appears to be very important for the high notes particularly. Part of the need for this ‘slight elevation’ comes from maintaining a relatively low laryngeal stability throughout the range, especially in the head voice where laryngeal instability is likely to happen  It is not within the province of this brief article to detail the mechanics of laryngeal suspension, but a synopsis of the mechanism seems inescapable. ‘Suspension’ means support by opposite pulls. A ‘suspension’ bridge is one in which the load is supported by intricately strung cables which oppose one another. The larynx is suspended within a net of muscles, none of which are consciously controlled. Their action is a part of the reflexive system of ‘Appoggio’ and is learned through appropriate exercises. The muscles which lower the larynx by a downward pull are the sternothyroid muscles, which insert into the thyroid cartilage and pull down towards the sternum, somewhat towards 7 0’Clock position, the sternohyoid muscles which insert into the hyoid bone and pull down towards the sternum, and the omohyoid muscles which insert into the hyoid bone and pull down over to the scapula. These three muscle groups we will euphemistically call, ‘the front down- pullers.’

 

The Sternothyroid muscles

 

 image001

 

 

The Sternohyoid and Omohyoid Muscles

 image002

 

The Suspension system

 image003

 Suspensory mechanism’Elastic scaffolding, (a) M. Thyreo-hyoideus: elevator.
(b) Muscles of the palate: elevators, (c) M. stylo-pharyngeus: elevator, (‘raises and widens the pharynx”Quiring), (d) M. sterno-thyreoideus: depressor, (c) M. crico-pharyngeus: depressor.

 

The muscles which pull up and complete the suspension system are the stylopharyngeus muscles (c) and the palatopharyngeus muscles (b). The stylopharyngeus muscles are believed to widen the pharynx (Quiring) and therefore contribute to the feeling of gola aperta.  The constrictor muscles are not proper elevators in this suspension system because they all constrict the pharynx and the larynx in action suitable only for swallowing. The sternothyroid muscles are particularly important for the head voice. Their front down-pull action assists the cricothyroid muscles in achieving extreme stretch of the vocal folds for high notes, an action called ‘diadochokinesis.’ By the same action the relatively low, stable posture of the larynx is maintained for high notes. There has been some suggestion by a noted voice scientist that women do not need to use a stable low larynx. However, premiere female singers almost invariably believe that they keep the larynx relatively low throughout the singing range. Another equally noted voice scientist and teacher indicated that he had conducted experiments with sopranos at his lab and found that the best ones utilized a stable, relatively low larynx, while the ones which used a mobile larynx technique tended to sound like ‘hysterical chickens’ in their head registers.

 

Dr. Van Lawrence was one of the premiere laryngologists who worked with singers. He had this to say about the action of the front down-pullers:

 

“In the last several years, we’ve become increasingly aware of the vital importance of the neck strap muscles (sternothyroid, sternohyoid, omohyoid) in high-range voice production’thanks in part to some work done at the Haskins Laboratories. These muscles seem to be necessary for stabilizing the main firm structures of the larynx so that the smaller and more delicate intrinsic laryngeal muscles can function optimally” (VOCAL HEALTH AND SCIENCE, NATS, p.49).

 

Dr. Van Lawrence cautions singers who may have thyroid gland surgery to tell the surgeon NOT to cut across the straps and re-suture. To do so may cost the singer his/her high notes. Indeed this connection was seen when singers who had thyroid surgery had their straps cut, to allow the surgeon more room to operate. The sternothyroid, and sternohyoid muscles were cut and later sutured back together. The result was that the singers lost some of their high notes due to the loss of some muscular function. The essential action of the sternothyroid muscles brings into mention the role of the Noble Posture and especially the position Viardot Garcia called, ‘the head slightly elevated.’

 

Studies of laryngeal postures were conducted by Frommhold and Hoppe using a cross-section of “outstanding international artists” and students. They found that “international artists were conspicuous without exception for a constant (low) posture over the entire vocal range” while students showed increasing postural change upwards during phonation of higher pitches.

 

I have commonly observed that the great singers with whom I have performed, frequently tilt their head back slightly for high notes as though they were looking at the first balcony. Indeed, in my own singing, the highest, full  voiced, extension of the baritone voice, G4,A4,B4,C5, may be sung with the head slightly tilted back, at least when singing full voice.  Many voice teachers disparage head tilting, believing it puts the vocal instrument out of alignment.  Certainly any excessive raising of the chin which also causes the larynx to rise would be deleterious. We are not talking about the sword swallowing position. But teachers must seriously ask why virtually all great singers slightly tilt the head for high notes.

 

Vennard assumes that all head tilting causes laryngeal elevation, and calls such action “reaching for the high note.”  Why do great singers do it? We have pictures of Caruso, and many of the great singers of history with the head slightly tilted for the tones above the second passaggio. It cannot be simply to sing to the balcony. Sometimes there isn’t one and singers still tilt the head. Certainly the auditory evidence indicates that such famous head tilters as Caruso and Corelli did NOT raise the larynx.

