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"One theme that emerged from this discussion is the oft-repeated idea that today's singers can't hold a candle to the luminaries of the late 19th-century Golden Age, and that it is futile for voice teachers to strive to improve upon the pedagogy of the Great Masters of the bel canto era."

No one actually said that. No one. You have created a strawman and I for one don't appreciate it.

Comparing vocal technique to new technologies of instrument building is a false analogy. We haven't evolved to having a different shaped larynx or pharynx.

Furthermore, while I suppose what you claim about science improving singing is possible, it has so far not been proven. Please provide me with three examples of singers who sing better in this way than our favorites from the first half of the last century. Until then, it's a claim not backed up by evidence.

Science is based on provable claims. Please provide evidence. Until then, it's just conjecture.

Claudia Friedlander

It's quite true: no one actually said that. I provided a link to the discussion so that my readers could read what was actually said.

However, for me this was a theme of the discussion.

Among the actual comments was one opining that current singers only rarely compare favorably with many recordings dating back 100 years and another contributor's observation that "Identifying through hearing the hidden workings of the larynx, and then guiding a student from phase to phase in development is an art not a science…The GREAT masters of the past didn't need the science to identify what they knew was right."

This and other comments for me resonated with said oft-repeated idea, which is spelled out quite clearly in The Bel Canto Forum's mission statement: "Bel Canto Forum is an attempt to rebuild the legacy of this great school of singing known as historic Bel Canto. It is a library of every resource imaginable on singing with this technique, which produced voices of power, richness, and beauty virtually unequaled in our own time."

I think that comparing vocal technique to new technologies of instrument building is in this case a crucial analogy. As I mentioned at the end of this post, I'd like you all to bear with me. I will get to my reasons for saying that presently. Obviously I had best be as articulate as I can be about this, because I am well aware that not everyone shares my point of view.

As I stated more than once on the NFCS discussion, I'm not making a sweeping claim that science can improve singing - I wrote, "science can't teach us how to sing well, all it can do is describe what is happening when we sing well."

What I am working on showing here is that information available to us now about anatomy, physiology, motor learning, psychology, etc. has paved the way for a more effective approach to vocal technique.

Bear with me. I'm not Deepak Chopra. I don't propose to say anything I can't reasonably support, and as should also have been apparent from my contributions to the original thread, I am swift to acknowledge when my own knowledge and reasoning falls short.


Singing better? The recordings of the most legendary performers are not adequate to judge, perhaps. Singing more safely? I think the jury is in on that. We lost some voices before their time due to a reckless disregard for the health of their instrument. I don't believe that this happens as often now.

Claudia Friedlander

I like Brian Lee's perspective on these recordings of legendary performers and how listening to them can affect us now: http://vocalability.com/uncategorized/what-happened-to-beautiful-singing-between-then-and-now/

There are probably no reliable statistics on how well we are now able to help singers avoid self-destruction, but it's likely that science has improved the situation, if not through pedagogy and prevention. E.g. the sublime Patty Lupone ended up needing surgery for nodules, after which she retrained her technique and has since been more fabulous than ever.

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