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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 18, No. 1 September 2012

Teaching Singers: Fostering growth in tomorrow’s vocalists

by Daniel Taylor / September 1, 2012

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The key to teaching singing is to foster an environment where questions can be posed with clarity and openness, in order to achieve and reveal emotions, from sorrow to joy. It is to build an understanding between language, music and motion, to learn how to listen, how to understand. We want to encourage and support students to develop their own voice and sense of artistry and to reach their individual potential.

I believe in using a Socratic method, which encourages inquiry and debate so as to stimulate the critical mind and illuminate ideas. The goal is to understand the context of creation, making the objectives clear and believable, examining the physical action and analyzing the text. Often we see students being educated to conform to the average or the ‘just above average’ in performance. Rather, I believe in guiding individuals so that they are not entirely drawn into the vast stream of competition, where comparison and envy replace positive change.

We explore the hidden aspect of relationships that are emotional and physical. We call on students to draw on their own emotions, to focus more on the dramatic text so that they can tell the story better. By quieting and focusing the mind, we begin to free the voice. In preparing roles, understand that certain physical movements can create emotional and physical responses. Yogic, Alexander and Feldenkrais exercises, as well as the use of Visualization, Accent Method, Movement, Energy Work, Tai Chi and Emotional Freedom Techniques, can assist in accessing the creative mind.

As teachers, we have to recognize that there is more than one ‘correct’ answer and often no clear answer at all. When working with students, we begin with an introduction on the physiology and acoustics of the singing voice. This also includes phonation, breathing and body use. We must include the comparison of various teaching methodologies, movements and vocal exercises. We also discuss the health care of the voice and corrective measures for vocal issues. Students must clearly understand how each exercise can develop their technique. There is a consensus among pedagogues that to ensure a healthy vocal technique, to succeed in finding a warm, legato tone and efficient coloratura, it is vital that both teacher and student understand the fundamentals of breathing and the structure of the vocal mechanism. As a basis, we must recognize that students of varying body types will breathe differently, and as teachers we must adapt the basic ‘appoggio’ technique through each individual experience. This supports the notion that there is not only ‘one teaching method’ that ensures success.

As singers, we have learned that efficient vocal function is achieved through healthy vocal-fold vibrations, a centered and energized airflow and active resonation, establishing stability of sound, healthy onset, the presence of legato and vibrato intensity (full and reduced). Students react effectively and consistently to positive imagery. We focus on energy, spirit and the work of the soul. Key to this is the mastering of the language—pure vowel and consonant choices—coupled with laryngeal freedom and monitored stage demeanor, which allows us to move towards improved technical results. The use of film, recording devices, laryngographs, sonographs and consultation with neuroscientists should not be underestimated. Scores must be treated with reverence and used to guide interpretation. Proper use of ornamentation, trillo and gruppo, grace notes and diminutions, palettes of colour and breathing are to be carefully examined. Our work then requires knowledge and effective demonstration of the stylistic elements of performance practice. Study should not be limited to one’s own instrument and, much like in the Harkness method, I encourage group master class and lesson participation.  Within our practice, we discover extraordinary possibilities.

Daniel Taylor recently appeared in Handel’s Rinaldo at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires and in the world premiere of Robert Lepage’s staging of Ades’s The Tempest. He also recently made his debut with the New York Philharmonic, the Madrid Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic. In 2012-13, he joins the St. Louis and Toronto Symphonies as well as the Collegium Vocale and Kammerchor Stuttgart on European tours; he will also have his recital debut at the Lincoln Centre. An exclusive SONY recording artist, he has recorded more than 100 discs. In addition to being founding director of the Theatre of Early Music, Taylor is the Artistic Director for the Quebec International of Sacred Music, which runs September 8 to 16, 2012. He is also a vocal consultant for Montreal’s Atelier Lyrique and a guest faculty member at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and the University of Ottawa. Taylor was recently named Head of Historical Performance and a Professor of Voice at the University of Toronto.

www.theatreofearlymusic.com ; www.imsq.ca ; www.music.utoronto.ca

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