Don’t Go Against the GODFATHER!

A running theme in MANY pedagogical books is the idea that obsession with breathing actually creates more issues in the body than it solves. I just returned from a review of Level 2 in Somatic Voicework™: The LoVetri Method at UMass Dartmouth, where pedagogue Jeannette LoVetri called the vocal cords “The Godfather”.  The idea is that the valve itself determines the efficiency of the entire system.  She referred to them as “il capo di tutti capi“, or “the boss of all bosses”, an expression which I LOVE and am stealing for my own use.  If the cordal mechanism isn’t reacting appropriately to the airstream, then EVERYTHING else (breath, resonance, etc) is a compromise.

Below is an excerpt from a book written by R. L. Herman in 1912. (1912!):

“I would counsel talking as little as possible about “breathing,” at first, though breath is the first and paramount necessity for any tone-work. But as long as the student cannot get rid of his laboriously acquired “breath” in singing, as long as he cannot employ and distribute the painfully stored-up air, you make his body rigid and unelastic. To teach a pupil to educate his breath-capacity without any due proportion of tone-work seems to me like teaching some one to drive a nail, giving him hammer and nail but only air to hammer on; or to teach a person to plane a board, instructing him in detail in the motion of the tool, with never a board to work on. I have known a professor, in one of the greatest of contemporary schools for violin-playing, to instruct a boy in drawing his bow across the open violin-strings for seven months, without giving his fingers or his ears any relief from that single exercise. I have known singing-pupils who were kept on breathing-exercises for half a year and more without being permitted to sing more than an occasional scale, much less a word. I insist that breath-development should proceed parallel with tone-development. Whatever breath the tone requires should be forthcoming, and intelligently prepared. But to develop a breath which might do for Brangane’s night-song or Handel’s “Let the bright Seraphim,” before the pupil can manage the simplest portamenti (tone-connections), seems an utter waste of time and strength. For only the just proportion between sound and air-supply makes the tone beautiful. Too much air is quite as harmful as too little.”

Herman, R. L. “The Open Door for Singers.” New York (1912).

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