Nothing thrills me quite as much as the sound of a singing voice in free flow. I experienced this as an eleven-year old at my first choir practice in secondary school. I had grown up surrounded by singing voices, and I was a bit of a performer of folk songs and popular music. But the ringing tones of a well-trained treble in a fine anthem were in a different league. I never left the choir, and went on to study music at University. I knew that singing was more than choirs. For my 13th birthday I received two little records: four opera arias sung by Beniamino Gigli, and excerpts from Mozart's Don Giovanni sung by Siepi, Della Casa, Gueden, Dermota & Danco. As a young music student searching for the secret of such sounds, I found the writings of E. Herbert-Caesari. He, at age 85, inducted me into the old Italian school known as bel canto. This has remained my technical basis and my aesthetic ideal. This is what I teach my pupils..
Do you want to sing?
The question is important, because the ability depends upon the desire. If you want to sing, you will. If your answer is "yes", read on.
Do you believe you have a singing voice?
I have good news for you. The human voice was designed for singing. It may be that you were once told that you cannot sing. Such a statement is cruel and untrue. Of course, some people naturally sing better than others. But the technique can be learnt. Singing is the natural and healthy use of your vocal organ. The better you sing, the healthier you will be.
So, what is there to learn?
A great deal, whoever you are. Those rare individuals who sing perfectly without study are not excepted. They are at risk of losing their technique through acquiring bad habits which abuse the voice. They need training in self-awareness in order to maintain the natural technique that they began with. For the rest of us, the great majority of those wishing to sing well, the perfect technique characteristic of the natural singer needs to be acquired by careful and disciplined study.
Why do I need a teacher?
Because you cannot hear yourself as others hear you. No one can. This is a law of nature. The singer feels, rather than hears, their own voice. What the audience hears is quite different. The role of the teacher is to be an expert critical audience, helping the singer to become aware of when and how they are achieving the desired effect.
What will I learn?
The singer is both player and instrument. The skills of the player are called musicianship, responding imaginatively to the song one is singing and learning how to communicate this response to the audience. The skills of the instrument are called vocal technique, meaning the optimal use of the vocal organ. This involves good posture, breath control, use of the resonating cavities in chest, throat and head. Co-ordinating these functions is a delicate art acquired through patient practice. .
How I teach
I have one aim for all singers, to release each unique voice for free and full singing: beauty of sound; agility of execution; expression of intelligence and passion in response to the song, its story and its images. Every pupil is unique, so your lesson will not be identical with another’s, but pupils will work in many of the same ways.
No book will turn you into a singer. But great singers and singing teachers have shared some precious wisdom in written form. And we need to be perpetually challenged and refreshed with new ideas. Books I have found most useful include: