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How I Teach Singing

Introduction

I have been teaching Opera and Concert Singing for over thirty years. I now live and work privately in Brussels.

Unlike many other singers fortunate enough to have a successful career (see Biography) who turn to teaching only at the end of their careers, I began teaching, out of passion and a sense of vocation, starting in 1980. It was the period in which I sang Masetto in the Joseph Losey film of Don Giovanni, Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro at the Paris Opera, and was invited to sing Leporello for the Metropolitan Opera Company. I then continued to divide my time between singing career and teaching until 1996, since when I have been teaching full-time.

My Basic Approach

This section is soon to be expanded into a blog: The Inner Game of Singing

My teaching is based on the old Italian school, but my own experience and research have led to a more personal interpretation of vocal training.

I was extremely fortunate in my teachers, renowned guardians of the old Italian tradition of vocal technique: E. Herbert Caesari (1884-1969), Luigi Ricci (1893-1981) and Otakar Kraus, pupil of the great tenor and pedagogue Fernando Carpi (1879-1959). The pedigree of these three masters goes back by uninterrupted transmission to the early 19th century. Having been the recipient of such precious knowledge, now almost forgotten or poorly understood, I started teaching, aware of the importance of keeping alive the precepts that had sustained the great era of Italian opera. This is the basis from which my teaching springs.

The extraordinary fact about opera singing is that every now and then a singer appears on the scene whose exceptional qualities are not due to any strictly vocal training at all. Their instinct for the vocal expression of our inner world of feeling is matched by the body's readiness to externalise it. Two such singers I have worked with are the tenor Stuart Burrows and the soprano Margaret Price. The 'born singer' gives us pause for thought. It implies that we are potentially all singers, and that the human body possesses this capacity within itself.

Here are some basic precepts of my teaching:

  1. The singing instinct is inborn, and deep within the soul of humanity, from its origins.
  2. Just as the sculpture is already within the stone, the voice is waiting to emerge from the dynamic patterns of the body. But just as the stone needs a true sculptor, so the body needs a true singer's instincts.
  3. The truths of singing are to be found in the sound, in the prosody, in its instrumental qualities. In other words, in all that is non-verbal: timbre, colours, texture; the movement of sound through consonants and vowels, through the succession of notes, through phrasing and dynamics. These are the elements that reveal the life flowing within the character. They incarnate it. Words, on the other hand, can only point to that living reality, still to be discovered by each creative interpreter's sensitivity. Words are however the carrier waves of all this inner "information".
  4. A singer's training must never consist of directly imposed muscular activity: "Push this, pull that, contract here". One must generate good responses and coordination through indirect means, for example by using gestures found in daily life that lead directly to singing.
  5. At the physical level, the pupil's voice depends entirely on the state of his or her instrument: the body. So, first create a good terrain, the background conditions that will allow the body to sing freely. Then, build the instrument gently.
  6. The interlaced nature of mind, feeling and body ensures that building the vocal instrument can never be just about acquiring specialised physical prowess. The response to any technical instruction will be influenced by the pupil's state of mental, psychological and emotional readiness, their musicality, and their sensitivity to the instrumental qualities of singing in conveying their inner truths - all of which condition the state of the body. It is often the mental baggage people carry that most prevents progress.

As a qualified Alexander Technique teacher since 1994, I use this tool as a firm background to my work. Please see the AT pages.