Ramblings from the Bench (Pun intended)

Just some random ideas today…

As I work out at the gym, I’m struck by the fact that I don’t really see a high proportion of bodybuilders there. There are a lot of your average, everyday people who wish to accomplish their physical goals or stay healthy in general.

YES, there are elite coaches and trainers for those muscle bound athletes and I’m sure when they compete they need to find higher levels of training to accomplish their goals. Gratefully, there are many high level coaches to help those people win competitions and awards. But how many are helping these people in THIS gym? Zero.

Not everyone is a bodybuilder. And not every trainer works with a studio filled with bodybuilders, unless one is an elite market working in a metropolitan area filled with bodybuilders.

So, too, with voice training.

Not every student that walks in the door is going to be a star. But each deserves to have a vocal tuition that will assist them in finding their healthiest and freest voice.

Elite trainers might not be able to work with the mother who wants to work on her voice to sing for her daughter’s wedding – and may weed out students like her because she isn’t a bodybuilder. I cast no aspersion on that coach whatsoever, but the mother is more COMMON than the bodybuilder statistically.

I find sometimes that pedagogy is geared toward the bodybuilders and doesn’t take into account the average singer. There is a lot of value for these people in singing well. They have no desire to stand on a stage displaying their vocal muscles. For these singers, singing is a delicious pleasure and brings them unmeasurable happiness. Even more, these people DESERVE to sing.

Independent voice teachers tend to get more of your average singer (average here is not seen as a pejorative, merely the statistical average of most voices), while teachers in academia get their pick of talented students. This allows for a higher degree of selection for ‘bodybuilders.’ This can create unbalanced and often lopsided pedagogical discussions: you’re talking about training a bodybuilder, and I’m working with grandma who wants to keep her voice fresh and healthy. You can see how we’d be operating from two separate frames.

There are a lot of ways to exist in the voice training world, but not everyone is a bodybuilder, and we should respect that.


Nature Under High Cultivation

“One of the writer’s acquaintances has declared it to be his belief that there is no such thing as a natural method of singing, because singing is an artificial achievement. It is art. We were never intended by nature to sing, but simply to speak. In a measure this is true. Singing is art, while speaking is nature. But singing can be done by methods entirely opposed to nature, and also by other methods amicably related to her. These latter methods are all simple, the others are all complex.


The truth is that while speaking is nature, singing is nothing more than nature under high cultivation. The culture of wildflowers has in some instances given us beautiful additions to the garden. Speaking is like the wild rose; singing like the American Beauty. The student of singing should always keep this thought in mind, and when he finds himself confronted with some theory which makes the act of drawing and exhaling the breath or beginning the emission of a tone appear to be a complex process, depending on the voluntary guidance of a number of muscles and ligaments, he should examine it very closely and with suspicion.

The art of singing is an aesthetic art, not an anatomical study. It begins with an ideal dwelling in the realm of the conception of tonal beauty, not in the domain of correct movement of muscles. The problem of the great masters of the early period was to ascertain the best way of singing beautiful tones on every vowel sound throughout the entire range of a voice, not to find how to operate certain parts of the body and decide that such operation ought to give the tone.

They reasoned from the tone to the operation, not from the operation to the tone. Too many modern theorists seem to proceed in the latter way, and that is why they build up complicated and unnatural processes which confuse students and do incalculable harm.”


Henderson, William James. The Art of the Singer: Practical Hints about Vocal Technics and Style. C. Scribner’s sons, 1906.


Quote of the Day

Melismatic singing was held by Christian mystics to be the highest form of religious utterance: “It is a certain sound of joy without words,” St. Augustine wrote of melismatic chanting in the fourth century, “the expression of a mind poured forth in joy.”1 It came to be called jubilated singing, after jubilus, Latin for a “call” upon God (as in Charlemagne’s Admonitio, quoted earlier; compare the root ju-, pronounced “yoo,” as in “yoo-hoo!”). This musical jubilation, in fact, was the means through which the Latin word took on its secondary (in English borrowings, primary) association with joy.

Taruskin, Richard. “Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Volume 1 of The Oxford History of Western Music.” (2005).

  1. Jacques Paul Migne, ed., Patrologiae cursus completus, Series Latina, Vol. XXXVII (Paris, 1853), p. 1953, trans. Gustave Reese in Music of the Middle Ages (New York: Norton, 1940), p. 64.



Quote of the Day

As surely as singing – that is the Italian school of singing – is allowed to die out, its decease will react upon instrumental music. Instrumental music gets its legato and the more subtle parts of its phrasing from the singer, while the singer owes his precision and more musicianly qualities to the instrumentalist. The two branches help one another, and while the vocalist acknowledges his obligation to the instrumentalist it is rank ingratitude on the part of the instrumentalist not to be equally candid. If persisted in, this ingratitude will be suicidal.

Deacon, H. C., Article on ‘Voice,’ in Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London, 1890.