What’s the Secret Password?

I often wonder if just the word “breath” in voice studios isn’t really some kind of secret code word or “mot juste” that is supposed to “Open Sesame” for some kind of pedagogical discussion and agreement.

It’s a bit like, “Oh, you said my secret word, and therefore you are invited into the secret realm of alliance with me, and we agree on this dogma, and isn’t it nice to have a fellow believer?”

I’ve heard several well-respected teachers say, “Oh, my dear, they know NOTHING about breathing.”


What’s to know? They’re pink. They’re upright. They appear to be doing just fine and aren’t hyperventilating.

Breath seems to be a lazy man’s game in so many conversations on voice, as if it and ONLY it were worthy of attention and conversation. It’s similar to artists talking about paint and which paint they choose, as if the selection of a CERTAIN TYPE of paint guarantees that their art will be a success. (“WHAT? You bought Dick Blick? Oh, that painting will never sell!”)

Breath is important in singing, but it isn’t the Holy Grail, as if acquiring some magic technique of breathing is going to suddenly turn you into Pavarotti. I’m sorry folks, but when a singer’s voice declines in mid-career, are we REALLY to believe that they have just forgotten how to breathe? Could Callas’s voice have been restored if she had just simply learned how to breathe? Ludicrous.

It is the valve (the vocal cords and larynx) that determines the usage and efficiency of the breath. To flood a car with gas doesn’t make the car run any better. When the laryngeal musculature is balanced, the air taken in can be more efficiently used.

I also might add that, once again, in Garcia’s 1841 treatise, which is well over 200 pages, only 3 pages merit conversation on breathing. For Garcia it was either a ‘respiro’ or a ‘mezzo respiro’. No inflating the inner tube, squeezing the dime, or holding out the ribs. Postural considerations were important, relaxed shoulders, noble positioning of the torso…and BASTA! Let’s start emitting sound on some coup de glottes!

How many underwater divers appear on our opera, concert, and musical theater stages?