When I was beginning my career as a teacher I decided to interview several of the major voice teachers of the period. It was printed in Opera Canada under the title “A DELICATE BALANCE”. The focus of these interviews was to discuss with these acknowledged teachers the balance between scientific knowledge (known as Voice Science) and the accepted IMAGERY approach so prevalent in vocal studios for so many years – beginning with the Camerati – the early foundations of the approach to the Bel Canto style of singing.
And, of course, the result of these interviews by a young voice teacher were, as expected, a combination of both approaches. Since that time a preponderance of Voice Science has entered the pedagogical world.
What is the difference between the two approaches:
The preponderance of scientific knowledge, indeed, makes us more aware of what is happening when singers obey the laws of dynamic singing, i.e. Caruso, Pavarotti, Sutherland, Caballe`, etc. etc. In other words, we are able to understand technically what these great singers of the past achieved in their vocal production. This knowledge is immensely helpful to doctors.
Knowledge is never wasted. And with this scientific knowledge, thanks to the ability to measure and visualize the functions of the body that create beautiful singing, it does not seem to have produced more major singers in our time.
It therefore suggests that a balance between the two approaches must be considered in the vocal studios of today.
The Delicate Balance, as I see it, is a combination of knowing what a singer wants to achieve musically, vocally and interpretively without the over emphasis on scientific knowledge that produces the finest singers in modern times. Thus the Imagination of the singer should be the first and foremost aspect of achieving a healthy technique (inner ear and eye).
Caruso, Gigli, and singers of the 19th and early 20th century were not as aware as each vocal student is today of the scientific knowledge of how they approach their craft.
The early singers , primarily castrati, set about developing a way for the singer to express the words more clearly – the emotions of the text more immediately – than the technique of singing prevalent in their time — namely , polyphony which was more more about harmonics than text.
Their goal was to achieve through text and vocal line a way for the expressivity of the text to touch the public. Thus the use of text became far more prevalent and important.
This approach to singing, depending a great deal on use of the text, became the seed that created the art of bel canto and its development that has lasted some 400 years. Mozart, Handel, Rossini Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and into the verismo reperotire of Puccini et al.
Not only were the great Italian composers developing this appraoch to singing but all of the composers including Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Britten, and even the composer of the American Musical Theatre ( Victor Herber, Irving Berlin, Rogers & Hammerstein, etc.).
The use of Imagery in the art of teaching voice has always been a major component of the art of vocal technique training up throughout these some 400 years.
It was not until the late 19th century that the art of voice science began to evolve. The early composers of the 15th and 16th century had very little knowledge of the physiognomy of the human body and of their elements in developing a solid classical vocal technique.
The Delicate Balance, then , seems to be exactly that — a combination of Imagination (Inner Ear/Inner Eye) with the modern knowledge of the workings of the various muscles of the body in producing what we call healthy classical technique. One aspect must balance with the other – without a preponderance of either.