 

Berton Coffin gives an answer which bears on the question of laryngeal suspension. He says: “…unless the head is tilted back there is not enough room for the depressor muscles (sternothyroid, et. a1)  to make a downward pull on the larynx, which assists in bringing about the tensing of the vocal folds necessary for high notes’.’ It is true that a muscle’s contraction pays off better when the muscle is somewhat stretched rather than bunched up on itself. If the head is slightly elevated the sternothyroid muscles have room to work and their contraction pays off better. Also suspension of the larynx would seem to be improved if the front down-pullers have room to work. Coffin then goes on to say:

 

‘Persons who bow their heads have difficulties with high notes because there is not room enough for the depressors to work and the cavity of the throat gives a pitch which is too low. This can be easily detected by thumping the throat with vocal cords adducted while raising and lowering the head…If more teachers would listen functionally with their eyes, when hearing operas and concerts, there would be more understanding and less fear of exploring the techniques of singing.” Here Coffin indicates that a bowed head also bears on the issue of vowel migration and formant tracking. In aggiustamento of the vowel we raise the frequency of the first formant to more closely match the frequency of the fundamentals of the  higher notes. The most commonly used techniques for doing so are increased jaw space and retracting the corners of the mouth. Coffin is indicating that head posture also bears on formant tracking since a slightly raised head raises the frequency of the cavity of air in the throat. If this is true, a slightly raised head for the highest notes would require less jaw space increase. That is generally important since too great a jaw space is apt to cause too much contraction of the digastric muscles and therefore pull up on the hyoid bone.  It seems true that the slightly tilted head gives a higher cavity pitch in the pharynx.  It also seems to be true that the suspension system is working more efficiently.  BY THE SAME ACTION, the low posture of the larynx is maintained. This would explain the almost universal observation of slight upward head tilting among great singers and the description of this posture by such greats as Garcia. Two important voice scientists, Luchsinger and Arnold, confirm greater sternothyroid efficiency during slight head tilting (VOICE, SPEECH, LANGUAGE, 1965)! The small head tilt up for high notes is permitted within the noble posture of Appoggio while the sword swallowing position is not. Appoggio as a system is not denying infrahyoidal action for the depressor muscles. It is only denying that conscious manipulation of them is appropriate. Look at videos of some of the great singers (e.g. Corelli Bjoerling, Del Monaco, Merrill, Warren, Tebaldi, Albanese, Siepi, Hines, Tozzi, Christoff, Bergonzi, Cossotto, Price, Yeend, et a1.) and you will see the slight upward head tilt for high notes. Indeed, some of them show MORE than a slight tilt.  The Noble Posture, again described by Pauline Viardot Garcia as, ‘Holding (the body) erect, a little arched backwards, the head slightly elevated, the eyes looking straight forward, the feet placed somewhat in the second position ”the weight on the backward foot,’ is the optimal position for La Lotta Vocale. Sometimes the singer must adopt strange body positions for a distorted character and the Noble Posture is impossible. How important it is then, to inform the body as much as possible under more normal circumstances by the Noble Posture.

 

The equilibrium Lamperti describes, does not feel like localized rigidity in any area of the body. It feels like buoyant expectancy, a balanced readiness. It enables the singer to give ‘true expression.’ This is the real meaning of ‘a cantare come si parla.’ Notice that according to Lamperti, the lotta vocale is required to enable the singer to give ‘true expression.’  There are those who do not understand this and think that the inflections of speech should be laid over into singing in order to give expression. Miller has written about this is many forums. Here is one:

 

     “One not infrequently hears well-intentioned public instruction in which young singers are admonished to sing lieder in a fashion that is fundamentally non-vocal. This approach is based upon a commendable realization that synthesis of word and music is a conscious aim of many Lied composers, but unfortunately it forgets that expressive vocal sound is dependent upon the well-functioning physical vocal instrument as its medium. Such advice confuses desirable nuance with undesirable vocal mannerism.

     “For example, the tendency to approach the songs of Schubert in ‘parlando’ fashion destroys the essential lyricism that characterizes them. The vocal ‘miniaturist’ is a perennial phenomenon in the performance arena and each generation has had several singing artists who carved out careers as interpreters of a narrow literature, based upon intimacy of expression, turning music and poetry into a personal vehicle. This may be aesthetically viable, although in some cases one suspects that limitations of the vocal instrument more than artistic conviction have determined stylistic mannerisms…The specific problem with much current lieder ‘coaching’ is the notion that a preciousness of expression is required…What takes place in the recording studio and what occurs in the concert hall from the same artist is often revealing. An example might be cited of the famous Lieder exponent with a large body of recorded performances who then sings a Lieder recital in the Grosser Saal at the Salzburg Festival. His Festival audience is disappointed because ‘he doesn’t sound like his records.’…An argument can be made that at least part of the Lied literature was meant for the salon and the drawing room, but the internal evidence of the writing itself, and the emotional content of the poetry, generally indicate that the literature was written not to be sung by amateur singers, but by professionals. One need only recall that the great Schubert cycles were written during the period when Vogl, a successful operatic baritone and performer of Schubert’s Lieder, was one of the composer’s most intimate companions. Vogl himself lamented that there was no German school of singing that could do justice to the Schubert lieder.

 

“It is in the most frequently performed Lied cycles…that one tires of the ‘link-sausaging’ of the vocal line, resulting in ‘Liederwurst’, as the singer tries to express depth of emotion and profound understanding of the text through syllabic detail. THE FLOW OF THE VOCAL SOUND IS INTERRUPTED BY ATTENTION BEING DIRECTED NOT TO THE MUSICAL PHRASE OR THE POETIC IDEA, BUT TO CONSTANT DYNAMIC ALTERING OF EACH NOTE AND SYLLABLE…VOCAL LINE, THE ESSENCE OF THE SINGING STYLE, IS DESTROYED. THE PERFORMER’S INTENT IS TO BE ARTISTIC, BUT THE RESULT IS A NAIVE DISPLAY OF INAPPROPRIATE STYLISTIC CONCEPTS…PERHAPS THE MOST EXPRESSIVE VOCAL DEVICE IS THE LEGATO, WHICH PERMITS CONTINUOUS SOUND THAT THEN CAN BE SCULPTURED INTO EXPRESSIVE PHRASES…ON THE OTHER HAND, LIEDERWURST IS NEITHER COMMUNICATIVE NOR VOCALLY ARRESTING. THE POTENTIAL FOR COMMUNICATION OF THE POETRY AND THE MUSIC DEPENDS UPON VOCAL SOUND, NOT ON PARODISTIC VOCALISM.” (March/April 1992, The Journal of Singing)

