Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Cyberspace Recitals - Lasciatemi Morire - The Best I Can Do

There's not too much to write about this week's selection from the Italian 24, "Lasciatemi morire."  I decided the main point of this piece is the expression of desolation.  The technical aspects were not too difficult, although the ascending line and the high note at the end is still eluding my grasp.  There wasn't a big endurance issue to contend with as some of the recent pieces have presented.

So, it seemed that it would be a good week to continue to add the element of emotional expression to the mix.  Without technique, the emotional expression becomes frustrated.  But one has to start somewhere.  Since emotional expression is married with the technique, it needs to be tended to a bit while technique is growing.  Otherwise there's an imbalance later on when a singer tries to be expressive.  It all has to grow up together, even when one has limitations.

I've kind of been putting aside a bit the emotional or artistic expression of the "24 songs" as I've gone along learning them week by week.  I think I've explained over and over again that the purpose of this little project I've embarked upon is not to produce a finished product in a week, but to gain some basic musical and vocal skills from learning and getting them into my voice.

But sometimes the expression helps the technique along a bit, so it seemed like a good week to work on that with this song, "Lasciatemi morire."  I did that by trying to get connected to the communication core in my body -- by trying to hook up that deep physical response that happens when one lets out a moan of emotion. (Frescamari's Practice Room post: "First Times Through Lasciatemi morire")

All along, I've been making about three recordings on Cyberspace Fridays, and then choosing the one that came out best.  In a live presentation, a singer doesn't have the luxury of a re-take and must go with what happened in the moment. But for the purposes of posting my project -- work in progress as it is -- I have figured I could make several recordings to choose from.

This week, I made 5 files.  I was having trouble choosing one.  It was interesting to listen to them one after another and try to decide which one to put in Frescamari's Performance Space.

I couldn't improve much from the first time through the song to the fifth.  This is an example of how we really are as good as we are on any given day.  If the singer has a performance, for example, there is probably not going to be some magical experience that is suddenly going to jack a singer up to a much higher level than the singer has achieved thus far.

But as I listened to the five files, I decided to take little notes on what I heard, and that eventually grew into this little chart:
The numbers on the chart are a rough 1-5 scale based on the best I'm able to achieve right now (5) to the farthest away I can be from how well I can do right now (1)  The numbers really are arbitrarily assigned in a way to just let me know where I think I'm not as good on the tapes.

I forgot to bring the music to "Lasciatemi morire" to my singing lesson this week, so I didn't get the outside help on this song that I usually plan to get when I'm learning these.  I think my teacher could have helped me with the high notes and the ending a bit.

Since I left out a column for "Expression" I put little "E"s by the numbers of the files. You can see that I thought the expression was the best I could do for now in all the recordings.

In the end I selected file number 3.  It seemed to have the best score.  But to tell you the truth, they all sounded pretty close to the same to me.

(FYI I have posted Files 1,2, 4 and 5 in Frescamari's Practice Room in case you are interested in checking out my evaluation.)

It made me think of how hard it must be to audition singers, or ejudicate a competition.  Once the musical moment passes, it can be hard to recall what one has heard.  It is such a live experience.  Also, comparing them by hearing them in a row is tricky.  By the time one gets to file number 5, one has forgotten what's in file number 1 and  has only the notes and numbers to go by.
To hear this week's Friday Cyberspace Recital selection, click here: Lasciatemi morire!
To hear the discarded files 1, 2, 4, and 5 in Frescamari's Practice Room, click here:  "The Ones I Didn't Use"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Enchanted Pig

I attended an "opera" for children last night at the New Victory Theater called The Enchanted Pig  (presented by The Opera Group/ROH2 at the Royal Opera House/Young Vic)  It was a wonderful, symbolic, whimsical expression of the story of a princess and her quest for real love.When I woke up this morning, however, I realized that I had inadvertently been exposed to a tale that can also serve to illuminate the quest of a singer to find her real voice.

In the story, a young princess finds herself in the fatalistic and nightmarish circumstance of having to be wed to a smelly pig.  The story proceeds as one might predict.  He takes her back to his palace and makes her wallow in the mud and even give him a reluctant kiss.  After her despair settles down some, she manages to notice the pig's eyes and how beautiful they are.  She sees something in them and wonders how she could not have noticed it before  Then, at night, in the moonlight, he transforms to a King, a prospect of a husband she can much better deal with.

