Voice, Bite and Posture

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I am reposting an article which illustrates perfectly how postural imbalance creates overbite and underbite and vice versa – how irregular bite can lead to tension in the neck, jaw, spine and even be connected to flat feet! This is anecdotal, but I noticed some of the best singers I know have perfectly developed arches.

I only recently understood how neck tension affects the position of the larynx and voice quality. I will write more about it soon, for now it is interesting just to look at the image of the neck muscles with the larynx lodged in the middle. Any stiffness in this area will lock the larynx in a certain position vs. the resonators and the sound will not be optimal.  Sometimes just changing the way you stand on your feet will release shoulder/neck/jaw tension and produce a more beautiful sound.

Below the Google translation of the original article, seems quite good as translations go.

BITE AND POSTURE (Худоногова Е.Я)

First, there is a close relationship between the head and the spine. If a person holds his head anterior to the shoulders, the neck and shoulders will also change their position to compensate for the front position of the head. The bite is also exactly related to the spine and depends on the position of the head and posture in general.

This is done through the system of connections of the lower jaw and temporal bones, which on the one hand participate in chewing (through the temporomandibular joint), and on the other hand are the receptacle for the vestibular apparatus (inner ear and snail) that are responsible for the balance. As a result – difficulties in walking and motor skills, abnormal gait, curvature of the spine, scoliosis.

Try tilting your head back and gently close your teeth. Pay attention, that first of all the back teeth will be closed. Now tilt your head forward, to your chest, and gently close your teeth. Now the first contacts appear on the front teeth. This example clearly demonstrates how the position of the head affects the closing of the teeth.

It is important to understand the relationship between the musculoskeletal and dentoalveolar systems, to ensure the stability of the vertical posture of a person. This is a very complex, dynamic process. It involves various functional systems of the body: musculoskeletal, vestibular, visual, dentoalveolar, etc. Gurfinkel VS, et al. (1965) showed the effect of articular receptors on the human posture. Receptors of joint capsules and ligaments signal the position of the structures of the joints forming, the direction and speed of their mutual displacement.

When considering the profile of a person standing, the centers of gravity of his head, shoulder-shoulder articulation, hips, knees and feet are, as a rule, on one vertical axis, which is characteristic for a harmoniously developed, statuesque figure.

In anomalies of occlusion (irregular bite), the center of gravity of the head is often located in front of this vertical axis, which leads to a change in posture and an increase in the load that affects the muscles of the neck. In this case, the preservation of the correct position of the head and the horizontal position of the gaze is possible only with the increase in the tension of the muscles of the neck. In patients with anomalies of occlusion, the forward position of the head is tilted forward, the chest of the chest, its anteroposterior size, the angle of the ribs, the protrusion of the scapula, the protrusion of the abdomen, the curvature of the lower legs, flat feet (Khoroshilkina F.Ya., Malygin Yu.M. 2009).

In the early stages of the process, these deviations can be regarded as a weakness of posture. The increase in deviations, which with increasing age is manifested to a greater extent, is characterized as a violation of posture.

There is also an opposite tendency: the functional state of the musculoskeletal system determines posture and affects the formation of the musculoskeletal system. In this case, the fixed pozotonic reflexes, conditioned by bad habits, lead to an incorrect human posture and, in turn, contribute to the development of dentoalveolar anomalies.

Anomalies of occlusion (bite) can be both a cause and a consequence of disorders of the musculoskeletal system.

That is why it is important not only to restore the correct position to the teeth, but also to get rid of the problems with the spine, to strengthen the muscles of the whole body for successful correction of an incorrect bite.

Different types of disorders of posture are not a purely aesthetic issue, since in the future this leads to the development of osteochondrosis, discogenic radiculitis and other diseases of the spine in adults. Proceeding from physiological regularities, posture is a dynamic stereotype, a complex of conditioned and interconnected conditioned reflexes (Kalb, TB, 2001).

The formation of the body’s posture is influenced by many factors. A significant role is played by social living conditions, work activity and even hobbies (Rybakova VV, 1997). Posture can change, despite the relative stability of anatomical factors. It can improve in the process of special physical training and worsen in chronic diseases, hypodynamia (Movshovich IA, 1964). Progression of scoliosis is associated with a decrease in the potential of the body, increased fatigue, the formation of ugly deformation of the figure, the emergence of psychological and social problems.