 

And yet in another article:

 

 “Extraneous technical maneuvers for achieving legato would be unnecessary if the skill of filling each note with equal dynamic levels of vibrant sound were mastered…Legato need not be induced: it will be the result of the continuity of vibrant vocal sound…The distortion of vocal sound under the assumption that artistry is enhanced should be resisted. The substitution of the inflections of ’emotive speech’ for sustained singing is counterproductive to the musical and textual needs of elite vocal literature, including that of the Lied and the melodie…Continuous vocal sound will of its own accord ‘move’ the phrase and give it ‘direction.’ The greater the reliance on free flowing vocal sound, the higher the capability for successful shaping of the musical phrase… Continuity of vocal sound is the substance of legato. Communication of musical and textual values best occurs when sound, not interpretive gimmickry, is the medium of their conveyance.”    (Sept./Oct. 1992 The Journal of Singing)

 

Lamperti’s ‘true expression’ is based on the technique of singing with la lotta vocale. In order to teach singers to have good expression we must teach them how to sing well. La lotta vocale is the principle necessary for proper usage of the breath.   

 

‘Voices still exist, and talent too, but the things which have changed are THE STUDY OF THE BREATH, OF VOCALIZATION  and of CLASSIC REPERTORY, as cultivated by the singers of former times”

La lotta vocale is the ‘study of the breath’ which G.B. Lamperti mentioned. The other two things are ‘vocalization,’ which means formation and aggiustamento of the vowel, and ‘classic repertory.’

 

 

hines and i 1995 i am the way

A GREAT SINGER ON GREAT SINGING

 

Jerome Hines Challenges Voice Scientists and Singers

An Interview by Joseph Shore for

The NATS Journal Jan./Feb.1995

 

Jerome Hines needs no introduction to singers or voice teachers. For over fifty years his name has been synonymous with great operatic singing. Clearly, singers like Mr. Hines, would offer voice science a wealth of material for study. He also provides a wonderful role model for singers.  On November 3, 1993, five days before his 72nd birthday, I talked with Mr. Hines about singing and vocal training. 

  

Shore:  Jerry, first of all, I want to wish you an early happy birthday and thank you for taking the time to talk vocal shop. 

Hines:  Thanks, it’s my pleasure.

Shore:  Jerry, I believe that great singers show how the vocal organs work at their peak efficiency. Therefore, I believe that studying great singers is very important to voice students. They need to learn by observing the peak efficiency of the great singer’s art. When you were a young singer, did you learn by listening to other great singers?

Hines: To a certain extent.  My first record I bought was Jussi Bjoerling and I was thrilled to death. Then I began to listen to Pinza. The singer who influenced me a lot for a while was Titta Ruffo. I remember one day, I asked Maestro Curci, “Which sounds better?” and I sang the way I thought Titta Ruffo would sing, and then the way I thought Pinza would sing. And Maestro Curci said, “Look young man, your voice is so beautiful, if you do something wrong it still sounds right. It’s very hard to teach you.” Of course I was at the stage of trying to imitate this, imitate that and I admired both Ruffo and Pinza. One is a baritone, one a bass and they sang completely differently. And I would think I emulated more in the direction of Pinza. I was imitating that rounder sound that he would make.

Shore:   If I may add, you certainly have surpassed him in vocal technique and beauty of tone.

Hines:   I’ll tell you who influenced me a lot on recordings. It was Mardones. His was the most impressive of all the bass voices I’ve ever heard. Pinza’s was the most beautiful in color.

Shore:   Jerry, in just a few days you are going to be 72. You are still singing wonderfully. Many people are surprised at that. I am not. I’m grateful for it but I’m not surprised. Great singers keep their voices if their bodily health permits. Nevertheless, a lot of people want me to ask you the big question. How have you kept your voice all these years?

Hines:   It’s a question that everybody does ask me and it’s not a simple answer. First of all many of the things I do are things that other singers do and they don’t last as long. So it’s not exactly the answer. No matter what techniques and what disciplines you go through, I think there is one factor more intangible and that is the motivation to pick yourself off the ground when you’ve been totally bloodied and smashed and say, “Let’s fight some more.” At a certain point people would just say, “Oh, come on, I’ve just had it. I can’t take anymore.” I recall saying that to myself in 1971 or ’72. Why did I continue after that when everything seemed at an end? I was down to one performance a season at the Met. My big competitors were out of the picture. London was out. Siepi was going out. Tozzi was going out. I said, “Here’s the handwriting on the wall. It’s time for me to go out. I’m not doing that well.”  What made me pick myself up?  For me, the spiritual background, my Christian faith, helped.  So the motivation part is all essential in keeping my voice, but then there are the human factors of discipline. One of which is vocal technique. When I made my 30th year at the MET–eventually you know I made 41 years–the New York Times called me and said, “We’re doing a story on you, Dorothy Kirsten, and Robert Merrill. You all debuted in 1946.”  We three were being interviewed and I said, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of the three study with the same teacher, Samuel Margolis.” Bob Merrill is still going and singing quite beautifully. I just did FAUST on Sunday night and it went awfully well.  

 

Shore:   Do you warm up any differently now than 30 years ago? 

Hines:   No. Not at all. I’ve added a few things but I haven’t subtracted anything.

Shore:   Has your range changed?

