Follow by Email

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

BREATHING: THE IMPORTANCE OF INSPIRATORY HOLDING

I have been corresponding with Dr. Don Carlow who was the President and CEO of two large Canadian Cancer Hospitals. These were the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto and the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver. He also served on the board of the Vancouver Island Health Authority. Now Dr. Carlow operates a private health care consulting company. He is a graduate in medicine from many decades ago and entered the administrative field after many years in practice. Dr. Carlow has been very interested in what my teacher, Dr. Thomas LoMonaco, had discovered in regards to the breathing and the Valsalva maneuver in singing. As singers we want to rid ourselves from using the Valsalava maneuver at all and to do this the proper breathing coordination must be employed. That means keep the inspiratory (outward expansion) going so as to resist the expiratory tension which pulls in. Here is what Dr. Don Carlow had to say about the breathing:
Jeremy. There are some interesting aspects of inspiratory hold which reinforces it's role in maintaining an open throat. It is interesting that with a proper and full inhalation of the breath, that the space between the hyoid and thyroid opens a little and that the thyroid cartilage also descends a little. What is interesting is that during inspiration the whole respiratory tract actually descends. This includes particularly the trachea and bronchi but also includes the lung root (blood vessels and major bronchi). This is because the whole bronchial tree is like an accordion, full of elastic tissue. The trachea for example with a proper breath, elongates by as much as 20% (2.5cm). The carina (at the bifurcation of the trachea into the two mainstream bronchi) also descends the same distance. The thyrohyoid membrane between the hyoid and thyroid cartilages is also made partially of elastic tissue and hence also stretches downward. Loss of inspiratory hold causes these structures to snap back to their original position along with the attendant closure of an open throat. This physiology emphasizes the importance of a full breath and the maintenance of inspiratory tension to hold the respiratory tract in this position and hence hold the opening. It means singing in the correct manner is hard work! It takes real talent to hold the opening with a low volume of breath. I believe that respiratory physiology reinforces Stanley's contention about the importance of inspiratory hold (which must be held from the 6th to 10th rib down through the torso). Also a relaxed abdominal Wall Is very important to allow for the full unimpeeded descent of the diaphragm. While one must pay attention to registration and to proper positioning of the resonator, neither of these can function properly without the proper degree of inspiratory hold, the absence of which cause the respiratory system to collapse and retreat to a closed position. Breathing with the upper part of the chest actually impedes this downward descent. Older people with respiratory disease have to use their upper chest because of relative fixation of the chest wall and loss of elasticity. It is also interesting to note the the upper part of the lungs cannot fill unless the lung root descends to create room (this does not mean elevating the chest)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

THE FUNDAMENTAL IMPORTANCE OF VOWEL ON PITCH

One of the most important facets of great singing is the concept of vowel on pitch. Very simply when someone sings they are communicating through words. Those words are made up of vowels and consonants; and since singing is involved, there is also pitch. The actual singing happens on the vowels as many consonants do not have pitch, but rather are "unvoiced". For example, the consonant sounds the letters "T", "S", "K" make have no sense of pitch. Other consonants are "voiced" in that they can have a sense of pitch. Those include "M", "N", "V", "Z" and so on. Even though these consonants are "voiced", we as singers should spend very little time on those sounds and instead should be sounding the voice on the vowels. That is how we understand the words of a song. Consonants are simply the articulation points at the start, within, or at the end of a word. The duration of a notes is spent on the vowel sound. Think of a song such as The Star Spangled Banner. The first two notes are simply on the vowel "OH". Then we have the word "SAY". This is an EH vowel sound. We do not spend time on the "S" in the beginning of the word, but rather we get right to the vowel. The following clip is a very good example of excellent vowel balance on pitch. Notice that the vowels are firmly establishing the actually pitch clearly:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdcKLuRjIX0

