Bel Canto Bookshelf: The Blog

We’re not making this up, you know!

Stephen F. Austin. Provenance: Historic Voice Pedagogy Viewed through a Contemporary Lens. Inside View Press, 2017

In my participation in the various activities of Bel Canto Boot Camp one thing strikes me over and over: we’re not making this up! The ideas we espouse were the norm for most of the history of opera. They are well documented in the many treatises, method books and other writings about the art of singing. None of this is new or revolutionary. It is odd then that the first vocal pedagogy teacher I encountered in academia who taught vocal pedagogy with reference to historical sources was Dr. Stephen Austin at University of North Texas. There was even a class in which we read James Stark’s Bel Canto and Manuel Garcia II’s Treatise on the Art of Singing (both volumes!) and Hints on Singing. Bel canto is a long tradition. None of this is just something BCBC is making out of whole cloth. 

With that in mind, I am recommending this book. It is a collection of columns written for Journal of Singing between 2004 and 2016. If you are a NATS member, you already have access to these columns as well as those of Burton Coffin (Vocal Pedagogy Classics) from 1981-84 and Craig Timberlake (Practica Musicae) from 1993-97. If not, this collection is a valuable resource for anyone wishing to explore the many writings on music that is our heritage as singers and teachers. 

I am fascinated to see how good teaching and good science support each other. Truth doesn’t change over time. Neither do effective teaching methods. Even as styles have changed, the voice functions as it always has. Methods and ideas that were developed out of successful experience in any age have something to say to us today.  (p. ix)

Articles cover a wide range of topics:

  • Articulation (legato, staccato, spirito, marcato and martellato
  • Registration
  • Voce chiusa
  • The onset (coupe de la glotte)
  • Lutte vocale
  • Trill
  • Messa di voce
  • Appoggiatura
  • Vibrato
  • Resonance

Many historical pedagogues are surveyed including:

  • Manuel Garcia II
  • William Shakespeare (no, not THAT William Shakespeare!)
  • Julius Stockhausen
  • Carlo Bassani
  • Giovanni Battista Lamperti

There is a lot more, of course, and this volume only covers a fraction of the many writings on singing written by the master teachers of their age. A few favorites of mine are the four-part series on the criticism of Hermann Klein and the print version of Dr. Austin’s “stump speech “Building Strong Voices 12 Different Ways.” 

If you are new to historical sources for vocal pedagogy, this, along with James Stark’s Bel Canto, is an excellent place to start. The Provenance column in Journal of Singing continues, now written by Dr. Kimberly Broadwater.