Hello everyone,


Rainy Saturday and I am woefully unmotivated today.  Sometimes it’s just that way.  Arietha just sent me a link to the Opera America site where there are listings of the various operas (not at the Met) that you can see online:  https://mailchi.mp/operaamerica/live-streams-and-on-demand-content-july-24-2020?e=1b8e4cf56fToday is The Makropulos Case at the San Francisco Opera, and I can’t get up enough gumption to go watch it.  I think it’s still available tomorrow, so maybe then. 


I recently received the Email below from Hal Leonard, who regularly sends stuff about their voice publications to the NATS folks.  As you can see, they would like to sell you a whole bunch of exercise books, how to sing methods, warm-ups, voice builders, and so forth.  So let’s talk about all that stuff.


Voice teaching started with the rise of cathedral schools where young boys with good voices and not much money could get an education and musical training by singing the treble parts for the service music and anthems at the cathedrals to which the schools were attached.  The Westminster Boy Choir, the Vienna Boy Choir, and others are the remaining places at which this training is still done.  Let me make a music history digression for a moment to take note that from well before the Renaissance women were not welcome to sing in the western Church.  The training of boys to sing treble was one of the results of this mindset, and some famous musicians were first of all choirboys including Henry Purcell, Franz Joseph Haydn, and Franz Schubert.  Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were all sons of musicians who trained them at home.


The history of voice training is interesting to nerds like me.  One of the most famous, possibly true, legends of the bel canto era (more or less the late 17th through early 19th centuries) is of a single page of exercises that the youngsters studied for many years.  Having completed that study to their masters’ satisfaction, they were deemed capable of singing anything.  It’s kind of this idea that led to the proliferation of exercise books in the 19th century.  These were similar to the single sheet, being exercises of increasing difficulty intended to deal with various vocal skills.  They grew into books by being written out in all keys, with accompaniments yet!


I have nothing against all the traditional exercises, and I certainly have nothing at all against incremental practice.  Back in my college days I used to have one of the books, it might have been the Vaccai or Marchesi book.  I messed around with the exercises and found most of them to be various scales, intervals, and ornaments (turns, trills, etc.) that are good to be good at singing, but I had no clue why one would want to spend a lot of time on them.  I finally narrowed down my go-to set of exercises to a warm-up, scales and arpeggios, sometimes adding chromatics, triplets, or whatever I came across to try out.  Still had no clue what they were supposed to be doing for me besides developing musicianship.   As you may recall, I had a truly terrible voice teacher in college, and she did nothing whatsoever to educate me about how the voice functions.


Eventually I found a good teacher and started to learn about voice function, both the physical and the language parts of it.  Eventually I thought more about how my students were actually using their voices than whether or not they could execute rapid coloratura.  Of course, I would occasionally come across someone who wanted to know about rapid coloratura (my own specialty), and they were delights to teach all that lore to, but mostly people just want to understand their own voices.  So, you all know my exercise sheet, which I’ve attached.  Let me tell you briefly what they are supposed to do for you.


Exercises A-D are mostly warm-ups from A, the gentlest for a day when a voice is tired or sick, to the everyday B, to the phlegm scraper C.  My well-loved Junge sing im Fruhling can be a warm up, but is mostly about registration.  You’ll remember that I’ve probably said to you that singing technique is about registration and breath.  Registration is learning to sing the full compass of your range without the passaggii messing with you.  All scale and arpeggio exercises are about registration and most of the ones with interval jumps are, too; so on my sheet D-I are about whatever I’m hearing as the registration issue of the day for a given singer.  The chromatic scale, Exercise J, is mostly about gauging how well a student is doing with breath management.  Can s/he do only one?  More than one?  My old teacher – the good one -- and I used to race sometimes, and I could never beat her.  No matter how fast we went, she would sing seven of them and I’d give out at five.


Okay, so you want to know why you doing a vocal exercise and what you want to achieve.  You need both resonance and breath to sing the full compass of your range, and nearly any exercise will help you work on those things if you’re paying attention.  My choices are influenced by which ones I can play (limited piano skills here) without being distracted from listening to you.  You are at total liberty to use the ones you like.  The partially occluded things are still hot in the vocal world (lip trills, singing through a straw, singing through a straw in water, and so forth), and if they help you not use too much air, more power to you. 


I’m interested to see that in the ad below there are exercises “for” various techniques, jazz vocals, rock vocals, and I’ll probably not buy them.  I do like the NATS Series on various styles and techniques to sing them because the people who write them are carefully vetted.  I’d buy So You Want to Sing Rock by Matt Edwards before I’d choose a book on rock vocals by an author I’d never heard of.  Actually, I did buy Matt’s book, and I don’t see it on the shelves.  Whoever has it, do get it back to me when you can.

Best wishes,