One of the main tasks is to return the initial amplitude to the muscles: with the existing disorders of the spine, they “get used to” working incorrectly, because of what becomes more difficult to regain normal posture over time.

An increasing number of doctors, when examining their patients, pay attention to the posture, the position of the head, shoulders and the physical development of their patients. There was such a direction as neuromuscular dentistry. All this once again confirms the fact that everything in the human body is interconnected.

“Treatment of distal occlusion in patients with musculoskeletal disorders”, Khudonogova E.Ya.

 

 

How to kill an opera company – news from Poland #Opera Kameralna (update)

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My personal operatic journey started 20+ years ago with a visit to Warsaw Chamber Opera. A tiny venue, a classical building hidden behind communist era apartment blocs did not  promise much but turned out to be a life-changing experience. It was the first time that I listened to an opera at really close quarters – almost at an arm’s length – and the effect was profound. It was totally immersive and with the period costumes, the charming set and perfect attention to detail it transported me to the 18th century. Grey reality of Warsaw disappeared, I was transported to a different time and space – pure magic! The decision to start my voice studies was greatly influenced by that powerful evening.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 8.25.43 PMThe company was the creation of one man – musicologist and oboe player Stefan Sutkowski, who in 1961 in the midst of Communist times traveled to Austria and in an antique bookstore bought a copy of the orchestra score for “La Serva Padrona”. He came back and put together a production which gave birth to the only private theatre in the Communist block. Over the next 50 years his tiny company staged all of Mozart’s operas which were played annually at the Warsaw Mozart Festival; held Rossini, Handel and Monteverdi festivals; discovered and revived ancient and forgotten Polish music; commissioned contemporary operas; and had a marionette stage as well. It is impossible to list all the good things this institution achieved on a shoestring budget. It relied, in its best years, on a combination of city funding and private sponsors. The Mozart Festival in June and July was a real treat in the city where traditionally most theaters close for the summer. It had two orchestras – an ancient music ensemble playing baroque music on old instruments, and the Sinfonietta playing everything else. Both the orchestras and the singers performed also at outside venues and events.

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Because of the small size home venue (160 seats), few international tours, and the low profile that director Sutkowski favored, the Warsaw Chamber Opera was in many ways Poland’s secret gem. It did not have the fame of Salzburg or the big names on its billboards, but it had high musical and artistic standards. It was a perfect training ground for young singers and a home for renowned singers like Olga Pasichnyk. Many people got hooked after just one visit, as I did, and ended up going to every new show and revisiting the old ones as they were revived.

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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Chamber Opera functioned well under two different regimes and for decades until someone decided that it had it too good. Four years ago city authorities carried out an audit of WCO and decided the whole thing was “wasteful” and even accused Sutkowski of “criminal” corruption. Storage of old sets and costumes, singers and conductors on payroll, too many musicians… City funding for WCO was cut by  twenty five percent, forcing layoffs and closure of WCO’s many activities. It could no longer afford new productions. Director Sutkowski was forced to retire. The new director tried to expand the audience by doing open air events and addressing the financial restraints any way he could; but it was not enough. The Warsaw county regional government decided it could no longer afford WCP with its extravagant musicians’ pay of $459 per month. And so, this month it is disbanding the main orchestra,  giving notices to all the conductors and the singers.

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To give a fuller context to this catastrophe, it is worth pointing out that public funding for art institutions is a tradition of many Eastern European countries. The whole region emerged from World War 2 and Communism with its old elites decimated and impoverished. Unfortunately, the new business elites are not much interested in supporting the arts.  Poland is  a place where music culture is high-quality but is not widely distributed through the country – unlike Germany, for example, where every town, even a small one, seems to support their own symphony or performance venue. In Poland many professional musicians, trained over 18 years in specialized schools, cannot find employment in Poland and end up emigrating to Western Europe. The Warsaw Chamber Opera was one of the last institutions in Warsaw that offered steady, albeit very basic employment to musicians, singers and instrumentalists.