Consequently, the quality of the vowels being sung is crucial. This has to do with chiaroscuro. Chiaro = clear and Scuro = dark. We can certainly understand someone's vowels even if they are overly bright and nasal. That doesn't mean we want to hear the vowels sung that way. For example, think of the character Olive Oil from Popeye. We can clearly understand her worlds and vowels, but it is not a nice sound for singing. Conversely we might also be able to understand words if someone is singing overly dark and woofy, lacking clarity, but we also do not necessarily want to hear those sounds being sung either. The ideal sounds are vowels which are dark, having full resonance, but also that are clear having what the Italians called squillante. Squillante is the overtones produced that give a "ringing" quality to a singer's voice. Those overtones are shaped by the vocal tract - mainly the position of the tongue - in order for the vowels to be clearly distinguished. You can test this out yourself by simply looking in the mirror at your tongue while you say or sing "AH", "EH", "EE", "OH" in succession. You will see that the tongue must move to form the vowel. Some of the things that can happen which distort the singing voice are that the vowel is not properly balanced, it is not centered directly in the pitch, the vowel sound fluctuates while holding the notes, and/or several vowel sounds are added which are unnecessary; e.g., diphthongs. A diphthong is when two vowel sounds are added together to form a word. For example, the word "SAY" is made up of the vowels EH and EE. S..EH...EE. In singing we have to be careful with diphthongs as they can distort the voice. Imagine singing the word SAY and instead of holding out the EH part of the word you go right to the EE part. That would be very odd sounding to an English speaker. Also, many times a singer might hold a note on a vowel and while they are holding the note the vowel does not maintain a consistent sound. Take the vowel "AH" in the word father. Imagine holding the AH and instead of it staying clearly AH we hear AH....UH....UHL....AH. Inconsistent in other words. That will make the singer sound quite unskilled and it will cause the listener to feel unsettled. As singers we should have in our minds and in our aural image that the proper vowel sound (chiaroscuro) is what sounds the pitch. Just as as piano player strikes the middle C key with their finger, the singer should be sounding the same pitch with their voice by the vowel. Listeners can easily start distinguishing great singing from mediocre singing just by this one fundamental element alone. The following clips are great examples of the vowel and pitch quality in the signing voice:





Now with the men singing you will notice as they go into their higher range there is a bit of a change in the sound. That is called covering. It is a muscular switch that happens which allows the sound to remain dark while keeping full voice all the way up to the highest notes in their range. The vowels should, however, remain clearly understood. Just as we can understand vowels spoken in a myriad of ways; i.e., nasal, bright, dark, light etc. we should still understand the vowels in the upper range even when covered. You will see that with Del Monaco you can still understand his words even in the top of his voice. One thing that is taught today is the idea of "vowel modification". This is coming at it the wrong way where the vowels are not understood in the top. Instead the "covering" switch should happen and the vowels should still be clear. This means that one must be taught how to cover properly and that is not by distorting the vowel. In classical women's voices you will notice that in the very highest notes - from about F or g 5 and above - you can no longer understand any vowels except AH or UH. That is due to the fact that the pitch is higher than the overtones needed to form a clear vowel sound. Still, women should be clearly understood in everywhere else in their range. Women who sing non classically should be understood the same way men are understood since they use a similar setup.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Student's Clips

Some clips of students in training. I am very proud of my Verdi baritone student Giancarlo Brunet who recently sang for Montserrat Caballé and she was thrilled about his voice. The other clips are samples of students from the studio. More to come. Enjoy.



Giancarlo started studying with me in the 2010. This is what Giancarlo Brunet had to say to the other members of my studio about his singing at the time of this performance:

""Just want to share with you all , that once you put all the knowledge from the lessons into practice, literarily, magic happens, and the most amazing thing is that you feel it.
God, it’s amazing, especially when you are singing with an orchestra of 90 people all volume, you can regulate the volume and even if you are singing half voice, your voice will always cut through the orchestra with no problem, you can do pianissimos , sing full voice, whatever you want to do and your voice will never lose core or squillo, and after singing and repeating over and over at the end you will feel that then it’s when you are ready to sing a full opera. This is the perfect technique and the CORRECT way of singing. THANK YOU JEREMY!!!
I understand a lot of things from the lessons now, how we take it to the extreme there, that way doing things like this will be like bread and butter for you.
On my first Zarzuela romanza I have 2 high G’s. Then I’m singing another one that ends up with a Aflat and singing a duet that ends with a high A, plus a duet with a soprano where I sing low tessiture and as encore I sing the brindis from Traviata , Libbiamo with the high G’s as well, and honestly after I finish and repeating 2, 3, times I feel as I haven’t done anything,
like La Nilsson Said, : “ After I’m done singing Turandot , then it’s when I’m ready to sing Wagner”, I just need comfortable shoes, “ SOOO TRUE…… So people keep on with the lessons and never give up, this technique REALLY works and Jeremy is an EXCELLENT TEACHER, PERSON AND FRIEND."