However, in the daytime, her King transforms back into The Pig.  He tells her to have love, trust, and patience, and that this love, trust and patience is key to breaking the spell over him, and helping him remain the King who has visited her in the night.

The princess, however, does not have patience.  She wants to find a way to speed the process.  She wants to help him transform sooner back into his true self.  She wants to find a power greater than love that can change him back.  She wants to find a power greater than trust to help him transform.  She wants to find a power greater than patience.

An old woman, who is of course really a witch, sees this impatience and banks on it.  She tells the princess she has a powerful spell which can change the pig back into a man faster, a magical cord that she can tie around him when he is the King at night.  This is a trick, of course, and the cord serves to bind the princess's husband and make him the possession of the witch, who takes him away from the princess's sight.

"If only you had trusted and had patience,"  exclaims her husband, "If you had stayed with me three full nights, the spell would have been completely broken."

Now, he tells her that she will see him again, but she must wear out three pairs of iron shoes searching the entire world for him.  Because she had failed to believe in the power of love, patience, and trust, her task was going to be much more difficult now.

The reason I think this can serve as an allegory of the quest of a singer is because the powers of love, patience, and trust are the ones that will develop the voice to the higher and masterful stages of singing.  When we try to rush or force the process, or find some speedier way, there is a potential to mess up our voices, and then we end up in vocal trouble, never having achieved our goal, and having to begin all over again -- this time with the greater task of undoing the damage we have done by forcing things too soon.

I see the unrefined voice that we start out with as "The Pig."  We want it to sound nicer, but it may need to "wallow in the mud" to discover itself.  The princess in the story is surprised that wallowing in the mud had been more enjoyable than she had expected it to be.  For me, wallowing in the mud with one's voice is just allowing one's self to experience the pure essence of the sound one can make.  To play around with it and discover it in the playground of pure phonation itself.  Stretch it and mush it and just see what it can do.

Looking into the eyes of "The Pig" and seeing something there, something beautiful, is like being sensitive to the core sound a person can make.  I believe that all voice teachers should have the ability to look into the eyes of "the pig" and recognize beauty there.  Not mere potential.  But the beauty of what truly IS there. When I listen to a singer, I strip away, in my mind, faulty technique,  lack of development and strength, even lack of pitch or musicality, and I hear that core sound.  That is why sometimes I think an unrefined voice is beautiful and my husband -- or whomever friend is with me -- will puzzle over what it is I am hearing when I remark what a beautiful voice the singer has.   I am hearing the quality of the sound that the  person possess on the most fundamental of levels.  This is why I love to listen to avocational singers.  Maybe I am destined to teach someday.

As a singer enters into the relationship of cultivating the voice, the voice may appear in moments like the "King" that it really is.  When these developmental moments occur, the singer is given a glimpse of what will be possible.  But these moments, in the beginning last a short time.  The singer may try to grasp at these moments and make them stay, only to have them slip through the fingers.

I had such a moment this morning.  I opened my mouth to sing and the fruit of some of the work I've been doing made itself apparent to me.  It took me by surprise, and was a delight.  My first impulse was to "capitalize" on this, pounce on it and run away with it.  I wanted to take that glimpse of beauty and extend it, make it more than it was.  I was so taken by the gain, that I was greedy and wanted more.  Can I make this more beautiful right now?  Can I have the next stage as well?  Can I make it come today?  But past experience with this -- and the message of patience from the Enchanted Pig story still swirling through my mind -- made me realize that I had to proceed with care and just enjoy the new gains to the extent that they will allow for this day.

The witch, offering a better and faster way to free the "King," is like some secret vocal method or tricks that are going to give you the "secret" faster.  A singer may fall for this.  A singer may not be willing to wait, or have despaired of waiting, or lost faith in waiting, and try to force the transformation.  Sometimes this can lead to the devastating situation of having developed improperly and therefore have limits and issues and problems with the voice that imprison it, just as the princess's King was imprisoned.

To free the voice once it has become a captive, a slave to these imbalances and problems, the journey might then become something like walking with the iron shoes around the world.  It can be done and, if undertaken, this journey may even end, as it does in the story, with a deeper and happier knowledge of the nature of things than if the princess had not taken this misstep.  What she learns about love and patience and trust in the end brings her a deeper version of love than she imagined or guessed at when she began her story.

