Articles

The following six articles are the six sections of my doctoral thesis (Indiana University School of Music, 2005), entitled The Scientific Revolution in Vocal Pedagogy. They trace the rise of the vocal scientist in the field of vocal pedagogy, and voice teachers’ changing attitudes toward knowledge of vocal anatomy and physiology, focusing on the 75 years following the invention of the laryngoscope (ca. 1850-1925). If you have questions about this study, please contact me at julia@singerspace.com.[break]

Introduction: The Singer’s Dilemma

The choice of a voice teacher is not only one of the most crucial decisions a singer faces, but often one of the most baffling. Any young artist who has earnestly undertaken this task recognizes the struggle, not only to find a teacher with whom he or she is personally compatible, but also to distinguish among the profusion of vocal techniques these teachers employ…

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Chapter I. What Was Bel Canto, Really?

Few terms in the singer’s vocabulary evoke such a bewildering array of meanings as does the Italian phrase bel canto. Depending on the context, bel canto can refer to a style of interpretation or ornamentation, any number of methods of vocal production, a particular Italian musical tradition, a specific opera repertoire, or a certain type of virtuoso or lyric singer. It is used by some to describe artists and techniques of the past, but is often indiscriminately applied by others to those of the present. Philip A. Duey quips that bel canto is “that magic system which every self-respecting teacher of singing professes to teach and which every self-respecting newspaper critic says is an extinct art” (Duey 1951, vi)…

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Chapter II. Manuel Garcia II: The “Columbus of the Larynx”

If there ever was one who worked in the service of bel canto, adding to it the discovery of the actual secret vocal mechanism, it was he, Garcia the second (B. Marchesi 1932, 156).

But by making his alterations, Garcia jun. had mutilated the traditional Bel Canto method of teaching singing for which the pupils of the École Garcia had become famous (Manen 1987, 8).

These two provocative and contradictory assertions about Manuel Garcia II highlight two distinct aspects of his career that establish him as a revolutionary figure in the history of vocal pedagogy. Not only was Garcia the son of one of the greatest bel canto teachers of the Golden Age of Song, and heir to his father’s traditions, he was also one of the first men in history to observe his own vocal cords during phonation…

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Chapter III: The Rise of the Vocal Scientist

In many quarters within the voice teaching community, the response to Garcia’s laryngoscope and his ground-breaking researches was to call into question the “empiricism”[1] of prior vocal methods. In this era, as fledgling vocal scientists sought to follow Garcia’s lead and to begin teaching voice based on “scientific principles,” many took a step that Garcia had never imagined: they not only dismissed, but sometimes also denigrated, the simple dictates and time-honored approaches of the old Italian teachers…

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Chapter IV: The Empiricists Strike Back

More is known of the vocal mechanism today than at any other time in the world’s history, and yet who dares to say that voice teaching has been improved by it? Is voice teaching any more accurate now than it was a hundred years ago? Did the invention of the laryngoscope add anything of value to the voice teacher’s equipment? No (Clippinger 1919, 44).

With these words, which appear in his Practical Talks on Singing, David Alva Clippinger sounds the battle cry of the dissenters who spoke out against the scientific revolution in vocal pedagogy. By the late nineteenth century, these counter-revolutionaries had begun to voice their adamant disapproval of the profusion of vocal methods that had sprung up in response to scientific discoveries about the vocal organs. Some denied that detailed anatomical and physiological knowledge was necessary for either students or teachers, while others opposed teaching conscious control of the movements of those internal vocal organs. All agreed that self-proclaimed “scientific” vocal methods were not only ineffective, but could actually harm the voices of those who practiced them…

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Conclusion: The Singer’s Dilemma Revisited

The singer from our introduction is now a veteran voice student. His or her studies have been a journey through the studios of at least two or three voice teachers—but often many more—each of whom favored different vocal exercises, imagery, physical and philosophical goals regarding the singing voice. The singer has spent literally thousands of dollars for this conflicting advice, compensating not only teachers and coaches, but likely also paying years of college or university tuition. And he or she has paid in time as well:  this student, upon reflection, may realize that just as many practice hours—if not more—have been spent unlearning the techniques of prior teachers as learning new repertoire. Above all, it is almost certain that among the procession of teachers consulted, the vocalist has been exposed to both “scientific” and “empirical” methods of voice teaching, sometimes even employed within a single studio…

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