In the past four years WCO was receiving a city grant comparable to the budget of a repertory theatre – which usually does not  have a live orchestra, a puppet theatre, a community outreach program and the ability to conduct scholarly research. It was 1/5 of the budget of the National Opera. After the cuts in 2012, the opera’s finances never recovered. So now the only “solution” is to let go of the people, and make project-style productions with contract musicians. Will the musicians still be available? If there are no jobs for them in Poland’s capital city many might leave Poland or even leave the profession. Will it be any more efficient? It seems that with 150 musicians laid off this ensemble will be gone.

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The new acting director who set it all in motion with the support of the regional officials thinks she “will make WCP great again”. Well, great it already was. Ironically,  the acting director Alicja Węgorzewska-Whiskerd is a singer herself.

It is painful to see how shortsightedness and private interests disguised as “sound management” can lead to the destruction of a beautiful institution over half a century old. This is not just a Polish problem. War on the Arts also seems to be the theme of threatened administration policies here in America,  where the National Endowment of the Arts may be eliminated. What is there to do? Can art fight back? Will we be saved by protests, petitions? I don’t see good prospects on the long run. For Warsaw Chamber Opera – I hope  people who were touched by the magic of this place will always remember it and find enough strength to carry on its legacy.

Updated (June 3rd 2017): Stefan Sutkowski died on April 22nd 2017, the day his musicians were handed notices. Orchestras from all over Poland, including the renowned Warsaw Philharmonic are joining forces to protest the situation in solidarity with the Warsaw Sinfornietta. Who will play at this year’s Mozart Festival? Stay tuned.

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Tripping on gowns from Operafashion!

One of the most delightful aspects of opera is the costume. You can sing in jeans and sneakers, especially since many contemporary productions use modern settings, but when it comes to recital, the audience demands glamor. I noticed that my 8-yard-long gown often creates as much excitement as the singing!

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And so it should! A gown makes the performance feel like a wedding day. I really love the designer dresses worn by the stars but if you have even basic sewing skills you can create amazing outfits yourself. The key is lots and lots of fabric and safety pins to drape it.

My dream is to one day sing in a dress inspired by this painting:

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Peacock/Stained Glass by Kazimierz Stabrowski

When I saw at the National Museum in Warsaw it sent shivers down my spine. It is a very large picture and when you come approach it it seems the lady is looking right through you, inviting you into her fairytale reality.

It immediately came to my mind today when I saw this:

Sigh…

More costume photos from my favorite blog Operafashion:

Thanks Operafashion!

 

 

Source: A unique “Traviata”signed by Valentino Haute Couture in Valencia

Singing posture for women part 2

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The first time that I saw a person with really good posture was at summer camp. I was 9. There was a friend there who was a gymnast. She could do splits and cartwheels, which was awesome, but I also noticed she walked different. I must admit that at the time I perceived it as unnatural, since no one around me moved and stood in such a way. As if she swallowed a stick and her stomach was falling out? I remember looking at children with really protruding bellies and thinking they needed “fixing”. I did not realize I needed fixing myself.

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In my family my father was the one with a hunched over back and always in pain. My mom never had any back trouble. I think you might see from this photo that I took after my father with a slightly collapsed chest and head thrown forward.

School nurses never commented on that, it was not noted in the physicals. Well, of course, when you walk into the doctor’s office you try to look presentable. Had the health practitioners evaluated children in the schoolyard during play they would have noticed it, but would they have done anything about it? They would have prescribed some God-awful corrective regime that would just make me miserable.

I still believe it is good to practice sports for good posture but it is not the whole story. While unveiling the secrets of voice production I looked for something that gymnasts and large bodied divas have in common. I concluded that it must be good spinal alignment, when the posture muscles are engaged – neither strained nor stretched. This is something subtle and cannot be addressed by a simple trick. Pulling the stomach in or pushing it out, curving the spine in places or stretching it out  does not do it.  It is unsustainable. The moment you stop thinking about it your body will return to the most easy stance.