Hines:   Not really. I faced up to and won the battle with one of the symptoms of aging which usually portends the end of a career. Several years ago my wife (Lucia Evangelista) began saying, “Honey, the high voice is strong and heroic but the lower and middle is getting foggy and thinned out.” Now we’ve seen our great colleagues even at the age of 69 or 70 have a tremendous high voice but the whole middle is just a bag of broken glass. When they say they are singing on the “interest”, they have to. The capital has disappeared. I was seeing that happening and my first reaction was, “What do you expect at my age?” But I had fought that kind of battle in the past and always won by saying, “Stop blaming it on age. If you were 30 years younger and had the same problem, you’d say, “I need a new teacher.” I said, “I’m going to assume that it is not age but that I’ve gotten off the track,” and I tried to analyze what causes this general trend among singers. In analyzing this problem, let me first say that 95% of the singers I know are not blessed in the way I believe you were blessed. I think that when you started singing you had a high voice. 

Shore:   Yes, that’s right. I did.

Hines:   Right, exactly. People like you, Leonard Warren,  Cornell MacNeill, some other people I’ve sung with, they had it from day one. But you guys represent about 5% of the singers. 95% need to develop the last half octave to our voices. I couldn’t sing above D4 when I started. I had to learn it. It took me some years of struggle to acquire it. Now what that does to us is it begins a quest for the high voice. That quest never seems to end. The middle for most of us was natural and easy. We didn’t know how we did it. We just did it. And so when it begins to atrophy from disuse some people say, “What do you expect at my age?” They start saying “I’m living on the interest instead of the capital.” I say, “Old people I know living on the interest have retired. I want to spend the capital.” What is the capital? It lead me into a study of what we mean by chest voice. My first teacher, Curci, said that the middle and low is the foundation of the voice, and when that goes, that’s the end. I never forgot those words and I began to get chills when mine began to thin out. I found the answer in an unexpected way. When I wrote Great Singers On Great Singing, I was exposed to an idea that was new to me. Pavarotti said to me, “I don’t believe in placement.” I began experimenting with what he was talking about which is really sort of the Melocchi school which I’m sure you’re acquainted with.  (Note: Mario del Monaco was perhaps the most famous pupil of Melocchi. >From his descriptions, this school appears to have wanted the “sung” vowels to be very close to speaking values throughout the whole singing range. {Del Monaco interview, “Nothing Is Forgiven Me”}. There are many technical implications for this. One has been pointed out by Sundberg;  singing pitches higher than the first formant frequency of the vowel requires greater “vocal effort” and may “strain the vocal folds” unless the singer raises the frequency of the first formant, usually by opening the jaw wider {Sundberg, “The Acoustics of the Singing Voice,” Scientific American, 1977}. Opening the jaw wider for /i:/, for example, causes the vowel to “migrate” (Appleman) to /I:/.) Attempting to avoid that migration causes greater “vocal effort” (Sundberg), presumably by the lateral cricoarytenoids.)

 When I brought it up to Franco Corelli, who I knew had studied with some spin-offs of Melocchi, he said, “Well, what Melocchi said is valid but you have to see if you have a throat that’s adapted to it and you must use it with great moderation.” So I began experimenting with what Pavarotti was saying. The sound begins right here in the larynx. You don’t put it anyplace. It’s just /i:/ /e:/ /a:/.  (He demonstrated vowels with great medial compression, i.e. they sounded closer to “pressed phonation” than “flow phonation.”) Now when I began doing that, if I’d try scales for a couple of minutes, I’d be hoarse. That’s what Corelli was saying: “You have to see if your larynx can stand it.” What it  means is, “Do you have the muscular development in the larynx to stand it?” At first the muscles were strained. The muscles were weak. So I persisted for maybe a couple of months until I found that I wasn’t getting hoarse anymore doing it. My larynx muscles were adapting to it. Then I kept asking myself, “What does Corelli mean by moderation. How do you moderate it?” First I began by asking, “How does one sing a completely unmodified /i:/ vowel on the high voice, for example, without opening the jaw and modifying to /I:/?”  I began working on that until I could sing a very secure but unmodified /i:/ vowel all the way up the scale. I found that in order to do so I had to supply a lot of “appoggio”.  I could not let the breath pressure grow. I could feel that little pinch sensation that Pavarotti spoke of. It is that muscular effort in the larynx that closes those vocal folds. Now I said, “This is not a sound that I want to produce on the stage.” It is not a beautiful sound, but it took a certain muscular development to be able to do it. Now I began to say, “How does one modify that so that it might be beautiful enough to use on the stage?” What I finally came up with was a feeling of making a space down deep under the sternum, so that from the vocal cords down it was almost a triangular feeling with the apex of the triangle at the vocal cords. There was no sensation of placement above the vocal cords. Now when I would make a sound like this my wife would say, “The voice sounds very baritonal instead of bass.” I continued to experiment and I discovered that when I got this sensation of space down deep under the sternum and took this unmodified /i:/ down the scale, my low voice was restored to the richness it used to have. I kept remembering old Dr. Leo Reckford, my laryngologist, who would have me put out two fingers. He would pull on the finger tips and he would say, “That’s falsetto.” Then he would squeeze the two fingers together at the knuckle and say, “That’s chest.” The squeeze was chest to him. That squeeze I needed to make that unmodified /i:/ was chest voice. This whole concept restored my lower and middle. The point is that I can sing my entire range this way with no placement but it narrows my voice. When I want to go to what I was taught by Margolis, I have to let go of that, make the throat and mouth feel like an empty pipe and then I feel that the sound is being made in the dome of the hard palate and everything is up in the mouth, not coming from the vocal cords.  In the era of Warren and Merrill, everybody would say, “Warren does not have the magnificent middle of Merrill but Merrill does not have the magnificent high voice of Warren.” The problem was that Merrill was trying to take the technique of singing in the dome of the hard palate up into the high voice.

Now you had stirred up my thinking about this other thing, the singer’s formant, and I began experimenting. When I sang the FAUST last Sunday, my manager Jim Sardos and my wife both said, “You’ve never sung the high notes as well as you do now.”

