Teaching Singing

The principal characteristics of my work with pupils are - I hope (!!) - discovery and adventure. Finding the voice comes first - which may seem strange considering that we have all used our voices since birth in one way or another, but habits, influences, and the examples of others - let alone actual 'training' - have all been hard at work usually over quite a long time, deconstructing the natural and developing the abnormal. I had a pupil recently who had spent three years in a conservatoire (and 'qualified'), followed by two years of intense private teaching, who made a brave sound suggestive of quality but was not using her real voice at all. Its 'discovery' came as a revelation - not unusual - together with the realisation that so much power required only half her previous physical effort in production. Discovery leads to consolidation and expansion - and this is where a real appreciation of the mechanics comes in and the real adventure begins - it involves the identification of the precise physical sensations that accompany each individual note, the proper realisation of its acoustic properties and hence the range of colouration available for purposes of expression. The instrument is both delicate and potentially strong, but delicacy and motivational energy should precede physicality - hence the old injunction 'Sing on interest, never on capital' - and once the realisation dawns that all parts of the system - diaphragm, vocal cords and all the muscles embedded in the larynx as well as those that support it, tongue, palate - the lot - are reflex in action, one begins to realise how purely physical intervention can paralyse parts of the system and require compensation from the rest as a result, and so destroy the essential co-ordination that produces free healthy tone.

No wonder Herbert Caesari gave the books that followed 'Science and Sensations of Vocal Tone' titles such as 'The Voice of the MIND' and 'The ALCHEMY of Voice'. The good singer is one who never forces, who recognises that power is best realised through lightness and precision of attack and sustained intensity of tone, that dynamic variation and colouration are better means of expression than sloppy rhythm and the unwarranted extension of high notes just because they are 'high', that moaning and groaning are slovenly habits (even if hallowed by 'local' tradition and 'justified' as 'style'), and that holding on to consonants (and even adding additional vowels to bring attention to them in the name of 'diction') is best left to tired tenors. In other words, he or she has subtlety and sensitivity of mind, and a fascination for purity and steadiness of tone that is always related to a thoroughly musical purpose.