My friend from the camp did not have to watch herself every moment of the day to maintain her good posture. It was completely natural to her. Why then could I just not copy it and enjoy a such a more graceful and healthy way of living? Why when my singing teachers encouraged me to “walk like an opera singer” I was not able to copy them?

The answer in the next post. In the meantime, just for inspiration, a few more examples of great posture in female gymnasts. Notice their spines – don’t they remind you of Jenny Bernals?

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Singing posture for women part 1 – meet Jenny Bernals!

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Bernal Opera now has a new patroness – a French singer by the name of Jenny Bernals.

I found a postcard of her on Etsy, fell in love with it and now Jenny is my favorite model for talking about singing posture for women.

So what is the difference between a singing posture for women and for men? Basically none –  the dynamic male posture, as described in my earlier post, works well for anybody. The problem lies in the fact that while men have dressed principally the same for the last 100 years – jacket, shirt, pants – female wardrobe underwent a complete transformation and that transformation affected women on many levels, not always in a positive way.
On the surface it seems that getting rid of corsets and long, heavy skirts was a liberating development. However, the old clothes were a kind of ladies’ armor. Within the structure of the corset and her long dress a woman, I suppose, felt more confident and protected. As we see in Jenny’s picture, she is not apologizing for anything in her looks, she doesn’t have to think about a muffin top, hanging belly, cellulite or any other concerns that plague women of today not only when they make a trip to the beach.
The best example would be to compare Jenny’s stance with that of a contestant in a beauty pageant from the 1960s:
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She wears low heels, seems relaxed and balanced just like Jenny, yet the overall impression is fundamentally different. Let’s see the pictures side by side:

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When I look at Jenny I see a female Alpha, a queen. When I see the 1960’s Girl, I feel that although she is smiling, she is somehow hiding in her body. She stands straight, but do we want this kind of straight?  She is almost naked and exposing herself to judgment by a bunch of strangers, so she is playing down her curves. Jenny can afford an “indecent” and open pose, because she is fully covered. 1960’s Girl cannot. I can imagine Jenny making a great and loud sound from her posture, the other one – I am not so sure.

Let’s examine the examples in more detail:

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It seems like the lines of their bodies are reversed. 1960’s Girl’s line is also almost flat.

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Small difference and yet very important for a singing artist. Although, as I said in the post on posture for man, a good singer can produce great sound in any position, it is easiest if your everyday posture is already good, you don’t have to undo some bad habit. The corset helped the ladies in the past, but this is not the whole story – see another popular pin-up of the day, dancer La Belle Otero – she’s definitely not wearing one, but her stance is just as fine as Jenny’s. Or look at the iconic beauty, opera singer Lina Cavalieri.

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The long skirts encouraged a certain style, certain look that in the 1920s went out of fashion. Women started hiding their breasts, tummies, butts and hips even as they exposed them to the public. Just look at Bettie Page, young, cute and sexy model with a pulled-in stomach. I can just hear the photographer telling her to pull it in, if she didn’t remember. You cannot sing with a pulled-in tummy, so for me this photo is ruined by the fact that I perceive a woman rendering herself mute.

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Why Jenny’s posture works better for singing I will explain and demonstrate  in the next post. I will also tell you how to work towards it – and no, it is not just about pulling back your arms, raising your chest and holding it all like that. No pushing and pulling in this singing guide!

The proof that the curvy posture is natural and works for all kind of singers, not just for 19 century divas, another half of the photo of Mick Jagger: here with Taylor Swift. Wavy body line, facing up to him,  strong on her high heels as he is in his sport shoes. No pulled in stomach!

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Part two of women’s posture coming soon.

“Opera on demand”

Last years performance mentioned in blogosphere!

Art has many names

MysterySinger1Performance Artist: Anna Samborska (artistic nickname: Bernal Opera), Hunters Point, San Francisco, USA (Photo: Charles Leonard, 18.10. 2015)

The happening “Opera on Demand” was performed by Anna Samborska, surrounded by a mysterious aura, since she was not well known at the time of the performance, which lasted 7 hours. During this time 21 arias including Tosca, Carmen, Queen of the Night, Brunhilda (Wagner), Lucia di Lammermoor and Pat Nixon’s aria from the opera Nixon in China (John Adams) were sung on the request of the audience. The location was the shipyard buildung on the naval base Hunters Point during the Open Days (Open Studios). The place turned out to be perfect because of the acoustics, informal atmosphere, quiet flow of visitors, the possibility of direct interaction and lack of pressure to sell anything. Most people treated the figure in red as an installation, but many asked for…

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My Book!

