You hear a lot of people talking about appoggio – teachers, students, and singers. Most of the time when you hear about appoggio you hear people talking about breath support, as if appoggio were equivalent to what Lamperti would call “lotta vocale” – the antognistic opposition between diaphragm descending and support musculature pushing it back up. That is NOT what appoggio is traditionally. You can call that appoggio is you want. You can equate appoggio and support. However, you might misunderstand a fundamental concept of the Italian method of singing if you do.
Appoggio del suono was well described by Lauri Volpi with his description of sound and air tubes. I have quoted this many times, and its worth reiterating. We sense an air tube going down from the larynx deep into the body. We sense that somehow when we breathe deeply and expand the ribs and the throrax that somehow the larynx is aided in descending tremendously by this slow and energetic inhalation. When we sing correctly, we also feel that the sound starts in the larynx and expands upward into the vocal tract.
Appoggio is when these two tubes meet. As Lauri Volpi wrote in Voci Parallele, the pneumatic tube (air tube) and the sound tube (tubo sonoro) connect at the larynx, and when correctly “inserted” one into the other “raggi sonori” (sound rays) are produced emanating from the larynx and striking precise areas of the mask.
The other night I was listening to a home recording by Mario Lanza posted on Facebook (Un di’ all’azzurro spazio) and you can really hear how much the voice rings in the mask. It is very easy to think that this kind of ring comes from thinking that the voice is all up in the head – born there.
All the great teachers I have ever worked or visited with have always asked me the same question: “where do you feel the voice born?” A simple but important question. Ask yourself the same question. It’s true that we should sense the voice striking the mask, and especially in the high voice we should seek to learn how to direct the “sound rays” to strike the right places [figuring out how to sing alleggerito (lightened), and a corde chiuse (closed cords)]. You have to however, remember that in order to really find squillo the voice is not born up in the mask, but rather in the larynx. This is a real feeling, a sensation that somehow the voice emanates from the larynx and moves up into the mask. So even when you hear someone like Corelli with a huge ringing high note that sounds like his head is popping off, you have to remember that this sound is connected to the larynx and to the surrounding pharynx.
Appoggio means that we sense the sound lean against the breath directly in the laryngeal area and that this closes the cords… or is it the cords closing the causes the sound to lean? It doesn’t matter what it is because we are not talking scientifically, but rather about the sensation of the greatest tradition of opera singing.
I will caution you, when you learn appoggio it is easy to get very chesty as you ascend into the passaggio. You need to understand that between C and F the most important question to ask yourself is “what kind of voice is leaning on the breth?” Do you have suono alleggerito (voce magra, cry mechanism, boyish sound, whatever you want to call it…) or do you have beefy chest voice? You want to think boyish. If you don’t you may end up mixing registers in the passaggio – a sound that is neither open nor covered but rather both, and dysfunctional because of this. Suono alleggerito means that you have changed phonation, not gotten weak or powerless, but changed the type of sound so as to be produced by longer thinner cords… a somewhat tilted low larynx, which allows you to really hear and focus on the pitch of the ring.
If you can’t focus on listening to the pitch of the ring in your passaggio and top voice, then you likely can’t develop an old school technique. You have to hear the concentrated ring. You have to hear it like a bell outside of you… a siren. Delle Sedie’s methodology in the late 1800s in Paris was all based on learning to hear the overtones of your voice in the various pitch areas (low, middle, passaggio, top).
You will sense that when the voce magra functions correctly, producing a very precisely pitched ring, there is a sense that this is coming from the connection of breath and sound at the larynx. The more the sound leans against the breath, and the more intense the sound ray leans against specific areas of the mask. So the sound is bilocal, leaning on the breath in the larynx while also leaning in the mask.
It is important to find a laryngeal appoggio to a certain extent because we need to have sufficient chest voice to make squillo work. If your voice is too “lifted” into the head, you may sense the voice striking the mask, but that doesn’t mean you have squillo.
What does laryngeal singing feel like? I will just say that the healthy kind feels like your voice has 3 layers to it… the core right where you gently cough is a sense of dark hooty voice; around that is a brighter concentration of vibration that seems to be in a really narrow spot and spinning right above the cords…. like a little whirlpool of sound right above the cords that doesn’t allow you to push air through without really jeopardizing the ring. Depending on how chesty you are, you will also feel like your voice expands in the pharynx, right in the open throat… not pushed, but just filling. From there, it travels up the throat vertically toward the back of the mouth cavity, and eventually over the palate.
It is very seductive to fill the pharynx with highly resonant sound. This is how Corelli sang. This position almost draws “beef” to it. You have to be careful to not allow yourself to keep the same phonation as the low voice. You have to think more boyish starting at middle C, and definitely around E.
Another fundamental key in this process is to not allow your diaphragm to jump up. You have to have control of the flow. You CANNOT sit on the voice so as to block the air from moving at all. That is equivalent to singing while out of breath. This shuts down the voice. The diaphragm is the loosing party in this lotta vocale, but a very slow loser. Typically singers don’t have that kind of patience. They either overpush the diaphragm, listening to these crazy phonies telling them to always continue to push down with the diaphragm and out with the abs, or they allow the breath to escape too fast. The kind of slow thinking, emotional control needed for a slowly losing diaphragmatic action eludes most singers, mainly because the phonation is wrong.
The sense appoggio del suono (leaning of the sound) is so fundamental to the Italian tradition that sometimes singers just wouldn’t talk about anything else. They equated low larynx, diaphragm, mask, everything… with appoggio. The reason being that its like the foundation upon which you build everything… so if when its right mask, breath, resonance, larynx, etc., all tend to be right.