Below is a youtube preview of The Enchanted Pig.  There is still time to go see it.  Although an excellent vehicle to introduce children to this kind of sung story, don't think you have to have a child in order to go and enjoy it.  There is much in this production that can satisfy the soul of an adult as well, humor and allusions to things about love that an adult will enjoy and appreciate.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Cyberspace Recitals - Alma del core - or What is Meant By a Learning Plateau?

When I first set out on this project to acquaint myself with all 24 of the Italian Songs and Arias in my student songbook, I expected that along the way I would encounter, develop and practice -- once and for all, I hoped -- the various basic skills I needed to have in place to be able to sing proficiently.  Little basic skills that all singers need.

In addition, I hoped that by using the version of the book that was in a little higher key and that had a higher tessitura than was comfortable for me (the book for "medium-high" voice), I might over the weeks gain more strength, ability, and ease in this new area of my voice. ("Challenging Vocal Comfort Levels")

I was surprised at the rapid gains I encountered in the first weeks of the project.  It seemed that each week built happily upon another and I was on my way to great improvement.

But this week, what appeared to be a snag in the forward momentum presented itself to me.  It did not become easier this week to sing the next song, "Alma del core," in this new tessitura.  It felt the same -- as difficult and labored as it ever had been -- to sing in this range, and it seemed as if my progress had come to a standstill.  It seemed as if I had reached some kind of plateau.

What, no more improvement this week?  Panic started to set in.  Maybe it wasn't just no improvement this week, but no improvement now forever!!!  Whatever shall I do?  My plan was to develop mastery and expertise.  My dream is to develop top efficiency!  Is this going to be it -- all I will be able to accomplish?

So dramatic.

This would, perhaps, be the way many people might react to coming up against a learning plateau.

I told my voice teacher that I didn't think the files in Frescamari's Practice Room would be as interesting or fun, since they would now start sounding the same and show less progress than the ones had up until now.

My teacher respectfully disagreed that the files would not be interesting.  She told me that I had come to a new place in my voice and that this would be a time of settling in to that new place.

I decided to hunt around and see if I could dig up any information about the pattern of learning a skill.  I recalled a conversation I once had with my sister, the golf-pro.  She told me that she could bring anyone from being an almost non-golfer to about a 10 handicap, but the progress after that -- the progress from that level of skill to becoming a master of the skill -- was a much more difficult task, and the gains being achieved from there-on-in were much smaller and more subtle.

So, with this in mind, I went on a hunt, and came up with just the exact article on the subject I needed:  Increasing Human Efficiency in Business: The Rate of Improvement of Efficiency by Walter Dill Scott.

In the article I read about what happens when a person trying to develop a skill reaches a plateau.  It seems that in the beginning days of acquiring a new skill, rapid initial progress is made -- often astounding progress.  These periods of improvement are followed by stages of stagnation or retrogression called "plateaus."  Not only that, these "plateaus" were a necessary part of the learning process, and played an important role in the assimilation of smaller skills up to that point of progress.

What happens is that after all easy improvements have been made, and at the point where problems outside the experience of the learner presents themselves, the plateau will be encountered.

A plateau is a period of "incubation" where new habits under formation may have time to develop.  This reminds me of what my voice teacher said about a "settling-in" time.  According to Mr. Scott's Efficiency article
"Time must be taken out to allow the formation of a habit or the organization of this new knowledge or skill"

The writer uses a beautiful example from nature to demonstrate this process of  rapid growth followed by a plateau:

"All trees and plants have periods of growth followed by periods of little or no growth.  In May and June the leaves and branches shoot forth very repidly, but the new growth is pulpy and tender.  During succeeding days or months, these tender shoots are filled in and developed.  In learning and in habit formation a similar sequence is lived through.  We have days of swift advancement followed by days in which the new stage or method of thinking and acting takes time to become organized and solidified.  The nervous system has to adjust itself to the new demands, and such adjusting requires time."

Although it is true that each individual will arrive at some time to his/her personal peak or maximum efficiency, it is important to realize that one has not yet necessarily reached that personal peak just because a plateau has been encountered.  A certain amount of trust, faith, and patience should be mustered up to continue, even if it appears no further progress is being made for the moment.