 

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For a long time I wasn’t sure whether I was a writer who likes to sing or a singer, who also writes. I have been doing both for a long time and to be true singing was just one of my  writing projects that got out of hand. Basically, instead of writing a story about opera singers, I went about creating my own operatic voice.

I immersed myself in my music education, only occasionally devoting some time for creative writing. I could not write about singing because I kept discovering new things. But there was one project I kept at for quite a while. It is getting published on Kindle this week and the paperback version will soon follow.

It is not a book about music, although it features some singing characters. It was inspired by a friend telling me of a woman who lost her job, her health and her workers comp. I was disturbed by that story because I did not see what could become of her. So I created a possible follow up.

I kept going, I stopped, I picked up after long breaks. I procrastinated. I sang. I did some journalism, to see if I still had enough writing skill to get published in paper press. I did. I waited to feel more accomplished with my voice. When people started crying at my shows I ran out of excuses. I had to finish my book!

So I did.

It came almost as a shock. The difference between writing and having written a novel is fundamental. I felt at a loss. I had no more pages to fill, no more solitary sessions in a coffee shop to plan. I had to stop writing and start marketing. I was not ready for such a change.

So I procrastinated some more by making two versions of the book – in Polish and in English. Translating is a million, gazillion times easier than writing. Since English is my second language I invested in a professional editor. It was a wonderful experience. One of the things I learned was that in todays publishing one does not need a permission to become a writer. You just do it, put it out into the world and worry about agents and deals later.

I never planned to release the book in the US (actually, worldwide) a week after the final edit, but this is 21st century – things go fast!

So here it is, for all to love, hate or ignore, free on Kindle Unlimited for the next three months!

Hela: A Novel of Science, Faith, Love and Poland

Power Posture for Singers – Men

I was going to continue reviewing Leyerle’s book but cannot pass the opportunity to say some more about the issue of posture. What is the perfect posture for singing?  These days singers performing live on stage assume all sorts of positions, standing, lying down, dancing, even hanging down suspended from a bar, whatever the dramatic situation requires.

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However, in recital or auditions little acting is encouraged. I would not go as far as saying there is one “correct” position to deliver an aria or a song, but there are some that work better than others. Unfortunately, those are not the positions that you can find by googling “perfect posture”.

What you find instead are the positions of a character that goes to a doctor’s office and is asked to stand straight.

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Is any of it really useful? In my opinion it’s not. So is there a better way? Of course. Just learn from the masters. Let’s take a posture class from Placido Domingo.

This is what he does:

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This is a characteristic posture of a male lead in an opera. Some people find it old fashioned but it is still used by singers to deliver challenging arias. As you can see it consists of leaning forward on your “stronger” leg, slightly bent. Does he stand “straight”? Does he stand tall, “as if a suspended on a string from the crown of his head”? Certainly not!

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But he  is well balanced, grounded and expressive.

Let’s make his position into a diagram.

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Let’s remove the photo:

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Let’s simplify it still further and make it into a stick figure:

Now the diagram doesn’t show the arms, but gives you an idea how the singer holds himself, how he supports his body. The front leg carries most of the weight and is flexible. I left off the arms as they are used more for expression than balance.

So this is it, this is how Placido stands.

 

Well, not just him.  Look at Mick Jagger!

So the slightly forward leaning stance seems to be working for all kinds of singers.

 

 

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Their e is a reason for it. It makes singing easier. It takes care of itself, once established you don’t have to think about it.

Because of that it can be especially helpful for beginners. Once you can vocalize well in “Placido’s” position,  you can adjust it to the more elegant, modern recital pose.

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It is harder to maintain, but doable. At the end of the day a great singer can sing in any position.

So, look around YouTube and find some other singing masters. Look for live recitals and shows where camera captures the whole silhouette, from the head to the feet. Turn off the sound and just observe how they move.