 

Shore:    Jerry, you have certainly given voice scientists something to consider for study. It would be fascinating and informative to do EMG’s on your laryngeal musculature to see exactly what your exercises did. I am almost reluctant to make any comment for fear of jumping to a conclusion, but  if I had to make a guess, I would say that you may have discovered a way to defeat one of the main effects of aging on the vocal folds. Dr. Titze has recently written about the effects of aging on the vocal folds. He says that since muscle cells of the vocalis muscles atrophy with age, the vocal folds tend to bow (Ingo Titze, “Critical Periods of Vocal Change–Advanced Age”, The NATS Journal, March/April 1993). It could be that when bowed vocal folds are brought together by the lateral cricoarytenoids, greater adduction forces may be required to completely close the glottis. Otherwise the bowed vocal folds could allow too much air to pass through.  That could possibly cause the loss of strength and timbre in the middle and lower voice that you described as typical of your older colleagues. I am guessing–we certainly need studies to really tell– that you used your squeezed vowels to teach your lateral cricoarytenoids to supply more medial compression than they were accustomed to supplying when you were younger.

Hines:    That sounds right. And when I was younger I wouldn’t have needed so much because the cords were different.

Shore:    That is possible. You’ll need to let a voice scientist like Dr. Cleveland or Dr. Sundberg study you to be more certain. The only aspect of your description which I think is in error is the idea that the “squeeze” or medial compression corresponds to chest voice. Dr. Van den Berg’s studies showed that medial compression is found in falsetto as well, although it may be less active (Van den Berg, Vennard, et al, “Voice Production: The Vibrating Larynx”).  Both Dr. Van den Berg’s and Dr. Hirano’s studies seem to show that chest voice is the product of vocalis muscle stiffening, not predominantly medial compression. (Sundberg, The Science of the Singing Voice, pp.53-54).  In fact, the bodily vibrations in the chest associated with this register are much stronger when the medial compression is just sufficient to keep the vocal folds together. In “pressed phonation” there is great “squeeze” but very weak vibrations are sensed in the chest, according to Dr. Sundberg (Sundberg, Ibid. pp.161-163).

Hines:   You’re right. The squeeze is only a part of it.

Shore:   Tell us what you got from Margolis.

Hines:   The factor I got from Margolis that has kept Bob Merrill and me singing so long is fast moving scales. We basically sang fast moving scales with a slight impulse which he called a half “h” between the coloratura, not quite a detachment. Maximum speed and flexibility and  maximum volume. He wanted a big sound produced with flexibility. That flexibility has a lot to do with keeping the voice young. There is a tendency if you have a large voice to get muscle bound.

Shore:   And you have always had terrific coloratura.

Hines:   Yes, the voice should keep that flexibility and that will help keep the singer young. With Curci when I was young I had that depth of sound as well as the brightness. And now that I’ve restored the low voice with a rich sound this spacing under the sternum explains something more to me. Rosa Ponselle told me Caruso always told her to keep a “square throat”. That didn’t make much sense. Now I think I know what he meant. When you sense this spacing under the sternum, which you keep as you go up into the higher voice, that’s the square throat.

Shore:  You have mentioned that sensation several times.  Does that spacing have anything to do with the way you use the diaphragm?

Hines:   I think there is something laryngeal happening.

Shore:   It could be that the sensations you have are actually produced by a breathing technique which increases the degree of tracheal pull on the larynx. All of your empirical descriptions of the sternum and space, with the impact on tone quality and range, are consistent with a strong tracheal pull. Von Euler, Leanderson and Sundberg have shown that the tracheal pull on the larynx provides just such benefits in tone management, especially on high notes (Sundberg, “Breathing Behavior during Singing,” The NATS Journal, January/February, 1993). Your sensations would be great material for studies.

 

Hines:   All right, that’s ringing bells when you say it. There is something tracheal. This is not just pulling the larynx down. I can pull the larynx down voluntarily, and not by pushing down on the tongue. I can pull it down from below. But this is a feeling of lateral expansion under the vocal cords. I am not sure exactly what causes it.

Shore:   One of the great things about you is that you have an open mind, are still experimenting and still learning.

Hines:   Oh, like crazy.

Shore:   Jerry, you read my lectures on the singer’s formant and you said you made some experiments on your own articulation based on them. You said you were able to get high notes you never got before. Tell us what you did and what happened.

Hines:   I wanted to see what enabled some singers, like yourself, to be able to sing high notes as easy as the middle voice. I played with that after discussing the singer’s formant with you. I was emulating a tenor who has this facility with high notes and I was able to get that result when I felt as though the resonance chamber I was aiming for was down below the tongue in the area where the vocal cords are.

Shore:   Well, you’re right. That is the key chamber. The expanded larynx ventricle is a key factor in the strong singer’s formant (Sundberg, Ibid. p.121).

Hines:   That would be the way Warren and the others were singing their high notes. When I got that articulation all of a sudden the high voice became as easy as the middle. I found that once I got that feeling of expansion in the larynx I still had to add in some raising of the soft palate to get that two-way stretch singers talk about or I would still labor a little bit on the high voice or it would be lacking in brilliance.

Shore:  I would liked to have seen studies of Warren’s articulation and phonation for those great high notes. It certainly does sound as though his singer’s formant was very strong. Many great singers in your book talk about that feeling of two-way stretch you just mentioned. I wonder if it could be related to the support certain extrinsic muscles give to the larynx. Husler and Quiring believe that the stylopharyngeus and palatopharyngeus muscles support the larynx by a pulling stretch upwards, which must increase for higher notes. We need studies on great singers to be able to speak more definitely (Frederick Husler, Singing, the Physical Nature of the Vocal Organ, pp.23-30). The trouble is in accessing those muscles with EMG’s in a way which would not be so invasive as to render the study meaningless.   

