Truth Seeking

From the essay Truth in Singing, by Edward V. Foreman, unpublished:

There are basically two kinds of singing, “classical” and “popular.” Popular singing is characterized by a quasi-informal style which at its best resembles storytelling, and encourages a relaxed, narrative delivery. Once upon a time there was a large number of ballad singers, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Jo Stafford, et al., who appeared on radio, TV and recordings. Except for nightclub singers, they are an almost vanished breed, replaced by a wide variety of style-singers from rap to country western, each style having unique requirements and readily identifiable vocal characteristics.

For the singer and teacher, the primary requirement should be an underlying healthy vocal emission of sufficient versatility to allow the singer to graft on the necessary stylistic elements without risking damage to the voice.

Classical singing is at once simpler and more demanding. Historically, there were three recognized styles, theater (opera), chamber and church. Opera has developed in so many different ways that such a generalization must be reduced—as one manager said to me years ago—to the proposition of audibility first, with all other qualities coming second. Indeed, the demands of Handel at one end and Ligeti at the other almost require specialization by the singer in the interest of retaining some vocal integrity and health. Certainly a healthy vocal emission is desirable, although retaining it in the more daunting modern works can be difficult. Even Wagner and Verdi are very hard on young voices, especially when they have not been sufficiently trained in a solid vocal emission.

Recent trends in Broadway musical suggest that they may be verging on the demands of operatic singing, and some recent leading Broadway singers seem to be as at home in opera as on the Broadway stage.

The divide between popular singing and classical singing is characterized by the emphasis on words—although it ought not be—in popular singing and “sound” in classical singing. Quite often classically trained singers lose the words in the interests of producing a kind of instrumental perfection of sound, mistaking themselves for clarinets or cellos. This is not the road to Truth in Singing.

It is, however, often a road defended by quoting the Keats line (Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty), since the “instrumentalist” singer hears this kind of nearly wordless sound as “beautiful.” But it is not true because it suppresses the fundamental, unique capacity of the singer—alone among musicians—to employ words as the basis for communication.

Truth in Singing can now be defined as consisting first of being true to oneself as a singer, and combining that with being true to the composer and lyricist. Since we can now define it, we ought to be able to examine what each of these truths entails.

Leave a Reply