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Hope this helps – if you don’t trust me, trust Placido and Mick!

Next time – best singing posture for women.  Stay tuned.

 

Photos: Anthony Ross Costanzo in Partenope, SF Opera, Huffington Post

Mick Jagger in concert with Taylor Swift , Nashville, Getty Images

Tenor Hak Soo Kim, Sarasota Opera 2012 sarasotaopera.blogspot.com

Russell Thomas as Pollione in Norma, SF Opera 2015, KQED broadcast April 2016

Videos:

Placido Domingo with Luciano Pavarotti at the MET in La Boheme (Domingo singing the baritone part of Marcello)

Jonas Kaufman German Arias recital in Munich (Munchner Rundfunkorchester)

Franco Corelli  in recital, Hamburg 1971

Doodling: Anna Samborska

 

 

Books on Singing – Leyerle

Can you learn singing from a book? Early in my studies I read quite a bit on vocal technique and I became convinced that you could not. Books can accompany your training when you have a real teacher that can always  get you back on track. I still believe this to be true.

However, recently I got curious about literature on voice, since the times are changing and new approaches and methods arise. It is never a waste of time to expand your vocal bag of tools!

I went and checked out the shelves at San Francisco Public Library.

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I started with the oldest one, Vocal Development through Organic Imagery by William D. Leyerle. It grabbed my attention since I also use “organic imagery” in my own method, although I call it visualization.

 

I both hate and love this book.

I hate it because on page 2 it has one of the most harmful pieces of misinformation. After discovering Esther Gokhale’s method and her insight into natural posture I just cannot stomach seeing images of anatomically wrong “flat back” being taught as useful for singers. The same piece of advice I got during my voice lessons at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. We had to assume the “supine position” flattening the small of the back on the floor, which made the pelvis go into posterior tilt. It looks ugly, it is uncomfortable and it makes singing harder. How did people come up with this idea and held on to it for so long, since I still see this diagram in countless versions in books and all over the internet?

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I cannot say that posture a. is any better, both are totally artificial.

 

Look at the real singers, how they stand,  and try to fit a wall to them!

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So, a lot to think about at just page two. Luckily, the rest of the book is much better and some diagrams and concepts are useful. I can imagine someone studying with this script and getting more clarity on resonance and registers. For me the most revolutionary info was about the “middle passaggio”. “Passaggio” is the transition point between lower and higher parts of the voice, a few notes which can be difficult. I knew about the “break” around E and F (top of the staff) and also about the upper limit of the chest voice around E (first line of the staff). But Leyerle talks also about another transition, around C:

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For years I had trouble navigating this spot, even while my higher notes soared with complete ease. Now I know why.

Of course knowing about problem spots doesn’t necessarily help to overcome them. On the daily basis I chose – and this is a legitimate approach according to Leyerle – to just ignore the registers and think of one, smooth quality of tone across the whole vocal range. When you believe in it, hear other singers do it just fine, you can do it too.

The most unusual think about this book are the “funny pictures”.

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They look like secret symbols or as cartoon characters from an avant-garde animation. They say “don’t judge the book by its cover” but in this case you could teach the whole Leyerle method from the cover of his work. I can see how these can make people find their sound and look for the right sensations in unexpected places, sometimes seemingly outside the body. They are in a way more practical that the usual cross-sections of the head and throat. I like how the author uses the term “focus” instead of placement. All these pointy triangles  are directing the attention of the singer to the “focal” spot, as if behind the neck. Such focus achieves two goals: 1) the singer imaging the voice coming from outside the body does not tense the body 2) stops the urge to “project” which for most people means the attempt to push the air outwards.

Another good point is Leyerle’s take on “raising the soft palate” – another opportunity for students to get stuck for years trying to lift something up their throats. For him this is  rather the expansion into the back of the throat, a much better image and direction of energy.

I have a bone to pick with him as far as his understanding of “support”.  I feel that his images are better than his words. He speaks of breath support but means “back support” – visualized in the shape of a dark cone – going around the back of the rib cage, around the diaphragm. This is ok. Any teacher that does not tell the students to “push with their diaphragm” has my respect!

TBCnd