Monday, August 31, 2015

Weak Bodies, Strong Voices

Think of the people that you have known throughout your life. Have you ever seen a person who was able to fill a space the size of a large auditorium with the clear and unmistakable sound of his or her voice? A person who could produce his or her voice in that fashion for hours at a time, day after day, without having the voice give out or become damaged in any way?

I'll tell you exactly where to find such a person: Remember the last time you heard a baby crying in the middle of a church ceremony... What a powerful voice!

Were you surprised to find out who it was?

If that doesn’t convince you that true VOCAL FREEDOM is completely natural and absolutely accessible to every human being, even the weakest among us, then I don’t know what will.

There are a great many false teachers in the world of singing who would have you believe that the proper use of the voice and great singing are a matter of physique and physical training, what with “breathing exercises” and “vocal warm-ups” and so forth. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I have discussed the errors of physical singing elsewhere on this website, here and now I would like to introduce you to the wonderful truth that the gift of singing is a gift of the mind and spirit, and not of the body.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Frail Bodies, Strong Singers at Any Age

These days you rarely hear singers who sing with true VOCAL FREEDOM in the commercial arena. Instead you hear singers who blast and push and force their voices for years until they have finally done so much damage to their voices they are forced into retirement, never to return to the stage.

This is not so with singers who studied carefully to achieve VOCAL FREEDOM in the Bel Canto way of singing. When asked to sing publicly years after their retirement from professional life in their frail and elder years they can sing yet with great majesty and expressiveness. Their health may be leaving them, but their ability to sing comes from their depth of spirit, which is as strong as ever!

My associate teacher in the Bel Canto House School of Singing Edwin Williamson had the great honor of visiting Anna-Lisa Bjorling, the widow of Jussi Bjorling, at her home in the year 1994. She showed him the room which Jussi kept aside for his singing, which contained the various regalia, medals, certificates and other mementos that been awarded to him by the presidents and royalty in the countries where he had performed, and she told him of her memories of singing together with Jussi.

Then Edwin asked Mrs. Anna-Lisa Bjorling to sing for him. At first she was reluctant, saying "Oh, it’s been such a long time since I have sung..." But Edwin began to sing Puccini’s "O mio babino, caro" and she instantly joined in with him. Edwin is a witness to the fact that she sang perfectly well even though she had long since retired. This is an experience that Edwin will fondly carry in his memory for the rest of his life.

Another great Bel Canto singer named Tito Schipa made his operatic debut in Vercelli, Italy in 1909 at age twenty. He had an impressive career singing all over the world including the Met in New York City and in several films. He sang professionally for fifty-five years. Even in his seventies he was able to fill the great opera arenas with his tenor voice which was always subtle, light and fully expressive. The last concert he gave was in 1962 in New York. The critics at that concert gave wonderful accounts of his performance. Recordings of that concert are still in publication, and I recommend to you to get a copy and hear it for yourself.

The Croatian-born soprano Zinka Milanov enjoyed a certain degree of fame and success in her younger years, though her voice tended to be somewhat shrill. However, she did not fully come to maturity in her singing voice until she was in her forties. Her later work is a clear example of true VOCAL FREEDOM, and her wonderful interpretations of Verdi and Puccini roles earned her a place in history as one of the best dramatic sopranos of her day.

When she retired from The Met in 1966, Milanov took up teaching on a full-time basis. In an interview with Etude magazine in the early 1940's she said: "I love to sing for my students. I love to demonstrate for them." (She used her own voice when she taught– not the piano.) She also said that she loved to sing for her plants and her flowers. When asked what makes a singer great, she answered: "Those who work hardest at their art."

Monday, August 03, 2015

John McCormack-- The TRUE Redeemer of Bel Canto

Of all the great singers of the Bel Canto genre, Irish Tenor John McCormack was the most versatile. He made his operatic debut at Savona in 1906 and continued to dazzle audiences throughout the world until emphysema rendered him unable to perform in 1943.

The great Polish tenor Jean de Reske had been McCormack’s predecessor as the dominant singer on the international scene. De Reske attended all of McCormack’s appearances at Monte Carlo during 1921 and 1923, and even invited the Irishman to his own villa to sing to his pupils. After McCormack obliged the gathering with a private performance Jean de Reske told his pupils: "That is how I want you to sing." He followed the meeting with a warm letter praising McCormack’s greatness as a singer, saying:


Though McCormack pronounced his words clearly as he told the story of each song, he didn’t imitate any other singer or try to sound like an Italian. Some university teachers might tell you that learning to sing Bel Canto means to "purify" your pronunciation of vowels so that you sound exactly like a certain Italian way of speaking. Those teachers are mistaken.

Jean de Reske had the experience and knowledge to recognize that the very Irish sounding Irishman John McCormack sang with VOCAL FREEDOM and that he made his performances about the storytelling, not tones and sounds. He personalized himself for the audience in a magical way. That’s what made McCormack the "Redeemer of Bel Canto."