I think it is very important and comforting for someone working to master a skill to reflect on these concepts, and learn about the psychology of acquiring skill.  After the initial period of enthusiasm for the project wears off and the novelty is gone and all easy improvements have been made, the learner must find ways to keep going.  Knowing that one has not necessarily reached the end of one's ability to improve when one hits a plateau can be part of keeping on track.  The reward for staying the course will be the acquisition of automatic skill and efficiency.
Click here to listen to this week's selection from 24 Italian Songs and Arias:  "Alma del core"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Who Does an Avocational Singer Sing For?

In the classical singer message forum I have mentioned on this blog, The New Forum for Classical Singers, a poster asked the question, of aspiring professional singers:

 "Who do you perform for?"

I did not participate in this particular message thread because I am not a professional, but the question spurred many reflections about my own singing.

Sometimes I feel that avocational singers are like these flowers growing on the other side of the mountain out in the wilderness somewhere.  They aren't in the mainstream view.  They are singing in their living rooms, and in their local choirs.  They are getting little solos here and there.

As an avocational singer, I want to say that there are fewer performance moments than there would be for singers who are pursuing this professionally, but this is not necessarily so, depending on one's circumstances and path.  I have observed some avocational singers who seem like they are almost semi-professional. There are many varied levels and degrees of being an avocational singer, and many decisions one can make about how aggressively one is going to pursue performance venues. I guess I am thinking about avocational singers at a level such as my own.

For me there is always the fantasy.  The living room fantasy.  As an avocational singer there are many times that I am singing for "them."  No, this isn't some kind of psychotic thing where I am schizophrenic and seeing the "people" in my living room.  But there is a sense of that imaginary audience at times.

Now that I have decided to open up my practice room and extend it to the Internet, I have a greater sense of "them." Even if no one is listening.

I have become fascinated by this youtube video I have found of Leonie Rysanek at a 25th anniversary performance at the Met.  In the video, they show a scene of a huge crowd engaged in prolonged applause and they are throwing flowers on the stage that are hitting her in the head and there is an outpouring of love and affection.

As an avocational singer, such a moment as a response to one's singing seems almost incomprehensible.  The very few times I have sung solo in public, there has been some applause. A couple of compliments afterwards.  Sometimes the choir has gone through the formality of purchasing a flower bouquet to hand to the soloist, but certainly the audience members did not stop to buy flowers that they could throw at the end.  There is something about singing, and singing at the top levels, that induces people to get all excited about it and actually come prepared with flowers to throw.

I am not seeking that kind of experience as a singer.  In fact, I often think that one reason I remain an avocational singer is because I actually enjoy the work that goes into getting a piece of music from ground-zero to performance-ready better than I like the actual performance. Performances are pretty nerve-wracking.  Plus performances pass so swiftly and then they are over. And additionally, performances open the singer up to the potential of criticism.  But the work behind constructing a piece of art is extended much further into time and space, and the various levels of seeing it come together are so fulfilling and gratifying.

At this point in time, however, I have decided that I am mainly performing for myself.  Maybe when I was  young teenager I would have day-dreamed of some kind of public appreciation of the sort in the Leonie Rysanek video above, but over the years, learning and reflecting on what life was really about, ongoing soul-searching and making decisions about my personal philosophies of life,  I was able to dig inside and find the core of that love of singing that does not necessarily depend on whether anyone hears or appreciates it or not. And one must not forget that the level of expertise one has been able to accomplish plays a big role in determining these decisions as well.

And yet, there does remain some kind of need for a singer to be heard in some way or another.  Singing makes a noise.  It comes from the communication center of the body, and that communication seems to imply a listener. Sound waves go out, ear drums are designed to receive them and the body of the listener is designed to process them.

So, I think that it is for myself and that hypothetical listener that I sing.

It seems that electronic technology, the Internet, and youtube have given the avocational singer a plethora of tools to seek out that hypothetical listener.

When I go out for listening jaunts on youtube, I have become interested in these "flowers" that grow on the other side of the mountain, these avocational singers.  I have been taking a little time to listen and pay attention to what they have put up there on the Internet.  I am lending myself to be their audience.  They are avocational singer kindred souls.

As I've been browsing around, I have found a "passionate hobbyist" singer who produces youtube videos in his garage.  Many of his songs are from the 24 Italian Songs and Arias.

Here he is singing, in countertenor style, the piece I am working on this week, "Alma del core"

I just love this guy.  I should write to him.  Why is he singing in his garage?  Is it because the acoustics are good there?

