The Pedagogical Dilemmas – by Edward Forman
The first dilemma of vocal pedagogy is that underneath every other consideration lies the indisputable fact that the voice is capable of producing sounds in a very great number of ways. There is no such thing as “the right way to sing,” or conversely, “the wrong way to sing.”
Presumably there is a “right way” to achieve certain results, results which are predetermined and have been defined in advance. Those results are, for the most part, dictated by the culture and the musical style within which the sounds are considered “right.”
It is the task of the teacher – and by extension the province of vocal pedagogy – to understand the “right way” to lead the student to the desired results. Therein lies the second dilemma of vocal pedagogy: Locating and applying the “right way” for a particular student.
It should be obvious that while all voices function the same way mechanically, no two function the same way psychologically, or perceptually. The presentation of the materials of vocal pedagogy must be tailored to the capacity of the student to comprehend them, once those materials have been decided upon by the teacher.
The refinement of the principles of vocal pedagogy to fit the individual student is the heart of the teacher’s art. The broadest understanding of the diversity of those principles is the teacher’s craft.
Behind and beneath the art and the craft there must be a rich understanding of what is being produced in response to the suggestions and directions of the teacher; in short, the trained ear of the teacher is his most valuable asset. He must be able to empathize with the mechanical adjustments which the singer is or is not making efficiently, in order to direct his attempts.
Some Refinements By Way of Second Thoughts
There seem to be two particular ways to produce a vocal sound:
- With a coup de glotte attack in which the vowel seems to rest directly on the vocal folds.
- With breath moving past the tensed vocal folds, producing a similar kind of sound to (1), but with more perceived richness, richness perceived by the ear of the singer.
Number (2) is probably the fundamental sound developed in the 19th century, which would explain the various approaches to piecemeal vocal pedagogy, local control, and general manipulations of the voice as though it were made up of several events which had to be coordinated by the action of the breath.
Number (1) seems to me more likely to be the basic vocal sound of the Baroque period, because here the larynx is the activating motor of the voice, little breath is required, and long phrases are easily executed.