Last year The Guardian published this article about the always more actual question of how to make voices last and careers last and why they used to be longer and now not anymore. It is a question that had become without that I was searching for it also central in my work of vocal coach and voice teacher, with pretty constant and reliable results. I have some answers in common with what said in the article, but I do not think they are the complete answer even if I come from being an Italian belcanto technique trained soloist. The Italian belcanto technique, the always well reknowned, and worth of all the appreciation, technique is what regularly comes back central and fundamental when we want to do something really balanced and with most of the physiological answers about voices. Seth Riggs has adapted and made it useful for a modern sound with the great success we know, David Jones since some decades now in Usa uses it in a different style (the swedish way with more weight and back appoggio) that the one was used at the start of XXth century in Italy, my great master Giannella Borelli teached another version more adapted to the second half of the century. I mostly agree that to refer again Italian belcanto technique can be quite a good thing but I do not think that in those terms we will really give a complete and proper answer to those singers losing their voices. And I will try to explain a bit why I say this.
- Italian belcanto technique is a precise way of working on voice and it is a great way of putting voice work on the body and not on the chords creating a connection of the two opposite forces that work on breathing. In fact it is a way to find a balance in those two forces and to develop in a pretty safe way these forces to produce sound in all ages of life. Differences in style (David Jones’ version in the last decades in NY, or Lilli Lehmann’s or Giannella Borelli or Matilde Marchesi’s or Manuel Garcia’s or the Carbone way or the ancient Tosi or more modern Sergio Catoni) do not change the opposite connection but they give a prevalence of one or of the other force, so changing the kind of perception about the breath and voice production, and also the reactivity and weight of voice. Are all the styles the same for a voice? No, some are more accorded to a vocal nature or repertoire than the others, being all quite certainly safe and containing the source of balance. The Lilli Lehman’s style is better for Mozart repertoire for example, while the Marchesi’s version is in some way very good for jazz singers and the Garcia’s for some pop and rock voices. Does italian belcanto technique now gives all the answers to pop singers or classicals or singers in general? No, and not because it does not contain the correct principles to find those answers but because for some decades it has not asked itself to develop those principles and tools to new music and new sounds required. So it can take back in balance unbalanced voices but not always to give them the sound they need or dream in some kind of music, and not always they are dreaming totally unhealthy voices productions. It is an excellent thing that someone continues to have a tradition in the different past styles of this technique but music changes, it is an intrinsec truth and art changes and if they have to choose between an old safe sound and a true effective contemporary sound the true innovators and artists will choose this second. And it is up to us the vocal coaches with a training in safe and reliable technique and to voice techniques all to adapt and search how to help and support contemporary requests. Starting from the end of 1800 changes have produced an opposition that is pretty common in music history between what was perceived as artificial and art that wanted to be more simple, sincere and true. It is a normal oscillation in music. So it was in composition and so it was in all the theatre and dance revolution, it arrived to the complete new sound of singers as for example a Bob Dylan and all the starting of contemporary music from a vocal point of view. For a quite long time singer’s needs and sound evolution has not been served by classical teachers to answer to their musical requests, so singers have been deprived of a safe technique from classical tradition, and certainly better Italian belcanto than others not so balanced and solved, but we do not have think that just saying that belcanto technique of XXth century does not want those kind of sounds will take back music there. Classical trainers have been just not accepting and not understanding the new sounds judged trivial and not round and eventually totally wrong in voice production (some are totally wrong, others they just seem wrong, others are wrong in a certain phase and age of life or of training, voice is not something not changing in time and age). Even now that in classical music we have the so satisfying musical research of a Ian Bostridge we have not a contemporary or parallel path of adaptation of classical techniques to see what is the real price of this research and what just a not yet well balanced system integrating this research. It is time to make a step forward, probably using parts (or even great parts) of the past but not just taking back to the past. All the techniques flourished in the last decades to help them shows their effectivness but often contain this limit of not having into their basis the basilary principles that made (and make again) so central the Italian belcanto technique.
- We are not from a physical point the ones we were, meaning that there has been a huge change in way of living both physically and from ambiental stimuli. We live and walk or run and exercise and seat in a different way from a very early age and this shapes our muscles and their way of being used and in a deeper way the posture (currently not a good posture not to have problems in voice production, being in my experience a posture that gives less of that flexibility and movement in the larynx that protect vocal chords in phonation, so we have strain and not strenght). We read or not read or communicate in a different way, and this shapes also unvoluntary muscles and reactivity in a different way. Voice is related quite strictly to posture, especially internal posture of diaphragm’s related muscles (they are many more voice connected then expected even if in a well trained and correct voice their perception disappear). The emotional related muscles or generally the unvoluntary muscles are also pretty important in voice production (diaphragm is unvoluntary) and give a great part of the easiness and artistry on the level that is perceived as the magical quality of some voices, being strictly related to what stimuli and internal life we have or have not and there is a precise way to connect it to the voice in a technical and reliable way to become art and not just humoral or emotional. For example one century ago we had not the diaphragm and ileopsoas and transversus abdominis muscle in the shape and reactivity or lack of reactivity I find them currently and the internal reactivity has changed since we live with total different stimuli. We have to ask ourself how changes of way of living change the zero point from which a technique or style are useful and effective, and to be effective defining the starting point is something basic.
