The power of image! My next book will be a comic on my singing journey with best tips from my teachers plus my own best practices. Sample: pages 1, 2 and 9.
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.
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.
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:
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!
But he is well balanced, grounded and expressive.
Let’s make his position into a diagram.
Let’s remove the photo:
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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!
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:
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”.
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!
Another “Before and after” of voice uploaded today (side panel). This time instead of comparing two phrases I rerecorded a single note – it seems to illustrate the journey better. That’s all there is to it – different kind of AAAh….
Picture from the time of the first “aah”.
Terry Gross just fell in love with opera! She interviews dramatic soprano Dolora Zajick, star of the MET and teacher of Wagnerian singers. Fantastic question, superb answers with exercise examples by a singing master.
Zajick started her training “late” – at 22. She chose singing because it was too late for piano and she wanted to live in the world of classical music. She says that it is getting harder and harder to find great voices, maybe because of the emphasis on chorus singing,. Because of “kinesthetic empathy” a great voice can get totally muted by blending in with average singers.
Zajick leads the Institute for Young Dramatic Voices. Sounds great, except… where is the Institute for Mature Dramatic Voices? Where are the competitions for people who started singing not “late” like Zajick, but “very late” – in their 30s or 40s or even later? Hope someone will one day announce to the world that you can learn to sing at any age.