Historical Perspectives: Witherspoon’s Thirteenth Lesson

Lesson 13

Commence with Exercise 13. This keeps the voice from “FALLING DOWN IN THE THROAT,” if we can use such an expression; in other words it tends to keep upper resonance in the lower tones.

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Use Exercise 14 all your life as a singer. It gives free tongue action, stimulates forward pronunciation, demands perfect breath action, gives full, resonant tone. If the sound is white or dull, press the lower lip to the lower teeth with one or two fingers, very gently and sing the exercises in this position.

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The voice will immediately be felt more in the face.

This lesson should teach you more about the “LIFT OF THE BREATH” and Vowel Modification.

The vowel sounds modify slightly as the pitch ascends.

AH becomes more like the vowel sound in U(N).

A as in MAY leans slightly toward E.

E leans slightly towards I(T) especially in high voices on their highest tones.

AW modifies slightly towards OH;

OH, towards OO;

OO, towards OH.

It will be seen then that all vowels tend to become more and more alike as the pith ascends, but they must never lose their own character. That is, AH must always be AH, E must always be E, etc., but their formation is slightly modified.

This is due to the changes in position of the vocal organs for the higher pitches. As the vocal law becomes more exaggerated in its action as the pitch ascends, the vowels modify correspondingly.

This is associated with the “LIFT OF THE BREATH”, purely an arbitrary term of my own, used to describe a phenomenon of great importance.

As you sing the scales or the LAH exercise 14, you will notice both by sensation and by ear that one tone will eventually gain suddenly in facial resonance, the vowel taking a slightly modified form at the same time.

This note, generally speaking, occurs on a pitch just higher than the speaking range of your voice. We call it the “LIFT OF THE BREATH” because the breath action or support is somewhat exaggerated on this note, keeping the palate and larynx free. This note is the real entrance into your higher range and is therefore very important.  Sing No. 14 again and notice where your voice gains in face resonance and where the vowel modifies. This will prove to you what kind of voice you have. (ED. Witherspoon is using the ‘passaggio’ tones to classify the voice Fach, or category. This would later be taken up by other pedagogues such as Richard Miller, who meticulously charted each and every ‘zona di passaggio’ to its correlating Fach. The terms ‘passaggio’ and ‘zona di passaggio’ exist nowhere in the historical writings on the singing voice – a rather telling omission.)

If it is a Soprano, the “LIFT” will occur on C#.

If it is a Dramatic Soprano the “LIFT” will occur on C.

If it is Coloratura Soprano the “LIFT” will occur on C# or D.

If it is Contralto the “LIFT” will occur on A or B, depending on whether you have a deep contralto or a mezzo contralto.

If it is Tenor the “LIFT” will occur on C#.

If it is Barytone the “LIFT” will occur on B.

If it is Bass, the “LIFT” will occur on G or A, depending on whether you are a deep bass or a “basso cantante,” a higher bass.

Follow with exercise 24.

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Witherspoon, Herbert. Thirty-Six Lessons in Singing for Teacher and Student. Meissner Institute of Music. Chicago. 1930.

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