Dr. Van Lawrence does tell us that the support of the larynx from below the hyoid bone is accomplished by muscles which attach to the hyoid bone or the thyroid cartilage and connect to the sternum (Sternohyoid, omohyoid, sternothyroid). Their pull down, he says, is quite important, especially on high notes. So important, that if those muscles are damaged by surgery, the singer may lose his/her high notes thereafter. (Van Lawrence, “Singers and Surgery,” Vocal Health and Science, p. 49.) This important function they provide may give part of your sternum feeling you described.

Shore:   Jerry, these questions have been mostly technical. I’d like to ask you a few questions about the art and profession of singing. Boris Christoff, one of your basso competitors, who just recently passed away, said in his Opera News interview some years ago, that young singers today all sound alike, that is, they have less distinctive timbres. Do you agree? 

Hines:   Let me put it this way. We are facing a generation of young singers who are much more diminutive in their approach to singing. I will sing King Mark with a Tristan who I feel should be doing Almaviva.

Shore:   Jerry, a few years ago a major regional opera company did DON CARLO  and hired you to do the Grand Inquisitor. A young international bass of the current generation, who I will simply call Mr. X, was the Philip. The Chorus Master is a friend of mine and he relayed this account of the show. He said, “We all thought Mr. X was sounding just fine as Philip until out walked Jerome Hines as the Grand Inquisitor, and he made Mr. X sound like a teenager. WE HAD ALL FORGOTTEN WHAT A REAL BASS SOUNDS LIKE.” 

Hines:   I have a tape of that performance and Mr. X sounds like my little boy!

(Shore: While Jerry was alive I never revealed who “Mr. X” was but now that Jerry is gone I don’t mind revealing that Mr. X was Sam Ramey and the opera company was Tulsa where Ramey was singing Philip and Hines was the Inquisitor.)

 

 

Shore:   Can you describe the differences in the way singers sounded when you were coming into the business 50 years ago and how they sound now?

Hines:   Yes, when I came to the Met, Robert Merrill and Leonard Warren sounded more like basses than most of the basses you hear today. Take Lawrence Tibbett. He had a big, world-class sound. It was a richer, heavier sound by far than what you hear from baritones today.

Shore:   You know that some people want me to sing bass roles today, even though you and I both know I’m a baritone.

Hines:   Of course. You’re absolutely right. You sound the way a real baritone is supposed to sound.

Shore:   Do you think this trend towards lightening voices depends on poor teaching?

Hines:   Yes. You know when I first did Wotan I thought the only way I could sing it was to pull the voice up. That was a grave error. Singing Wotan like that almost did me in. But I have one recording of my Wotan at Bayreuth. For some reason that performance I started Wotan like a deep, black bass voice and I didn’t get tired. I went through the role like gang-busters. The high voice was greater than ever.

Shore:   One possibility–and it’s just a possibility without studies– is that the articulation you chose to keep your voice deep–presumably a long vocal tract with a low larynx– also enabled you to sing the high notes easier. The muscles which lower the larynx are the sternothyroid muscles (Sundberg, Ibid. p.132-133) and some researchers believe that they help the cricothyroid muscles for rich high notes (Husler, Ibid. pp.23-30). I have always thought that a study  of the sternothyroids and the cricothyroids in rising pitch would yield fascinating results in you.  I do know that the images we choose effect laryngeal and vocal tract function. 

Shore: Jerry do you think that we in the universities should hold up the professional singer’s voice as a model for our young students?

Hines: Oh, absolutely. I’ll give you an example. I went to a major university to do a series of master classes. They had a recital the first thing when I got there. The worst singer on the program was a tenor. He was just a disaster. But he had a couple of notes that really got my attention. I heard buried in there another Mario Del Monaco. I took him aside and told him to come for a voice lesson within the next day or two. He came in with “Nessun dorma,” and “Ch’ella mi creda.” I started working with him. I said, “Don’t be afraid of it. Sing with some real guts,” and I started showing how to do it, how to correct the high voice. Within an hour he was just knocking the socks off of it. So I spoke to the chairman of the department and said, “Come to this guy’s next lesson. I want to get your opinion.” So she did, and he just sang up a storm. At the end of the lesson she said to me, ‘I WOULD NEVER HAVE GUESSED THAT HE HAD THAT VOICE IN HIM, AND IF I HAD SUSPECTED IT, I WOULD HAVE BEEN AFRAID TO HAVE LET HIM SING THAT WAY FOR FEAR HE WOULD HAVE HURT HIS VOICE AND I WOULD HAVE LOST MY JOB.”  Then she said, “YOU KNOW, I THINK I HAVE A CONFESSION TO MAKE. I THINK THAT WE VOICE TEACHERS IN ACADEMIA ARE DESTROYING A WHOLE GENERATION OF SINGERS. WE ARE AFRAID TO LET THEM SOUND LIKE OPERA SINGERS FOR FEAR THAT THEY MIGHT HURT THEIR VOICES AND WE MIGHT LOSE OUR JOBS.’  And that was her confession to me.”

 

Shore: This has been great. You have refreshed my memories of your Wotan which I will always remember, along with your Boris, Philip, and Gurnemanz as peak experiences in opera.

Now remember Jerry, you have already put it in print that the bass voice doesn’t begin to age until 80, so we expect to hear you sing for many more years to come! Thanks for taking the time today to talk vocal shop. Thanks for giving us so many new ideas for studies and happy 72nd birthday.  

Hines:   Thanks buddy. You’re welcome.

 

 

JUST HOW LOW IS THE ‘LOW’ LARYNX?

