Opera Singer and Voice Teacher
Opera Singer and Voice Teacher
Jacob Rosenberg, opera singer (bass) and vocal teacher. He began his professional singing career in Moscow, where he studied with Nathalia Viardo and then at the Theatre Academy with maestro Prof. J.Statnik. At the Youth Theatre in Moscow he sang Rene (Iolanthe), Gremin (Eugene Onegin) and Zarastro (The Magic Flute). In 1991 he immigrated to Israel and participated in the "Metropolitan" summer workshop of the Israel Vocal Arts Institute, where he studied with Mignon Dunn and sang Raimondo (Lucia di Lammermoor), Old Man (Aleko) and Zarastro (The Magic Flute ). After the workshop he had been invited to join The New Israel Opera, where he sang Don Basilio (il Barbiere), Commendatore (Don Giovanni, together with Garry Bertini), the King (Aida), the Herald and the King (The Love for Three Oranges), Gremin and Zaretsky (Eugene Onegin), Wagner and Mephisto (Faust), Theseus (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Crespel (Les Contes d'Hoffmann), Colline
(La Boheme), Neptune (Idomeneo, together with maestro Garry Bertini), High Priest (Nabuccho), he also performed with different orchestras and choirs in Israel. In 1993 he was awarded the Basser's Prize and studied at Teatro La Scala in Milan with the well-known maestro Pisani. From 1995 he began to work in France, where he sang Sparafucile (Rigoletto), Samuel and Tom (Un Ballo in Maschera) and il Marchese (La Forza del Destino) at l'Opera de Limoges, Zarastro (The Magic Flute) in Grenoble (Festival de Theatre Europeen), Varlaam (Boris Godunov, together with Ruggero Raimondi and maestro Vladimir Fedoseev) at l'Opera de Nice and Baldassare (La Favorita) at l'Opera de Nice. In parallel the singing career Jacob achieved remarkable success as a vocal teacher (the Italian methodology of singing and respiration). From 2003 to 2006 he served as the Chairman of The Society of Friends of Art and Culture in Hanover, Germany. Currently, Jacob Rosenberg lives in Israel.
Many of my students and acquaintances, lovers of classical singing, often ask me to describe the method that I use in singing and teach to my students. It is clearly impossible to describe everything in one article; the subject is so complex that without continuous interaction with the pedagogue it is impossible to achieve any substantial results even after reading thousands of such articles and books. All I am hoping for is that the present article will help those interested in singing to understand my method better and possibly find something interesting in it. In order not to be too tedious I will try to describe, as tersely and laconically as possible, the method that is based on my teachers and my own experience. All my teachers, as well as I, have been connected to Italy in one way or another, including having studied there. This is why the Italian school had an enormous influence on me. There are numerous ways of singing and of
teaching to sing. My approach can be presented as several groups of techniques that are closely interconnected and designed to complement and reinforce each other.
The first group is comprised of techniques that impart certain muscular movements and postures having a definitive effect on sound generation. These techniques concern the shape of the mouth, the position of the larynx, the position of the tongue, palate, chest, type of breathing etc.
The second group includes techniques that directly affect the timbre and the coloration of vowels. It is natural that a change in the coloration of vowels in a certain direction corresponds to a change in oropharyngeal cavities and vocal folds vibration regime.
The third group concerns the singer's sensations that reflect changes in the vocal technique.
The forth group is related to achieving the desired expressiveness through the emotional state, which affects the muscle
postures, the shape of the mouth, the position of the larynx, coloration and strength of sound.
The order is not arbitrary. It reflects the importance of each of these groups in my singing method. On the other hand, only their combination, not an emphasis on any single one of them, as well as constant supervision of the pedagogue, can lead to the desired result. Let us now review the main characteristics of each group:
1. Breathing is one of the main parts of the singing process. Let us review the special method of using one's breath that is sometimes called "singing with support". The discovery of this method belongs to the Italians of the nineteenth century. The singer takes a strong and short breath below the diaphragm, as the lower ribs move apart, causing the diaphragm to straighten out. Meanwhile, the ribcage is at rest an in high position. After an almost imperceptible pause the singer closes
the vocal folds ("attack") and produces the necessary sound. This ribcage position should be maintained while singing. The pressure below the vocal folds is supplied by the diaphragm returning to its natural position. As soon as the ribs and the ribcage begin to collapse, the sound loses its stability and support and the singer stops singing. Then the process is repeated. Training the respiratory muscles is highly important yet not very simple. The use of support makes it possible to evenly control the exhalation, create a high and stable pressure below the vocal folds, and also to subconsciously lower the larynx, which is nearly the key aspect of vocal technique. Raising the larynx, in contrast, causes compression and significant reduction of the pharynx volume. The strongest and most timbrally rich voices that I encountered used low or very low larynx position. In its turn, the low larynx position makes it possible to achieve the deep and tight closure of the vocal folds
and increase the contact area between them. My recommendation to singers is to develop the flexibility of the muscles that raise and lower the larynx. The flexibility allows to lower of larynx for long sounds and to raise it along with the hyoid bone when the articulation requires it. One of the techniques to achieve the low position of the larynx is to use a hidden yawn. This also allows one to form the correct oropharyngeal tract: place tongue flat down, raise the roof of the mouth, hide the uvula, and relax the lips in vertical position. The shaping of the oropharyngeal tract may be regulated with a mirror. The correct oropharyngeal tract is very important in achieving strong impedance (i.e. resistance of the air above the vocal folds). The best conditions for phonation and creation of high intensity sound are created when above the vocal folds there is high resistance to the air escaping between the vocal folds. Old Italian teachers did a simple experiment with a candle that
demonstrated whether the singing apparatus functioned correctly: the flame of the candle, placed near the singer's mouth, was not supposed to flicker. The impedance is also a very effective defense of the larynx. When the impedance is too weak, the air flow through the vocal folds increases and the larynx reacts by a strong contraction. The load on the vocal folds is lighter with stronger impedance. The ability to maintain strong impedance is a very important part of the singer's vocal technique.
