21st Century Immediate Gratification: Abandoning Bel Canto Principles

Would you prefer to crack a high C while attempting to execute “proper technique”? Or would you prefer getting an acceptable result doing something you know is not totally correct?

Well, if its proper technique it should result in a good high C! Or if it produces an acceptable result it must be an acceptable technique! Right?

I will put it a different way:  You are singing a series of arpeggios.  Beginning from the low range and going up by half tones until you get to the high C.  Every scale up to high B natural (si naturale) is perfectly balanced.  Then you get to the high C arpeggio and it cracks.  Do you continue with your technique or do you look for a different approach to the high C?

Well if the technique is not working for the high C, I’ll make a change to get that note! Besides, there are those that say that there is a different register at play at high B.

Yet the high B worked perfectly with the standard technique.  So would you cheat a little just to get an acceptable high C?



The above was a hypothetical conversation, but I’ve had this talk with professional singers and it is at once understandable and sad.  In our times few pedagogues make a difference between muscular development and the proper coordination of the instrument.  The Bel Canto incorporated both training and the proper use of the instrument.
Imagine you have a formula 1 car that can get to 320 kilometers per hour.  The fastest speed recorded is 372.6 kph, a considerable difference.  So what are you going to do to get your car up to speed? You may have to redesign the motor, work on the efficiency of the exhaust system, work of the material the car is made up of, consider the traction vs. friction of the tires, etc.  In other words, you must consider what structural condition the machine is in, as to why it cannot reach speeds higher than 320 kph.  Likewise…
Is your instrument structured for a high C?

I have sung several high Cs and posted on this blog.  Yet, I cannot say that high C is a note I trust in context.  In a reading of Otello, I got one out in the third act duet but it was a borderline scream–Not very technically correct or beautiful in any way.  That most tenors just scream it is no excuse.  I heard Alexanders Antonenko sing a beautiful, well-supported C in that situation at Carnegie Hall (NY) a few years ago and it was dramatically and vocally thrilling. So it can be done correctly.  Today in my practice I warmed up to a comfortable high C# and I could have gone to a D.  But I did not go further because in the last two weeks a B had been the norm.  Today I felt my breath coordination and my throats ability to deal with the appropriate sub-glottal pressure were both improved.  I understood that other than taking lines out of context, my tendency was to reduce my support as I went up.  The throat has to grow and the support system in general had to get stronger.  Now I can approach a high C the way I approach every other high note.  It is not a new register.  It is still F2 (second formant dominant) and balances well with the SF (singer’s formant).  It can be a great note when I support fully, without necessarily increasing volume.  Increasing volume is often accompanied by a little squeeze at the level of the folds.  With a robust voice, one cannot sing too many high Cs that way.  It was necessary both to maintain adequate support and reduce volume ever so slightly.  I did it several times.
What I see with today’s youth is an obsession with a result in the moment.  So a typical practice session is about “how do I get that high C?” “How many ways can I twist myself into a pretzel to get that high note, or to make that long phrase?”  There is only one way!  The same way that got you the arpeggios up to a solid high B is the same way that will get you a solid high C.  Two years ago you only had a G, now you have a B.  Just keep working in the same way to achieve your C, realizing that maybe the support system needs to get stronger or the laryngeal musculature needs to be able to resist the breath adequately without losing balance. Answer:
Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Ain’t nobody got time for real training!
Ain’t nobody got time for trench work!
Ain’t nobody got time for things that are difficult in the beginning!
Ain’t nobody got time for the vision that something that was once difficult, with real invested and focused practice, can become easy.


Is there a pill that can fix this?

Operatic singing like any discipline requires resilience and determination and the willingness to do the difficult work in order to present something extraordinary.  
A propos, I have been reading a novel by the legendary writer, George Sand, lover to Frederic Chopin and socialite who had in her salons the likes of Franz Liszt and Paganini.  A lover of the art of singing, she wrote a novel that takes place in the 18th century (one century before her time) detailing the experiences of a talented young singer Consuelo, who became one of Porpora’s best students.  The comparison between the dedicated Consuelo and her naturally talented boyfriend with facile top notes but little refinement could have been written about singers today.  Teachers of the Bel Canto complained as early as the early 17th Century less than a half century after the establishment of the principles of Bel Canto singing that the “Old School” had been lost.  Every generation gives us a few singers that remind us of a time when fundamentals were essential and artistry depended as much on technical development as it did on charisma.  Now it is shine that trumps substance! Charisma and good looks over technique and artistry.
Today, top singers do not last beyond 50 years of age, an age when the great singers of the past were only beginning to peak! Ageism, lookism, racism, etc…These are much easier to implement than to wait for talent to mature.
© March 12, 2016

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