William Vennard on Coordination

Vennard has brilliantly stated something that I must remember to return to time and again: that coordination and integration is the goal of all voice training. Knowledge of the parts and what they do and how they work is important, but we must never forget that singing is a coordinated act. JP

A knowledge of the various processes involved in singing is like a disjointed skeleton until their interrelation is understood. An organism is greater than the sum of all its parts, and no analytical study discovers the whole truth until it leads to synthesis. Of what use is the valve without the breath pressure? Can one understand the vowels without a knowledge of both vibrator and resonators, and a knowledge of their coordination? What meaning has all this without articulation?

A pedagogy can major upon some one essential of voice production, such as breathing, or the developing of the registers, or the shaping of the resonators, or the training of the ear—the mental concept of the tone; and such a pedagogy can succeed if its particular stress is made to imply all the others. Usually such a teacher will say, ‘I teach breathing; if a pupil breathes correctly it will necessarily release the valve and activate the resonators’; or, “I try to give the student a proper concept of the tone, and the power of the mind over the mechanism is such that the ideal will command the proper support and the correct adjustments”; or will make a similar statement to the effect that some other aspect of production is the touchstone. I agree in each case, as far as the teacher’s own pupils are concerned, because each teacher tends to attract those students who will be most benefited by his own method. If after a certain amount of breath-control pedagogy, for example, a student is getting nowhere, he will perhaps go to someone who stresses resonance imagery, and find himself. A versatile teacher tries as many approaches as possible, until he discovers the one that works with each pupil. The important thing is that all the essentials of singing are so interrelated that if a student can be led into a profound knowledge of any one phase of his art, he will learn the others along with it.

The one thing that all must achieve is coordination. This is what every teacher works for in his studio. His analytical knowledge of the mechanism is like the sub-basements of a skyscraper; there may never be occasion for it to be displayed, but it is necessary foundation. Studio time should not be spent in academic discussion unless it leads to practical results. The student can learn as much as he likes from books, and can check his knowledge by questioning the teacher, but the main purpose of the lesson time is to practice the coordination of the vocal act. From time to time a teacher may need to bring specific technical details into attention. Most teachers will do this, even though they decry ‘local effort’; their real hesitation is where they are not sure of themselves. If they are certain that some particular of the pupil’s technic is incorrect, they will ask him to correct it. But most of the training is in the coordination of the entire instrument—more than that, the entire personality.

The foundation for teaching this is a knowledge of what is being coordinated. There remains a great deal to be discovered by the scientists, but that is no excuse for refusing to learn as much as we can of what is already known. A man may never learn the mechanics of his own car, but if he hires a chauffeur, he has a right to expect him to look under the hood occasionally. It is sometimes said, ‘You don’t have to take your watch apart in order to tell time,” and I agree. The singer need not analyze his art in order to sing. But if my watch does not keep good time I take it to someone who can take it apart. To help a singer who does not sing well, a teacher must be able to analyze.”

Vennard, William. Singing: the mechanism and the technic. Carl Fischer, LLC, 1967.