(Notes to my students)

Joseph Shore

 

Let us recap some previous studies and relate them to your experience. You will remember from Sundberg and Fant that the formula for laryngeal lowering and creation of the singer’s formant is precise: “It can be calculated that if the area of the outlet of the larynx into the pharynx is less than a sixth of the area of the cross section of the pharynx then the larynx is mismatched with the rest of the vocal tract; it has a resonance frequency of its own, largely independent of the remainder of the tract. The one-sixth condition is likely to be met when the larynx is lowered, because the lowering tends to expand the bottom part of the pharynx.” At first Sundberg indicated that this formant frequency of the larynx itself (probably the ventricle of Morgagni) would be between 2500 and 3000Hz. Later in THE SCIENCE OF THE SINGING VOICE, he quotes extensive studies which show that the singer’s formant can range from 2.3K to 3.6K in males, depending on physical characteristics and voice type. Especially important would be the size of the larynx and, therefore, the amount of air within the expanded ventricle of Morgagni. The lowering of the larynx is simply viewed as the normal way to achieve the one-sixth condition. If one’s pharynx were broad enough it might be possible to generate a singer’s formant with minimal laryngeal lowering. One thinks of Leonard Warren , the great baritone, whose pharynx was so broad his larynx did not appear to lower a great deal, although it was lower than speaking position. Women may have a smaller laryngeal drop available to them because of their smaller organs, but since the singer’s formant is not as important to them, this is not a cause for great concern. One of my female students has a rich, chiaroscuro voice, but her larynx lowers very slightly. The pharynx size is very important in that case.

So just how low is the low larynx? For men, at least as low as is required to give the one-sixth posture. Those side-wall tissues of the base of the pharynx must be stretched. If we had a larynx height machine we could observe your precise larynx posture when the singer’s formant is generated. Sundberg likes to work with a larynx height machine with students in master classes and reports quick successes in postural alignment with such biofeedback. Unfortunately, most schools do not have such capabilities, so we are left to more humble means of gaining information about our organs.

Are there any guidelines about larynx height? Vennard says that the larynx should be as low as it goes through relaxation of the mylohyoids and usage of deep inhalation. However, since Vennard’s death, Dr. Van Lawrence points out that studies at the Haskins Laboratories have proven that contraction of the depressor muscles (sternothyroid, sternohyoid, omohyoid) is essential for high quality professional singing. This would confirm the position of Husler, Appleman, et al. regarding laryngeal lowering. As you remember, they indicate that simple relaxation and deep inhalation are not all that is required. They stated that the larynx is actively inspanned in the net of suspensory muscles; i.e. that the low larynx is lowered and maintained in its position by contraction of these particular extrinsic muscles. Sundberg flatly states that the larynx is lowered by the sternothyroid muscle. How low do these muscles pull the larynx during phonation? Sundberg’s studies, you recall, showed that great singers allow the larynx to lower further with rising phonation frequency. That would make sense because of the cooperation of the sternothyroids with cricothyroids during rising pitch. I have frequently said, however, that “the suspension system is a gentle system.” When we say the sternothyroid pulls down on the thyroid cartilage we do not mean that it pulls down like a 100 pound catfish on a trotline! The singers Shipp and Izdebski studied had larynx drops of less than an inch for their lowest position. The deepest drop they studied was 19 mm. The longest drops that we observed last year on video were found in Robert Merrill and Jerome Hines. They both appeared to be lower than 20 mm although it is difficult to speak precisely. Furthermore, their large drops appear to be a significant factor in production of their extremely rich voices. They have both been cited as possessing the “model” voices for operatic baritones and basses. Richard Miller does not appear to believe, from his writings that the larynx can lower this far. In criticizing German pedagogy he writes: “Others recommend the larynx should visibly drop…one quarter inch, one-half inch, even three-quarters of an inch if possible…” It is obvious from Shipp and Izdebski’s studies that drops of three-quarters of an inch are common in good singers. Diadochokinesis of the sternothyroid muscles and the cricothyroids appear to explain Sundberg’s observation that good singers allow the larynx to lower further with rising pitch.

You recall that Dr. Van Lawrence told us what happened to those singers who had thyroidectomies and whose depressor muscles were sectioned during the operation. In order to give the surgeon more room, the sternothyroids and sternohyoids were severed and later stitched back together. Due to the loss of some muscle, they lost their high notes, and the whole voice took on certain changes. Dr. Lawrence confirmed Husler’s view that the downward pull from these muscles is essential to stabilize the firm structures of the larynx in order for the intrinsic muscles to work at top efficiency. Studies at the Haskins Laboratories have confirmed the need for depressor muscle function in high quality singing.

Are there any other considerations in laryngeal lowering? Yes. Since lowering the larynx also lowers formant frequencies by lengthening the resonating tube, larynx lowering by sternothyroid action may also be a part of the mechanism whereby singers “color” vowels in a desired direction. Husler says that there is almost an infinite variety of postures available to the larynx because of the interrelationships available within the suspensory system of elevators and depressors. The kind of music, the coloration one desires, the language one is singing all effect this complex choice. The precise larynx posture one adopts also highly effects the illusion of voice placement. As Husler says, “Singers know that when a voice is ‘shallow’, ‘flat’, or ‘narrow’, the position of the larynx is too high.” The sound quality is the primary guide. Husler also says, “The placing of the voice changes according to the volume of sound or the pitch required, varies slightly for the different vowels, and should be altered according to the style of music.” He also says that these changes correspond to muscular positioning of the larynx. There is not one larynx posture for all singing, and yet the one-sixth condition must be maintained. From this we gather that once the singer’s formant has been generated, further laryngeal lowering–but not raising–is available to us for coloration, and musical and linguistic demands.

Tomograms show us that high notes above the passaggio in good male singers have a lower laryngeal posture than chest tones below the passaggio. This may be the result of the sternothyroid action we have just discussed.