There are so many other passionate hobbyists out there who demonstrate that intense need to produce a finished song, even when it is just a hobby.  Sometimes I admire just the purity of their phonation.  They have not developed into full classical singers for one reason or another, but I love just listening to the potential in voices.  This girl is an example:

There are many who make fun of amateurs who post their singing in public forums like this, but I think the Internet is a great extension of the amateur's hobby.  It fills that little missing gap, the one seeks out that hypothetical listener, and can be a great extension of one's passion, fulfilling that need to perform in some way.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid as Voice Teacher

"Repetition is the mother of all skills," my Kung Fu sifu often says to us.

My voice teacher has recently assigned me some vocal exercises to practice.  This morning, it dawned on me that the vocal exercises like these were accomplishing a purpose for me in singing similar to muscular tasks assigned to the young karate student in the movie The Karate Kid.

By practicing a trio of exercises using the [ni] and [ia] positions back and forth, I am training the articulatory muscles to adeptly move in a certain pattern.  This motion and pattern of the tongue and other articulators will become more automatic as I practice the exercises and then will be available to me when I sing a song.

This is something like what happened in the the Karate Kid movie.  Mr. Miyagi, the mysterious teacher, assigns the kid, Daniel, these chores that cause him to move his muscles a certain way.

For those who have not seen the movie, here are some of the chores:

"Wax On - Wax Off"

"Sand the Floor"

"Paint the Fence"

These exercises develop the muscles that Daniel will need to use when he learns karate.

I feel that the exercises (chores) my teacher assigns me work in the same way.  They are not vowels and consonants, but muscular actions that are being trained and strengthened.  And it is not just the muscles of articulation being trained, but also the vocal muscles that are changing the pitches as well, and the breathing muscles that are controlling the airflow.

In the movie, the boy Daniel, after becoming a bit impatient with all these "chores," wants to know when he's going to be able to do karate.  This is like the singer who is anxious to sing the arias.

In the famous scene from the movie, Mr. Miyagi reveals what has been happening while the boy has been performing the chores.  He shows how the muscles have learned something, become strong, and can automatically respond to the tasks of karate based on what they have "learned" during the tedious repetition of the exercises:

The other day, I was listening to Met Radio in my car and heard a song that I responded to.  For some reason, I felt like I could sing the song.  I believe that my body responded to the song because it recognized some of the same actions it had been practicing in the trio of exercises from my teacher.  I have explained this a little more in Frescamari's Practice Room where I have posted the trio of exercises and shown how I was able to apply them to the song.  Like Mr. Miyagi applying the muscular "knowledge" learned from repeating the chores to the karate form, I was able to apply the muscular "knowledge" learned from practicing the exercises from my lesson to the form of the song, "Deh vieni."

One last thing I want to add.  I am the type of student who did not question my teachers years ago.  In the present I have become an advocate of questioning and understanding why exercises are being assigned.  Years ago, I was a student like Daniel, doing what was asked of me, but never really knowing why I was being asked to do things, nor understanding where I might be headed.  I trusted that the teacher had the knowledge and that I was headed somewhere fantastic.

If the teacher had been like the fictional Mr. Miyagi, maybe there is a point in blindly obeying without questioning.  It seemed to work out well for Daniel in the movie.

So, I have mixed feelings about the trust issue with teachers.  I believe in questioning in order to understand better, but sometimes the questions have to stop and the student has to just "do" and "repeat" because they are gaining something that will be understood by experience, and the questions are getting in the way of proceeding and having that experience. In the ideal situation, where the teacher really really knows what he/she is doing, the non-questioning style could work.

There is not a simple answer.  Judgment and discernment are required, and sometimes young people (or many people of any age) are lacking in experience with this ability to discern when to ask and when to shut up and "do."
To listen to the set of three exercises and hear them applied to "Deh vieni" click here:
"Set of 3 [ni]-[ia] Exercises Applied to "Deh Vieni"
Link to film mentioned in this blog post: The Karate Kid (Special Edition)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Cyberspace Recital - Nina - and Learning to Make a Style Sheet

I have sitting on my lap here a book I'm very interested in called Song: A Guide to Art Song Style and Literature, by Carol Kimball.  I had no idea what I would find inside this book, but something that is right in the beginning is of great interest to me and I am excited to begin learning about it.  The book is introducing me to information about "Style."  The author starts everything off with a discussion of the components of style, and then there is a section that shows a singer how she can make a "style sheet" for a song she is studying.

