Short answer, yes.
We could easily define two ways of thinking about teaching singing: linear and spiral.
The linear is obviously a phallic, masculine concept.
A linear masculine vocal education might look like this:
- First A
- Then B
- Then C
- Then D
- Then E
- Then F
- Then G
- Then H
The masculine pedagogy might be something called a ‘method.’ It might be codified by a pedagogue in a specific order or way. In fact, masculine pedagogy can appear synonymous with a ‘method.’
Feminine pedagogy is more spiral. The spiral has no hard edges: it’s a softer, rounder feminine approach. It can HARDLY be seen as a method. (This would align with many of the earliest singers who remarked that their teachers had no method. Lamperti himself said that great singing has no method.)
A spiral feminine pedagogy would be:
- First A
- Then B
- Then C
- Then maybe more of A
- Then revisit C
- Then more of B
- Then D
- Then back to A
According to written sources, linear pedagogy appeared in the mid-19th century. The training manuals of that century are written in a format that moves from the simple to the complex (a logical educational system). It sets up a mindset that all students must move in a graded manner. Many piano theory books currently follow this paradigm.
However, these graded systems or ‘methods’ (used from 1820 or so to the present day – Vaccai, Abt, Marchesi, etc.) are not appropriate for EVERY singer in the order as written.
A feminine spiral pedagogy is vexing to one accustomed to a masculine approach. On the surface it appears to have no logic, is random, and defies specific codification. Those watching someone teach a feminine pedagogy might be hard pressed to define exactly what is happening moment to moment. The teacher appears to be meandering about.
It would seem from the historical evidence that feminine pedagogy was the standard of the oldest teaching of voice. This may explain why the old bel canto training is lost: it is lost because the system appears to have been student oriented, and based on their current abilities, and the teacher’s ear IN THE MOMENT.
Feminine pedagogy is very hard to pin down. It’s very difficult to our rational minds to think that a process of voice training could be so apparently ‘chaotic.’
It is my belief that our frustration with the earliest writings is precisely because the pedagogy was more feminine than masculine.
This is not only reflected in the pedagogy, but also in the MUSIC. We are able to note the decline of agility, flexibility, trills, appoggiaturas, and improvisation that were the hallmarks of the Old School in the sweep of musical history from 1830 onward. Today, we associate these decorative vocal sounds with femininity yet in their time men just as easily sang these ornaments. (How many current basses can execute a perfect trill or swift chromatic scale?)
When you consider these two diametric ways of working, the confusion of the oldest writings comes into clearer view. The Old Italians were unpredictable, spontaneous, and not ‘planned’ in any sense. To think that the Old School is a linear process is to completely misinterpret the information we have on singing. We mustn’t forget the Italians inherited an oriental system of voice training from the Greeks that developed into what we came to know as ‘bel canto.’ (A term with which I am not on friendly terms.)
Linear pedagogy belongs to the Industrial Revolution and with the factory.
Spiral pedagogy tends to be more agricultural or horticultural.
Both are ways of working with the voice, and teachers might do well to contemplate both approaches.