A few months ago, I performed a modern piece written for dramatic speaker with orchestra for the CBC. Was my larynx as low for that kind of speaking as it is for singing? Yes and no. Firstly, I used the SINGING voice in a SPEAKING manner. So let’s keep first things first. The singing voice is NOT just an extension of the speaking voice. Speaking and singing are proven to be two different usages of the larynx. At least some researchers, notably Jaensch, point out that there are cases when stroke patients can no longer speak but may be able to sing! Singing is different from speaking. That essential contraction Dr. Lawrence described for the depressor muscles is not found in normal speech. Therefore, we do NOT want to say that “the laryngeal position for singing is the position one takes in dramatic speaking.” Why? because it is inaccurate. It takes the exactitudes out of laryngeal measurement (the one-sixth posture) and it implies that speaking is the key to singing. Pop singers usually use the speaking voice in a singing manner; i.e. the larynx is high. Dramatic speakers may use the singing voice in a speaking manner; i.e. the larynx is low. There remains a major difference which I believe a larynx height machine would demonstrate: In dramatic speaking rising pitch change is not as efficiently handled by sternothyroid/cricothyroid diadochokinesis. Therefore the larynx does not move as low downward for rising pitch during dramatic speaking. Individual onsets in the middle voice may be very similar. However, it would be very easy for a young singer who sings just “on the edge” of the one-sixth posture to assume just the same position in dramatic speaking.

There is another important difference, namely larynx tilt. In speaking, the larynx is high, the top of the hyoid bone near the third cervical vertebra, and the angle of the thyroid does not show any tilt. In singing, the forward tilt of the thyroid, the cricoid, down and back, are very important postural alignments. It is doubtful that dramatic speaking can duplicate this singing posture.

In conclusion, we try to begin with Vennard’s position, using mylohyoid relaxation and deep inhalation through the mouth, then use appropriate tonal images and exercises to innervate and coordinate the suspensory muscles (especially sternothyroid). The tongue is NOT a legitimate depressor muscle, nor is it a legitimate elevator muscle. Vennard says that when the larynx lowers it takes the tongue with it. If you resist that you will be using your tongue as an illegitimate elevator. Pushing down on the back of the tongue to use it as an illegitimate depressor muscle gives the articulation inaccurately but commonly called “the depressed larynx.” The base of the pharynx appears to be narrower and the one-sixth condition is in doubt. The sound created is unmistakable. Sometimes, teachers who have come to like a higher larynx sound will simply call the lowered larynx, a depressed larynx. Also, some teachers who believe that only inhalation lowers the larynx may call any deeper posture assumed through contraction of the depressor muscles, a “depressed larynx.” Since the sternothyroids, omohyoids, and sternohyoids are called the “depressor muscles,” and since studies at the Haskins Laboratories have confirmed their function in high quality singing, we might very accurately call the good, low laryngeal posture, a depressed larynx. However, this exact terminology doesn’t deal with the fact that colloquially, many voice teachers uses the term “depressed larynx” in a prejudicial manner to refer to a larynx pushed down from above by using the geniohyoid of the tongue as a FALSE depressor muscle. We should speak precisely about all this and talk of a lowered larynx through proper depressor function, and a falsely depressed larynx using a false depressor muscle. This need not be confusing. A larynx height machine can show you that your larynx descends a little lower with rising pitch when the proper suspensory (depressor) muscles are used well.

Feel the hyoid bone, open your jaw to the “Ah”, relaxed-jaw posture, and see if you feel any space open up at the base of the pharynx. If you don’t, chances are you don’t have the one-sixth posture. Put your finger on the thyroid cartilage notch, go to the “Ah”, relaxed-jaw posture again and see how far the thyroid cartilage lowers. Is it less than a half inch, three-quarters an inch? Depending on your answer, relate that information into your tonal characteristics currently. Keep your finger lightly on the thyroid cartilage and sing into the passaggio and above it. What happened to the thyroid cartilage? Relate that information to the tonal characteristics. None of these little tricks, however, replace or significantly add anything to proper exercises used by your teacher.

Do not think that you can learn to sing just by studying muscles or acoustics. None of the suspensory muscles are consciously controllable. Therefore their action is part of the reflexive technique of singing. In the International School of Singing, the system known as Appoggio, is the most efficient learning system. In Appoggio the singer does not place conscious attention to any musculature, but instead learns how to control the breath (la lotta vocale), form the vowel properly (by proper position of the jaw and lips) and adjust the vowel properly (aggiustamento) as the scale is mounted. The teacher will use exercises designed to teach the involuntary muscles the appropriate actions for singing ben appoggiata but the singer’s conscious awareness will not be directed towards attempts to feel, much less locally control, involuntary musculature. The singer will indirectly control the emission of sound by auto-monitoring the position of the body, the feeling of the voice (impostazione) and the sound of the voice. The teacher will doubtless call to the attention of the student a sensation of broadening of the base of the pharynx when a proper breath is taken, but will not exaggerate that into a yawn or attempt to make the singer locally control that pharyngeal space. Rather, the relatively broad pharynx and relatively low larynx stay that way because of a properly managed breath cycle, a properly formed vowel, and a properly adjusted vowel. Only one thing could be more damaging than a singer who tries to locally control his larynx position, and that is a teacher who uses hands on techniques to manipulate the larynx. The stories are legend of the people hurt by Stanley’s methods of laryngeal manipulation. In the Bel Canto tradition as handed down by the Lampertis (Francesco and G.B.), Stanley would be viewed as a sort of vocal Dr. Frankenstein.

How low is the low larynx? It all depends. Learn to use the breath properly, form the vowel properly and adjust the vowel properly according to the tenets of Appoggio and your larynx will remain relatively low throughout the well managed breath cycle. Let the voice scientists measure it. Let the singers just sing!

 

 

 

 

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