Wisdom from Tetrazzini – The Art of Singing

I love reading the few available writings of the great singers from our history.  Luisa Tetrazzini left us an incredible heritage with her short book “The Art of Singing.”  Here are a few excerpts with some comments.

You will notice when you begin to sing, if you watch yourself very carefully, that, first, you will try to inhale too much air; secondly, you will either force it all out at once, making a breathy note, or in trying to control the flow of air by the diaphragm you will suddenly cease to send it forth at all and will be making the sound by pressure from the throat.

I find this to be true of all singers.  Much of this has to do with our not letting go. We want to control the outcome, and rightly so.  However, we should choose very specifically what we control.  This will be the topic of a future post – what we should focus our attention on while singing.

Generally, I find that most beginners have no connection between breath and voice, so they let air out constantly producing a breathy tone.  Then there are trained singers who often starve the voice of breath.  They have been taught to activate the diaphragm, and often in the attempt to control stop the ascent of the diaphragm and sing as if they had no breath in them as a consequence.  Therefore, the throat shuts down.

There must never be any pressure from the throat. The sound must be made from the continued flow of air.  You must learn to control this flow of air, so that no muscular action of the throat can shut it off.

It is difficult to get into this mode.  Often the sense of a sigh helps, but it is a very specific type of sigh.  It is not breathy at all.  It is more a sense of flow of easy sound.  Often when we get to high notes, or passaggio notes where we sense danger we will automatically shut down that flow as we exert more effort on the diaphragm.  This is wrong.  This is why we fail.  We have to stop the connection between fear and diaphragmatic action.  Even though we are afraid, we must let the flow continue or the throat will shut down because we are starving the voice of air.  As I would say – you are winning, or the diaphragm is winning so it won’t get pushed up.  You must allow the diaphragm to become a slow loser.

Open the throat wide and start your note by the pressure breath. The physical sensation should be first an effort on the part of the diaphragm to press the air up against the chest box, then the sensation of a perfectly open throat, and, lastly, the sensation that the air is passing freely into the cavities of the head.

An awesome suggestion.  Most singers don’t even come close to really supporting because they think that support is sitting on the breath by pushing down.  IT IS MOST DEFINITELY NOT!  What Tetrazzini describes here is correct breath support.  You press the breath up against the sternum which resists the pressing.  So it is abdominal muscles from deep within the core pressing the breath upwards.  The sternum and the ribcage will open and move outward.  The pressure then must be held by the sternum and not be allowed to go upward.  This creates the pressure needed to sing.  It is POTENTIAL pressure that the mind will call on when we have the right synchronization between this pressure and the sound.  But if you don’t have this pressure, the right sound won’t emerge.  So it is a condition for the right sound.  It greatly aides the descent of the larynx, keeps the throat open, but also sets up the scenario for appoggio to emerge.

I have seen pupils, trying to master the art of breathing, holding themselves as rigidly as drum majors.  Now this rigidity of the spinal column will in no way help you in the emission of tone, nor will it increase the breath control. In fact, I don’t think it would even help you to stand up straight, although it would certainly give one a stiff appearance and one far removed from grace.  A singer should stand freely and easily and should feel as if the chest were leading, but should not feel constrained or stiff in any part of the ribs or lungs.   From the minute the singer starts to emit a tone the supply of breath must be emitted steadily from the chamber of air in the lungs. It must never be held back once

Rigidity often comes from fear.  You must allow your voice to live, to speak.  It is very difficult for a singer to allow him or herself to become a spectator of their voice rather than an originator.  This is because we get into the frame of mind that we are doing things and the voice is emerging.  We should instead do things necessary technically as a sort of way of opening a curtain to let light in.  Our opening the curtain is not the light itself.  We should allow ourselves to witness the voice emerging, almost surprised by it; eagerly awaiting without fear to hear what it has to say.


2 responses to “Wisdom from Tetrazzini – The Art of Singing

  1. “We should allow ourselves to witness the voice emerging, almost surprised by it; eagerly awaiting without fear to hear what it has to say.”

    That’s beautiful! I think you are becoming a poet.

    “This will be the topic of a future post – what we should focus our attention on while singing.”

    I’m really looking forward to that! There is so much to potentially think about that it can become overwhelming and distracting.

  2. “We should allow ourselves to witness the voice emerging, almost surprised by it; eagerly awaiting without fear to hear what it has to say.”

    – “That’s beautiful! I think you are becoming a poet.”

    A charmingly poetic conclusion marking not only the the problem of and solution to beautiful and correct singing, but also the very principle of it.

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