-Giancarlo Brunet





http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQLVYruvawo


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiQeHhq19dI


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-oLGDB_L18


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz-102yR19Q

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bio of Dr. Thomas LoMonaco - my mentor!!

Dr. Thomas Lo Monaco 1922-2012
D. Thomas Lo Monaco was born in 1922 and is a graduate of Columbia University. He was the teacher of Jerry Hadley and dozens of other singers with international careers.
He also briefly gave voice lessons to Marilyn Horne early on in her career as a soprano. Additionally, Dr. Lo Monaco gave voice lessons to Peter Boyle and Anthony Quinn. Anthony Quinn, in fact, wanted him to tour with him as his sole teacher, but Tom would not leave his other students.
Dr. Lo Monaco's brother, Jerome Lo Monaco, was also the lead tenor at NYC Opera for more than a decade. He taught Hildegard Behrens who said, "Jerome is the only teacher who ever helped me because he taught me to sing in chest voice." Both Dr. Lo
Monaco and Jerome Lo Monaco were students of voice scientist Douglas Stanley who wrote many books on the science of singing. Both Dr. Lo Monaco and his brother Jerome greatly modulated Stanley's technique to take advantage of the good things they were taught while leaving behind things that did not work or were misinformed. Douglas Stanley also taught Nelson Eddy and Cornelius Reid.

Dr. Thomas Lo Monaco was a world class tenor in his own right. In 1953 Dr. Lo Monaco had stepped in as a last minute substitute for an ailing Salvatore Puma in the role of Canio from the opera Pagliacci. The following are reviews of that performance:

The Philadelphia Daily News stated, “A brilliant new tenor star was born last night at the Academy of Music, in the La Scala production of “Pagliacci”. In true story-book fashion a last-minute substitute artist by the name of Thomas Lo Monaco stepped into the part made so famous by the great Caruso, and literally shook the rafters of the auditorium with the most thrilling and powerful tenor voice the younger generation has ever heard. His conception of the role contained all the savage pathos it demands and his singing of the familiar “Vesti la Giubba” was far-and-away the vocal highlight of the entire season. If Lo Monaco is heard in every dramatic tenor role with La Scala next season it will still not be enough for the enraptured audience of last night.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer stated, “The role of Canio, originally scheduled for Salvatore Puma, was sung beautifully by Thomas Lo Monaco. He portrayed dramatically the agony suffered by the betrayed husband. Bravos rang out above the thunderous applause as his “Ridi Pagliaccio” at the opera's dramatic close.”

The Evening Bulletin stated, “Mr. Lo Monaco substituted for the absent Salvatore Puma on short notice and, as far as Philadelphia was concerned, made the hit of his career. Not in several seasons has such a compelling, full-throated account of this dramatic role been heard in this city. Mr. Lo Monaco's voice is that rare thing, a true dramatic tenor—dark, vibrant and powerful. He relished impassioned climaxed and heroic accents, and so it was not surprising that he sang “Vesti la giubba” with a sweep and intensity that won him prolonged personal recognition from the house: His final scene was also unusually convincing in its dramatic urgency and sense of situation.”

