Training with Tito Schipa

One of the pupils of the famous tenor Tito Schipa (1889 -1965) was Stefan Zucker, who went on to found the Bel Canto Society.  Zucker’s lessons with Schipa cost $12. Zucker described his lessons with Schipa like this:

The routine began with scales [on the five alphabetic vowels, Italian a, e, i, o, u] with him (Schipa) at the piano. If the student ran out of support before a scale was over Schipa didn’t seem to notice or care.  He never mentioned breathing or placement…He didn’t interfere.

The only thing he would say to each student was that the vowel “ah” should be pronounced with a very broad mouth (bright, never like “awe”)…I studied with him without covering a single note. He never suggested I do so. The subject didn’t arise.

These lessons seem to infer that for Schipa (one of the great tenors of the early 20th century), the primary concern of vocal training was the Italian VOWEL and the purity of the pronunciation of each vowel.  His instructions on teaching voice was to exercise it on the various vowels, and the breath ‘support’ would naturally come as the muscles and coordinations in the throat musculature grew more complete and stronger.

This would be in total accordance with the “Larynx first, Breath second” approach that Francesco Lamperti talked about in the mid-1800s.

In the video below, Pavarotti says something rather interesting: the fact that Schipa doesn’t have a large voice. Callas said the same of the bel canto training, that it would not necessarily make a voice large, but PENETRATING.

Audio: Tito Schipa and Toti dal Monte sing from “Don Pasquale”

Two of the artists that have so inspired me, not only in their technique, but in their heartfelt approach to music are Tito Schipa and Toti dal Monte.

I will be posting more about these two phenomenal singers in future posts, but wanted to share this beautiful rendering of this duet from Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”.

Somatic Voicework™: The LoVetri Method and Functional Voice Training

What IS functional voice training?

In short, it is a pedagogy based on reason and logic to move voice instruction from the subjective ‘aesthetic’ into the practical ‘functional’ arena.  It doesn’t see voice training as an ‘end result’ but as a journey of discovery to freedom of movement in the vocal mechanism.

The challenge in adopting a functional approach, is that much of the vocal mechanism is outside the purview of a ‘direct control’ for the singer and teacher.  This could be a singer’s MOUNTAIN to climb, because they have to surrender their ‘pre-concept’ of their voice to discover a deeper, freer, and more authentic voice that is entirely theirs, entirely individual, and entirely free.  This is a scary prospect for many whose egos are so closely tied to the sounds coming out of their mouths.

In functional voice training, exercises are built upon parameters to stimulate a specific response within the framework of the laryngeal complex itself.  Special combinations of vowel, pitch, and intensity, and also rhythm, play an important part in innervating the vocal system and bringing greater tonus to the muscles responsibly for singing, – largely the laryngeal muscular complex.  In this way, it is possible to restructure a poorly used voice, and to rebuild poorly conditioned reflexes. Through this work, the teacher is able to eliminate vocal problems AT THE SOURCE, saving time on matters of singing that usually are peripheral to the success of the singer’s ultimate coordination.

These ideas are NOT new in vocal pedagogical history: for nearly 400 years or so voice teaching was largely an empirical undertaking.  Caccini, Tosi, Mancini, Porpora, and the elder Lamperti were musicians, and science was not the concern of their vocal studios.

The FIRST principle of voice function to take hold was the issues of the registers of the voice. The prevailing theories of the time were a ‘two-register view’ of voice training for all sexes, regardless of vocal classification (soprano, tenor, mezzo, bass). This continued unabated from 1200 to about 1850, when a three-register view replaced the two register view.

One of the great teachers that I have come to know and study under embraces this more holistic view of the vocal instrument, and her name is Jeannette LoVetri.  Jeanie, having been a classical teacher and singer, also understood that there needed to be a pedagogical implementation for singers that usually do NOT sing classical music.  Her ideas are firmly based in current scientific research and her own personal study, having worked with some of the worlds leading scientists, researchers, and doctors.   SO MUCH of her work truly reflects the ‘old school’ writers and thinkers on singing.  The first time I sat in her lecture in January of this year, I kept saying to myself, “Why, this is PURE Manuel Garcia!”. From that point on, she had me sold.

In her intensive study and ceaseless commitment to learning, (like all great contributors to any field of endeavor), she has managed to make an older form of voice training (largely dismissed and forgotten in the 19th and 20th centuries) into a viable pedagogical system for singers of all stripes and genres.

By freeing herself of an end result or ‘aesthetic’ bias that her ear prefers, she is able to diagnose and hear from a functional perspective what the voice NEEDS based on what it is actually DOING. This is the type of teaching that I am most passionate about, and I want to continue to hone my skills as a functional listener.

Learning from Jeanie brings me full circle to finally understand what is meant by ‘bel canto’ – a functional approach that gives the singer the ability to sing high, low, fast, slow, soft, loud, and on all vowels. It is singing that is free, unfettered by ‘concept’ or style, un-mannered, and speaks straight to the heart.  Additionally, as I mentioned, it’s also a way of HEALING an impaired voice to sing again, because the prescriptions go to the heart of the matter, and effect a new response in the systems that need to be rehabilitated.

If you are interested in learning more about Somatic Voicework™, I highly encourage you to consider the summer program at Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA next summer.