The Feeling of Giro di Fiato – Response to Miles

What is the old Italian voice tenet known giro del fiato? Does the breath actually spin into the mask over the soft palate?  Are we to push breath into the mask?

Miles, your discussion from the comments section of Maestro Fisichella’s interview (http://tenortalkblog.com/2010/10/22/interview-with-great-sicilian-tenor-salvatore-fisichella/) is so insightful and worthy of discussion that I must actually post something new about it.

I totally understand where you are coming from, and I respect your comment very much.  I grew up studying physics and chemistry… so when I used to be told that the voice has to go like a beam from the larynx to certain places in the mask I would recoil and think “gosh, how stupid!  The voice is a concentric wave for goodness sake. It can’t be placed anywhere, nor directed like a laser…”  Or when I would hear of air streams swirling in certain cavities, or the voice being sucked back in to the back of the mouth, etc… I used to think these were ridiculous, non scientific  explanations of people who had never studied physics, or perhaps even valued objective analysis and fact.

One thing I have learned over the years is the reality of economy of voice teaching.  The principle of return on investment is applicable in voice teaching and  learning.  There has scarcely if ever been a great singer produced through scientific methods – prove me wrong anyone.  There have been legions of great singers, famous and non, that have been produced through subjective, anecdotal, and metaphorical instructions.  As much as I value science, I have to confess that when it comes to voice, because of the loss of teachings from the past (many methods not having survived time) there is a real “lost in translation” phenomenon occurring when we translate from the metaphor-based language of past methods to the scientific objective one; principally because those doing the translating do not know the method, but rather attempt to coalesce it.  Like a mirror falling and cracking into a million pieces and then being pasted back together, attempts of scientist to give the objective correlate to metaphor-based methods of the past produce a distorted image.  We are experiencing something similar in this conversation. Having said that, it is important to use and understand science, but we should never abandon that which worked because it doesn’t match our requirements of language, or the refinement of our theoretical expertise.  That sort of arrogance is stifling in the process of learning voice.  The proprioceptive feeling of the master may be discounted and judged seriously lacking in discernment. While objectively this may be true, from the perspective of the economy of learning, this is a bankrupting reflection.

There is an objective reason why Maestro Fisichella feels what he does. The vibratory presence of the voice feels very similar to air movement.  I can attest to this beyond any confutation, having experienced it personally.  It is not air movement, and this is why your objection is very valuable, because it gives the student a chance to connect the dots. 

In other instructions, like in my discussion on appoggio (http://tenortalkblog.com/2010/10/25/appoggio-and-low-larynx/) I make it a point to talk about air flow, and feelings of suspension of the air.  But I also cannot avoid the simple fact that the feeling of vibration does feel like an agitation of air similar to when air is moving.  Coupled with the feeling of the larynx functioning with a feeling of “flow” makes this feel exactly like a release… like an air flow.  But close examination of the actual air flow convinces of the contrary.  In fact, when directly focused on, the singer is often surprised by the fact that the air is actually pretty suspended in its movement.  Gigli used to talk about putting the candle in front of his mouth and getting the voice right when the candle flame didn’t flicker around with his breath.  Clearly, there is a careful management of breath objectively happening.

I had this breakthrough once when singing Don Ottavio’s aria “Il Mio Tesoro” in Frankfurt.  I wanted at all costs to sing the run in one breath.  The more I tried to sing in a way that stopped waste of breath, the worse it got.  Then remembering this concept of “giro del fiato” – to which Maestro Fisichella alludes, I consciously chose to not withhold the breath and to focus on its spinning up into the mask.  It felt like wasting air comparatively at first, but alas, suddenly I made it through the run, and sang the next “Il Mio Tesoro intanto” phrase all in one breath.  When I felt the air was swirling in a path, I was actually singing with less air.   It was actually the combination of the feeling of release of pressure on the cords (a feeling we perceive when we get airy, or opposite, when we achieve balanced flow phonation – in this case the latter) associated with the feeling of vibration and agitation of air (a sensation pretty similar to air movement).

Concluding, all students drive ideas into the ground, Miles; at least initially.  However, there is an economy in teaching voice.  If we abandon ideas because of their lack of scientific clarity, or because we think students will take them off into wrong tangents, we will do a disservice to the art.  The student will find that if they move real air into the sinuses the voice will not go into focus.  They will have the immediate effect. No matter how hard they try, it won’t work.  However, when they associate the idea of “giro del fiato” – the path of the breath – with other ideas, especially with the requirement of a focused tone, which any teacher worth anything will absolutely drive them toward –  then these things come into place well.  Then the teachings of the old maestri become a valid way for the student to have a sort of bio-feedback… the sensation becomes a guide for developing the correct intention (http://tenortalkblog.com/2010/10/18/the-memory-of-sound-sensation-and-emotion-in-singing/).  Without acceptance of the sensation of singing as a guide, we limit our ability to develop technique based on intenzionalita’,  which is the method I am interested in.

Thanks for your contribution, Miles!

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2 responses to “The Feeling of Giro di Fiato – Response to Miles

  1. Jack, I’m glad that you found my comments to give occasion for further discussion. I was not acquainted with the phrase “giro di fiato” before reading this entry, but if such a phrase is part of the vocabulary of Italian vocal technique and pedagogy, then I can understand how the perceptions of someone trained in that tradition would form themselves around such a metaphor. (In my experience, the content of our proprioceptions is shaped by the terms that we use to describe them, while in turn is influenced by the words that we hear used by others.) I have one question about the phrase, though: I associate “giro” with “girare” and understand it to mean “turn”—i.e., to change one’s direction (intransitive meaning) or to change the direction of something (transitive meaning). But here I take it that the phrase does not signify a “turning” of the breath, a change of direction, but rather a spinning. Is that right? If you would furnish some examples of how the phrase is used, I could get a better idea of its sense.

  2. Jack,

    As you know, I just finished singing my first Alvaro. All that you speak of here I think explains the phenomenom I kept experiencing right exactly at a G-flat……….but I didn’t trust it enough, because I didn’t understand it

    I do not yet have the clip to share/show, however in the Act IV duet with Don Carlo, there’s the line “…deh! Chiniam la fronte al fato, o fratel, pieta! pieta”
    there’s a G-flat written by the great Verdi right at the FA syllable of fato………
    At that very moment, I clearly experienced what I understand now to be “il giro di fiato”, which I can only describe by the sensation of the natural vibrato of my tone reversing cycles. Being that it is in the passagio, I anticipated having to utilize more energy, which I achieved by actually opening the region around the tone (which while singing I believed to be the pharynx). When this cycle “reversion” would occur, the actual tone felt to be working against the breath coming up through my throat. As a result, the A-naturals in “O fratel! Pieta! Pieta!” were always, always there

    I found it very difficult to trust this sensation……….but I trusted Verdi, and kept on with it. In the recording it sounds even, but it did not while singing.

    Might this be what you are speaking of here??? I had never consciously experienced singing “against the breath” like this.

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