(By the way, I choose the pronoun "she" often when talking about "a singer" because I think typing "he/she" is cumbersome, and so I have chosen my own self, a female, as the model every-singer, and thus use "she."  Once in a while I'll throw a "he" in there for variety, and when it is not cumbersome, I will use "he/she")

Excited by this new idea of making a style sheet, I had a grand and ambitious plan for today's Friday Cyberspace Recital.  I would study the chapters in the book Song, then apply my new knowledge about style toward making a style sheet for this week's selected Italian Song, "Nina."

Well, it took me a great deal of time to only begin to learn about one of the first components of style discussed in the book:  MELODY.  There was so much information packed in just a few short paragraphs, that it took me a while to digest what I was reading.

So, it appears that the study of style is going to take more than a morning!  (Hmmm, why couldn't I foresee that?)  I really didn't expect to learn everything about style in one morning, I hope you realize.  In fact I didn't even think I was going to learn everything about style from just a few paragraphs in one little book from one little person.

However, I thought I would get an overview that might get me started, and I would be able to make a rough draft of what a style sheet might look like.

What I have discovered this morning is that I have some knowledge of style already, but I didn't know it.  There have been "things" I've been noticing about music all along as I've studied songs. I might not have been able to articulate these "things," but I observe and am aware of all kinds of "things."  I sometimes don't see "things" right off the bat, but little traits and characteristics and components of style have been there, revealing themselves to me, making themselves known to me just by their mere presence.  I just didn't have names for them.

What I have lacked is clear conscious definition of these little musical "things."  What I have lacked is vocabulary and language -- vocabulary and language in which to speak about style.

This book, Song, in its opening paragraphs about the components of MELODY, is giving me some basic vocabulary with which to start off.  This morning, taking out of the paragraphs of the book, I wrote out a melody vocabulary list for myself, words I can now use to explain the musical "thingies" that I see and hear.
I made it into a little picture to make it more interesting than just a boring list.

Just like I was talking about the language of vocal science yesterday, studying a vocabulary of style will help me analyze  my songs better, helping me to understand what is important, which will then guide my choices. (As my singing technique develops, I will have more expressive choices!)

Since it has taken me so long this morning only to just begin to grasp the idea of the components of melody, I have decided to begin my style sheet for "Nina" with solely the "Melody" part filled out. What I have done is grabbed a few of these vocabulary words and tried to use some of them to describe the melody of Nina.

Please remember that even though I am a middle-aged woman, my music level is like that of a young music student who doesn't know too much and is taking a class at school and learning about all this cool music stuff.  My first attempt to try to describe the melodic style may be very immature.  On top of it, I am "homeschooling" and have no professor to look over my work.

Still, I place it here as an example of  how much we can still attempt to learn on our own, even without formal schooling.

To go along with this, I have posted "Nina" in Frescamari's Performance Space.  I was worried, due to the issue of stamina, that this was going to be the first week that I would have to put one of the 24 songs up in two halves.  However, even in just this week and a half, my stamina for this song has improved enough that I was able to post it all in one piece.

For next week, I've gotten a head start on "Alma del core"  Maybe I will be able to go further in a style sheet for that song by next week.
To hear this week's selection of the 24 in 24 project, click here:  "Nina"
To hear beginning work on next week's selection, click here:  "Alma del core"
Bonus:  Is "Nina" like "Lazy Mary?"  Italian, but from a different time period and a very different STYLE? I'm a little bit afraid that poor Nina might be dead, but in case she's just lazy, here's her friend, Lazy Mary (have to listen to two verses to get to the "Lazy Mary" verse:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Language of Vocal Pedagogy -- or - Why is it so Hard to Talk About Singing?

It has been really hard for me to figure out exactly what direction I wanted to take with this post.  In the end, what I want to talk about is a little complex, so this may end up being a long post.

At first, I thought I might give my opinions of the book Head First: The Language of the Head Voice: A Concise Study of Learning to Sing in the Head Voice by Denes Striny.  But that was proving to be a bit difficult for reasons I'll explain below. So next I thought maybe I would like to talk about what is meant by "head voice" and "chest voice."  However, for some of the same reasons I was finding it difficult to talk about the Head First book, I changed my mind again and decided that maybe it would be better write about how hard it is to talk about singing because of how vague the language can be, and how studying vocal science might help us come up with more objective descriptions of what is happening so we can communicate better about it.  Still, another thought was to lay Mr. Striny's book alongside another one I have been reading, Resonance in Singing: Voice Building through Acoustic Feedback, by Donald Gray Miller, PhD, and compare the different ways in which each author uses language to express pedagogical concepts.

