Part II of sharing personal journal notes from five days of intensive teacher training with the great vocal pedagogue and singer, Richard Miller, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1994. You can read Part I HERE.
Monday, May 23, 1994 Morning Session focusing on reading Spectrographs*
Miller’s own singing is in excellent shape. He always illustrates and models well. He says to never, ever pull your own throat out of shape to show a student what they sound like. He is emphasizing that in this day and age of instant everything, building a systematic technique slowly, over time, has become a lost art.
I spoke on the phone early this morning (before cell phones) with (the 2-year old). She just listened, smiled and told Grandma she had to poop. (The 6-year old) is already in school.
Every vowel has a laryngeal position, coupled with the position of the vocal tract, which acts as a filter. I want to ask more about this. I don’t think he means that you consciously change these things for every pitch on every vowel. I am sure he is speaking to what he has observed as a voice scientist. I want to ask him about test subjects. All professionals? Women in various life cycles? Rock singers? I think all the test subjects have been classical singing men but I may be wrong.
‘Front’ Vowels (Lateral vowels) such as ee, the pharynx is the stronger resonator.
‘Back Vowels” (rounded vowels) such as ah, the mouth is the stronger resonator.
Do not use the term ‘idiot jaw.’ This actually closes the throat and is not an indicator of jaw freedom in singing.
“Sing as one speaks” means let the vowels follow the same vocal tract as in speaking. I want to ask about this, too. How can that work with the way most Americans speak??? LIGHT BULB moment–he is talking about the shape above the cords, not the way breath is used, right? Another question. Am I the only one with all these questions??
Supraglottic considerations in singing–above the glottis. Tongue has 8 muscles. He’s talking about lots of info on tongue and hyoid bone which is familiar and easy to see in my “Gray’s Anatomy” book.
I am paying a lot of attention to Miller’s pacing and humor and he is brilliant at rhythmically moving his lecture along. I am as interested in his manner of delivery as well as the information because of all the workshops I am teaching these days.
The zygomatic region is the area of the cheeks, muscles under the cheeks and related to the soft palate. (What affects the front affects the back. makes sense.)
We are introduced to a 1951 recording of Jussi Boerling singing Pagliacci and are learning to read a sound spectrograph of his singing.* Each voice has its own harmonic system. When there is “noise” in the voice, there are “overtones” which don’t belong to the universal system.
Analysis of the spectrum is tedious. I just want to bask in Boerling’s sound. So much for being a scientist…
Tenor voice does not need to drop the jaw to define the vowel.
Work “NIU” 5—3—1 “YOU” 5—3—1
Afternoon Session-Masterclass with singers from class
A soprano sings “Vilia”
Miller wants more first formant so that the fundamental is augmented. He worked with this–
He asks for more “zygomatic arch” on the top G’s and emphasizes the axial posture of the neck.
He stops working for a moment to give her a rest. He is telling a few anecdotes about his opera roles and what stage directors asked him to do, and how singers need to find ways to show character in the body without violating basic body alignment principles so the instrument can work. “Stage directors usually don’t know anything about singing.”
He is working on her breathing and breath management through the following exercises, first by sitting, and then standing:
Don’t pout out the belly–it is not necessary to do anything in the hypogastric area.
A tenor sings Mussgoursky
Wow this guy has a fast vibrato. He teaches at a college in Wisconsin. Miller says the vibrato rate seems to be part of him, not the result of pressure on the throat. Miller wants more relationship between his Forte and Piano. (“more legitimacy in the piano.” He has the tenor hum the melody, then work tongue position with a voiced “V.”
He has the tenor open his mouth ever so slightly during the second passaggio while retaining the same vowel. (this seems to slightly loosen his jaw?) Don’t pull down upper lip while ascending.
Miller stops to interject his thoughts on singing while aging. 1) know what you are doing. Constantly seek learning, balance, redoing. 3) don’t stop.
I sing “El Majo Discreto” by Granados
Miller “This voice may get into Verdi in another 5-10 years.” Just when I am feeling puffed up and smug he adds
“Get rid of hang dog look. Don’t drop the jaw so much, especially through the middle and lower voices. Save for upper range.”
He has me work quite a bit with “Garcia posture.” I put my hands behind my back, palms facing out, to open chest. Watch that sway back doesn’t come in. He wants me to stop preparing to sing so much.
He asks if I have ever considered a lingaul frenectomy, and I tell him my teacher (Elizabeth Daniels) has recommended it in the past. He looks at the underside of my tongue and encourages me to have the procedure for more tongue freedom.
We wrap up the afternoon listening to some old Firestone Classic Performance Videos. We listen to Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli. (note: some of these are available on Amazon now.)
*Two years before I attended Miller’s teacher training, I delivered our daughter by a complicated high-risk c-section that went horribly wrong–the surgeon sewed the placenta back into my womb. In the week following her birth, (and thank god she was ok) I fought for my life and had two more surgical procedures that year to correct the damage. Then my husband’s father suddenly died.
I began searching for ways to heal on multiple levels, which is when I first experienced Somatic ReEducation–although I didn’t know at the time that is what I had stumbled upon. I attended Miller’s symposium in 1994 to try to reconnect with my intellectual interests, but had a great deal of difficulty focusing on his science lectures because of what I had been through. Retrospect provides perspective.
This is why I don’t have a lot of notes on reading a spectrograph analysis. Most of his important observations in voice science can be found in his books.
Please stay tuned by subscribing or commenting, for Part III of “Journal of a Richard Miller week.”