Thus, it is necessary to strive for automatic formation of singing acoustics, as consonant articulation quickly destroys it and the original condition must be quickly restored.
The principles of direct control of muscular movements of the oropharyngeal tract, the pharynx, and the larynx are very important, but not sufficient. They may become even more effective when combined with more subtle and diverse methods of vocal production.
2. One of the ways of affecting the timbre is the correct usage of vowels for those components of the signer's spectrum that define vocal beauty, density, strength and brilliance. The purpose is to achieve the necessary muscle tone of the pharynx and the respective tuning of the oropharyngeal tract not through the muscle postures and shapes of the signing apparatus, but with the aid of certain directives that affect the sound quality and vowel coloration. With some, usually the bright, vowels, the pharynx rises too quickly on an ascending scale, and must be slowed down. The singer should gradually bring the vowel timbre up that of the neighboring darker vowel, in which one of the pharyngeal formants is lower. In other words, with the slightest change in the shape of the cavities, the proper resonance disappears and a neighboring darker vowel should be found so that the cavities are tuned to the closest lower harmonic. This technique also makes it possible to lower the larynx,
widen the pharynx, increase the impedance, thicken the vocal folds, and therefore to increase contact between them during the attack, to increase the volume and timbral saturation of the sound. The use of this method requires a very good vocal ear.
3. A singer has certain physiological sensations that can be described and quite precisely located. These sensations vary with singer's technique and are very specific. This makes it possible to control the vocalization and change the vocal technique. Obviously, not all sensations may be useful to learn the desired technique. Some of them are dispersed; perception of others is too weak to be useful. Let us review some of the sensations that can be localized. The palate. When singing at high power with correct sound generation, with any vowel and at any pitch, one can sense the maximum intensity at a particular point in the upper part of the palate behind the
front teeth. Once this point has been found it is necessary to try to keep it regardless of singing fortissimo or pianissimo. Facial vibratory sensations (vibrations of the so-called upper resonator, comprised of the frontal cavities of the cranium, which gives the voice brilliance and a soaring quality), feelings of vibrations around the mouth (middle resonator, mainly responsible for the sound shape), and the vibrations in the chest (so-called lower resonator, which is responsible for the sound's beauty, its timbre). Ideally, it is necessary to sense the vibrations of the upper, middle and lower resonators at the same time, and to control the singing with the aid of the resonant point in the upper part of the palate near the front teeth. Methods based on a personal assessment of one's sensations require quite a lot of time and careful introspection. As practice shows, only after four or five years of intensive study can the student fully understand and use them.
4. The last group of methods that can be used in the process of voice training takes advantage of the singer's emotional state. Simply put, the singer must get into a mood that can create the desired timbre. In my own experience, when, for one reason or another, I was in bad voice and the upper notes did not have the necessary strength and brilliance, I induced a feeling of wrath to and used it to restore the strength and timbre of my voice. This is an example of a psychological method that makes it possible to stimulate breathing and relax the voice instrument. This approach, of course, can only be viewed
as supplementary, and not as the main method. In conclusion, it must be mentioned once again that mastering these techniques is impossible without the guiding role of the pedagogue. Only the instructor will be able to adequately instill in the student the preferable timbre, the tone quality which they deem necessary, and to to develop the timbral discernment that will prove so useful in further independent work and singing career. Having become accustomed to the desired tone quality, the singer will then strive for it, making use of the feedback hearing mechanisms and appropriate techniques.
This article was written by Jacob Rosenberg and translated from the Russian by Sergei Skarupo
Copyright © 2006 Jacob Rosenberg.
All rights reserved.