In the end, I have settled on writing something about how hard it is to understand what different people are saying about voice, for different reasons.

Giving an opinion of  Mr. Striny's book has proved to be a much more difficult and complex task than I ever thought it would be.  One of the reasons it was hard for me was because I wasn't sure I understood exactly what he was talking about, nor -- even after reading the entire book -- exactly what he meant by the term "head voice." In order to be fair, before I could give my opinion, I felt I owed it to the author to work hard to really understand what he was truly trying to say.  Since it wasn't clear to me what he was trying to say the first time I read the book,  I decided to read it a second time -- this time studying it slowly and carefully -- making a full effort to figure out what he meant when he used certain terms and tried to describe different vocal experiences.

After the second reading, it still wasn't 100% clear to me what he meant by "head voice," even though the appealing title of the book seemed to promise that this was going to be explained to me.

Next, at the recommendation of a singer on the New Forum for Classical Singing (NFCS) message board, I purchased a book, Resonance in Singing, by Donald Gray Miller, PhD, and thought that this book might help me decipher and explain the experiences Mr. Striny was trying to describe in his book.  Perhaps if I knew a little more about the physiological reality behind the singing concepts he was trying to describe, I could match up Mr. Striny's language with the science.

Well, reading Mr. Miller's book and figuring out what he was talking about was as difficult and complex as Mr. Striny's but for very different reasons.  I will have to study Mr. Miller's book slowly and carefully as well, in order to understand what he means.

These two different books represent two very different approaches to talk about singing.  One approach is to make up a language in which to describe the experience of singing and what it feels like.  The other approach is to understand the science behind what is happening and describe with accurate language objective observations about singing.

It is obvious that Mr. Striny has had revelatory personal vocal experiences that have led to his being able to sing in a way that is giving him much joy.  It is clear that he is very excited about this and would like to share his revelations with other singers so that they also, may have this joy.  The problem is that he does not exactly have a language with which to speak of these experiences, so he kind of makes up his own way of describing what he knows.  To a certain extent, this works, but in other ways it can be confusing if you can't figure out exactly what he means.

Mr. Miller comes from the angle of using technological equipment to measure and study the properties of voices that are producing this wonderful sound we love.  The patterns of the harmonics are broken down and measured with equipment that can graph what is happening and be studied.  EGGs measure the resistance in the vocal muscles to give objective information about what is happening during phonation. This information and these measurements can help the singer understand how a better sound can be produced. Terminology is defined and given more precise meaning, pointing to measurable muscular and acoustic actualities.

Yet, whichever terminology is used, the singer who wants to learn to sing better is still left in a state of confusion and still left to wondering: "How?"

Both Striny and Miller preface their books with admissions of this difficulty.

Miller says that singing is "a complex coordination that words cannot adequately capture, even for the simplest manifestation of voice."

Striny says, "In discussing this topic, we have a terminology problem.  The words mean different things to people who have not had the experience."

Miller says: "key concepts of singers' language ... do not capture a widely shared experience, but rather comprise a set of privately understood terms for processes that are felt to be important, even crucial, but which refuse to be laid out for all to see."

Striny says that when singers finally find their "Total Vocal Potential" they will "own it ... understand it .. but unfortunately, they will not be able to converse on any real level with others who do not sing in this way."

However, whereas Striny does not seem to think there is a need to study the phenomena behind these vocal experiences, Miller advocates using the science of what is occurring to help make clear what these terms really mean. While Striny gropes for a language in which to describe his discoveries, Miller makes an effort to specifically define terms and recommends the vocal community come together and  make an effort to clarify what the pedagogical words point to physiologically.

There are so many vocal terms that cause confusion, such as "appoggio," "cover," "placement," "open throat," etc, but because I purchased Striny's book in the hopes of understanding merely one term, "head voice" more deeply, I will mostly stick to that term, along with the corresponding "chest voice" and "registers" to explore why these terms are confusing.  It took me a few hours to gather quotes and compare a little from these two books.  To speak on a broad scope and in depth, as opposed to giving a bit of a sample, would be extremely time consuming and end up being a dissertation of sorts.