- Phoniatrics has taken a great place in working on voice and its tools are really a great advantage now, and had lead to the enthusiasm of being able to solve and take the place of vocal coaches and singing techniques. If it was true now, we would not have the article above and nobody would have never come to me. Being truly happy of everything so interesting and fundamental can do, when it comes to singing and understading the instrument, also doctors are trying to use vocal techniques even if are empirical methods (for example in Italy Prof. Giovanni Ruoppolo with Linklater method and Franco Fussi with Estill VoiceCraft). The question is always which one and how, until now the most reliable had been the Italian belcanto. So: really Italian belcanto has all the answers now? It contains many of the tools to find the answers but I do not think it has now all the answers for everybody. Also we have to ask to which way of intending Italian belcanto we are relating to (the Carbone tradition, the Borelli tradition, the Lindquist, the Lehmann or the Garcia or the Marchesi or Mancini or Tosi etc.?). I think we should do a step forward and trying to get systematic and more precise of what kind of sound and charachteristics the differents way of intending and applying it produce. Every choice has beneficials and limits, and some of the techniques today in vogue are part of the choices but not the only choices. What are the correct choices in a certain moment and in a certain case? My work is really appreciable if you start with some issues that no technique could manage to find a proper voice or you want to rely a certain deep musical need to your voice production or if you are a very young and want a good voice production not too much specialised but of high quality and decide after on what getting specific, Estill is perfect for others kind and for a certain quantity of time to obtain very specific goals and to very specific ways of being interpreter, I work well with very internal related artistic souls and Estill better on other kind of singers, the two coaches mentioned in the article on others kind of specificity. Perhaps a specific singer could have a beneficial in coming to me to get to the starting point required to be a perfect Estill related singer, and David Jones also has been perfect in a certain epoque and still very useful for some voices and some repertoires, for others it is better a doctor or a speech therapist, etc. Nobody of us is all the solutions, we must be truly honest on that. Not all the repertoires are safe in the same way but singing can be pretty safe and lasting even in not so physiological repertoires or way of singing. In some sort it has the same logic of a training for competitive sports the athletes, and the different techniques are the differents way of using the body, the different sports. If we have to do jazz we will probably have to train in the sense of a body similar to the one of rhythmics gymnastics that is not the same as for artistic gymnastic (that can be the pop singer) or of a boxeur (that can be a rock singer) etc. . We have some basics that are the same always, and Italian belcanto seems really having selectioned itself in containing those, but then we can become smart in making the correct training and adaptation to have a boxeur adapting to his changing life without forcely becoming . We should start posing the questions of why some in certain cases are the solutions and in others not, and to stop thinking that us is better than the others. So we can really make a distinction in what is a really dangerous and not reliable way of singing and what just requires a more complex and attentif training and less working charge in time and frequence and how to relate that to age and how to understand which one really cannot be a boxeur (and I bet that we can discover that are very few if well done) and which one is a dancer or a artistic gymnast, so to offer the correct training and technique to the artist and the energy and reactivity that is a precious and unique charachteristique of each. So we can ask what of the Italian belcanto principles Estill is lacking or having and if it is a fundamental point, as what of Linklater is always in the path of the previous Ilse Middendorf (the inhalation and part of the breathing is basically the same but results on voices are different) and why. In those questions Italian belcanto presents the principles on which find the perfect balance, but perfect balance is not always art and a lack of balance is not always a disaster, answers that are contemporary answers and not just taking back the sounds and the expressive requirements. Must we all sing in the same way or there are ways of shaping and using the voice without certainly strain it depending on many factors? Can we do in the same way in every moment of our life or there are specifics charachteristics and phases of life in which we can have more weight or less weight and more pressure or just only the same balance always? Voice has a great capacity of different way of finding a balance and I think that just putting the same for everyone is an attitude not completely satisfying and not true to remain safe. My work has till now demonstrated that the starting point is fundamental and that not to require something that was appropriate* What I state in the first part of the post about the two forces is something to me clear since I work exactly on this. Their correct connection and opposition give a healthy voice (this is the center of my work, the step forward in what previously perceived about air and breathing and the reason why I can have results I have had all those years, even in very difficult cases not responding to a normal training in belcanto or of organic problem). This opposition can be shaped and the reactivity can be worked to take the voice in the body work and not on the chords but changing colour and speed and rythmical reaction and overtones and also a part of intrinsec power or softness. Adapting the work and accents and breathing exercises and vocalisation and the work on muscular chains voice related in my experience is possible, to obtain as in sports, the different coordinations and response and the different balances adapted to the repertoire with the limits of the basical shape and nature and internal attitude of the instrument but not the limit of the only belcanto sound, also because reality presents not only different singers in different styles all the time and not inevitably crushed and not lasting and we have to study and research on what working, to really understand why and how working on voice.