Dr. Lo Monaco also did several recital with Alberta Masiello. Alberta Masiello (c.1916-1990) was born in Milan, Italy, to a family of renowned opera singers. Her grandfather, Giuseppe La Puma, began singing at an early age, and worked with many famous opera singers and conductors (e.g. Caruso, and Toscanini). He had a repertoire of about 100 roles for the baritone voice. In addition to singing, he founded the Mascagni Center of Culture, where he taught piano and voice with his daughter (and Masiello’s mother), Giuseppina La Puma. She inherited her father’s gift for singing, and after his death in 1940, continued to prepare students for traditional Grand Opera performances.
Masiello was considered a child prodigy on piano, and earned a degree from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Milan in 1932. Although she intended to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a singer in America, she first attended Juilliard for several years. She also taught there as an assistant instructor and accompanist, working with Paul Althouse and Mme. Anna Schoen-Rene, while doing private vocal coaching at home. During World War II she found some success in New York City as a folk singer, adopting a Spanish persona named “Yola.” Her singing career continued after the war with major mezzo-soprano roles at the New York City Opera, Fort Worth Opera, and Wagner Opera Company. But within a few years she turned to the coaching and accompaniment side of opera, and worked for the Dallas Civic Opera and Chicago Opera (where she established a professional relationship with Maria Callas). Of note upon Masiello's deah a folder with three letters from Maria Callas, written in Italian was found. She then began a long tenure (over 20 years) at the Metropolitan Opera House, and earned the title of Assistant Conductor. However, she remained a vocal coach, and did not conduct any operas for the Met. She continued to give private lessons, and taught master classes at the Mannes College of Music and Juilliard. But
opera audiences perhaps best knew Alberta Masiello as a guest panelist on the Texaco Opera Quiz, a radio program that ran during intermission of Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts.

Dr. Lo Monaco unfortunately had health issues which halted his own singing career. He then decided to dedicate himself to teaching voice. He made important discoveries about the singing voice that had never been documented before. One of the most important discoveries was about the Valsavla maneuver and singing. This lead to major insights on the importance of the breathing coordination required in singing and as well as vocal registration, “covering”, the use of the tongue in singing, the vibrato and the psychological aspect of singing. Never before had these things been covered in such a way. Dr. Lo Monaco embarked on writing a book on vocal technique that has not been finished as of yet. Jerry Hadley was to write the forward to the book, but unfortunately met a tragic end. Dr. Lo Monaco's book is still being worked on and will be available in the future.
Dr. Lo Monaco died on January 21. 2012, he was 90.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

THE PASSING OF DR. THOMAS LOMONACO - REST IN PEACE!!

Today is an extremely sad day for me and all the student's of Tom LoMonaco. Tom lead a long and very full life. What he gave to us and to the opera world was enormous. I am so honored that I was able to study with him for about a decade, taking two lessons a week, and sitting in on countless other lessons, masterclasses as well as becoming a good friend of Tom's later on. He was truly a genius in every way. A brilliant technician and an amazing singer in his prime. He also could draw and paint at an extremely high level although he never had any training. I hope to someday be able to share some of his recordings from when he was singing in his prime, before he got sick with Parkinson's.


I was truly honored when he asked me on several occasions to make sure I, "continued the work". I was also honored when he told students that to come me for continued work on their voices when the time would come.

Rest in peace Tom. You have blessed my life and the lives of countless others with your relentless quest for the truth and your love of singing and opera! May we all bring you honor with our continued work!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

HOW TO SING MEZZA VOCI AND PIANISSIMI?

This is one of the most important topics to cover because the misconception on how exactly one sings mezza voce and pianissimi has destroyed or limited many voices. In addition to how these skills are done correctly are also the incorrect ideas on when one is ready to do them and what it means if a singer cannot do them - especially early on in their training and/or if they have a big voice.

Let me first start by explaining how one actually sings mezza voci and pianissimi correctly. Basically, the more chest/lower register one sings with the more the thyroarytenoid muscles are engaged. The less TA is engaged the more towards mezza voci and pianissimi one sings; or the more towards the falsetto one sings. The TA no longer dominates in production, but rather the cricothyroids become dominant; as well as other muscles that need to engage. Therefore, it is important that one have a strong falsetto and chest register so as to easily move more towards one or the other.

The mistake in trying to sing mezza voci and pianissimi is to start to close the throat to diminish the sound. This leads to the closing muscles of the throat becoming very strong. When that happens it becomes more and more difficult to open the throat. And it can cause many different issues such as a wobble. This is exactly what happened to Maria Callas.