So, from my point of view, Denes Striny is an example of someone who comes from the experience of voice. He mentions in his book that he thinks the attempts to understand the science behind how the voice works has harmed people's ability to learn how to sing.  So, he prefers not to try to explain the phenomena behind the experience that he calls "head voice" in his book.

Mr. Striny, the one I say comes from the realm of personal experience, as opposed to objective science,  decides to use the word "texture" to describe the experience of "head voice" and "chest voice."  He says that there are two different vocal "textures" that can be felt, and that one of these "textures" is more suited to opera singing.  He uses the word "texture" over and over again, as if he is, indeed, groping for a word to describe what he wants to say. Perhaps by repeating this word enough he thought it might just cause the reader to catch on to what he was trying to say about these two different modes in the singing voice.

Mr. Miller, on the other hand, describes "head voice" and "chest voice" as two different "modes of vibration" of the vocal cords, and by describing what is happening physically when producing each.  "Chest voice" is produced by vibrating thicker, shorter cords in deep contact with each other, and "head voice" is produced by vibrating longer, thinner cords that are in shallower contact with each other.

What Mr. Striny might call "Texture A and Texture B," Miller might call "Vibratory Mode A or Vibratory Mode B"

Whichever language and description a singer reads, they still don't know how to do it after reading the language.  As a beginning singer I had always been aware of two different sensations I could feel when singing -- a heavier kind of strong feeling and sound I had when I sang low notes, and a lighter, breathy, weaker feeling  I had when when I sang high.  If I had read Mr. Striny's book when I was young, I might have nodded my head when he presented the idea of two different "textures" based on my experience and figured out what he was talking about and started calling my strong low voice my "chest" voice and my higher, weaker voice my "head voice."  On the other hand, I might have gotten confused and thought he was talking about some experience altogether different than the one I had and one I must strive yet to discover.  It wouldn't be completely clear.

But if I had read Mr. Miller's book, I might have said, "Oh, that's what's happening when I feel those two different feelings.  My cords are thicker and shorter and touching in more places when I sing low, and they are longer and thinner and making less surface contact when I sing higher."  Or, I might have said to myself, "I'm not sure I'm doing that.  How can I tell the difference between the two modes of vibration?  What do they feel like?"  Still confused.

Throughout Mr. Striny's book, Head First, I wondered if he was talking about this vibratory pattern of the vocal cords when he spoke of "head voice."

Yet, in other places in the book he talks about the "language of the head voice" and how certain vowels were part of the "language of the head voice" and I then think maybe he's not discussing phonation at all, but describing, rather, the acoustic properties of the head voice.

In the Miller book, Resonance in Singing, these phenomena are described in such language as "formant tuning," and "harmonics," and "tracking."

So, is Mr. Striny talking about formant tuning when he talks about "head voice."  Or is it both?

I personally prefer the more scientific explanations.  It bothers me to have someone make up a word to describe what is happening.  I would like to know exactly what is happening. What does "texture" mean??? But this may be a matter of temperament.  I have read very good reviews of Mr. Striny's book on and in those reviews the singers claim to be singing much better from having read his book.  Perhaps these singers are of another temperament than mine.

In my all time favorite (so far) vocal book, Discover Your Voice, by Oren Brown, he includes a chapter with the science in it for "the kind of teacher and student who want to have scientific explanation."  I feel very validated that he acknowledges that there is this kind of person, and that it's not "wrong" to want to know what is happening physically when people use ambiguous vocal language.

I wanted to dismiss Denes Striny's book after the first reading because it didn't use the language that I am trying to become conversant with, the language of science.  But later -- and this is due to the fact that I am studying with a voice teacher who uses a lot of her own personal language to get these concepts across to me and it is working well -- I thought again that perhaps there is a need for a person to stand between the two worlds of scientific terminology and experiential terminology and find a way to bridge the gap.  When she says "zip up the cords" does she mean "medial compression?"  Or something else?  Is it worth the effort to try to figure out what it all means?

It takes a lot of time and effort, to study and learn what is happening physically when we sing.  To bother to take the time to study these things is a lot of work.  Learning to sing is enough work as it is, especially when you are an avocational singer, picking up tidbits of it here and there as you can squeeze in between tasks of taking care of a family.  And yet, doing the work of learning some objective language to describe singing can help the whole vocal world be able to talk about it with each other by defining terms everyone can understand.  Learning a new language does take time and effort, but it can bring people to more of an agreement about what is healthy, and perhaps aid in developing some great voices for us all to hear.