The Slow School of Bel Canto

The duration of training in the Old Italian school lasted anywhere from six to eight years. This process was also a daily one. It bore more in common with the modern practices of yoga than the current ‘lesson a week’ process in vogue. Some yoga schools even offer monthly packages for practitioners to come every day if they wish!

Much like modern yoga, classes were held in groups so singers could also build their listening abilities. This assisted these students to also become effective teachers as well, as they had seen the Master work with all kinds of vocal problems. One-on-one lessons were unheard of during the height of the Old School.

Only in singing do we think of this process as untenable. That’s unfortunate, for one wonders what progress could be made if teaching moved back to emulate the Old School (or modern yoga) training schedules.

If the greatest singers in the history of singing trained in this daily fashion, how can modern singers attempt to compete against those standards?!

To develop great singing skills, the Old Masters knew as their standard festina lente. To work in this slow, daily fashion is to build sensitivity to the slightest faults of the voice. The first exercise in most all exercise manuals was the slow, sustained tone. 

In the Suzuki system of training,  instrumentalists spend many sessions learning how to merely HOLD the instrument! They learn to adopt the correct stance, the correct bowing approach, and even will have performances where they demonstrate these concepts as skills for an audience! Each one of these basics, no matter how humbling they might be, are groundwork for the technique of learning to play the violin.

Fundamentals and slow process are not boring. They shouldn’t be, for it is in the smallest of these details that the singing voice is built. One postural admonition, one correction of balanced respiration, and one onset at a time.

By staying to a training path that is slow and steady, the teacher prevents future problems that can creep into the singer’s approach. We must remember that the voice is in NATURE, and can no more be sped up in its development than a tree or flower. Sure we can ‘chemically treat’ the plant to grow faster, but is this artificiality a REAL work of Nature? Hardly.

Embrace the slow. Just like yoga, the daily practice gets remarkable results.

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One thought on “The Slow School of Bel Canto

  1. Great post! It’s an interesting premise, that is, the idea of teaching voice in a group setting over a long period for time. Mathilde Marchesi famously did it, her studio unleashing many artists upon the stage, 50 of them returning for a celebration in her honor, a record of which is at the NYPL at Lincoln Center. Marchesi taught 2 three-hour classes a week for each “level” of instruction: technique, concert and opera—each student singing in the spot-light for about 15-20 minutes. Jean de Reszke used this method too, while also giving private lessons. The modern masterclass recalls this kind of approach, but is not sustained over a long period of time. No school that I know of utilizes this approach today. Perhaps you’ll be the first, Justin!

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