Lamperti and Garcia on the “Appoggio”

Francesco Lamperti was a highly influential pedagogue who influenced generations of singers.  He had a very long career as a teacher at the Milan Conservatory.

According to James Stark in his book, “Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy” the approach between the Lamperti School and the ideas of Manuel Garcia school were the topic of many heated discussions throughout Europe. The Lampertis differed from Garcia in that they were content to leave the physiological approach to someone else. The Lampertis used terms that lacked the specific physiological and acoustical reference points of Garcia and his school. But those weren’t their only differences.  One of the major contrasts in their pedagogies were their ideas on breath and breath management.

According to Stark, Francesco Lamperti was also the first to enter the term appoggio into the vocal literature. He defined it as,

By singing appoggiata, is meant that all notes, from the lowest to the highest, are produced by a column of air over which the singer has perfect command, by holding back the breath, and not permitting more air than is absolutely necessary for the formation of the note to escape from the lungs.

For Lamperti, breath control was the most important aspect of singing, and the appoggio was the means whereby a singer would gain this control. For Garcia, breath management merited only 3 pages (out of a several hundred page treatise!) in his Traité de l’art du chant of 1841. Clearly we have two gentlemen with completely different approaches to the management of breath.  For Garcia, all breath control and management was contingent upon the correct ‘attack’ or coup de glotte and “all control of the tone was LOST the moments the cords became vibratile’. Had Garcia felt that breath management and control were central to his teaching, he would most assuredly have made mention of it throughout his writings.  For Garcia, attack was paramount.

Franklyn Kelsey, writing in 1954, explained the appoggio in terms that more closely resembled Garcia’s ‘attack-central’ ideas:

“There is only one place where the voice can be felt to be leaning against the column of air below it. That place is at the top of the windpipe, where the breath ceases to be “breath” and becomes “voice””

Kelsey’s assertion is somewhat different from the appoggio as explained by Richard Miller in his book “National Schools of Singing”. In it, he sees the appoggio as a TOTAL system of breath management. Miller was intensely influenced by Francesco Lamperti and his ideas on breathing. In fact, much of Miller’s pedagogy can be traced to the influence of both Francesco and Giovanni Battista Lamperti.

From my vantage point as a teacher, the appoggio is a more advanced technical maneuver that can embrace both the concept of a torso-postural endeavor, as well as one of glottal resistance to airflow. My preference is to leave off the appoggio for a time in beginners until the voice has been well-exercised in the registers (chest, falsetto/head).  This will allow the intrinsic muscles of the larynx to be well-conditioned so that they will be able to withstand the pressure of breath necessary for the appoggio to be operative as AN EFFECT of balanced registration of the voice.

Attempts to coordinate the appoggio in a beginner could engender more physical and vocal tensions and cause vocal damage if the system has not been conditioned in even the simplest of vocal tasks.

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Vocal Attack: The Key to Vocal Efficiency

For the Old Italians, the vocal attack, or ‘onset’ of the tone, was the key to building an efficient vocal tone, and was primary to the voice building process.

Manuel Garcia, II was the first pedagogue to describe this particular vocal phenomenon, coining the phrase coup de la glotte or “stroke/blow of the glottis”.  To be certain, it’s an unfortunate term in our time (and his) for its rather muscular and violent connotations.  Garcia was aware of this fact when he stated, “My merit or demerit consists in having noticed it and given it a name.”

Garcia lived to be over one hundred years old, and he NEVER backed down from his position on the importance of the glottal attack.  And despite all the controversy that swirled around it, and the vitriol that it inspired from some writers (including Henry Holbrook Curtis), he NEVER changed his thinking on this central tenet of his pedagogy.

According to James Stark in his book, “Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy“, the idea of the onset took two separate paths: one was later discredited as untenable, and the other was to mutate the onset into a ‘simultaneous attack’.  This onset was the attack that would later come to be known as the ‘balanced onset’ by pedagogues like Richard Miller, or the “Imaginary h” of William Vennard.

There’s only one problem with this: this balanced onset IS NOT Garcia’s coup de glotte as he laid it out in his writings.

Garcia’s idea was that the glottis was CLOSED in advance of the ensuing phonation, “building up air in the passage” so that the resistance to the breath was COMPLETE at the inception of tone, and therefore NO AIR escaped ‘unphonated’.  In this way there was no breath leakage.  Also of importance to Garcia was that the continuing tone was ‘bound’ to the ‘attack’, so that the phrase would continue in this more adducted – Garcia used the word ‘pinched’ (eek!) – position.

Jenny Lind, Garcia’s pupil, described these maneuvers as a ‘stroke’ and a ‘bind’ to her friend Gusti.  I love this idea, actually. That you ‘strike’ the glottis, and then bind the pitches afterwards from that ‘stroke’.

There’s an important thing to remember about this more ‘glottal’ attack of the voice: if you overbreathe and BLOW AIR at tightly adducted cords, you WILL experience the destructive glottal attack that Garcia warned against.  This is what he termed the coup de la poitrine or “blow of the chest”.  In a properly sung ‘coup de glotte,’  the singer becomes instantly aware of the unnecessary need to ‘tank up’ or OVERFILL the lungs. Breath is already available, and the singer who begins in this way learns that the instrument will become HIGHLY efficient because there is no overabundance of air needed to sing and sustain most phrases. This would give SOME credence to Richard Miller’s assertion that the onset is the key to finding a breath management system.

The bel canto singers were remarkable in that they appeared NOT to breathe, and take in VAST amounts of air. In fact, many sources say that the secret to the bel canto schooling was to sing on ‘as little air as possible’.  I don’t think this means that we DON’T breathe, or starve the voice of air – but it does point to the importance of the proper “start” or “attack” of the sound as being central to finding an aerodynamically efficient method of singing.

image of Jenny Lind, as she appeared in 1849.