The other day I read about David Hawkins’ system for determining the level of consciousness. Hawkins was, as far as I know, the first to suggest using a range of states of consciousness on a scale from 0 to 1,000. He also tried to determine what actions of ours can help us to rise on this scale, dividing them into Vital, Very Important, Important and Alternative. And so, according to Hawkins, yoga and sports are just Important, while vocal classes (voice development) are Vital.
This led me to remember my vocal teacher – now deceased – Oleg Yermolayev-Tomskiy (hereinafter referred to as OY). OY himself, however, said that he did not teach vocals, but rather – proper breathing, via the vocal lessons. Even his book, which you can find on the Internet in Russian, is called “Correct Breathing”.
In this book he declares his position:
Not everyone can sing like Pavarotti. But everyone can (and should) sing well.
Actually, only such a teacher as this could have agreed to give me classes, as I am a person without a very good ear for music and with no good voice either.
OY himself was trained in the now-forgotten school of Leo Kofler. Kofler, an American opera singer of the 19th century, lost his voice, and after many unsuccessful attempts to restore it in his homeland, he went to India. There, having got acquainted with yogic vocal techniques, he was able to restore his voice. Returning to America, he did not continue his career of an opera singer, but opened a school, where he helped other opera singers restore their voices.
In the opera, singers are forced to hit very high notes, and loss of voice due to overload is not rare.
One of Kofler’s pupils (in the beginning of the 20th century) was a Russian opera singer. She subsequently brought this school to Russia. OY learned from her trainee, and was probably the last representative of this school – in any case, I did not find any mention of it on the Internet.
The first thing OY did was to stop me breathing in with my mouth. He was a big supporter of inhaling with the nose. Most opera singers breathe in with their mouths, simply because this way they can breathe in more air, but in OY’s lessons the yogic roots of the school certainly peeked through (although he never practiced yoga himself and was far from it in general). “Breathing with the mouth is as unnatural as eating with the nose” – he always propagated this yogic principle.
After this, he disaccustomed me from nasal singing. And began to help me develop the vibrato and resonance – the basis of proper singing, and the basis of any spiritual singing, whether it be mantras in Hinduism / Buddhism or Gregorian chants in Christianity. By the way, it was from these chants that opera and the academic vocals originated.
Strictly speaking, some resonance is always present in any form of speech, but is expressed at a minimum. In pop vocals resonance is much less pronounced than in academic vocals, and vibrato is practically absent.
OY’s school, although initially operatic, was not a school of Italian bel canto. In bel canto, the emphasis is on the work of the diaphragm – this allows one to hit higher notes without straining one’s throat. This brings with it a flaw, which is that this practice makes the singers’ voice timbres more alike – and that is why the timbres of Italian tenors (here “Italian” is not the nationality of the tenor, but the manner of sound production) are quite similar. To my ears they are all a little unnatural, as though they are shiny. The timbres of tenors who do not use the Italian technique (for example, last century Russian singers Lemeshev and Kozlovsky) are completely different, more natural and diverse.
Gradually, my voice began to sound different. I felt what a pleasure it was to sing with vibrato and resonance. It is not necessarily something complicated; with the right sound extraction even the most usual exercises are pleasurable.
Much later, at a Yoga festival, I heard how Russian adepts of yoga sing their mantras. The leader had a nasal voice with no hints of vibrato. I could not restrain the thought that a mantra performed in this manner would most likely give the opposite effect to the desired one.
Today, in any more or less large city, one may find good vocal teachers – it does not matter which vocal school they belong to. It’s simply a matter of our desire.